More frustrating than looking for the pieces of a puzzle is having the pieces and not knowing what to do with them. This pretty much sums up the 10th episode of the fifth and final season of Fringe, as the team, having found the child Observer now known as Michael, tries to figure out how to communicate with him in order to find out what he knows about the plan – which hopefully will be more than what Walter remembers. Thankfully, Nina Sharp has more than one trick up her sleeve and is able to provide the team with more high tech gadgets. Unfortunately, this proved to be her last one… Although death never kept William Bell from playing some of his own tricks.
Nina sealed once and for all her allegiance by making the ultimate sacrifice, but not before delivering a stinging insult directed at Windmark himself, an insult that hit straight home, one that only a person with her scientific expertise could deliver. Blair Brown yet again portrayed Nina as a strong yet sensitive woman, and brought to life a quality script courtesy of the Fringe writing team.
Walter’s reaction when he, Olivia and Peter found Nina dead in her wheelchair was heartbreaking thanks again in part to the writers, who kept the script uncluttered by unnecessary conversation or painfully cheesy one-liners. No doubt the script was left so in order to allow for John Noble’s acting skill to tell us everything we need to know: that his character is devastated. There is a chance that Walter did think, at least in part, about how Nina’ was now going to keep her promise to him, but the largest part of him looks shattered at this newest loss. This episode has yet again demonstrated where Fringe got its reputation for excellent writing from, and how emotionally charged moments become even more perfect for the acting skills the individuals portraying the characters infuse in it.
Nina’s death was much more difficult on fans than Etta’s death. The latter was difficult in the effects it had on Peter, Olivia and the rest of the team. The former is difficult because we have lost a character in whom we have invested so much during the last five years. No doubt the rocky beginning of fans’ relationship with this fiery redhead further cemented her in their hearts. I hope Broyles will be back in the next three episodes, and I hope that he is not going to die – that would just be too much for my Fringie-heart to handle.
The above-mentioned final insult did work on making the loss bittersweet. Windmark’s reaction at finding the dead Observers in the Resistance-led, Nina-supported Black Lab was the height of double standards; how can such a thing be considered the act of animals, in light of what he and his do? Nina’s final diatribe before she pulled the trigger was a wonderful bit of writing and acting. I know that more than one Fringe fan felt the intense satisfaction of Nina going down in a blaze of glory.
Of course the entire reason why Nina was in that Black Lab in the first place was to figure out how to communicate with Michael. The technology she provided the Fringe team with was of course reminiscent of the much more primitive neural stimulator used on him in Season 1’s fifteenth episode, “Inner Child”.
While the technology proves futile, we thankfully do find out much more about Michael in this episode. Some of it comes courtesy of Windmark, who calls him an anomaly meant to be destroyed. Coupled with the knowledge that Michael doesn’t have any technology implanted in him, one can’t help but wonder what the Observers were trying to accomplish. A chilling through is that they were trying to biologically alter humans so that they become Observer-like without the help of technology. Another bout of great writing was how, with a simple tear, we are shown what that anomaly is: that while Michael might have the high number of ridges characteristic of Observers, but he can still feel emotion.
The second biggest thing about this episode, after Nina’s death, is of course that we find out Donald’s identity: he is none other than September. We knew from before that September has helped Walter with developing the plan, so his involvement doesn’t come as a surprise. What does of course come as a surprise is the fact that he is a human in the memory Michael shares with Walter. How could that have happened? Perhaps September, curious about the feeling of love that humans feel, requested of Walter that he remove the tech that makes him an Observer. Or perhaps Donald was human before he became September the Observer. Of these two options, I would tend to think the former is more probable.
Another question is of course Michael’s relationship with September, and to that, I have no clue. Could Michael be September? Could he be September’s clone? And, again, what part is he going to play in Walter’s plan?
Fringe fans might have the experience of losing beloved characters (Charlie Francis, Alter-Broyles, Alter-Lee and Etta), but Nina’s death is much more jarring. Granted, the first two deaths were from a previous timelines, and the fourth we only knew for a short while, but each of them mark the increasing distance between how the show began, i.e. an investigation into fringe events, and what it looks like today, i.e a war.
This also marks yet another resemblance between Fringe and The X-Files. As all X-Philes know, the latter concluded after a bevy of central characters were killed off, leaving its main two protagonists alone to fight against an upcoming alien invasion. Is this how Fringe will end, with Peter, Olivia, Walter and Astrid left all alone to fight the Observers in a series of movies? There are only three episodes left before we figure that out, and the momentum was built in this episode, which did not do as much for the overall plot as the previous ones, helps increase my anticipation and look forward to the next episode with more gusto than throughout most of the last couple of months. I’m glad I hung in for the ride.