History Lesson: Fringe ‘The Recordist’ Review
After the first two action-packed, plot-heavy episodes of Fringe’s final season, the straightforward storyline in this week’s show gave viewers a bit of a breather, with a somewhat more classic Fringe feel. Last week’s episode ‘In Absentia’ concluded with the discovery that Walter had recorded and hidden a series of videotapes; when all the tapes are recovered, the team will be able to reconstruct the secret plan to overthrow the evil Observers. This week’s episode, ‘The Recordist,’ details the recovery of the first tape and the strange adventure that results from its clues.
The task seems clear enough … find each tape, and follow the clues in order (just like a video game)! Of course, with Walter being Walter, nothing is ever that simple; Astrid discovers the apparent first tape recovered from amber in the lab is actually Tape #3. With nothing else to go on, the team follows the directions on the tape to a GPS location in a remote and mysterious Pennsylvania forest, as Astrid remains behind to try to get more information from the damaged tape.
Walter has no memory of having visited this place before (though whether that’s the result of the Observers’ brain-wiping interrogation or just too many recreational drugs over the years, it’s impossible to say), but the creepy inhabitants who capture the team at gunpoint know exactly who he is. Their self-contained and solar-powered hidden community turns out to be a repository of human history, established to keep humankind’s story intact after the invasion of the Observers, and the Fringe team appears throughout their historical record. Paul McGillion (Stargate: Atlantis) guest stars as Edwin, the head historian of the secretive group (looking remarkably like Ernest Littlefield from Stargate SG-1). Edwin’s father began the vast historical project that he now runs, and his young son River idolizes the heroic Fringe team (he’s even created his own Fringe Division comic book series). Unfortunately, despite their high-tech hidden power grid and fantastically advanced underground data storage facility, the community hasn’t been able to find a cure for the horrifying skin condition that afflicts all its residents, whose bumpy growth-covered skin resembles diseased tree bark. When Walter points out that they could just leave the area, Edwin won’t hear of it. The data facility is too complex to move without its being discovered, and their work is far too important to abandon. They’re resigned to being alone and repulsive-looking, apparently. (At least they have each other.)
After a bit of a rocky start (what with the armed capture), Edwin seems happy to help the Fringe agents solve their puzzle as to what Walter intended for them to find at the historians’ encampment. Astrid finds out from Walter’s tape that they’re looking for a red crystal located deep in a mine underneath the base camp. The crystal, Walter discovered, can be turned into an astronomically powerful energy source that will be necessary to implement the plan. The bad news: It’s located close to whatever is causing the scary skin lesions, and retrieving it will be fatal.
As Walter sets out to build a suit that will protect against the creeping flesh problem, Peter, Olivia, and Etta try to talk Edwin into helping them obtain copper (needed for the power source) from a nearby camp that is known to barter for goods. Edwin is obviously conflicted … although he knows that helping the Fringe team may save the earth from the Observers, he is committed to protecting his facility and its precious historical record. Edwin’s son River appears disappointed in his father; it seems a shy historian can’t compare with real-life heroes like the Fringe team. But after Peter speaks to Edwin alone, Edwin has a change of heart. In the touching scene that follows, Edwin explains to River that as devoted as he is to preserving history, now might be the time to make it, and taking this risk to help the Fringe team may be the only way to ensure that his son will have a future. Even under all the hideous makeup, Paul McGillion manages to convey an affecting vulnerability as a timid man stepping up to heroism for someone he loves … and the dialogue becomes even more poignant when the Fringe team discovers that they have been purposely misled by Edwin. Instead of helping the team trade for copper, Edwin was distracting them long enough that he could enter the mine and retrieve the crystals they needed, even though it meant sacrificing his own life. As the Fringe team drives into the sunset (in a newly hotwired yacht-sized station wagon), we hear young River’s voiceover as he takes over his father’s role, recording the event of Edwin’s heroic death in the data record for all eternity.
This episode was definitely more slowly paced than the previous two, with considerably more emphasis on emotional dialogue than on action (some might even say frustratingly so). But with only ten episodes left for the Fringe team to find all the missing tapes, reconstruct Walter’s plan, and overthrow the Observers, it seems likely that things will be moving pretty quickly from this point on. We may very well miss the thoughtful sentimentality of ‘The Recordist’ when faced with the intensity that’s sure to come in the rest of the season.
Fringe returns on Friday, October 27 with Episode 5.04, ‘The Bullet That Saved the World,’ on FOX.