It’s About Love: Fringe Review ‘The Bullet That Saved the World’
If anyone thought that Fringe would have trouble regaining momentum after last week’s low-key episode ‘The Recordist,’ those fears were certainly put to rest with Friday’s ‘The Bullet That Saved the World,’ in which the show’s writers proved once again that they are quite capable of ripping our hearts straight out of our chests. The final season’s recurring themes of family, love, sacrifice, and loyalty predominated in a plot that reunited the Fringe agents with an old friend, but ended with a devastating loss.
We’re thrust right into the tense action of the story in the first scene, as Peter braves a neighborhood filled with Observers and Loyalists to visit a pawn shop. The transaction is interrupted by an Observer who creepily reads Peter’s mind to find out why he is purchasing a silver necklace (we all know it’s for Etta, to replace the one they melted down to make solder for Walter’s amber-cutting laser). The Observer pulls an image of Etta from Peter’s mind, and tries for more. Peter manages to block his thoughts by concentrating on baseball (go Red Sox!) and flees the shop, but he is confronted by Loyalist troops outside and must fight his way back into a sewer tunnel. Peter escapes, bloody and bruised, after the soldiers send an explosive device into the tunnel after him. When he gets back to the lab, Peter finds that Astrid has recovered another videotape from the amber, this one containing clues about the location of important blueprints in the plan to overthrow the Observers. Now the team must make their way to Newark’s heavily guarded Penn Station, to a favorite spot where Walter used to hide his comics as a child.
Back at the pawn shop, the Observer Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) puzzles over Peter’s necklace purchase with Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick, looking very convincing in old-age make-up), whom no one is surprised to see, since his return has been hyped in ads and previews for weeks. Windmark tells Broyles that they have a suspected mole in custody, and during a typically brain-invasive Observer interrogation, the resistance mole gives up information on Walter’s old Harvard lab, along with the name of another resistance figure: “The Dove.” Broyles remains expressionless as the Observer interrogator relays this information. Although the tag line to all the previews for this episode (“Broyles is back … but can he be trusted?”) tried to raise doubts as to Agent Broyles’ loyalty, it seems immediately apparent that Broyles is still on our team’s side when he sends a text to Etta to warn her that the Observers know about the lab.
John Noble has some lovely moments this week, especially once it’s revealed that Walter has been saving every piece of Fringe event evidence in a hidden chamber underneath the lab for twenty-one years. “You really had no idea he was doing any of this?” Olivia asks Astrid incredulously, as they tiptoe through props and memorabilia from four previous seasons of fantastical Fringe favorites, and Astrid replies, “I wouldn’t have slept at night if I did.”
“Some secrets are meant to be kept,” explains Walter, “for two reasons: Number one, because they’re mine; and number two, I have a healthy distrust of the government.” It’s lucky for the team that he does, for now they have an arsenal of supernatural weaponry at their disposal. As the team prepares their Fringe weapons for the infiltration of the train station, Etta explains to Olivia that the bullet she keeps on the chain around her neck was recovered from Olivia’s jewelry box in their old house, and she’s worn it since she was thirteen to feel closer to her parents.
With the advance warning from Broyles, Etta is able to get everyone out of the lab, and Olivia has the brilliant idea to re-amber the lab to hide the evidence of their presence, which confuses the Observers enough to make them doubt the intelligence they recovered from the resistance mole. Using one of our favorite and most nauseating toys from Fringe’s past episodes, Walter overwhelms the guards outside the train station with David Robert Jones’ scar tissue growth gas (from Season One’s ‘Ability’), which causes victims’ eyes, ears and mouth to seal shut in a matter of seconds. Ew! The tube of plans is recovered, and appears to be a complicated set of physics formulae; but alas, Walter can’t figure out what they mean, blustering “This is Greek to me! Except that I read Greek. This is Aramaic … not the Western dialect, I do speak that.” As the team prepares to return to the lab, Agent Broyles arrives for an emotional reunion, in which he describes how Etta recruited him to the resistance effort. Unfortunately, Broyles is followed shortly thereafter by Observers, who trailed him with a tracking device on his car.
Broyles escapes with the plans while Peter, Etta, Walter, and Olivia flee to a nearby empty warehouse and wind up in an intense exchange of gunfire with the Observers. In the firefight, Peter and Olivia are separated from Walter and Etta, and Etta is disarmed by Captain Windmark.
Windmark, holding Etta by the throat, still wants to know the purpose of the necklace. It’s as hard for us as it is for Etta to breathe in this emotional scene, as Windmark digs through Etta’s mind, finding only her childhood memories of Peter. Windmark realizes that the meaning of the necklace, and Etta’s ferocious loyalty to her parents, is all about love, a concept that he obviously can not understand … and in a shocking and unexpected twist, he shoots her point blank. Peter and Olivia, hearing the gunshot, rush to Etta’s side – but the Observer is gone, and Etta is moments from death. Anna Torv is completely convincing during this heartwrenching scene; in just a few short seconds Olivia moves from forced optimism (“You’re going to be okay!”) to her last desperate maternal expression of love. Georgina Haig delivers yet another perfect performance during Etta’s final moments, stunningly and subtly underplaying Etta’s final seconds with her parents. And Joshua Jackson could not be more effective in his almost wordless expression of overwhelming grief when it becomes clear that Etta is gone. (Yes, there were tears!)
I probably should have realized that Etta was doomed when Georgina Haig kept appearing as a guest star in the credits, but she fit so perfectly into the Fringe family that my wishful thinking clouded my logical brain. I wanted her to stick around forever (damn you, Joel Wyman)! For that reason, Etta’s demise this early in the season was a complete shock, and it had what I’m sure was the intended effect … I now have an intense and emotional need to see the Observers pay for Etta’s death, and I can’t wait to see what Peter does to them. Judging from the trailer for next week’s ‘An Origin Story,’ I won’t have long to wait for at least part of that satisfaction.
Fringe’s final season continues Friday, November 2 with episode 5.05, ‘An Origin Story,’ on FOX.