Love Triumphs: Fringe Episode 5.08 ‘The Human Kind’ Review
The Fringe team gained a new ally, Walter’s plan moved one step closer to completion, and Peter Bishop’s descent into the coldly logical world of the Observers finally reached its harrowing conclusion in this week’s episode of Fringe, ‘The Human Kind,’ which delivered the kind of emotional punch that only Fringe can. The changes in Peter’s brain caused by the implanted Observer tech became even more horrific in last week’s ‘Five Twenty Ten,’ as Peter’s voice, facial expressions, and body language began to mimic the robotic Observers. Joshua Jackson’s chilling performance is the centerpiece of this week’s episode, as Peter becomes less and less human while his obsession with avenging Etta’s death grows, and the war between logical thought and human emotion is played out on several battlefields.
Peter’s single-minded fixation on revenge threatens to destroy more than Windmark. As he continues to lose touch with his emotions, the rift between him and Olivia widens. Olivia, terrified by what is happening to her husband, obtains an Observer brain implant from Anil for Walter to study. Meanwhile, Walter and Astrid have recovered yet another video tape from the amber. While Olivia follows the instrutions on the new tape, traveling to a scrapyard in Fitchburg to recover a large industrial magnet, Walter and Astrid analyze the implant (using, naturally, the brain of an ancient human that Walter has been keeping in formaldehyde! Oh, Walter.) When he discovers that the implant is reshaping Peter’s cerebral cortex, wiping out his human feelings and replacing them with logical higher level thinking, Walter begs Peter to let him help remove the implant; instead, Peter embraces this change, seeing it as a way to become stronger in the fight against Windmark. The contrast between Peter’s bland acceptance of the change and Walter’s desperate fight against his own transformation into the man he used to be is particularly poignant. Once again, John Noble’s performance is lovely and moving. (There are few things as tear-inducing as an upset Walter Bishop.)
When Olivia arrives in Fitchburg, she meets a mysterious woman named Simone in charge of the scrapyard (played by guest star Jill Scott of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, who spoke to Screen Spy about her role in a recent interview). Simone is delighted but not surprised to meet Olivia, and she tells Olivia that her mother was visited twenty-one years earlier by an older man who needed the magnet to save the world. Simone’s mother faithfully kept the magnet, and a truck to transport it, and Simone continued the task after her mother died, even when others urged her to sell them. “They lost hope,” Simone says sadly, “But my mother never did. And neither did I.” She tells Olivia that she has sent for diesel fuel for the truck; but she also tells her some personal things that seem impossible for her to know. It turns out Simone has a gift; she is clairvoyant, able to see glimpses into people’s minds and the future.
Olivia, who has every reason to be jaded and wary, finds the serenely hopeful Simone a bit hard to take. She becomes suspicious that Simone and her people are planning to turn her in for a reward, and pulls a gun. Simone is disappointed, but she follows through on her promise, delivering the truck and magnet when the fuel arrives. Simone tries to convince Olivia that her gift is evidence that intuition is greater than logic, and that holding on to faith and hope is the secret to overcoming the Invaders. Olivia grimly explains why she can’t be as optimistic as Simone, telling her “It’s all just numbers. And the Invaders, as you call them? They’re just better at math than we are.” But Simone is smiling as Olivia prepares to leave. Olivia asks her why, and Simone replies simply, “Because I believe. You can’t know everything.”
In New York City, Peter, using his newfound super brain powers, has been manipulating Windmark’s possible futures in preparation for the Observer’s demise. Unfortunately, it appears that Windmark has been doing the same to Peter, and he confronts him in a warehouse, telling Peter “Everything has taken place as I intended.” In the Matrix-inspired fight scene that follows, Windmark shows Peter Etta’s last thoughts before she died: She was remembering her parents and the happy family picnic they shared on the day the Observers arrived. “Your emotions make you weak,” Windmark tells Peter, but he is mistaken. What follows is not what the Observer intended after all. After losing his connections to emotion and family for weeks, Peter’s human side asserts itself. He is enraged by Windmark’s use of Etta’s poignant memory, and successfully fights him off and escapes, returning to the lab so that Walter can tend to his injuries. As he sews up Peter’s wounds, Walter tries again to get Peter to allow him to remove the Observer implant, telling him that the changes to his brain will soon be permanent, but Peter is unphased, seeming less human than ever.
Olivia sets off to drive the truck and magnet back to Boston where Anil has a hiding place secured. On the way she is waylaid by bandits, who lock her in a barn while they make plans to claim the large reward offered for her capture. But in a feat worthy of Macgyver, Olivia pieces together a projectile weapon using a steam engine, some pipe, and the mystical bullet that Etta wore as jewelry. With perfect (if somewhat improbable) accuracy, Olivia kills her captor with a shot to the head, digging the bullet out of the door behind him and replacing it on the chain before she escapes. (How many more times will this bullet save the world, do you think?)
With the truck and magnet now safe, Olivia rushes to intercept Peter as he sits in wait for Windmark. “Soon you’re not going to be able to feel anything; not for me, not for Etta,” Olivia tells Peter urgently. The heartfelt speech that follows could have sounded painfully corny in the hands of a lesser actress, but Anna Torv’s pitch-perfect delivery makes it work. I was fighting back tears as she told Peter how Etta’s bullet saved her that day, trying to explain to him why he needs to hold on to his love, his grief, and his humanity.
“Emotion is our weakness,” a deadpan Peter pronounces, leaving us to despair that he’s too far gone to help, but Olivia is insistent. “No, Peter, it’s our strength … because it’s the one thing they don’t have.” As Olivia continues to speak, Peter’s memories of Etta, of Olivia, and of Walter flash through his mind, a heartwarming montage of friendship, love, and family. Still nearly expressionless, Peter pulls out his knife, reaching behind his head to dig the Observer implant painfully out of his skull. Olivia gently takes the implant from his hand and replaces it with Etta’s bullet necklace. Peter collapses tearfully into Olivia’s arms as she whispers “I love you” (and anyone watching this episode who hasn’t cried already has now most likely lost it).
‘The Human Kind’ is an example of everything that Fringe does well: fine acting, emotional depth, rich characters, consistent themes, and affecting drama. It’s particularly rewarding to have our lovable human Peter back, and I look forward to more suspense, intrigue, drama, warmth, and tears as this final season wraps up over the remaining five episodes.
Fringe continues Friday December 14 at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.