What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: Fringe Episode 5.09 “Black Blotter” Review
Fringe’s tradition of having each season’s 19th episode be something totally wild continued last Friday with ‘Black Blotter,’ as the truncated 13-episode final season necessitated moving the whacked-out chapter to episode 9 instead. Bizarreness abounded as we viewed the world through Walter Bishop’s LSD-tinted glasses, in a stunningly weird and thoroughly enjoyable romp that provided fans with many fond looks back over the series as well as some serious plot advancement, as the team continued to pick up the pieces necessary to complete Walter’s master plan against the Observers.
When the transistor radio from the pocket universe suddenly begins transmitting in the middle of the night, Astrid, Peter, and Olivia must get Walter to help them locate the signal (and hopefully find Walter’s old colleague Donald); but this plan is complicated by the fact that Walter, in an attempt to access the information hidden in his damaged brain, has decided that NOW is the perfect time for an acid trip! John Noble (who has said that this is his favorite episode) is delightful as Walter in his altered state, perfectly portraying Walter’s shifting mental perception as he floats from hallucination to reality and back again, accompanied by tiny green and red Tinkerbell-like fairies and a Greek chorus provided by Nina Sharp and the ghost of Walter’s assistant Carla Warren (whose death in a fire was the reason Walter was institutionalized). Nina and Carla pop in and out throughout the episode, arguing with Walter in an angel/devil style as he attempts to sort through current and past experiences to retrieve what he needs from his addled brain, all the while resisting his transformation into the callous Walter of the past. In one disturbing hallucination, Carla taunts Walter by showing him the old journal he kept in those dark days, telling him, “I’m just like this journal … I represent all the things you’re trying to keep buried.”
The references to past episodes aren’t only in Walter’s hallucinogenic flashbacks, though. When Peter and Olivia trace the signal into a secluded wood, they find evidence of a battle with Observers, including a dead body in a truck which they first assume is Donald; however, it turns out to be Olivia’s mysterious old friend Sam Weiss. The team is optimistic that they’ve reached the end of their search when they finally arrive at the signal’s origin at a secluded forest cabin, but alas, the elusive Donald is not there. Instead, they are met by an angry bearded man wielding a gun; he and his wife were entrusted by Donald with protecting the mute Observer child that Walter and Donald had hidden in the pocket universe. Following Donald’s instructions, the couple have been sending an encoded signal to the transistor radio every five days, and they now demand a password hidden in the signal before they will allow Walter and his team to take the child (now called Michael, who incidentally hasn’t aged in twenty years).
Astrid blurts out that they weren’t able to crack the encoded message and therefore they don’t know the password, but it turns out there’s no reason to worry, as Walter’s acid-laced brain takes this opportunity to zip him off into a Monty Python-esque animated sequence, revealing the password just in time! (And since we can’t watch this often enough, here it is again … arguably the weirdest thing ever aired on Fringe, which is saying a lot.)
Returning to the lab after a touching parting scene between Michael and his foster parents, Peter and Olivia discover that the boy remembers Olivia (from their first meeting in Season One’s ‘Inner Child’), even though those events occurred in a different reality that none of the other characters can recall. Olivia hypothesizes that Michael, being an Observer, might not experience time in the same way as humans, and this may explain why he can remember an alternate timeline. (I couldn’t help but wonder how this kid feels about being fussed over by such a motherly Olivia, as she tucks him into bed and gives him hot chocolate … he’s at least 30 years old, after all. But I digress.)
John Noble is not yet done being fabulous, though. In the episode’s final moving scenes, a distraught Walter sits on the floor of the lab, watching his most brutal memories of the man he used to be, played out repeatedly like a movie on the cinder block wall. Over and over again he sees himself at his worst, losing his son, losing his wife, spewing arrogant, hateful words at his lab assistant; until finally, he retrieves the journal from that time, and sets fire to it in a glass bowl as the shades of Nina and Carla continue to argue. Carla tells him that he’s too late, and burning the journal won’t matter; Nina tries to reassure him, telling him he has to keep fighting to complete his plan. The final revelation comes when we see that the bowl is empty. The journal exists only in Walter’s mind, and we can feel his horror at the thought that everything that made him that loathesome man still exists inside his brain.
‘Black Blotter’ was another solid episode in Fringe’s final season. It provided some much-needed humor along with a wonderful example of John Noble’s impressive acting talent, and a riveting final scene that will guarantee viewers will be tuning in for the rest of the season’s all-too-few episodes.
Fringe continues on Friday, December 21 at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.