Episode Title: "The Boy Must Live"
Writer: Graham Roland
Director: Paul Holahan
Previously on "Fringe":
“The Boy Must Live” may be one of the most exposition heavy episodes in the five season run of “Fringe.” Aside from answering a lot of long standing questions about the series, there isn’t a lot happening in this nearly penultimate episode. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but “Fringe” seems to still have the ability to make its emotional moments overcome its shortcomings.
Full spoilers are ahead for “The Boy Must Live.” If you’re not up to date on “Fringe,” stop reading now or else Captain Windmark will get special permission to go back in time and stop you.
One of the weaknesses of “Fringe” Season 5 is that an interesting story will unfold over multiple episodes — like Peter Bishop’s (Joshua Jackson) slow transformation into an Observer — and then stop abruptly just when things were getting really interesting.
It happens again in “The Boy Must Live,” as Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) is suddenly experiencing the best mental health that he’s had in some time thanks to an empathic pow wow with the childlike Observer, Michael (Roman Longworth). So instead of Walter’s regression into a ruthless and terrifying man, Walter now remembers all of the events from “Fringe” Season 1 to Season 3; effectively rebooting himself in the process.
If we’re judging the story on plot twists alone, that was a flop after spending so many episodes attempting to convince the audience that Walter’s state of mind was an important part of the series’ endgame. Instead that angle is flushed away like it never really mattered.
Yet I can’t get too upset about it because the emotional reconnection between Peter and Walter was so well done. Even when you’re watching every episode of “Fringe,” it’s easy to forget that Walter and Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) didn’t experience the same events that Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) remember from the early years of the show. We as an audience simply took it on faith that Astrid and Walter were essentially the same people they were in the original timeline.
Walter’s transformation here proves that wasn’t the case. And the sheer joy that John Noble brings to his performance is infectious. I’ve missed the Walter who could have a heartwarming moment with Peter right before making an awkward (and hilarious) comment about Peter’s distaste for using public restrooms.
There is even some nice understated emotion from the transformed September (Michael Ceveris); who now calls himself Donald. The story behind Donald’s physical change and his choice of name was interesting, but the more subtle touches came when Donald reunited with Michael, who is his son for lack of a better word.
As Donald explains the history of the Observers, the action shifts to 2609, the home time of of the Observers and “Fringe” shows us how they are born and why they all resemble males. If they don’t reproduce sexually anymore, there’s no need for two genders. I suppose that’s why we’ve never seen a female Observer.
This episode even addressed why Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) hasn’t simply gone back in time to kill the Fringe team before they became a threat. He desperately wants to, but he still answers to others back in his home time period who don’t think that Michael or the Fringe team can possibly affect their long term agenda. As Donald has become more human, Windmark also finds himself experiencing emotions. But WIndmark’s feelings are only intense hatred for the Fringe team and a burning desire to destroy them. He’s evolving, just not in the right direction.
Which brings us to the plan to get rid of the Observers. I’ve been waiting all season to see if those videotapes made by Walter actually held together as a plot device and the answer is “meh.”
The plan turns out to be centered around sending Michael into the future so he can show future human scientists in 2167 that it is possible to have a massively increased capacity for intelligence without sacrificing the emotions that led to humanity becoming the Observers. Okay then... As far as plans go, that one is placing a lot of faith on people whom we’ve never met to come to the conclusions that Walter and Donald want them to reach.
Also, it’s kind of a cruel fate for Michael if he’s just being sent to the future to become the lab rat of those scientists. I’d love to get some indication about how Michael feels about that plan, but it’s hard to read him only by his actions. But if the plan works — and that’s a big if — then the Observers will never have existed and they would have never invaded our world.
Olivia thinks that means Etta will be restored to them, but for some reason she’s overlooking a more obvious problem with that plan. If there are no Observers, then September would not have distracted Walternate from curing Peter in the alternate universe, thus negating Walter’s decision to travel there and ultimately bring Peter back to our world... which was the original sin of this series upon which the foundation was based. Plus, if there are no Observers then no one would have been around to pull Walter and Peter from Lake Reiden as September did in 1985.
So, the plan is far from perfect. Perhaps Peter will be protected from any changes because his original timeline was erased and he was already an anomaly in this timeline. But there’s no guarantee of that and it would be a cruel twist of fate for Peter to once again vanish into non-existence.
It turns out that Windmark isn’t the only Observer showing signs of human emotions. In an amusing aside, one of Windmark’s fellow Observers begins tapping his foot in tune with music playing at Donald’s apartment... shortly before Donald attempts to blow up the apartment with them inside. That actually demonstrates once again how effective Michael Kopsa has been as Windmark this season. The audience hates him so much that we collectively hope he’ll die in traps led by Donald or Etta, only for him to get away at the last second. Usually it’s the heroes of a series that get all of the narrow escapes.
After Donald parts ways with the Fringe team for reasons that were fairly vague, they attempt to get around an Observer blockade by slipping away on a train... only for Michael to get away from Olivia and essentially surrender himself to enemy custody.
You may think that the kid Observer was being stupid, but I think that Michael knew exactly what he was doing. I believe that Michael sacrificed himself to prevent Olivia from being captured and he was able to keep the Observer’s loyalist guards from boarding the train. And there was a great expression of dread on Anna Torv’s fate as the one hope Olivia has of ever getting her daughter back is snatched away from her.
Windmark’s chilling “hello” to Michael was a great cliffhanger that momentarily made me forget that the episode was ending. For a second there, I expected another act to play out before the credits.
There is one other major wrinkle to Donald’s plan: for Michael to reach the future, Walter must sacrifice his life. And because the series is near the end, it can finally get away with permanently killing off one of the lead characters. For Walter, a death that heals the timeline would be a fitting penance for breaking the alternate universe so many decades before.
That could be a satisfying ending, but I’m hopeful that “Fringe” can surprise us at least one more time by doing something completely unexpected.