Episode Title: "Letters of Transit"
Writers: Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner & J. H. Wyman
Director: Joe Chappelle
Previously on "Fringe":
We open with a text crawl that explains that the Observers seized control of our world in 2015, quickly defeating the original Fringe team and all organized resistance before purging millions of humans who wouldn't follow them. Now, the Fringe division exists only to police "native" (human) crime, while the Observers are satisfied that all major resistance has been crushed. Flash forward to Boston, 2036. We meet Etta (Georgina Haig), a self-assured Fringe agent who witnesses a man named Rick (Bradley Stryker) nearly get mindwiped after antagonizing a prominent Observer.
To save Rick's life, Etta knocks him down and claims jurisdiction over his crime. When the Observer attempts to read her mind, he is somehow fooled by Etta's thoughts. Outside, Rick and Etta confirm that he was able to get what he needed from the Observer while he marvels at her ability to hide her true thoughts from them. Rick tells Etta that he was able to recover someone who was frozen in amber before he is murdered by an unknown assailant. Etta flees in Rick's van before learning that the man Rick rescued was Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble); who is still encased in amber in the back of the van.
Etta meets up with her partner, Agent Simon Foster (Henry Ian Cusick) as she informs him that Rick was murdered by an Observer loyalist. After Simon mentions that the original Fringe team was lost years ago, Etta reveals that she's found Walter and that the rest of his team may have survived as well. Meanwhile, an Observer visits an aged Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) to hassle him about Rick's unsolved murder. The Observer also threatens to take over Broyles' jurisdiction if he can't produce a suspect.
Elsewhere, Etta and Simon realize that Walter's amber coating is so advanced that it will almost immediately revert to solid form before they can free Walter from his self-imposed fate. They eventually requisition a weapon that can push Walter out of the amber during the brief seconds that the amber is gaseous once again. Once Walter is out of his prison, the agents introduce themselves to him and ask about a device he built that could get rid of the Observers. But Walter's mind is so damaged from his ordeal that he can barely remember them moments after meeting them.
Hoping to find a solution, Etta and Simon take Walter to meet Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), who is now wheelchair bound. Even though Walter has known Nina for decades, he doesn't recall her either. With few options to heal Walter's mind, Nina suggests using the pieces of Walter's brain that were removed at his request years ago. Unfortunately, Walter's brain matter is locked up at the old Massive Dynamic building in a city crawling with Observers who could pick up his stray thoughts. The agents manage to get Walter to a train station, where he briefly freaks out about seeing so many Observers.
A human loyalist/guard confronts the trio about Walter's outburst and he doesn't seem to buy their explanation that Walter is Etta's grandfather who they checked out of the home for a day. Regardless, the guard lets them go. Inside the former Massive Dynamic building, the trio accidentally set off an alarm that notifies Fringe division of a break in. Unaware of what's happening, Broyles notifies his Observer boss, Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa). Inside one of the abandoned labs, Simon gives Walter a sedative and a shot using his old brain matter to heal his mind.
When Walter wakes up, he is remarkably lucid and even harsh towards the agents. Downstairs, an Observer and his cadre of armed loyalist soldiers prepare to shoot the intruders on sight. Upstairs, Walter reminisces about the Observer known as September, who tried to help humanity before Walter admits that he can build a machine that will get rid of the Observers. As the Observer and his men close in on them, Walter assembles an impromptu anti-matter bomb and declares himself and the agents to be insurgents.
Shortly thereafter, the Observer and his men find the bomb moments before it goes off and completely destroys the building. Walter tells the agents that he now remembers where the rest of his team is. Back at Fringe headquarters, the guard from the train station alerts Broyles that Simon and Etta were transporting Walter without proper clearance. As Broyles assembles a team to find them, he activates a tracking device in Simon's body. At the hidden tunnel, the trio free Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) from the amber, shortly before she and Walter see another person who was ambered beside them: William Bell (Leonard Nimoy)!
But the device Simon used to free Astrid and Walter begins malfunctioning as Broyles' team closes in on them. Realizing that they have only one option to save another person in the amber, Simon takes his place. Moments later, Broyles and his team find Simon trapped in amber while one of Walter's trademark licorice links has been left behind. On a train leaving the city, Astrid chides Walter for leaving William Bell behind, but he reminds her that Bell did something to Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) that Walter considers unforgivable.
Walter also reveals that he severed Bell's hand for an unknown purpose. As Etta stares out the back of the train and thinks of her lost partner, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) apologizes for what happened to her friend. Etta asks Peter if he knows her and it takes him a few seconds to realize that he is speaking to his daughter, Henrietta "Etta" Bishop before they embrace.
The writers and producers of "Fringe" deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to completely reinvent the series on a yearly basis, in addition to format breaking episodes like this one. But if this is final season of "Fringe," I have to wonder if this installment will eventually be looked at as a creative misstep.
Which is not to say that it wasn't good. There's a lot to enjoy about "Letters of Transit." The revelation that the Observers completely take over the world in four years throws everything we knew about them in question. Most of us believed from the start that the Observers had a hidden agenda, but I don't think that anyone would have predicted this. It's a brave new world for strange bald guys in suits and it was bizarre at times to see the Observers featured in propaganda art across the city and acting so belligerently towards humanity.
What we learned just a few weeks ago was that the Observers come from a distant future and that they were very, very different from the bulk of mankind. But apparently once they're in power, the Observers are clearly just like us, if not worse. So, does this mean that September and the rest of the Observers that we've met to date were aware of this future and subtly leading events towards it? Walter hinted that September tried to help humanity; which may explain why he appeared to be fatally wounded several episodes back.
Georgina Haig and Henry Ian Cusick were engaging as Etta and Simon, especially when playing off of the first new incarnation of Walter. If this had been the first episode of a "Fringe" sequel series or a fifth season premiere, I would have loved seeing more of that new dynamic in future episodes. It was strange that the end of the episode seemed to assume that the audience hadn't already guessed who Etta was long before her reunion with Peter. Etta looked and acted a lot like Olivia and Simon even called Walter her grandfather as part of their cover story; which should have been the biggest indicator of Etta's true identity.
The really big surprise of this episode was the return of William Bell, whom I fully expected to never see again on this show due to Leonard Nimoy's retirement. Also, Bell was pretty convincingly killed off twice. But his return means that it is very possible that Bell never died in this timeline. And from what Walter said, Bell may also have been responsible for Olivia's demise or worse.
John Noble justifiably gets a lot of praise for his performance on a weekly basis. But he elevated his game once again with the two new versions of Walter: the even more senile and childish Walter upon his awakening and Walter's darker, more serious incarnation after his brain damage was healed. The second Walter was more like Walternate than ever before. That's actually not the first time that we've seen this happen to Walter. His demeanor completely changed when Walter's brain was briefly connected to his lost grey matter by the shapeshifter Thomas Jerome Newton back in season two.
It seems like a restored Walter loses a lot of his fun and quirky personality traits that we've grown to love, like his hilarious willingness to be medicated and his inappropriate outbursts at the train station. In his place was a man who was coldly willing to activate an anti-matter bomb and kill several people, in addition to cutting off Bell's hand. Although, even the bad ass Walter still couldn't get Astrid's name right. Some things never change.
Notably absent from this episode was any mention of the alternate universe; which opens the door to more speculation about that world's fate. It also seems like Broyles is destined to be under the thumb of villains in either world. I never got the indication that Broyles sided with the Observers because he wanted to. Instead, it seemed like acting under their authority was the only way to keep a bad situation from getting worse. There was also a great moment when Broyles found Walter's licorice and realized what it meant. On a side note, the makeup effects used to depict Broyles and Nina as their older selves was very well done.
There are two major problems with this episode: First, it just stopped completely stopped the momentum of the David Robert Jones storyline that's been building all season. An argument can easily be made that the audience could use an occasional break from that story and this was an entertaining episode. But the larger issue is that several brand new plotlines and story possibilities were just opened up that may never be explored again.
It's entirely possible that the events of this episode will inform the outcome of the remaining three episodes of the fourth season. But unless "Fringe" is renewed, we're not likely to get any kind of closure for the events of "Letter of Transit." And if "Fringe" has to end, I'd rather it end cleanly instead of leaving such an interesting story left untold.
Don't leave us hanging, Fox!