Episode Title: "The Human Kind"
Writer: Alison Schapker
Director: Dennis Smith
Previously on "Fringe":
For the first few episodes of the fifth season, “Fringe” seemed like it was lost and desperately trying to find itself. Once Etta (Georgina Haig) died, the story finally came into focus and gave both Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) meaty character arcs.
We’re still waiting for Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) to get her turn.
So far, Olivia’s role has been largely reactive to Peter’s character beats. “The Human Kind” finally puts some of the spotlight back on Olivia, but it’s not entirely successful.
Full spoilers are ahead for “The Human Kind,” if you aren’t up to date with “Fringe,” you should probably stop reading now or else Walter will pull out some human brains and play with them.
Frustrated by Peter’s refusal to let Walter check out the Observer tech in his head, Olivia meets with Anil (Shaun Smyth) and gets another Observer implant taken by a member of the human resistance. Olivia also gets a nice moment of dread and sorrow when the resistance posters of her daughter’s face are torn down and replaced with Observer propaganda art.
After Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) and Walter free another tape from the amber, Olivia decides to head out to Fitchburg to pick up an industrial magnet needed for Walter’s plan to get rid of the Observers. While visiting the scrapyard mentioned in the tape, Olivia comes across the owner, Simone (Jill Scott); who apparently has a mild psychic ability.
Unfortunately, the episode’s writer, Alison Schapker seems to overestimate how compelling Simone would be onscreen and Scott overplays the part in the majority of her scenes. One of the strengths of “Fringe” has always been its ability to find the human heart inside all of the inherent weirdness. However, Olivia’s unwilling ruminations with Simone about the nature of Simone’s abilities and Olivia’s lost faith fell flat. It took up a lot of screentime too.
The one aspect of Olivia’s junkyard visit that I enjoyed was that she is getting very paranoid, especially after learning that several people at the scrapyard seem to recognize her from the Observers’ reward wire as a fugitive... with a high price for her capture.
Soon enough, Olivia falls for a roadside ruse and finds herself a prisoner of two men who are all too willing to sell her whereabouts to the Observers... although at least one of them is reluctant to deal with them. Here, Olivia’s solo story starts to redeem itself as she improvises a gun and uses Etta’s bullet to kill her most aggressive captor. It’s a great moment and a nice glimpse of the heroine that Olivia can still be when she’s on her own.
The highlight of the episode was Peter’s ongoing war with Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa); including a terrific sequence in which Peter and Windmark clash while using Observer abilities. Giving those powers to Peter has been a lot of fun, especially as Jackson’s delivery has become more and more Observer like.
Yet just when it seems like Peter’s transformation into an Observer is just beginning, the ending of the episode brings that character arc to an abrupt close. Olivia manages to reach Peter through their shared love for their daughter, enabling him to willingly cut the Observer implant out of his head before it permanently transforms him.
That was a good scene for Peter and Olivia as a couple and their connection has long since been earned by this series. But it did feel way too easy to get the implant out of Peter, especially since the removal of the implant killed an Observer when Peter cut it from from his head. Maybe there will still be some consequences from Peter’s stint as a Proto-Observer, but I am disappointed that this storyline was over so quickly. Hopefully this means that the “Fringe” writers have something better to replace it with in the remaining five episodes of the series.
Back in the lab, Walter’s storyline about losing his identity was set aside so he and Astrid could examine the Observer implant and figure out what was happening with Peter. There’s never going to be a time when that isn’t fun to watch. But it did kind of imply that the changes in Peter’s brain may not be so easily reversed.
Regarding Olivia’s role this season, I don’t think the lack of a storyline for her character means that the writers are simply abandoning her to focus on the Bishops. The loss of Etta does affect Olivia just as much as it does her husband and father-in-law and she has a personal stake in the outcome of the war against the Observers. She just hasn’t had the unique character journey that Walter and Peter have had since Etta’s death. I think that’s a mistake, but I’m willing to give the “Fringe” creative team the benefit of the doubt that Olivia’s time will come before the end of the series.
“Fringe” may be an ensemble show, but it began as Olivia’s story. She was our entry point into this world and she should take us out of it.