Episode Title: "Black Blotter"
Writer: Kristin Cantrell
Director: Tommy Gormley
Previously on "Fringe":
Every year, “Fringe” seems to put out a willfully bizarre episode that temporarily breaks the format of the series. Back in season two, it was the musical episode and in season three, it was a rotoscope animated episode taking place inside of Olivia’s head. Last season introduced viewers to the world of 2036, under the heels of the Observers.
This year, through a series of Monty Python-esque hallucinations, we may have met the ultimate villain of “Fringe”: Dr. Walter Bishop… or at least a darker incarnation of him.
Full spoilers are ahead for "Black Blotter." Don’t read this review if you aren’t up to date with “Fringe” or else a giant semi-animated foot will crush you from above.
When the episode kicks off, Walter (John Noble) has picked a horrible time to drop acid. As Walter experiences an increasingly bad trip — complete with hallucinations of a fairy and his dead lab assistant, Dr. Carla Warren (Jenni Blong) — the Fringe team finally gets a signal on the radio left behind in the pocket universe by Walter’s mysterious ally, Donald.
In his addled state, Walter admits to Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) that he took the acid to stimulate his mind and remember the plan to get rid of the Observers so that Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) can once again remove the pieces of his brain that are making Walter a more ruthless version of himself.
For a war against the Observers, the grim Walter glimpsed in “Letters of Transit” would probably be more effective than his current incarnation. However, "Black Blotter” makes the case that the restored Walter would possibly side with the Observers once they recognize his genius. And Walter himself notes that his other self seems to already be operating in his body without Walter’s consent or awareness.
At one point, Walter wakes up in a New York City cab right outside of an Observer headquarters where he came to turn himself in and win the favor of humanity’s overlords. But the episode immediately walks that back and reveals that Walter was simply accompanying Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) as they went to meet Peter and Olivia. The New York sequence was simply a delusion.
The other half of this week’s episode was primarily about locating the man named Donald, who was apparently one of Walter’s allies before he was ambered. After so much build-up, we really should get a chance to meet Donald even though it seems like he may be dead at this point in the story. There is a nice shout out to “Fringe” seasons two and three with the identity of the dead body found by Peter and Olivia, but that cameo would have meant more if the person had actually appeared.
After last week’s abrupt end to Peter’s stint as a Proto-Observer, he and Olivia were both relegated to the backburner as Walter’s story took over the show. It still feels like a mistake to get Peter back to normal so quickly and without any repercussions other than insomnia. The reconciliation between Peter and Olivia in the woods just felt really bland coming off of last week’s emotional high wire. With only four episodes left, there’s not much time to give Peter and Olivia meaningful arcs without simply using them in service of the plot. Right now, Walter is getting a little overexposed at the expense of his co-stars.
Walter’s hallucination of a Terry Gilliam inspired landscape seems to be a divisive part of this episode among “Fringe” fans. Personally, I thought that it was a hilarious sequence and perfectly in character for Walter. It wasn’t necessary for Walter to remember the password in that way, but it was still fun.
Eventually, the Fringe team tracks the radio signal from Donald’s device to a secluded cabin where Richard (Tom Butler) and Carolyn (Maria Marlow) live with the Observer child, whom they named Michael (Roman Longworth). Supposedly, Michael has a key role to play in the plan to get rid of the Observers, so he should be around for a while. But so far, Michael isn’t very engaging. The one truly intriguing thing about him is that he seems to remember Peter and Olivia from the original timeline.
Getting back to Walter, the closing minutes are a haunting sequence in which he remembers just how arrogant and scary he was before parts of his brain were removed. This is a Walter who was willing to destroy two universes to save Peter. This is a Walter who seems to think that he can play God.
And even when Walter tries to dispose of a tangible link to his dark past, he realizes that his hallucinations held him even more tightly than he believed. Walter’s other self briefly appears in place of the hallucination of Carla and the implication is that the Dark Walter was leading Walter along the entire time.
Keep in mind, some of John Noble’s best work came as the Walternate, a man who was one of the best villains on television. So, an evil Walter in the remaining episodes of “Fringe” could be really entertaining. But I still feel that “Fringe” needs to rediscover the balance between its three lead characters as it heads into the endgame.