written by Alison Schapker / directed by David Straiton
After a week's break so early in the season (I hate US scheduling), Fringe bounced back with "The Bullet That Saved the World", which helped put the previously disappointing "The Recordist" out of everyone's mind. The strange thing about this episode is that it actually wasn't anything too extraordinary, with Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson), Walter (John Noble), Astrid (Jasika Nicole) and Etta (Georgina Haig) resuming their scavenger hunt around the city, looking for some important blueprints Walter stashed under a train station, but there were so many excellent moments that elevated it considerably. Peter having his mind read by an Observer while buying his daughter a necklace from a pawn shop; the return of an aged Broyles (Lance Reddick) as a resistance man deep undercover amongst The Observers; and the fun reveal that Walter's been hoarding "fringe event" paraphernalia under the lab, with one device from season 1's "Ability" being used as a distraction during a key action sequence—sealing people's orifices closed. Naturally though, the biggest surprise was the death of a regular character...
There's no escaping the fact this episode was boosted considerably by the unexpected death of Etta—just four episodes into this season, meaning the actress only appeared in five episodes of Fringe in total. She was introduced as a key new character for the show, so to write her out this early was either brave of foolhardy. A part of me is upset Fringe now won't get the opportunities to fully explore Olivia and Peter's parenthood, and how we'll never get to know Etta to any great extent. On the other hand, I can't deny her death has raised the stakes considerably and imbued the season with an emotional quality that was lacking.
It's one thing to want to see humanity freed from tyranny in a dystopian world, but that's just a basic reaction everyone's conditioned to feel. What's better is having the characters suffer a serious loss (something everyone can sympathise with much easier), and now everything's become personal. The lead Observer, Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa), is an easy to hate figure already because he tortured Walter, but now that he was responsible for killing Etta... well, that only deepens audience feelings. The entire show benefits from having such a despicable, cold-hearted villain at its centre.
Overall, while "The Bullet That Saved the World" was essentially more of the same—with the gang running around evading capture, putting plans in motion to find more of Walter's hidden components to defeat The Observers—it was a terrific example of that. It was great to see Broyles back on the show (who will hopefully become a link to the Resistance now Etta's gone), and I'm glad Fringe has found a way to make me invest emotionally in seeing Walter's plan come to fruition. I still have concerns that episodes this season all have the same focus and goals, because it's just one story chopped up into 13 hours, but if they can keep tightening the screws as successful as this episode did then it perhaps won't matter. For as clichéd as Etta's final moments were (priming a bomb to hasten her loved ones departure, ready to massacre the unwitting returning enemy), it was brilliantly performed and directed... leaving us with a numb feeling and wet eyes.