written by Graham Roland / directed by Jeff T. Thomas
A big misstep for this season's Fringe, I'm hoping "The Recordist" isn't going to be indicative of more episodes about the Fringe team having largely superfluous adventure while on their treasure hunt for Walter's (John Noble) tapes and following its instructions. This week, the gang arrive in a woodland deep in Pennsylvania, after being told to descend on that location by the third of Walter's non-consecutive video-tapes. There they discover a secretive group of people infected with a bark-like skin condition, led by Edwin Massey (Paul McGillion), a man who's taken it upon himself to catalogue the history of mankind to protect it from being rewritten by The Observers. More importantly, Walter realises that Edwin's people live near a mine that contains precious quartz required to defeat The Observers—but it's unfortunately the source of everyone's infection...
I didn't like "The Recordist", which felt like a waste of an hour. If we're going to be watching Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson), Etta (Georgina Haig) and Walter traipse around the country looking for clues, while avoiding The Observers and inspiring locals to join the Resistance or make a sacrifice to help defeat them, then I'm going to be very disappointed. Too much of this episode felt a trite episode of Stargate SG1, with very little to get excited about or invested in. I just didn't believe in the idea of these forest dwellers preserving the entirety of human history on data cubes (how do they know what's currently happening to the world if they're hidden in a forest?), the workings of their society wasn't explore very well, and too much of the episode just felt unnecessary.
The only worthwhile part of the episode was getting some insight into Olivia's decision to abandon the search for Etta when she went missing 21 years ago, believing it was cosmic punishment for her conflicted feelings about motherhood in general. Torv and Jackson were both really good in that scene, but it made me realise just how little of the week's storyline reflected anything back about the lead characters. Unfortunately, it also reminded me that Olivia and Peter haven't even questioned Etta about the disappeared. Don't they care? Are they scared to ask? Is Etta unwilling to talk about it? It just feels like an oversight of the writers at this point, but I can't believe answers won't be forthcoming—it's just strange and implausible Etta's parents wouldn't be questioning her at this point. What are they waiting for?
I don't have much to add. I'd rather forget "The Recordist" and its stupid title, hoping that next week's episode is a return to form. There was something here in the idea of having to document heroism to keep it indelible, while the performance of guest-star Paul McGillion was touching at times (particularly in conversation with his young son), but when you can skip an entire episode by being told "Walter finds some important quartz" you know you're in trouble.