Saturday, 15 December 2012

FRINGE, 5.9 – 'Black Blotter'

Saturday, 15 December 2012

written by Kristin Cantrell / directed by Tommy Gormley

The majority of episodes this season have been adventures where Walter (John Noble), Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) try and collect an item, with the intention of using them in a masterplan to defeat The Observers. "Black Blotter" was just another version of that formula, but it was elevated by two things: a creative decision to have Walter spend the entire adventure tripping on LSD, and the notion of Walter having to confront the possibility that his old self is returning (i.e. the brilliant but irresponsible scientist who pushed his family away and almost destroyed two universes). As the final season's "nineteenth episode" (an hour where the writers traditionally attempt something radical and risky), it was great fun.

Like so many episode focusing on Walter Bishop, John Noble's presence is reason enough to watch. He's magnificent in this role (will he ever play a character as good when Fringe ends?), and it feels like a genuine threat to his sanity and family if the "1980s Walter" returns. I particularly liked the use of his dead lab assistant Dr Carla Warren (Jenni Blong) in this episode, who returned as a hallucination warning him about the pitfalls ahead. Of course, she was really just a part of his own mind that fears returning to his old hubristic ways.

If I'm honest, there were plenty of times when it felt like "Black Blotter" was leaning on the idea that Walter's tripping to pull it through some weak spots. I'm not sure every little vision (particularly the Green Fairy) or crazy moment was justified, although they were fun to watch. The weirdest must surely be the moment Walter tried to decode a password and was plucked into the air by cartoon fingers, then dropped into a Monty Python-style animation involving a giant frog and seahorse. It was indulgent, but also a reminder that Fringe is one of the few TV shows that has the justification and budget to pull something like that off.

The point of "Black Blotter" was to trace the location of a signal that had started chirruping on Walter's shortwave radio, which eventually led them to an island where two veteran Resistance members live and have been protecting the Observer child known as Michael. (Was he named after the actor who played the most iconic Observer in the show's past, Michael Cerveris?) Regardless, Michael feels like the most important piece of the puzzle, so it'll be interesting to see exactly what Walter's forgotten plan actually is. I also liked that Michael could remember Olivia from their previous encounter; despite that having happened in a different timeline to the one they're in now.

Ultimately, "Black Blotter" was a very enjoyable episode that told a fairly unremarkable story in a visually engaging way, with lots of references to the past (including the reveal that bowling mystic Sam Weiss has died), and gave Noble plenty of opportunities to shine as Walter. The best moment was unquestionably the final scene, with a weeping Walter slumped in his lab as images from the flashback episode where he crossed universes to kidnap the alternate-Peter played on the walls. It crystallised exactly what Walter's fears are about becoming that remarkable but dangerous man once again, and most likely losing the love of his family in the process. The way the scene ended with Walter burning his life's work, only to realise the book he'd ignited didn't exist, was also really provocative. The book was just a symbol of the knowledge he now recalls: which is great in the sense he'll assumedly be able to use his intellect to defeat The Observers, but bad because the cost to his own personality may be unbearable and damaging to those he loves.

There are only four episodes left of Fringe, including a two-part finale. Will Walter manage to save the day and keep himself sane? Is Peter destined to die, seeing as he's complaining of headaches after removing The Observer tech from his head?

14 December 2012 / Fox