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TV Review: Fringe – “Black Blotter”

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Fellow Fringe fan and my dear friend Monica was right; reviewing this episode was quite the trippy experience, for lack of a better word. Most of this episode was enhanced by Walter taking LSD giving this exploration of his guilt and fears a very unique taste typical of this sort of ‘special’ episode Fringe is known to produce each season.

The episode is named after a type of acid Walter took in the hopes of remembering his plan to defeat the Observers. Time is running out, as Walter’s old self is piercing through, tempting him to reach out to the Observers, where his intellect will be respected. The biggest irony perhaps is that while Peter, Olivia and Astrid were doing exactly that, i.e. finding yet another of the missing pieces of the plan to defeat the Observers, Walter, who had hoped to aid this process, was instead stroking the fire of his old self, through the persona of Carla Warren, his lab assistant who died in a fire in his lab in the late 1980s.

I have been a little mean with Walter in my recent reviews, as his self-absorption has been driving me up the wall. I have been having a lot of trouble accepting that someone supposedly so intent on saving the world could be so self-centered. I was expecting, after reading the preview, that this episode would yet again stroke the fire of my annoyance. But in a rather brilliant literary coup, the Fringe writers managed not only to portray the clash in Walter’s mind but also the terrifying consequences of Walter’s old self winning the confrontation. So a big kudos to Walter for fighting himself off for so long.

On a side note, the last scene, in which Walter relives the events portrayed in Season 2’s “Peter”, is visually stunning. I also loved the part where Walter was watching the rest of the Fringe team through a television screen, although they were right behind him. A big kudos must be given to the writers, to the director, Tommy Gormley, and, of course, to John Noble.

That the “ghost” of Carla helped Walter find the very reason why she died in the first place, i.e. the journal she had come back to the lab to burn on the night she died, was very symbolic. It also made the battle between “Old Walter” and “New Walter” a lot more interesting. No doubt, following the conversation between her and Walter we witnessed in Season 2’s episode “Peter”, the imagery of Carla represents Walter’s guilt (hence the glyphs spelling out G-U-I-L-T, the same that probably contributed to sending him to Ste-Clair’s. No doubt also that the imagery of Carla also represents that of his ego, the same kind as the one that made Bell choose his work over Nina, the woman he loved.

This is perhaps why this “stand-out” episode was a lot darker than those of previous seasons. And perhaps this is also part of the reason why the “bad” voice, i.e. Carla’s, was wearing white, whereas the “good” voice, i.e. that of Nina, was wear black. Perhaps it was also a hint as to Nina’s position; that while she might not always seem to be on their side, she is, ultimately, on the right side of the battle.

Her promise to Walter to remove the pieces of his brain seems to be another sign that Nina is on the right side of the battle. Her promise to Walter to remove the pieces of his brain seems to be another sign that Nina is on the right side of the battle. That she is willing to lose such an important asset as Walter’s mind, and one of her last links to the man she loved, Bell, is quite telling.

While I am more understanding of Walter’s battle, it doesn’t mean that I do not think that he isn’t self-centered. Quite the contrary. However well-intentioned both his request to Nina and his ingestion of Black Blotter, he once again made the decision on his own, without consulting the team he is supposedly a part of. I firmly believe that unless and until he truly reaches out to Peter, Olivia and Astrid, and even to Nina, he will not be able to fight his old self that is currently making an appearance.

After all, Walter says that he wants to get rid of the devil, and the devil is his ego that has kept him apart from those who could help him. I feel like Walter’s expectation, to be able to solve his dilemmas on his own, with such interventions as taking some Black Blotter, reflect a typical, modern day society attitude of wanting to solve every problem and treat every disease immediately and quickly, with a quick, magical pill. We often forget that these things take time, and do not want to put the effort into treatments. Getting rid of the ego is a long process, and Walter has both the volition to do so, and the support to do so (in the form of Peter, Olivia and Astrid). While there definitely is a bit of a crunch for time in the context of the team’s battle against the Observers, this is yet another reason for Walter to accept the help of those closest to him.

Another person went down that path already, perhaps the only person we can compare Walter to, is, of course, William Bell. This comparison is becoming all the more palatable as we find out jut how much of what was attributed to Bell, was directly related to, or even attributable to Walter himself. In this episode, that the idea of creating his own universe and start from scratch was Walter’s is confirmed.

While Carla’s assertions that “you’ve been him longer than you’ve been you… I represent all of the things you are trying to keep buried,” that “it was a surgical procedure that made you the Walter you are clinging to. But you can’t hide from who you are,” are indeed scary realisations for a Walter desperate to rid himself of his old self, it does not mean that the real Walter is, indeed, the Walter that he was for the largest part of his life. For true identity is not who we are, but who we can be, who we have the potential to be, and, most importantly perhaps, who we strive hardest to be. And to a certain extent, Walter knows this, asking “Nina” to back him up in proving “Carla” wrong.

That Walter is giving his old self a chance to resurface, by wanting to take a “quick peek” and, ultimately, not burning it, is frightening indeed. Can he be trusted, in the context of a war against the Observers, and the fact that he holds something very precious indeed to them, that is, his own intellect? Even more frightening is that he listened to the impulses related to his old self, to his ego: he did take a quick peek at the journal, and he didn’t burn it in the end.

Does this mean that he is tempted by Carla’s assertion that the “Walter [of yore] would think nothing of going off on his own to New York on his own right now. He’d share all his secrets with the Observers, demonstrate his unequalled brilliance… A man of your staggering intellect and vision would be recognized by the Observers, valued, revered even. Grab your coat and hat”?

I am tempted to say that because he cracked and kept the journal, Walter cannot be trusted. But then again, maybe he can be trusted now more than ever, because of the strength of the battle he waged against himself in this episode, and the fact that despite the temptation, he still has not cracked.

The turn in Walter’s internal battle makes it all the more timely to have Peter back. But while it does seem like Olivia managed to touch him in a very deep way, removing the tech has not necessarily removed the anger that made Peter self-inject the Observer tech. Peter’s remorse and his appreciation for Olivia was touching, and make me hope that things are falling into place for them to work on their relationship. It was also nice to see a little bit more of the old Olivia, the active, clear-minded investigator. Her giving Michael hot cocoa just like she did with Etta when she was young was a beautiful, touching moment. Hopefully we will see more of the old Olivia in the upcoming episodes.

The search and retrieval of what turns out to be the Observer child, Michael, turned up some interesting information and moments. We find out that Sam Weiss, in this timeline, was as involved in the lives of the Fringe team as he was in the previous timeline. There is a good chance that he and Donald were working closely together. We find out that Donald has not contacted the couple that adopted Michael in years, which means either he is in deep hiding, or dead.

Now that we know what the technology that make an Observer such, I can’t help but wonder if Michael has it, and what would removing it do to him. I also wonder if the Loyalists who were at the waterfront, who intercepted the Fringe team as they were trying to get to the island where the signal was coming from, were there out of coincidence, or if they were told that the fugitives would be at that location.

Of course Walter’s LSD trip made way for some funny moment, such as his opening line, addressed to Astrid: “Your hair. Your hair is beautiful.” The animated sequence that jogged Walter’s memory at the end of the episode was out of the blue, artistically amazing and no doubt filled with clues and hints. Particularly noteworthy is the umpteenth Wizard of Oz image in the series. There was also one particularly creepy moment, when Carla tells Walter that “You’re burning up – and I know how that feels.”

There are only four episodes left, and things seem to be shaping up pretty well for a pretty amazing show finale, which leaves me both looking forward to and dreading 18 January.

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