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TV Review: Fringe – “The Boy Must Live”

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One of the benefits of having only one last, shortened season is that a lot is condensed. Unlike Season 2 when for example, the storyline about Peter’s his true origin stretched out for four incredibly stressful episodes. That story began with Olivia seeing  him glimmer, and ended with Peter, figuring it all out.

In this season, the cards are being laid on the table faster than ever before, but it does sacrifice character development, an aspect of the show I relish. Thankfully, a lot can be inferred both from what is going on and from what we have found out in the last four years, so it’s turning out to not be as bad as I thought it might be. I especially appreciated the brief and horrifying look into the future of humanity should the Observers prevail.

All the pieces are coming together as September reminds Walter of  his original plan. It seems little too simple, and a little too easy, and I can’t help but wonder if there is anything else Walter had in mind about which he’d never told September.

It was interesting to find out more about the Observers, horrifyingly so. The maturation process of an Observer from embryo to adult was well done, and the concept was, for lack of a better word, horrifying. It might have given us our strongest clue as to what happened to all the women. I have a feeling (ha!) that they were considered too emotional, and, as soon as there was the technology to ‘make’ humans, all the women were, well, disposed of. Again, a clear parallel is made between Fringe and The Matrix.

Previously, Michael Cerveris did not have too much emotional range to play with when he was portraying September, and he did a great job reflecting the Observer’s puzzlement at rediscovering emotion. His talent comes out in this episode, as he balances out the human traits of Donald with the Observer traits and movements of September in a very believable way. A very human Donald still carries certain aspects in his movements and speech that have a faint Observer bouquet to them.

It is also great to see Michael Cerveris again as September, instrumental both in reminding Walter about his plan to defeat the Observers and in giving the team the last of the pieces needed to implement it. Although it does make for good storytelling, it seems to me that this plan is a little too simple. Couldn’t September have allied himself years ago with the Resistance, re-implanted the Observer-making tech in his neck, and taken Michael through time as planned? Anel does mention that the Resistance had some; and one of them should still be in Walter’s lab. Even now, however much Walter wants to sacrifice himself for the plan, fact is that it would be much easier for September to take Michael with him through time.

While the plot has me puzzled, the exploration of September’s whole-hearted acceptance of his humanity, however brief, is fascinating. Most interesting to me is how he and Windmark have a lot in common, but are also worlds apart. September discovers emotions in a positive way, through love, and it turns into an obsession with helping the Fringe team. Windmark is discovering emotions through hatred, and an obsession with destroying the Fringe team. This could have given way to a lot of exploration of the themes of light and darkness, and I am sure that future re-watches of this episode are going to yield at least one more post!

I do wish we had more time to explore in-depth the emotions that Windmark is grappling with, which is turning out to be one of the most intriguing aspects of Season 5. It would also be nice to have a couple of September versus Windmark moments where the both come to realise how similar they are.

The arrogance of the intellectually superior, a recurring theme in Fringe, comes through again in this episode, when Windmark’s superior does not take his concerns about the team seriously, telling him that the Observers chose 2036 in the first place because it presented a 99.9999% probability of success, dismissing the ever so slight but still present chance of failure. This explains, in my opinion, the fact that there is so ridiculously little monitoring by the Observers of the humans. On the other hand, it also begs the question: what are the Observers hoping to achieve? And does it have anything to do with Michael walking straight into Windmark’s hands?

Poor Windmark. He seems so satisfied that Michael is in his hands. Little does he know! I am more worried about him than the boy. Not only does Michael have superior intellect and can feel emotions in what I assume is a healthy way, but Windmark is caught in the maelstrom of discovery, battling with feelings of anger and obsession, which are unpleasant even to us mere humans who are used to dealing with emotions.

Most probably because of Back to the Future, but also because I am such a nerd, I love stories that include time travel and am fascinated by all the convolutions that could potentially happen. However, I am not particularly well versed in this matter, and would appreciate any reader helping me iron this out. One of my main sources of confusion in this episode is the plan itself.

If Michael goes forward in time to 21 February 2167 and explains to human scientists where they are moving towards and what that would entail, it is hoped that these scientists would not choose to go down that path again. However, this means that the Observers will never have existed. So Michael travelling through time would create a grandfather paradox, defined on Wikipedia, as: “the time traveller went back in time to the time when his or her grandfather had not married yet. At that time, the time traveller kills his or her grandfather, and therefore, the time traveller is never born when he or she was meant to be.” So if Michael goes forward in time, he (hopefully) prevents the creation of the Observers. But that means that the future would change and (hopefully) Observers would never exist, and Michael would never have been created, and thus could not be sent forward in time to prevent the Observers from being created…

This is giving me a bit of a headache!

One of the many great things about this season were the various tools and technologies from previous seasons that are making a reappearance. It is quite à propos that in this, the last regular episode of the show before it’s two hour finale, the tool that helped start it all reappeared: the sensory deprivation tank. Of course, Walter taking off his underwear and Olivia’s acute embarrassment just made it even better.

Another thing made its return: the statement that “The Boy Must Live”. However, instead of a nice blast from the past, it became a source of confusion, as we found out that it is not attributed to Peter after all, but to Michael. I am quite curious to know if it is a nice piece of retcon, or if this was the intention of the writers from the very beginning of the show.

This episode, and this potential retcon, helped me confirm what has been bothering me about Season 5; it feels like an entirely new show. As a standalone season, it is amazing. But as the culmination of the last four years, it has been a little frustrating, to say the least. But then again, Fringe makes the most sense when one takes it as an exploration into the personality of Walter Bishop. With September’s revelation that Walter’s plan requires him sacrificing himself, it does feel like the circle might be coming to a close, and fans will be satisfied with the upcoming two-hour finale.

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