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TV Review: Fringe – “The Recordist”

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Regularly throughout the television season, fans are pushed to the side to fulfill the needs of sports geeks. This left Fringe fans hanging last week, but while many were not happy to be given a week off from the show, I was quite happy to have an extra week (and a couple of rewatches) to figure out if I liked this episode or not.

As first, I felt like “The Recordist”, the third episode in Fringe’s fifth season, made no sense at all. There were too many plot holes (why didn’t the Observers just apparate, wizard-style, in the general vicinity of the location they believed the Fringe team was, just like they did in the park?). I also did not feel like the main story advanced at all; how could the team not have gotten the quartz rock in a more timely manner and we could have gotten a little more action to boot?

I realized pretty early on that these were the thoughts of a passive aggressive fan, the consequence of pent-up frustration. You see, I am torn. When I think of what Fringe was like before, I do not like these new episodes. I understand that people change according to what they live through, and I did not expect to find gracing my screen the Olivia of five years ago. That, too, would have annoyed me to no end. But this Fringe team is just so different from the old one that despite the fact that the difference makes sense, timeline hopping and all, it’s at times just too much. I get the same feeling as when I go to a familiar restaurant to order a specific meal I love, only to find out that it is not part of the main menu anymore.

But then are the times when I just let go of my expectations and watch for the sake of enjoying the show, and that it when I remember why I liked it so much: despite the slower episodes when not that much seems to happen (like this one), so much character development happens and so many other layers are explored that I am left well satisfied. Even though the meal I end up ordering is not what I came to the restaurant for, it is still amazingly good.

Which brings me to my verdict: it was a good episode.

Last episode, we left the Fringe team digging at the amber in Walter’s old lab for what they thought was the first tape in the series left behind by the mad genius himself, only to find out that it is actually the third. This tape leads them to rural Pennsylvania, where they find a form of quartz that, through some sort of process, is supposed to be a very large source of energy.

The glyphs spell out A-N-G-E-R, and reflect Olivia’s anger at the dissonance between who she thinks she is, and how she is perceived by the two people she loves the most, Peter and Etta. In light of this self-anger, one can only imagine the anguish she must have felt when Etta admitted that her long lost mother was much more than she had imagined.

River’s hero worship of Olivia, depicted as the hero she thinks she isn’t in his comic books, must have been just as hard. Of course River thinking she is a hero because she did not hide from the Observers makes is even harder for Olivia to deal with the fact that while she might have been fighting the Observers, it was to hide from her duties as mother. I was intrigued by this perceived choice between being a mother and fighting the Observers. In my opinion, they are one and the same. Shouldn’t a mother want the world her child is growing up in be the best one possible? And is Olivia not a unique weapon that can be wielded against the Observers? Olivia was not fleeing from her duties as a mother; she was using her best talents to be the kind of mother Etta needed, rather than to be the mother she thought she should have been.

This rings all the more true when one considers the entire family unit; from what we are seeing, Peter is a great father, and could have easily taken over household duties while Olivia fought the Observers. It would make perfect sense if one considers marriage as a stronghold within which a family is raised; if one considers each family as the building block for society; and if one considers humans as being created to carry forward an ever advancing civilization. Based on these, there is no choice to be made; one can carry forward human civilization by, say, fighting the Observers and raising one’s child.

This seems to be closely related to the theme of courage, brought up last episode by Gael Manfretti’s confession as to why he joined the Loyalists rather than to fight alongside the Resistance. It takes courage to stand up for one’s beliefs; it takes courage to rise up from the loss of a child and continue fighting, even if it is out of anger.

I was quite intrigued by one particular part of Olivia’s confession to Peter: that she felt conflicted about having Etta in the first place, and that her disappearance was a punishment. This hit particularly close to home as a couple of my close friends have had babies in recent years and all of them are struggling with the notion that they have to be perfect in every single way: raise perfect children, have a perfect house Martha Stewart would be proud of, rising the ranks at work, go out every week-end, etc, etc. I for one cannot blame Olivia for being conflicted. After all, she always had a sense of responsibility towards the weak, and she has a unique talent that serves the greater good like no one else can. As mentioned above, her fighting the Observers makes her a good mother, as long as she made sure to take measures to ensure that Etta was well taken care of, since a mother is, after all, a child’s primary caretaker.

Of course this does not mean that a father does not have responsibilities as well, which brings me to a parallel sacrifice made by a father to contribute to a better world for his son to grow up in. Edwin’s story is one of the biggest reasons that I ended up liking this episode so much, once I detached myself from the Fringe of yore. It brought together the storylines involving Olivia’s choice between being a typical, stay-at-home mother and a resistance fighter, and Gael Manfretti’s choice, to side with the Loyalists instead of risk the pain of losing family and friends.

Although Edwin’s refugees are perhaps not as bad as the Loyalists, there is something cowardly about their flight, and about the way Edwin reacted to the request. Letting go of the lower for the higher is really not easy, and Edwin’s ultimate sacrifice is a reflection of the real measure of his courage. After all, sacrifice, which is not about what you are willing to give up, but rather, giving up what you really don’t want to let go of, takes a lot of courage. As Edwin explains, “You are not a coward if you are afraid. You are a coward when you know what to do and you don’t do it.”

Etta and River now have something powerful in common – losing a parent to the cause of freedom (although Etta did get her parents back, eventually). If I had to take a guess, the topic of sacrifice and loss of family members, particularly parents, will be returning to the show at least a couple more times before the finale.

I can’t complete this review without bringing up three things. One is my continued request for more Astrid. I felt her pain when Walter took credit for freeing up the videotape; when is she finally going to get the credit she deserves for her contributions to the team? The second is my favourite line of this episode, that is, Peter’s: “Well, kiddo, you are my hero, for giving me a nice strong jaw line.” And, finally, with a question: who is Donald, who was waiting for a scientist from Boston? Which scientist from Boston, Walter or perhaps Bell?

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  • Caldonia

    I also enjoy the line about Peter’s nice strong jaw line. C’mon Peter, you’re a young man, of course you got a nice jaw line! Also, I agree, bring on more for Astrid please…