Fringe "An Origin Story" Review: If You Can't Beat Them, Become Them

By Tim Surette

Nov 05, 2012

Fringe S05E05: "An Origin Story"

One of the scariest clues Friday's HUGE episode of Fringe was right there in the episode title. "An Origin Story" dealt with the difficult mourning process for Peter and Olivia after they lost their daughter Etta, but what/who was it an origin story for? The answer might not be the one we want.

After Season 5 began like a fanfic action movie, continued as a tedious scavenger hunt, and became a devastating tale of loss last week, it found some great footing in "An Origin Story." It was probably the best of the young season so far because it meant so much for what's left to come (unlike "The Recordist," with its inconsequential bark-faced filler) and brought Fringe back to what it is really about—character—while intertwining it with plenty of standalone plot. That's really just a long-winded way of saying things this episode seemed to be the instigating event that will drive the rest of the season.

Sure, Season 5 could have continued with Astrid lasering tapes out of amber and Olivia and Peter shooting pew-pew lasers at Loyalists and Observers until Walter's plan came together, and we'd all sit around in a few years and say, "Yeah, Season 5 was alright, I guess, I dunno I barely remember what happened. Something about tapes?" Except we're here for the characters, and it was looking like Season 5 was going to be a simple good-guys-beat-the-bad-guys story, which just wouldn't cut it.

"An Origin Story" was all about the past repeating itself as Peter and Olivia both handled Etta's death in different ways. The same different ways as before, decades ago when they lost Etta the first time. The same different ways that almost tore their relationship apart as Peter angrily fought to find Etta and Olivia moved on to help save the world because she might be avoiding the "mother" thing she didn't always feel ready for. And each party learned from their previous experience, one by realizing her mistakes and one by going on a raging bender of torture and murder!

Emotional contrast was the play here, and it worked really well. At first, Olivia's reaction (and her attitude this entire season) initially made me sigh. Did we really need to see this once mighty female character resigned to frosty detachment? But you know what? Olivia's always been closed-off with her emotions, only popping her head out of her shell thanks to Peter and his dimples. Girl has mental problems, no doubt. So to see Olivia like this was pretty fair for her character, and the journey she set out on thanks to Walter's concern made it worthwhile. Here's a woman who grew before our very eyes and faced one of her worst fears when she finally acquiesced and watched the tape of young Etta's birthday party. It wasn't anything you'd cry over (but you probably did, didn't you?) and it was a tad ham-fisted, but it worked competently when compared to Peter's outing.

Oh Peter. PETER! This episode was all about Peter. While Olivia sat around deciding whether or not to watch a video tape, Peter gathered all his sadness and molded it into a giant ball of hate and torture. Sure, Walter's plan of unscrambling video tapes and building a better mouse trap with red rocks, physics formulas, and whatever else the tapes said to get (a hollowed-out avocado? A muffler from a '67 Mustang? What will the tapes ask for next!?!?) is the main goal here, but who has time to wait for everything to come together when revenge is banging on the door and asking to be let in NOW? Not Peter, that's for sure. So Peter came up with a plan to really annoy the Observers.

The details of the plan aren't that integral to this conversation, but I'll go over them in brief. The Observers were shipping components for their air-degradation systems through wormholes (cool), so Peter figured he'd close down their shipping lane by throwing some anti-matter into the wormhole—you know, typical Sunday-afternoon stuff. Conveniently, the Resistance kidnapped an Observer and stole a wormhole-opening cube, setting Peter's plan into motion. There was just one problem: The cube wasn't assembled, and it had to be put together as though it belonged to Mr. Rubik! Fortunately Peter had just finished the Season 2 DVD set of Lie to Me and was well-versed in involuntary human "tells," so he read the Observer's eyes for pupil dilation and nervous sweats as he held up pieces of the cube, the idea being that the Observer would accidentally give up the correct instructions through twitches and such. (Okay, maybe that wasn't so brief.)

This sounds like a couple guys playing a board game together, but it was actually very unpleasant to watch! Peter was straight-up MEAN and showed a side of himself we rarely see. The Observer, let's call him April because that would be a funny name for an Observer and it's consistent with the month thing, was just as nasty to Peter, which made for some terrific dialogue as Peter accused April of being an emotionless suit and April likened humans to ants, oblivious to the shoe that was about to stomp on them. If I were scoring the trash-talking, I'd probably have it 10-8 April. That bit about the ants was deep and spot-on and terrifying! From now on, I'm looking toward the heavens, and if I see a Nike logo I'm diving for cover, that's for sure.

But this battle wasn't won with words, and after Peter's plan to close the wormhole didn't work (probably because the Observers can just move stuff around in time or something?), things got dark. With his frustration mounting, Peter declared, "I would be ten times who you are if I had your tech in my head," and then a big lightbulb went off. He tore into April's neck and dug out the tech that makes Observers Observers and creepily let it squirm its way up into his own neck. Totally gross!

And that was the origin story of "An Origin Story," how Peter became THE PETERVER or the THE OBSERVETER or [whatever you come up with that's probably better than those two]! If the scenes from next week's episode are any indication, the neck upgrade will have Neo'd out Peter with all sorts of enhanced abilities, minus the pale skin. But is he a super-powered freedom fighter or a hate-fueled venge-monster? My grandpappy used to sit me down his knee and say, "Timmy, nothing good can come from foreign technology that you rip out of a bad guy's neck and insert into your own brain," and I think he was probably right. The Peterver is going to be a great asset to the Resistance, but at what cost? Probably some semblance of his humanity. Expect a lot less boy-next-door-Pacey in the next few episodes and a lot more PETER SMASH as the Observer update hollows him out (but also allows him to do cool things like catch Observer punches!) and turns him into something he wasn't.

This is going to be particularly painful for Olivia, who just came around to understanding that coping with loss means being near your loved ones. The last time Etta was out of the picture, Olivia left (one could say she moved on, but I think she was avoiding the issue) and Peter stayed behind. This time, Olivia is willing to stay and it's Peter who will be putting distance between them. "Peter, I want you to come home, I don’t want to lose you," Olivia said as Peter felt the juice from the Observer upgrade. I think you're too late, Olivia. The forecast calls for plenty of dead Observers with sustained stretches of heartbreak.

"An Origin Story" played very well off last week's "The Bullet That Saved the World," giving this season the kick in the pants that it badly needed. We can see where we're headed and it's not pretty—but it feels right.


– Ever since the premiere, the action sequences have looked awfully stiff. I suppose if there's one aspect of Season 5 I don't mind struggling through, it's the action sequences. But Fringe should be able to do better. I do think the show does incredible things with effects, though.

– Is Astrid just going to be a lab tech all season?

– Dogs DO smile, you big bald liar!

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  • NoaXIV Nov 11, 2012

    Geeeh, thanks for the gif... :/ I really do hope they have a plan. I couldn't stand to see this one go out with a soft pouf instead of the boom it deserves. Or become totally ridiculous like every ending of the Scream Movies b/c they have to scram all the answers into the very last minutes.

    Watching Peter is like watching a kitten on top of the shelf. You can't really look cause you're afraid it's gonna fall down but you also know there's gonna be trouble when it starts knocking stuff over.... Gonna close my eyes and hope that the world-saving-version of Olivia will kick in some time soon...

  • violetpretty Nov 07, 2012


  • shootingstar609 Nov 07, 2012

    Peter's fatal flaw is that he takes everything too personally and vows revenge until his dying day, until he gets revenge in one form or another and then wanders around looking for something else to do, much like Inigo Montoya on the Princess Bride. Granted, watching your daughter die in front of your eyes after only having spent a combined 5 of her 20 something years with her is pretty brutal.

  • TypeB Nov 07, 2012

    "My name is Peter Bishop. You killed my daughter. Prepare to die."

  • Dayman90 Nov 07, 2012

    This was a decent episode. I still love this show but some of the energy that has made the show great in the past seems to be missing this year. Maybe that's what they're going for? But it does feel a bit off... I still love the show but I just wish they could slow it down a bit. I know this is tough being the final season and their trying to crunch as much as possible just wish they could do more fringe cases rather than trying to save the world like some action movie.

  • rogue12 Nov 07, 2012

    I actually have a question... is it just me, or did Olivia jump to another time/dimension when she was going after peter once their plan fail? I think that this is only possible becuase she was feeling scared, and we all know that we she is afraid, she can transfer to another dimension.

  • Big_Pecks Nov 07, 2012

    Okay, good. I'm glad that other people thought this was the best episode this season so far. Good performances from Anna and Joshua. However, when did we find out about the Observer's having... whatever that tech is? If it was before this episode I don't remember.

  • MiguelGonalve Nov 07, 2012

    I really think that Peter colud be the first!

    All Observers came from the future right? So the first one had to be created / born / made sometime before the future. So Peter using the tech on himself could be the event that created the Observers and sometime in the future they came to the past.

    So they knew that Peter was going to do that but couldn't stop him or else they would never exist!

    Damn time travel make my head spin...

  • kanniballl Nov 08, 2012

    I had a similar thought... the was the Origin story... of the OBSERVERS. With Peter being the first.

    Though... you'd think they would have been a little less eager to disappear Peter from the timeline last season. Even if they somehow insulated themselves from changes to their past.

  • FAssbenderiwy Nov 07, 2012

    How could Peter possibly be the first Observer when he is using the technology THEY invented, therefore they already exist????? it just doesn't make sense.

    If the Observers can see past, present and future they must know that Peter has done the implant thing, musn't they?

  • kanniballl Nov 08, 2012

    Typical Paradox stuff: where you are both the cause and effect. Like: going back in time to save Lincoln from assassination... but in doing so you accidentally GAVE Boothe the idea (and plan) to do it and thus created the assassination you wanted to prevent. You are destined to ALWAYS go back and thus always create it, and as such the whole chicken/egg thing comes into play.

    It was used often in time-travel literature.

    Though lately, then tend to go with parallel timelines and such.

  • mcepin3 Nov 07, 2012

    that's the butterfly effect for ya(or better them:P )

    he "techs" himself,becomes "better,SMARTER,faster,....Peter" with tech inside him,surely he knows how to make more of them or learns how to make more. therefore he becomes First of many:D

  • Aesandil Nov 06, 2012

    What an episode! Absolutely the best offering of this season so far. Sad plots are often the most tangible ones, touching upon the matters of importance. I've seen a prime example of this with "An Origin Story". Yet sad doesn't just have to mean depressing - even if I understand that some people had hoped to get a higher dose of optimism after last episode's painful loss, you could still find the strengths and notable truths in what was shown.

    Peter's grief blinding him to many good aspects of his life that still weren't lost to him (primarily Olivia, but also Walter), subtly showing how easily one could slip into the spiralling circle of negative emotions... one that might be hard to get out of. You can get all depressed over that, I suppose, or it can make you ponder on what really matters. Not with a grin on your face, naturally, but not necessarily by being all gloomy, either. There is a fine balance somewhere inbetween, and for me Fringe still carries that message of hope.

    The show has also always been about the characters, indeed. So many powerhouse performances help one realise it even better.

    When Walter delivered his rousing speech over the birthday videotape to Olivia, I thought that John Noble did it again - left everyone way behind. But Joshua Jackson did not yield that easily, and he did what he had proven himself capable of doing a few times in the past - fueled Peter with a concoction of truly moving, conflicting emotions. And then Anna Torv underlined it all by doing what her Olivia does best: showing subdued, yet overhelming feelings.

    No matter what, this is one of the episodes that I'm going to remember - even if it were just for the acting itself.

    But of course, it won't be ambered in my memory only because of the finest of performances. The implications for Peter taking that one step further (too far?) seem tremendous. It was shocking, it opened a whole cube of questions (as if we didn't have enough at this point...), and I can't help but wonder if any possibility of going back is still open. Here is hoping that he can cling to his humanity throughout that journey of revenge.

  • PolarisCarver Nov 06, 2012

    My main problem with season 5 is that I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the Observers taking over the world and everything that goes with it. I keep getting stuck on the way they see and move through time, as introduced by September early in the series, and their getting involved in the present is still kind of a problem for me. So the wormhole thing made me go a little "what? ...but?". Well maybe I'm just missing/not understanding something.

    It was still a really great episode. I'm sad about Etta, but I thought her death was a really good (and gutsy) move for the series. Peter and Olivia were both amazing!

    I get what you mean about the action scenes though. I don't find them very exciting.

  • MichaelMcLaug2 Nov 08, 2012

    Yup, the observers taking over, to me, is a kind of stupid direction they went in this year. The observers were something interesting and mysterious, moved through time, etc. and now they're evil entities, and NO explanation of the fact that Peter disappeared and is in the wrong timeline. And WHAT happened to the other parallel world? It's nowhere to be found. Everything the series was dealing with has vanished this season into something else - it's like the cliffhanger on Dallas where Pam dreamed the entire last season.

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