Fringe "Black Blotter" Review: Don't Try This at Home, Kids

By Tim Surette

Dec 17, 2012

Fringe S05E09: "Black Blotter"

Back when I was in college, there was a tradition called Founder's Day where once a year before finals, adventurous and free-spirited students would roll around on the grass under the influence of whatever mind-benders they could get their hands on while indie bands competed for their attention against some really cool-looking clouds, man (so I'm told, ahem). Fringe has a similar tradition, and each season, it reserves Episode 19 for a far-out trip away from the norm; in these trips have involved a whole lotta singing (Season 2's "Brown Betty"), a cartoonized adventure (Season 3's "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide"), and a seemingly unrelated leap into the fuuuture (Season 4's "Letters of Transit"). For both the Fringe writers and my fried college buddes, these experiments are/were a chance to let off some steam before the crunch. They're also a mish-mosh of unforgettable moments (the thrilling "Letters of Transit"/laying down on the ground right in front of a Penthouse-era Luna while the sky danced to the music) and mistakes we wish we couldn't remember (the regrettable "Brown Betty"/being attacked by invisible snake-worms while a friend morphed into a wizard).

I compare the two because despite the outcome, it's the anticipation and not knowing what to expect that makes them so much fun. Well, that and the psychoactive drugs. Because of its shortened season, Fringe turned Friday's ninth episode of the season into its special Episode 19, and it was one of the weirdest the series has offered. There wasn't a consistent theme or constant gimmick. It was just Walter doing some acid and trippin' balls. And though it was also not much else, I adored it.

"Black Blotter" was entertaining largely because of the powerhouse performance by John Noble (what else is new?). Surrounded by dancing fairies, rainbow tracers, and one amazing Monty Python-inspired vignette, "Black Blotter" was a risk that would've failed without a centerpiece who could shoulder the load, and Noble carried the episode all the way to the finish line and could have done it all over again without breaking a sweat.

When you look back on "Black Blotter," all that really happened was that our heroes eventually found Michael, the Observer boy the team encountered way back in Season 1 and was reintroduced to in "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There." Wheels were spun as Olivia and Peter tracked down the source of Donald's radio signal to the site of an old fight and a signal relay, a fairly pointless exercise except for revealing what'd happened to our old friend Sam Weiss. But there was something in the way the whole episode was presented that made these frivolous tasks more than tolerable.

Fringe's fifth season shall forever be known as the broken-record season, as it's repeating its themes until they permanently become part of our brains. Walter's struggle with regressing back into his old egotistical self has been a key to the season since late in the premiere, and we got a lot more of that in "Black Blotter." But thanks to the magic of some kick-ass acid, it was never fully presented as such. Walter's brain created hallucinations of Carla Warren, an old colleague who warned Walter about the dangers of transuniversal travel in the excellent episode "Peter." She was an imaginary cocktail of hubris and guilt (she died in one of Walter's experiments) that tried to kickstart Walter's God complex, and was only thwarted by a hallucination of a young (and sorta creepy looking) Nina combined with Walter's willpower. And the final moments, when Walter was coming down and scenes from "Peter" were being projected onto the wall as Walter's memories flooded past, were nothing short of beautiful. Again, it was more of the same and nothing we hadn't seen before (Walter's struggle with keeping the bad Walter at bay), but thanks to a trippy presentation and Noble's superior talent, it was intriguing again.

Season 5 will also be known as the season we blindly followed a plan without knowing where we were going. "Black Blotter" may have connected the group with little bald Michael, but for what reason? We've now collected some red rocks, an old formula, some fancy tech that drills into the ground, and some other mystery items, but why? Even when Walter says these are all parts of his plan, that's undermined because Walter doesn't even know what his plan is. I feel like I say this every week, and I will continue to do so until we understand the purpose behind this treasure hunt: This pattern of running errands is the shackle that's keeping Season 5 in a frustrating holding pattern. It's still too early to say the scavenger hunt has damaged the season, but so far it looks like a misstep. Season 5 has been full of great individual moments, but it's just not working as a whole yet. I can't help but think that the attempt to keep some procedural open-and-closed elements in the series through Walter's tapes didn't work as planned.

And so we head we head toward the "winter finale" (that's just network hype-talk for Episode 10) with only three weeks of Fringe left. There's still a lot of work to be done on the story side, but at least the actors and characters are as strong as ever even if the overall picture isn't.

NOTES (and .GIFs)

– The Terry Gilliam animation sequence was incredible.

– For all the cool hallucinations Walter experienced, none was more powerful than when he saw himself—the arrogant version of himself he's trying to stay clear of—looking right back at him. And the LSD waiter. I frickin' loved that guy.

– So are we done with the Peterver storyline? Is Peter just back to normal and we can forget it ever happened?

– That was some real mushy wuvvy-dovey talk in the forest between Peter and Olivia! Get a room, guys!

– Housekeeping note: I didn't think Fox would air an original episode the Friday before winter break, and made travel plans accordingly to be with family for some holiday festivities. Which is to say: Posting a review of this Friday's new episode is going to be difficult, but I'll try my darndest!

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  • raygun_05 Dec 22, 2012

    personally i loved it...mainly because of Walter's acid trip. we've never really got to see inside his head when he's trippin.....although i disagree about FRINGE repeating themes being a bad thing (concerning walter) because im enjoying watching Walters constant changes in his frame of mind...personally this season more so than others, has focused more on character development/moments rather than a cohesive story (so far) but i think the build up with the plan is gonna be worth it and come together nicely in the end so im not worried or frustrated about that

  • totomomo182 Dec 21, 2012

    This episode was total crap the slow destruction of a once awesome show

  • mutagen Dec 20, 2012


    founder's day

    the roof of walker

    falling into sunset lake

    i love episode 19

  • DiegoPecchini Dec 20, 2012

    Incredible acting bu John Noble. That shot were he allucinated the other Walter looking at him all badass-y was amazing

  • Whedonrules Dec 19, 2012

    Aside from the Terry Gilliam animation the episode was kind of like this entire season - a little on the boring side. I sure hope things pick up before the finale. As with others, too little Anna Torv this season. It seems like all of the people in front the camera are ready to get out of this show which makes this season kind of a chore for everyone.

  • AngelicaJones Dec 24, 2012

    Whatever mikeuk. You are mad that Peter and Walter finally has something to do instead of following that blonde whore around like puppy dogs.

  • AngelicaJones Dec 20, 2012

    Ha!!!! Too little Anna torv? How about 4 episodes of no josh and no Peter in season 4? How about 5 minutes of Peter in every single Over There episode which would be around like 8?

    And how about poor jasika? Lance? Blair? I can't even count how many episodes they weren't in.

    Anna fans need to shut up since Anna and john has been in almost every single episode so far and has gotten most of the storylines. So quit complaining.

    Get over yourself.

  • MikeUK123 Dec 22, 2012

    You are missing the point here (as have some others before).

    Fringe was written with Anna Torv as main character. This has been very clear, since episode 1. I'm not saying you should like this, but it is the way it is.

    Now in season 5 that is not the case. So this is a big change from how Fringe was. This is nothing to do with people getting over themselves, this is about the Fringe writers making a major shift in how the show is written. Therefore it makes season 5 very different from the previous 4 seasons, and it is obvious that some won't like that.

    It is a particularly unusual writing decision considering the shortened 5th season, as there is not really long enough to tell a new story in a new way (which is why I think season 5 feels wrong).

  • ElisaDiaz Dec 20, 2012

    yep, that is kind of weird that the main characters would be in every episode, what kind of show is this LOL - I also miss more Olivia in this season, and I am not quite ready to shut up, so I kindly suggest that you get over yourself.

  • TeddyBearZA Dec 19, 2012

    I really didn't enjoy this ep, I am a huge Fringe fan but just felt let down this week. But looks like I was the only one!

  • mcepin3 Dec 19, 2012

    you weren't the only one....'nuff said:D

  • headclub Dec 19, 2012

    It confused me as well.

  • AkiraHideyo Dec 19, 2012

    Loved the sense of surprise (and humor) the Walter "trip" brought. Cool.

  • Aesandil Dec 19, 2012

    Not overly amazed by the episode. For a long-time fan, it was just way too repetitive. I know those themes by heart - not really convinced that I needed them drilled into my mind even more.

    It truly was a mish-mash. The animation sequence was amusing and unexpected, the fairies much less so. Certain parts with Carla Warren worked, certain parts didn't. The flashbacks were powerful (probably because I'd found them powerful back then), but I can't stop wondering whether they were necessary. Hearing about the old Walter is rather tiresome at this point. And that was a very peculiar treatment of Sam Weiss - a shout-out to the past, but such a random shout-out. Anticlimactic much?

    Right now it feels like season 5 has really peaked with the Peter-turning-into-Observer plot, a plot that I've thouroughly enjoyed, and a plot that was brought to a rather abrupt halt. Etta was also great to watch.
    The whole storyline with Walter's plan is just such a nuisance. I think I'm not the only one who is more than ready to see it finally get somewhere.

  • ChanX95 Dec 19, 2012

    The egg head kid is creepier than a priest and a dark alley combined!

  • Akyriel Dec 18, 2012

    I watched this On Demand and had to rewind the getting to the boat scene where I thought I saw something blink as they were going through the building. Anyone else catch that frog that later appeared in the Python-esque scene? If you blinked, you missed it.

    One thing bothering me is that Anna Torv seems pretty bored this season. Maybe it's that her character is sort of a third wheel to Peter and Walter's stories? Maybe because the show is ending? I don't think it's that she is sad over the daughter either, but she could be playing into that a little. To me she seems, at the moment, like she's just along for the ride and doing nothing much of importance herself.

  • AngelicaJones Dec 20, 2012

    @headclub says the person who would have been just fine watching Anna torv do all the work while John and josh do nothing.

  • RickyTerry Dec 31, 2012

    You're an idiot. Patty AKA Mommadeen, AKA Purple faces, aka, the Peter troll/Anna hater

  • headclub Dec 19, 2012

    She's been cut out of the storytelling.. Wyman says he loves Peter & Walter's charcters and it shows...

  • ElisaDiaz Dec 20, 2012

    I liked all three of them in the first seasons, but this Walter is too much for me - Peter is the best character this season, since he had the Peterver conversion and they have cut off Olivia so much, imo.

  • LovelyFace12 Dec 19, 2012

    I suppose you would feel much better if John and josh were third wheel to Anna's stories and seeing her do all the important things while john and josh do boring things right?

  • ejpena1990 Dec 18, 2012

    Haha I hadn't noticed the frog the first time! He blinks and everything...clever

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