Fringe "The Bullet That Saved The World" Review: Loss, as Motivation

By Tim Surette

Oct 27, 2012

Fringe S05E4: "The Bullet That Saved the World"

There, there. I know. It's tough. Let it allllll out.

Luckily, I spent all week working on my core (a shirtless Stephen Amell is great inspiration) so I expertly absorbed the gut punch delivered by "The Bullet That Saved the World" and locked the emotional torment away, where it will stay until it bursts out in a sea of sorrow at an unspecified later date, probably when I'm having dinner with my wife's parents. Ahhh, who am I kidding? I got all sorts of weepy.

After last week's disappointing foray into the woodlands of the Scab People and its hunt for some red rocks, Fringe needed a bounce-back episode to hot-glue our faith in this final season back together. For the most part, "The Bullet That Saved the World" succeeded with the best episode of the season so far, but it came at a great cost: DEATH. Stop crying!

Before we get to death, let's first cheer ourselves up with some of the cool things the episode did. I'm fully on board with Walter's secret hoarding obsession of old Fringe-event relics. It's pandering a tribute to longtime fans of the show, and put yourself in his place: If you got to see such cool stuff from week to week, wouldn't you keep some in cold storage in a hidden basement in your lab, too? I'm actively choosing to ignore the fact that we've never heard about this basement until now, and whenever my brain says something like, "But wouldn't it behoove the team to know that the basement and all its magical contents existed, in case they found themselves in a situation where they needed a porcupine man corpse or a slug parasite?" I just put my fingers in my ears and scream, "I can't hear you, stupid brain!"

And I do that because... well, I'm going to be honest with you here and you might not like it. I'm not totally digging Season 5's time jump yet, and what enthusiasm I did have has been drained by the search for warped tapes, constant failed attacks by inept Loyalists, and especially those bark-faces from last week. But the reveal of a hidden room full of trinkets from the gang's previous four seasons' worth of adventures is a very comforting feeling for those of us who are feeling bummed by the future. They're like souvenirs of when Fringe was at its best.

"There was a time when we solved Fringe cases," Walter said, with Giacchino's violins going nuts and indicating he was about to say something badass. "Now I think it's time we created our own." That is so cool I don't even know where to start. If the rest of the series involves Walter picking and choosing what cool toys from the past he could use to waste a bunch of Observers, that'll definitely be a step in the right direction.

This week, Walter's video diaries pointed the crew toward his old favorite hiding place from when he was a kid, a hole in a subway tunnel. Why Walter's parents let him walk around subway tunnels as a kid is a question for another day; I'm just going to assume they were constantly stoned and left the back door open. However, the investigative portion of the episode was limited to merely figuring out how to get past a guard checkpoint and thankfully the method they chose would scar the Observers forever. Haha, good one, Tim.

The old Fringe-event item that resurfaced in tonight's episode dates all the way back to Season 1's "Ability," in which a mystery gas caused victims to turn up with their head holes all covered with scar tissue, suffocated to death. The stuff is like the exact opposite of an asthma inhaler. It's creepy, it's effective, it's one of Fringe's all-time greatest squirm-inducing gimmicks. Using spray bottles and gas canisters filled with the agent, Walter, Peter, Olivia, and Etta made quick work of all the guards and retrieved the mystery item—a complex equation—from the subway tunnel because these Loyalists are the worst. I mean seriously, guys. The Observers may have an army of humans ready and eager to turn on their species, but they're obviously a collection of retired bus drivers, accountants, and cartographers because they are TERRIBLE at the whole combat thing. I'm pretty sure I saw one guy purposefully walk into the line of fire at one point, and ducking and hiding appear to be concepts that they just can't grasp. The Observers would probably be more successful if they tried to stop their enemies with insults and bad jokes.

The search for the item was quickly solved because it was secondary to the real purpose of the episode: to make us feel really, really sad. Because the Loyalists were bumping into each other and putting targets on their own foreheads, the Observers—led by Windmark—went after the crew themselves and immediately cornered Peter and company in an abandoned building. That's how you do it, Loyalists!

Etta got separated from her parents and grandpa, Windmark magically time-and-space-teleported behind her, and uh-oh. Though the scene was filled with doom and gloom, it was magnetic to watch Windmark try to mentally pick Etta apart. It's hard being an Observer because emotions aren't one of their strong suits. They have no drive to be different, so they all wear the same suit. Their consistent skin tone only perpetuates their ennui. And drowning their food in hot sauce is the only way they can feel anything. So when Windmark had Etta by the throat and he asked her why Peter had given her a link of various forged metals to wear around her neck and Etta (whether it was intentional or not) let him read her mind to show him the purest form of love—the love a parent has for his child—it was like a single, solitary firework went off in Windmark's mind. Love. It's a concept that's entirely foreign to the Observers (probably because "where are all the Observer women at?"), and though Windmark didn't completely understand it, he knew just how to use it against those who are part of the uprising. He shot her in the belly, not only because she was an agent of the resistance who lied to him, but also because he knew she meant so much to Olivia and Peter.

Fringe always nails these emotional moments, and this one was particularly crushing. Flashing back to the good old days when a character was a young girl just before the older version of her dies in the present time is the nuke of emotional bombs, and the agonizing minutes while Etta lay there shot and dying were Fringe's Hiroshima. Olivia saying, "I love you SO much," Peter erupting into blubbering denial, Etta clutching the bullet and necklace that symbolized her parents... if you kept it together during that scene then you are probably drinking Tabasco straight out of the bottle right now, you cold, heartless son of a bitch.

Etta wasn't going out without one last bang, though, so she activated a Matter Blaster grenade and when the Observers came back to her corpse thinking they'd find Olivia, Peter, and Walter beside her, things went boom and the whole building and everyone inside were wiped out of existence.

Peter, Olivia, and Walter witnessed this from afar, and it was the most telling clue of where things will go from here. No one bawled or wiped their nose on a hanky. Instead, Olivia left the scene first, visibly shaken but not wanting to let the feeling linger. Last time she lost Etta, she ran away to help save the world instead of staying behind to look for Etta. It wlll be very interesting to see whether she behaves the same way this time, but Olivia leaving first was a sign that things haven't changed. Even Olivia clutching The Bullet That Saved the World in that scene could be interpreted as a save-the-world-first attitude, and hope that Etta's sacrifice wouldn't be without purpose. But Peter stood there alone, motionless and damaged, like he was brewing something big in his mind. I think we should all be prepping ourselves for Peter to go all Liam Neeson on the Observers. Take Etta away from him once, shame on him. Take Etta away from him twice, PREPARE TO DROWN IN A POOL OF YOUR OWN BLOOD!


– Do you think Fringe killed Etta too soon?

– Broyles is back and wrinkly! Man, his job must SUCK. Great reunion between him and our guys, welcome back! And yeah, he's probably going to die before the end of the season.

– Who is The Dove? Are we supposed to know?

– The trick to keeping the Observers out of your mind is the same one guys use to not embarrass themselves in bed: Think about baseball!

– Things I learned tonight: Walter gets off on being electrocuted and donut holes make for great apocalypse food!

  • Comments (235)
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  • KathyStruewin Nov 03, 2012

    a wonderful and humorous commentary above by Stephen Amell on last weeks Bullet That Saved the World episode. I love this last Fringe season with all the glowy amber caves, and post apocalypse style sets. The emotional scenes between mother daughter were intense and superb. Now I know why they spent so much time on those scenes leading up the her death (so not fair). She was a great addition to the story a steely cynical post apocalypse fighter with her Mother's talents, and need to be in control like her Mother but lacking Olivia's compassion and vulnerability. I was looking forward to the clashes of those two, who was going to win. I think the line from Walter I think it was who said we used to solve Fringe cases now we make them is what this season is all about. Can Olivia and Peter save the world. Does Olivia try with her usual compassion and humanity in tact or does she turn into a hybrid of herself and her daughter. Does Peter turn revengeful as a Dad would at such a great loss. Does Olivia learn what she needed from her daughter to fight this new world or does she save the world doing it in her special way alone, to bring back the humanity of it. Or will Peter have to step in somehow to bring her back from moving too far over the edge. at the last minute. They will end up as a team how they started I have no doubt. It will be an interesting ride. Does love save the world, or a combination of love and bad ass. Wish this wasn't the last season I think it is the best so far.

  • estella87 Nov 02, 2012

    Does anyone remember "Fracture" (season 2 episode 3)? The criminal-of-the-week was a terrorist blowing up people to stop the observers from collection data because he thought they wanted to start a war. I just rewatched it and maybe the writers just wanted to keep their options open so the story could go either way, but still; that's nice thinking ahead! ;)

  • celestejewels Nov 01, 2012

    I cried so could they. What about Mom. It was so hard to let her daughter back in...And this.....shame on Fringe. After this episode I was drinking whiskey out of the bottle. Somebody is going to pay. And Yes Peters look says it will be him. Love this show....

  • numberonecubsfa Nov 01, 2012

    The Dove is clearly Broyles. I thought it was obvious. And shame on you for not mentioning that hilarious scene of the Observer playing Simon.

  • matixtli Nov 01, 2012

    i think there was something more in Peter's look that revenge. We still don't know what happend in the past when they lost Etta and Peter stayed in Boston. If she got lost or died when the observers invade.

    It wouldn't be so far fetched that she died and Peter found a way to bring her back, after all, he is Walter's son. So, maybe if he did that once, he can do it again.

  • Shreela Oct 31, 2012

    Please figure out Fringe time-travel enough to prevent Etta's death!

  • ruthles100 Oct 31, 2012

    I'm confused. Someone is saying further down this comment section that there have been plenty of different timelines in Fringe. I can only think of the timeline where Peter surviived as a child and the one where he didn't . There are more? What am I forgetting?

  • 2muchbadTV Oct 31, 2012

    Unless I'm mistaken, those are two different universes, but the same timeline. In the original timeline, there were two universes, one where Peter lived and one where he died. Everything in the first 3 seasons was all one timeline, though. Then at the end of s3, Peter ceased to exist--and technically never had existed--so this created the second timeline. This new timeline also had two universes, but Peter never existed in them. Those are the only two timelines I can think of offhand.

  • ruthles100 Nov 01, 2012

    Thanks for your reply:) I feel validated...

  • bicelis Nov 01, 2012

    I disagree. Different universes were explained as slightly different choices and outcomes of the same people. Thus a slightly different world. What then does timeline constitute?

    I think there is a single timeline and two universes. Think of it a single reel of film. Then the Observers edited it - deleted Peter and thus from that frame of the film, the rest of the film changed, got edited. Thus the world we are seeing now. However, Peter and Olivia's love was so strong that it could not be erased from existence ("the film") and memories started leaking through and then you know what happened - the rest of season 4.

    I think that there's no chance that this is another timeline, because then it would mean that none of the people we are watching now are the same as in seasons 1-3. That would be like changing the whole cast. Moreover, that would mean that there's a timeline out there where everything is alright and Peter never disappeared, right? So the camera crew basically just jumped through timelines to watch this one?

    Also, why then the observers just travel to the timeline where's there no Peter if they so wish? If they can create timelines, then it seems they could travel between them. Observers specifically noted that they ERASED Peter from existence - meaning they changed the current existence and then the present changed - we then saw our characters as if Peter has never existed. That was the point of the whole concept - to show how one man's existence or non-existence can impact people. Walter, Astrid, Olivia - all were different and mostly less happy people.

  • ruthles100 Nov 01, 2012

    Thats good then... thats pretty much what I was thinking. I said further down that even though the original story was Peterful and then things changed and it was Peterless... it was still basically the same timeline... I conceded maybe 2. but this guy said there were loads and I was forgetting stuff. I should trust myself more. Thanks for you answer :)

  • XY Oct 31, 2012

    You got it all right. Contrary to most SciFi material, Fringe actually distinguishes between timelines and universes.

  • kennfree Oct 31, 2012

    Did I miss it along the way? Was there ever an explanation why the Observers invaded and subjugated Earth. Do they like our weather? Do they like our livestock? Do they really, really like our women, since there seems to be only male Observers?

  • mcepin3 Oct 31, 2012

    yes it was said why they are here

  • 2muchbadTV Oct 31, 2012

    I must've missed it. Why are they here?

  • XY Oct 31, 2012

    Because their environment became inhabitable. That's all we know for now.

  • nico_scaR Oct 30, 2012

    Bogus. Timelines of alternative universes cannot be reset...... in the end all you might be able to manipulate is human perception in order to somewhat relief pain and loss. Etta is dead and dead should remain... GIVE IT UP WITH TIME TRAVELING, IT'S EXPIRED.

  • champson1 Nov 01, 2012

    The Fringe team is fighting people who have time traveled from the future... It's too early to give up anything about time traveling when that's what this whole season is really about.

  • belwyn Oct 30, 2012

    I love Fringe. But in science fiction and fantasy-anything can happen. They have tranformed time and the universe more than once-I will not give up hope to final episode. If you think about it, Peter and Olivia have become one of the greatest love stories! They have suffered a lot! Let's hope time and the universe will help them out.

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