Fringe "The Human Kind" Review: Love vs. the Robots

By Tim Surette

Dec 11, 2012

Fringe S05E08: "The Human Kind"

In the world of Fringe, you can have all the universe-zapping doomsday devices you want when it comes to war, but me, I'll take L-O-V-E any day. Contemporary philosopher Huey Lewis was right: The power of love might just save your life, and in this week's episode of Fringe, it saved Peter's by bringing him back from a very bad place.

The hopeless romantics of the Fringe writers' room have solved a lot of problems through love, and depending on the temperature of your heart, love saving the day for the millionth time in "The Human Kind" either worked and made you cry sappy tears or failed and made your eyes did somersaults in their sockets. But guess what!? Both are totally acceptable responses! Why? Because while Fringe does use love as a crutch, it does it awfully well.

There was some plot in "The Human Kind," but it didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. Walter's latest tape required a big junkyard-sized magnet that Olivia went to fetch, and Peter continued his attack on Windmark by shaping his future through the Butterfly Effect. Pretty ordinary stuff that really just gave Olivia and Peter things to do while the real heart of the story took place on an emotional level.

This was finally an Olivia episode, in case you'd forgotten that she's still part of this season. She went out into the sticks of Fitchburgh to bring back the magnet and ran into the Junkyard People, a group who knew a thing or two about Olivia's destiny. They were led by Simone (played by guest-star Jill Scott), a mystical woman who foresaw Olivia's arrival and stirred the pot on romanticizing fate versus accepting special abilities as anomalies. She spouted enough new-age mumbo-jumbo to power a hippie commune for a year, but Olivia countered by saying we're all just a bunch of numbers and the Observers are really good at math. That we assign meaning to things without meaning because it's comforting. That if Simone knew any better, she'd take her faith and shove it up her ass. Olivia poopooed all over Simone's hoodoo, establishing herself as a cold woman of science.

As Olivia made her way back to Boston with the magnet, some guys living lawlessly in the country duped her and took her prisoner. Recognizing that she was worth a pretty penny to the Observers, they tied her up in a room full of old equipment. Silly kidnappers, don't you know Olivia majored in Creating Weapons Out of Old Junk in FBI College? Using "the bullet that saved the world," Olivia fashioned a pneumatic gun and put the bullet through the head of one of the kidnappers. Yes, that same bullet has killed two people more than two decades apart. It was a sweet move by Olivia and a reminder that she can still be badass when she needs to be.

But it was using that bullet that softened her attitude with regard to the importance of believing in things that can't be proved with theorems and calculators. At least, I think that was it (if not, then she's just a hypocrite). After learning that Peter was getting closer and closer to becoming 100-percent robotic Observer, Olivia hurried to New York to find him and they shared a moving conversation about Peter retaining his humanity. This was Fringe at its mushy best, and seeing Olivia go from telling Simone not to believe in faith and feeling to having her life indirectly saved by Etta's bullet to telling Peter that emotion is our strength and that they have to hold on to the feeling of Etta ("I'm not asking you to abandon her, I'm asking you to hold on to her," Olivia said) was a solid single-episode character arc. Peter pulled the Observer tech out of his head, giving up the gifts and the promise of revenge that went with it. Earnest performances by Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson, as well as our familiarity with these characters, made the scene not just work well but worth some of the unnecessary stuff that preceded it. And I don’t know about you guys, but I think Fringe's hyper flashback parades, where images of the past strobe by rapidly, are just the best.

However, Fringe is/was a science-fiction show up to its neck in science, and its repeated use of love, an undefeatable abstract concept, could be seen as cheap. Everything else on the show is required to have some sort of scientific explanation, after all. But Fringe is also a character show, and the emotional portion of the series is what's made it more than just Science Cops. Who knows, maybe by the end, the show will try the impossible and attempt to explain love from a scientific perspective. Until then, know that Fringe will come at you from both a technical and an emotional angle.

"The Human Kind" was highlighted by a few excellent scenes while the rest of the episode simply went through the (e)motions. Season 5 is still shaping up to be one of the series' weaker seasons because of the repetition of the tape scavenger hunt storyline and its use of more straightforward storytelling; I preferred the questions that stoked philosophy discussion in Seasons 3 and 4. But these character moments, like the one between Peter and Olivia at the end of "The Human Kind," are the beating heart of this surprisingly sensitive show.



NOTES

– Peter's future-telling ability is cool, but I still have a hard time understanding his plan. Is the idea just to get Windmark to a specific place to kill him? Does it really take constant herding and manipulation to get him there? Can't he just change Windmark's course and kill him sooner?

– I loved the scene with Windmark pressing the elevator button and giving up after about three seconds. Stupid elevators. But it also raised the question of why the Observers don't just teleport everywhere. The elevator didn't work, but he took the stairs? If I could teleport, I'd never wear shoes and my legs would fall off and die.

– Observer fights are AWESOME.

Joshua Jackson was particularly great in that final scene. So much subtlety to the performance that really sold it.

– I'm shocked that Fringe stooped to the trope of the "Magical Negro" with Simone's character.

– The bit about the junkyard people possibly turning Olivia in for a bounty was completely unnecessary and thrown in just to fill time.

  • Comments (112)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • WhiteRabbit815 Dec 31, 2012

    "We say atoms are bound by Weak Attractors. Why not admit the Truth:
    The Universe is held together by Love.
    Michio Von Kerr, Wayist Physicist, CY 9942"
    -Andromeda. Ep 108: The Banks of The Lethe

    Point: the very force between atoms, between people, is love.
    Like the convo btw Olivia and Simone about faith vs science, fate vs randomness: love may be abstract, and people may seem like random variables (from the smaller scale), but, the end result produced (from the greater scale viewpoint) by the seemingly random sequences comprised of these variables is very much determined and fateful. the concept of fate is effective when viewing the pattern as a whole starting from first the 'Godly' perspective to the smaller scale real-time individual viewpoint; making the seemingly random pattern very purposeful. (ie. 1. the wave-particle duality of light. 2. the non-random moving image of a tv screen vs the random firing of the individually coloured photons that make up that moving image). randomness is only an illusion and like one of Fringe's episode titles, 'Everything in It's right place.' Regarding Olivia's words about people placing meaning to things that are meaningless: randomness or not, the very existence of the end product of The Pattern (pun intended) gives value and meaning to the variables and consequently to the patten in which the variables create. Not at all unlike LOST, and the philosophy from which these shows are derived, people are variables in the pattern, and Love, in all its diversity, is the driving force of our lives - like gravity. For love and gravity, and people and atoms, are one in the same.

  • totomomo182 Dec 15, 2012

    This is not the weakest season in the fringe series it is the worst one
    The all Olvia being suddenly Macagyver was stupied
    and the obvious question is
    why didn't Peter Windmark when he had the chance after he killed the other observer ?

  • Dirk13 Dec 12, 2012

    I am surprised you have the questions you have....firstly, it's pretty Obvious why Peter didn't kill Windmark "sooner" and what he was trying to do (he was clearly not going to kill him at the Square, but this super complicated future planning stuff required him to do that at a specific time to get him back on his "death path." But more to the point, Peter clearly failed earlier on in the episode because, as we have soon, future planning is not only a very complicated type of chess game, but Windmark can do it as well. Wouldn't you think if Windmark could catch wind of being guided onto a certain path of fate that one would have to be very careful about how they do it so he doesn't detect it? That takes a lot of subtlety and patience. One does not even have to know the exact real life science behind how this works to presume that...it is very much like a chess game, one you hope the other dude doesn't know you're playing with him being used as a piece.

    It's also likely pretty obvious why the observers don't teleport everywhere. It probably takes work, power, energy, what have you. It's like asking why we don't fly everywhere, even some place an hours drive away. I was actually surprised Peter was able to teleport as he was. Yes they don't really explain it, but I have to assume it would be rather excessive for an Observer to teleport everywhere constantly. Also, even though they don't generally really like the humans or wish to coddle them, they are still sort of trying to co-exist with them and teleporting around like that would be rather unnerving for the general populace, don't you think?

  • ner092 Dec 12, 2012

    Observer fight!

  • TypeB Dec 12, 2012

    I wonder if Peter's brain would go back to its human state entirely, or would it remain more convoluted than normal.

  • emmy021889 Dec 12, 2012

    WELCOME BACK PETER! <3 <3 <3

  • natesjokes Dec 12, 2012

    Am I the only one who is sorely disappointed that Peter took out the tech? His character was finally becoming fun to watch.

  • tnetennba Dec 13, 2012

    I was hoping that the Peterver arc would last a bit longer.

  • natesjokes Dec 13, 2012

    Yeah no kidding. It made this season much more fun to watch and they decided to end it after only a couple episodes... lame.

  • JessGute Dec 12, 2012

    When I was growing up, "Science Cops and the Magical Negro" was my favorite fairytale.

  • FringeFanatic Dec 12, 2012

    sci·ence/sahy-uh ns/ noun. 1. A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
    2. Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
    3. Any of the branches of natural or physical science.
    4. Systematized knowledge in general.
    5. Knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.

    (Don't worry, this isn't a robbery.)

    5 EPISODES LEFT ...

    That's all there is my fellow Fringe Fanatics® (I had to trademark the username for legal reasons ... I may have started a Fringe cult). 3.5 hours. 210 minutes. I could list how many seconds or debate the amount of time allotted for commercials, but then it might get weird.

    This fifth and final season hasn't been what many have expected. We're 8 episodes in and there is a growing consensus that up to this point it's one of the weaker seasons. The disparate nature of the scavenger hunt for the lost tapes is a factor. The sudden archetypal villainy of the Observers is another. I've heard people say that this isn't the Fringe they once knew. That it's spinning its wheels, and the writers don't seem to know where they want to go. I've even heard a few say they preferred Fringe when it was a procedural with serialized elements. But by far the biggest talking point for critics has been something along the lines of "This better be good. This setup better be worth it. These last few episodes better blow me away, or ..." Or what? The whole show has been a waste of time? Season 5 of Fringe will go down in the annals of history with season 6 of LOST?

    Fans are afraid. They're afraid one of the best shows of our generation will not get the ending it so very much deserves. I get that. But what we must realize is how fortunate we are to get an ending at all. Fringe was meant to be told in 6 full seasons. Season 5 was supposed to be the season that laid the groundwork for the invasion. And season 6 was going to be what we are seeing now, but perhaps slightly more complex. That is why I believe many fans are feeling disillusioned at the moment. This dystopian future was thrust upon us with only one episode of preparation. Somehow we innately knew that this just didn't feel right. It didn't fit. While I understand the many complaints Fringe has received of late, I vehemently disagree with them.

    For some, it seems, Fringe is a causality of its own success. The philosophical musings and juxtaposition of multiple universes is when this show was at its best. Who am I? What am I? Why am I? These are eternal questions humanity has been struggling with for thousands of years, but Fringe somehow managed to put a fresh spin on them and blow all our minds in the process. How could season 5 ever top that?

    Then there is the science fiction purists who want everything to have a scientific explanation. Love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain, so how dare the writers use its power to transcend reason. What people must remember, and as Tim pointed out, is that Fringe has always been a character driven show. I don't know how many times I've had to write this, but I'll write it again, Peter, Olivia and Walter are the reasons we love this show. They're why we feel so connected to the story. I have been a nerd and a fan of sci-fi ever since I built a Star Wars lego set when I was 4. I love sci-fi. It's my favourite genre of TV show and movie. I first started watching Fringe because the idea of a show about fringe science sounded like the greatest thing ever created. But I quickly discovered Fringe was far more than numbers. Just as love has the ability to transcend reason, Fringe has transcended the sci-fi genre.

    Storytelling through powerful thematics has been why Fringe is a cult classic, not just among sci-fi geeks, but for everyone. Love, family, despair and hope. These themes are universally known. And Fringe has indelibly linked them to its sci-fi identity in the most imaginative and masterful of ways. If any doubt this is the show Fringe has always been, go back to season 2 and re-watch "White Tulip". (One of the shows best episodes.)

    Personally, I have loved and cherished every moment of this final season. To the heights of Walter in the car gazing at the yellow daffodil, to the lows of Windmark wrenching Etta from our hearts so painfully and abruptly. I don't know how others can't see that this season has been a culmination of everything that has come before. The character conflicts the main trio have had to endure have been everything I wanted from Fringe in its denouement.

    Olivia and Peter on the roof will go down as one of my favourite Fringe moments. So much history went into that scene. Peter was on the precipice of losing his humanity and Olivia brought him back. She was the only one who ever could have brought him back. There love has transcended universes and timelines. In retrospect, that Observer tech didn't stand a chance. Their relationship has always been the emotional, beating and bleeding heart of Fringe. And when Olivia broke through those walls Peter had built after Etta's death, and the flood of memories washed over him, memories that we as fans have shared through five seasons, I was once again reminded why Fringe is more than the sum of its sci-fi parts. I feel, therefore I am (sorry, Descartes).

    Fringe has five episodes left and I have never been more excited or enthralled to see how it will end. I have no idea what to expect, but the universe is full of mysteries, and we can't know everything.

  • MirelaPilipo Sep 11, 2013

    Beautifully said.
    Just one thing that both you and Tim missed. The "flood of memories washing over Peter" wasn't just that. Olivia knew that the Observer tech made Peter able to see inside her mind, so she showed him (just like Etta showed Windmark) just how much he meant to her and all of the things they went through. Olivia basically let him read her mind and see things from her perspective.
    Great write up otherwise. I know I'm late to comment but I only just started using TV.com :-)

  • emmiegirl Dec 13, 2012

    I'm in the philosophical musings camp, though I do also want the science to be within the realm of possibility, and Fringe has always brought both to bear in such a fascinating and enthralling way that I would find it impossible to approach it solely from either a purely emotional/temporal or scientific/secular perspective. I am not very good with change and even less so with goodbyes, so I've watched each episode this season with such a choking mix of elation and desolation that I haven't been able to form any opinions. Most of the time I feel kinda lost in this new time with the new enemy, and I find the tape discovery, rather than an annoyance, to be sort of comforting, that there is a plan, vetted by September, and with every tape unearthed, though the mystery of it all grows, the bond between the 4 team members keeps the plan and all hope from unraveling. I know I will need to rewatch this season 2-3 more times to move beyond the attachment and bit of grief to absorb it all the way I did before we knew the end was nigh, but I think we should refrain from making judgments on the quality of the season as each episode ticks by in the manner we would for a series that did not have an expiration date rapidly approaching because the larger story of Olivia, Peter and Walter, more than the plan or its parts, that we are following.

  • Hungry_Homer111 Dec 12, 2012

    You know, it's funny... I had a dream last night about you replying to this article (odd, I know), where you basically said you were actually starting to be worried about the season as a whole, and how sad you were about losing faith in your favorite show. Now I see this, and realize all is right with the world. :P I won't lie. I do actually have some issues with the main storyline this season, particularly with the tapes and the Observers, like you said. However, the writers have been doing a great job with the character side of the show, especially since Etta's death, and for me, that has definitely made up for the season's weaknesses. I actually did think of the comparison to Lost's 6th season, because I felt that both seasons were somewhat weaker than the others overall, but nowhere near the level that some people make it out to be (at least in my opinion). Both seasons have fantastic character moments sprinkled throughout. For everybody's sake, I hope that Fringe's series finale is a lot more well-received than Lost's finale (although no finale will ever be able to satisfy 100% of its fans). But if not, I hope it's at least as emotionally satisfying to me as Lost's finale was.

  • emmy021889 Dec 12, 2012

    Love Love Love!! yea i was gonna write my own comment on this episode but then i read yours and was speechless... ive got nothing to add cause you said it all for me :) Glad to know someone else felt the same way! BUT! i will have to disagree with your statement about Lost season 6.. where you are FringeFanatic, i was LostLover! lol I do agree that it did upset me about not really answering questions i had, but like you are remarking about this show... Lost was the biggest character driven show ever! I know many hated the whole ending of everyone waiting in limbo thing, but i found it to be beautiful.. especilly the tie-in of the shot of Jack dying that ran similar to his awkening! ANYWAYS sorry rant over! Its rare i get to talk about my Lost! lol

  • MirelaPilipo Sep 11, 2013

    I agree 100%
    I loved, loved, loved the ending of Lost and every time I ask anyone who didn't I always get the same answer:"I didn't really get it. So they were dead the whole time?" Ugh! It makes me want to bounce my head off of a wall!
    If you don't understand something (ie. the ending of Lost) just ask someone to explain it to you or go back and re-watch until you do get it. Don't hate something just because it asks you to think.

  • Muderboy Dec 12, 2012

    I agree with everything except the remark about going down in the annals of history with season 6 of Lost - let's hope not. I loved Lost but season 6 was gawdawful, and that finale - absolute crap. Makes me not want to watch it ever again. Sorry FF but I gotta go with my heart on this and this season of Fringe is great. My only regret is that they didn't get a full season, but I'm glad we got this much and it rocks...

  • FringeFanatic Dec 12, 2012

    If you look closely at the way I phrased the Lost remark (not to mention the basic message of my entire comment), it should be obvious I was stating that I think the final season of Fringe is the exact opposite of Lost's wayward sixth season.

  • Muderboy Dec 12, 2012

    Actually, I didn't, but it's good to know. I have faith in your judgement...

  • shootingstar609 Dec 12, 2012

    the Observer fight was the best part of the episode. If I was Peter I would have carried on with my plan to kill Windmark and then take the Observer out of my head, but that would have made that part of the story too easy. It seems that everything this season is about making our characters suffer. They just can't catch a break on anything. I am still waiting for the other universe to make a play. Of course Walternate and everyone would be 20 years older so that could be an interesting angle to expand on.

  • See More Comments (40)