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!