Fringe: Back to the Future

Fringe S04E19: "Letters of Transit"

There are bound to be differing opinions on tonight's episode of Fringe, the latest entry in what's become the show's annual late-in-the-season creative departure. And just as Fringe's other "weird episodes" should be considered supplements to the series rather than must-see installments, "Letters of Transit" was more of a "what if" scenario come to life. The episode dipped its toe into the Fringe mythology instead of writing the next chapter of it. But that doesn't mean it wasn't super fun times.

Fringe has always been great at creating well-developed settings—the alternate universe is a prime example of that—and in "Letters of Transit" we were plopped into an unspecified (I think?) universe or timeline or whatnot in the year 2036, an Orwellian existence where the Observers were done observing and focused on having us serve them. Up until this episode I'd always thought of the Observers as cuddly bald teddy bears with social-anxiety disorders, but tonight they were mean sons of bitches with a case of the hornies. And you'd be afflicted, too, if your existence consisted of a never-ending sausage party full of dudes with no sense of humor. The Observers we saw tonight were clubbing to dark electro tunes and groping ladies of the night while wearing sharp suits. They were Wall Street types...without the hair gel, of course.

But they weren't unopposed. As is the case with all dystopian futures presented by film and television, they faced resistance from people seeking an end to the oppression. The Fringe Division had been relegated to keeping the peace among "Natives," folks left over from bloody uprisings, but there were a couple agents who remembered legends of the force from the old days and at least one who believed a myth that those super agents from the past were still out there somewhere. And they were!

The writers used the old Han Solo trick to bring our team back into the fold, replacing Carbonite with Amber and Harrison Ford with John Noble. Seeing Walter encased in the solid orange Jell-O mold was awesome, and the reverie with which he was treated by future Fringe agents Simon (played by Henry Ian Cusick from the legendary ABC hit Scandal) and Etta* was fantastic because it showed us that the future loves our Fringe guys as much as we do. Besides being an awesome diversion to prepare us as we take a deep breath before Season 4's three-episode home stretch, "Letters of Transit" was an ode to the power and importance of our heroes. It was also a major treat for Fringe fans.

But the episode wasn't was a complete volume, and I think that may be where fans who didn't like it will center their argument. Once Simon and Etta "pushed" Walter out of the amber, the rest of the episode was spent putting Walter's brain back in his head and finding the rest of the team. Watching the crew get back together was exhilarating, particularly the reveal of just who "the crew" was (Peter! Astrid!). However, once they reunited, they never got into a huge street fight with a bunch of hat-wearing bald dudes.

That wasn't the point of the episode, though. Once Desmond Simon broke the wand with only five minutes left in the episode, it was clear there would be no solid "ending" in sight. "Letters of Transit" was an instance of Fringe's writers taking a well-deserved vacation from Season 4 and handing us an awesome hour-long trailer for a Fringe spin-off. It succeeded in showing us there's plenty left in their creative tanks, and did even more to convince me that this show must go on. Plus, it left fans wanting a lot more of this story.



Notes From the Other Side

– Did anyone not think Etta* (*Henrietta) was Peter and Olivia's lovechild early on? It was great casting, but that also made it incredibly obvious (not that I think anyone were going for a big surprise). It's as if Fringe's producers went to one of those "What would your kid look like?" websites, threw in pictures of Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv, and searched the globe for an actress that looked just like the result. And I know we just met her and already guessed she was Peter's kid, but that ending where she said, "Hello dad," was still pretty effective. That's how attached we've become to Peter and the gang.

– I guess September was right...he's been to all possible futures and it's all the same: Olivia must die. Because she was nowhere to be found.

– John Noble, as usual, was fantastic. He went from brain-deficient child to ass-kicking savior of the universe in no time.

– Don't let this episode change your perception of the Observers. This scenario is so open for interpretation that any number of possibilities can make sense, and I think that's one of its strengths. It certainly felt like "our" universe, but there was also amber. There wasn't even a mention of another universe, but things were just vague enough that you could just as easily say the Other Side helped our side produce amber. "Letters of Transit" was nothing more than an exercise in creative writing using Fringe's established blueprint.

– Disclaimer: I wrote this article under the influence of legally prescribed Vicodin (let's just say make sure you see a dentist twice a year), so if anything is incoherent, my bad. I like to think I understand Walter better this way.

– Walter: "These are not the droids you're looking for." So awesome.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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Awesome episode!
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From my perspective this episode is more like an error in sequence that a nice look at a possibility.

Since watching it it was very clear to me that this was a look over what to expect in season five. Maybe to check out audience responses. Now, after the season finale the cliffhanger is not so mysterious anymore... The others that are coming are clearly the others from the future that will make real this episode.



I think I would liked it better if they let us hang a little more on that one...
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I hope we haven't seen the last of Etta or Simon! One episode and I'm already attached. :)
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Amazing episode! They better come back to 2036 and finish the story in future episodes though, otherwise I'll be quite upset.
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for me, one of the best episodes ever. i think it shows how strong fringe's narrative is. love it and hoping for more episodes like this!
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@StutiJindal we don't know that happened........ at least not in exactly the same way. Walter, in this ep, does say something like 'what Belly did'. But also, Bell dying was due to the team going to the other side - because of Peter. That's was when Bell got shot. Right?



So I guess he could have still been alive in the series 4 timeline.
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The episode was pure awesomeness!! I really really really hope we get yet another season of brilliance!

I do have a question from the episode, though. I can't get how William Bell was in amber. If i recall correctly, and not incompletely, when Bell went with Peter to rescue Olivia (season 3 i guess) after he himself had occupied her consciousness, didn't he get left behind/dead there itself as he urged Olivia on to escape the attackers? So how did he end ambered up with the Fringe team in 2036? Am i wrong, and did something happen with Bell after that episode of season 3? That was the episode where Olivia's consciousness was portrayed by animation/cartoons. :P
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Season 5 was a bit of a head trip because we all spent 4 seasons getting to know a certain storyline, and then the writers basically rebooted the show in season 4. When Peter is erased from the timeline at the end of Season 4, the timelines for the rest of the characters changed. In Season 5, the Other Universe's Peter drowned in the lake after they crossed back over. So, Peter was not around to meet young "Olive" during the Cortexiphan trials. Thus, Olivia, as a child, never reveals Peter's existence on the other side to Walternate (when she was upset about having to go home with her abusive step-dad and ran into Walter's office, crossing over at the same time). Therefore, Walternate never went on his crusade to destroy the other side for stealing his son, which means William Bell didn't live in the Other Universe trying to interfere with Walternate's plans, and therefore didn't die helping the gang cross back over at the end of Season 3. Phew... that's a lot to cover. More to the point, the gang never went to the Other Universe in Season 3, now, because they only went to bring Peter back, who in this timeline doesn't exist. So either way, William Bell can't die while assisting an effort that never took place.
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I'm rewatching this ep, because I got sleepy and missed a lot, like the Observers being able to "read" all the humans except Henrietta, and how Nina was still alive 25'ish years later (looking awesome with silver hair BTW!) I also woke up for the end, but even though I knew Henrietta was Olivia and Peter's daughter, it was still sweet and I got a bit mushy LOL
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This had to be one of the very first ideas they had when coming up with Fringe.



After they eventually make the Earth inhabitable, Evolved Humans from the future come back in time to "observe" their beginnings and eventually take over the world(s) because...(Season 5)



WHY???



You could see how this idea wouldn't work if this was introduced in the Pilot. The main point behind Fringe changes a lot, but this is very important.



I really hope we get a 5th season. I want to know about Olivia's whereabouts and William Bell's connection to wall of this and WHY the Observers decided to do The Purge in 2015.



I also can't wait for Season 4's DRJ plot to be wrapped up.
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Season 5 is confirmed! :-)
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An amazing episode, I simply loved it. But I don't think that Olivia is dead.
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Just watch te ep again. Unsual for me to do that. Was still entertaining the 2nd time. John Noble - brilliant!



Funny though, this time I missed more not having Olivia / Peter with us on the journey.



The Etta and Simon characters definitely have a future. If there is a spin-off, they would be perfect.



I'm still voting for this series coming to an end with a cool story, not attempting to tie every loose end, and bringing an end to the whole thing. I'd quite like to see them save the future, save themselves, and the 'win' is that they get normality as Fringe agents and people (as normal as that can be).
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I loved this episode. I can't believe how Fringe always stimulate my mind in every episode. I was hoping for a conclusion as well. Loved all the other scifi references too.
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Rather than a spin-off pitch, I really think this is where they were/are going with season 5. They've done alternate universes, and alternate timelines. Now, to the future!
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I guess that confirms that Olivia won't be biting the dust any time soon, despite what September said---I don't think three episodes is enough to get pregnant and pop out baby Henrietta....(I doubt they'll resort to the same super-speed pregnancy technique as last time.)



Loved that her name was the female version of 'Henry' though. Lol. Great continuity....
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I was curious also about whether we would go back to the future again. Looking at the ep desciptions, unless it is in the season finale, then I guess we don't.



However, what a great premise for season 5...............
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Loved it. Enough said. Fringe has boldly gone back to the future and beyond into a brave new world where the x-files are being mind bended by The Architect. Total awesomeness.
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Will there be a Part 2 of this? I really want to see more. It ended so suddenly. I want to see them take down The Observers!!
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dah the idea is amazing but i hate the change .
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Change is good, especially when Fringe does it :)
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Perhaps September was a kind of 'good observer', much like the good terminators in the tv series who wanted to fight skynet. Maybe all along his aim has been to help the 'natives' fight the future opression.



And I'm still thinking about DRJ. If his aim is realy to build a super army, it could well be for good - to fight the observers. That would be a major twist if he turned out to be a good guy (well, a bad good guy).
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i loved it! soo many things make sense now taking into consideration why the observers wanted peter out of the picture so much and why they went after september when he explained things to peter... i had wondered why peter and olivia being together and having a child was so important. now we know. but obviously i dont like the idea that olivia was killed because, you know, it's really really sad-- she died in the first version of the future we saw as well (season 3 finale).
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Totally felt like a 'backdoor pilot' for season 5 which would be awesome, cause I loved the new story line + characters, yet not so awesome because Olivia is dead...
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i thought mr spock was dead ? wtf?
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The needs of the writers outweight the needs of the one.
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Walter: "These are not the droids you're looking for." So awesome.



THAT WAS HILARIOUS
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I guess September was right...he's been to all possible futures and it's all the same: Olivia must die. Because she was nowhere to be found.



yeah "etta" had a bullet around her neck. guess olivia got shot.



also, who names their kid HENRIETTA? no wonder she shortened it. hah
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Henrietta is a feminine version of Henry.



Henry was the Name of the cabbie that helped the other Bolivia (he delivered her son among other things), Which is why the son Peter and Bolivia had was named Henry. Before the universe got "'Observed!"



My guess is that cabbie will have a role in this timeline/universe, and they will honor him that way.
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I hope you're right about Henry the cab driver coming back. I'd love to see him again, and see how different his life is in this new timeline and in the blue universe.
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Huh? At which point in the episode did they indicate that this episode was a mere possibility rather than an actual distant future?
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All time travel stories involve the possibility of change.
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Ah. Okay, I expected it to work more like a flashforward. Oh well.
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Sweet after reading the newer article, looks like I was right after all :D
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A spin-off would be amazing...loved Simon and Etta...I also liked that the writers took a chance and had a "slow moment" while Walter was out cold, where Simon told a little of his back-story. Fox is quick to END good tv shows if the ratings aren't through the roof, but I'm hoping they realize they have a few more seasons worth of this great show!
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I disagree Joe. Fox brought Fringe to us, and have kept it for 4 seasons even with low ratings. Probably because it is just such a good show.



As bicelis said, Fringe would have been gone sooner. Still, I think the shows creators made it difficult to cancel because it's had such a strong and absorbing storyline.
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To be fair, if FOX was very quick to cancel low ratings shows, Fringe would have been a goner some time ago.



However, that is not a good reason to cancel it now. Come on, FOX, lets see this through to the end (which is at least one FULL season later) :)
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It reminded me of Epitath one and two of Dollhouse which I loved as well.
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YES! That's what it reminded me of. Thanks, man, it was killing me :D
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i liked the ep. i want them to continue both story lines.

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yeah i freakin loved this epsode! i also liked how we will now see a different walter, as remember Belly took that part of his brain out because he didn't like how/who he would become if he left it intact. i'd be interested to see if the two universes are ambered and work together later on, and if walternate will play his part in building the weapon? very interesting times. lovely to see Astrid there, and, of course, we dont know what has happened in this jump to the future, which is why time can be rewritten again! Fringe rules!
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Absolutely loved the episode - a couple of my favorite quotes:



"Licorice! Licorice. Hmmhumhmm Lic-or-ice. Hmm. Hmmhumhmm. Who are you? You're quite pretty. Licoooorice."



"I love LSD!"



The ending with Peter and Henrietta was the cherry on top in my opinion. "Henrietta? Hi Dad." Henrietta was perfectly cast as Olivia and Peter's daughter. Great chemistry between the two as father and daughter. :)



PS: So if water was their booze, do the observers drink alcohol (instead of water) to hydrate themselves?

PPS: This episode (among many others) of Fringe has proven that the show deserves a full 5th season.
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I knew Etta was their kid from the start, when her mind couldn't be properly read from the Observer, and with the eagerness she spoke of finding the 'others' besides Walter.
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Dude: water piks. They rule.



I didn't love this ep at all. Yes, the love child was obvs from very early one.



Simon was bleh. Not bad, but not engaging or endearing either.



Too many unanswered questions and I disagree, this felt like a new Fringe universe again at the expense of the one(s) we have attempted to adjust to. William Bell? Really? From where and why now? Was this a new hybrid red and blue universe? Which Broyles was that? What about the other side, the other Fringe Division, etc. ad nauseum.



Me no like the Nazi Observers at all.
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I just rewatched this episode, and got so much more out of it this time. I think part of the reason I disliked this episode so much the first time was that I was expecting one thing (a seperate, and complete story set in the future, that leaves just enough open to expand on in season 5) when I got something else entirely (the first chapter in a story that leaves a big hole to be filled in the next season). Now that I knew that to expect, and have thought about the implications for the bigger picture, this episode seemed so much better. I loved the characters that it set up, and the dynamics between Simon and Etta. As I said in a previous post, if the show does get a 5th season for the writers to explore these ideas more, I would love to see more of Simon's character, if they can realistically write him back in. Also, the world as a whole was developed a lot better than I innitially thought there were a few layers that I somehow missed the first time which seemed interesting and could lead to some interesting storytelling in the future. Of course, a big part of the rewatchability of the episode later on will depend on if it does get renewed, but for now this episode when from "worst Fringe episode ever" to yet another great episode in this fantastic season. :D
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Did anyone else think that Walter was a bit too "villainy" after they used parts of his brain that were cut out to mend his trauma, parts that were removed because they were arguably turning him into a bad guy or rather he thought that by removing them he would stop being one. I gather this from his following actions: setting off an anti-matter bomb and cutting of Bell's hand. He also seemed unlike the Walter we all know and love, calling Simon and 'Etta idiots and being snappy.



Could be just me.. but it would certainly be an interesting development.
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That's precisely why he had his friend Bell removed those portions of his brain. He didn't like what he was becoming.



The reason he is so much different than Walternate and is not as gruff or self-assured is because is brain is not in one piece.



As they showed a couple of years ago, when he was hooked back up to the rest of his brain, he became instantly more confident and not the like the doddery professor he is usually.
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Yes I thought that too!!!
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He changed considerably already when Thomas Jerome Newton hooked him up to the rest of his brain, so that is totally in character.
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I noticed that too, but I think one reason might be that he tried to fight the observers, lost and ambered himself. Then he is woken up and world is still in a pile of shit. So I feel he has reasons to be grumpy :) Everyone does
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Sure, that could be it as well. I suppose we have to wait and see.
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i totally enjoyed this episode it was really awesome and i did a little happy dance at the end when peter finally realized the blond girl was his daughter i mean it was so totally obvious with her ability and all i was really happy about that because that means that peter and Olivia finally got back together at some point



i sorta live for the peter/Olivia romance part of the story line lol

but i totally thought that Walter was a total bad ass i mean he cut off the mans hands and its like he totally didn't care much at all

and i quote *we have everything we need* end quote

that was totally sick awesome episode
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Gotta love this episode. Just when you think you're in your normal linear world storyline system, Fringe throws you for a loop and drops you years into the future. Fantastic! This was an unsuspected surprise that worked so well! Yes, brotha!
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Disclaimer: While I'm sure y'all have awesome comments, I just don't have the time/energy to go read 200+ of them tonight. Apologies if my post is too similar to someone else's. I assure you, it was unintentional.



Awesome episode! This was crazy, and weird, and full of Fringe-y goodness. I really want to know what happened to potential-future Olivia and what specific events were going down on that day of the war to make Walter trigger his amber device. Must be a really extreme situation if self-ambering looks like your better option. Also, did Peter and Co. know where little-kid Henrietta was when they got amber-ed? Who raised that girl? Clearly, it wasn't Nina. I also want to know where/what the deal is with September. And August.

This episode really reminded me of the Dollhouse Epitaph I episode. A confusing glimpse into the future, current storyline could continue without it, even faithful viewers might be confused by it, episode might contain All. The. Clues. for what is happening in the current/our timelines, and it might not. Such a good mind warp!
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Crazy good episode! I love how this show will just drop a bomb on us, like hey time change, everything we were doing is over. lol LOVED IT. But who did not guess that blonde girl was their daughter, you know?
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Broyles eyes seemed to be fine so there is no "Detroit incident" in this timeline it seems.
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Walter is still funny and i love the last episode ...I wish he never end at least not like that!!!
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also, I am really curious to see what happened in the other universe.
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John Noble is always in control of the scene. This episode was weird, kind of like that future episode from last season. "Henrietta" was obviously their kid and it's probably the Cortexiphan (sp?) that allowed her to shield her thoughts. I knew who she was but seeing Peter light up when he realized it was awesome. I am dying to know how Bell is alive (in a way) and what he did to Olivia but I am also missing the current day Fringe. I'm in love with Anna Torv so I hated having an episode without her.
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I have a feeling that this could easily have been yet another timeline, another universe. How else can William Bell being encased in amber be explained otherwise?



As for Nina Sharpe :) wow! Another 20 years on and she is still gorgeous.
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Do you forget that the timelines were completely re-written when peter was erased? We don't know if bell is alive in either universe anymore, he can be the mastermind behind the mad scientist for all we know.
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Which begs the question, why didn't anyone mention he was still around? I am pretty sure he has consistently been mentioned in the past tense (by Nina and Walter, most significantly) this season.
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season 5 please!!!!!!!!!!!!
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I don't get the people who said that this was not an awesome episode . For me, it was the best one in this season . I always like clever , new and refreshment episodes and that's what i got from this episode.

Now , i'm in love with FRINGE!
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Walter: "I am not a number, I am a free man!"



Awesome as well.
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12:30 the Fringe emblem...
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Honestly,this wasn't my fav episode. Coming after the awesome episodes of the last month.

For some reason this episode didn't resonate with me. It wasn't bad just not up to par with the other recent episodes. I guessed she was Olivia's daughter from the get go probably with special powers from the beginning. And Walters memory impaired character was a little too over the top.Nina Sharp of the future was awesome though.And Simon character and his sacrifice was a high point for me.And I so wanted to know why Walter left William Bell in the amber ( by the way the hand part was so unexpected and worthy of Fringe!)

But that said I was entertained throughout.
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Loved this episode - keep supporting Fringe everyone or the observers of 2036 will be our fate.
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This has nothing to do with the musical or the animation episode from years before. This is the producers' last card for a Season 5 (and 6)and it's a card well played. Now, that renews my interest. Damn you, Fox...
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