Fringe: Back to the Future

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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