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

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.


– 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.

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