After two fantastic initial outings, Fringe's fifth and final season finally hit a bit of a lull with the third episode of the year, "The Recordist." The episode, which saw the Fringe team venturing into the New England forest to meet a secret community of historians, was undoubtedly one of the show's more aesthetically unique episodes. It's rare that the series leaves the city and ventures into the woods, and it was a nice and welcome change of setting. But not even that could rescue the week's lame plot, which ultimately made the episode feel like more of a filler week than it actually was.
I've learned that when a genre show spends an entire episode centered around a well, the plot can't help but feel a little contrived (see The Walking Dead's worst episode, "Cherokee Rose"). For "The Recordist," the problem wasn't with the mission itself -- following Walter's instructions from the videotape was undoubtedly a necessity to defeat the Observers. But the obstacles the group ran into -- particularly the well causing people to mutate -- seemed horribly contrived, and didn't serve any other purpose than to stretch out the running time of the episode. While it was nice to see the group deal with the environmental and physiological effects the Observers were having on the environment, it just wasn't terribly interesting to see them manifest in that way. For the first time this season, it felt like the plot has slowed from a sprint to a stroll.
The episode's emotional "punch" -- the relationship between Edwin and his son River -- also seemed fairly forced. The parallels between their relationship and the developing relationship between Olivia and Etta were there and pretty clear, but I found myself feeling indifferent over Edwin's death. It was really clearly inevitable from the beginning of the episode, and when the episode went for our heartstrings (with River's final monologue), it was hard not to groan. That entire dynamic felt insincere, and ultimately, I found myself watching most of the episode with a sense of apathy -- especially since it appears that we won't be seeing River again.
The main cast, meanwhile, was absolutely fantastic. Walter and Astrid's bickering over the handling of the laser was a nice glimpse of the show's lighthearted nature, showing its face once again amidst the dystopia. Walter's drug use was, again, the source of some comedy, though that joke might be growing a little tired after "In Absentia's" brilliant "That's not a problem for someone who's done acid!"
What I'm really ready to see the season delve into is the unspoken tension that clearly remains between Olivia and Peter. There's clearly a deep rift between the two, and I'm ready to see exactly how deep that goes, and how it will be (eventually) repaired. My guess, as with last week, is still that Etta will die and that this will bring Peter and Olivia closer together. And, despite Georgina Haig being rather pushed to the sidelines this week, her performance still makes me desperately hope that this theory I have is wrong.
Also, where the hell are Broyles and Nina? I'm starting to miss them. (Also September.)
Overall, "The Recordist" was the first really disappointing episode of Fringe this season. The show's going to take a break for a week, but will be back with two rather promising episodes. We'll be getting a look into Etta's past with next week's episode "The Bullet That Saved the World" -- a title that probably references the bullet hanging around her neck, which is probably also that bullet that went through Olivia's head in the season 4 finale. Then, we get an episode intriguingly titled "An Origin Story." It's not clear whose origin story it is, but it sounds like a reveal-heavy episode. Color me excited.
"The Bullet That Saved the World" will air Friday, October 26 on FOX.