Fringe's fifth and final season has, so far, been a good one. As a whole, I've enjoyed it, and I tune in from week to week out of more than a sense of loyalty. I care what happens to the characters, and I'm legitimately interested to see how the remaining mysteries are unspooled. But that's not to say that there are some things I would have done differently for season 5.
Most of my issues with the season have to do with pacing. For what could have been an adrenaline-filled race to the finish, season 5 has felt like it's been treading water, stepping toward the finale each week in measured increments. The scavenger hunt plan was an interesting plot device, but ultimately it was just another way to bring a procedural element back to a series that had supposedly eschewed it. The storyline with Michael has been a particularly rewarding result of this approach, but on the flipside it's resulted in episodes like "The Recordist" and "The Human Kind," which just can't help but feel like filler fare.
The same was true of the first half of "Anomaly XB-6783746," which felt like a lot of unnecessary maneuvering just to arrange the story's pieces in the right way. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I've grown rather tired of these missions to fetch technology that eat away at the story's time. It gives the series the pacing of a video game, which doesn't exactly work well for a story that should be much more serialized.
Having said that, the second half of the episode really made up for the first. As soon as Windmark and the Observers arrived at the Massive Dynamic Black Lab to confront Nina, the episode delivered some of the fifth season's finest material -- perhaps bar Walter's Monty Python acid trip from last week.
Most of that was thanks to Blair Brown's fantastic performance as Nina Sharp, a former main character whose underuse this season has only been surpassed by that of Broyles (Lance Reddick, episode count: 1). It was obvious that Sharp was a dead woman rolling from the moment that Captain Windmark arrived at her office, but that didn't keep her from going out with a bang -- literal and figurative. Her confrontation with Windmark in the lab is definitely counted as one of the best sequences Fringe has ever orchestrated, if only for the intensity of Brown's performance alone (David Fury, writing his final episode of the series, did a fantastic job with the dialogue here as well). While it was no surprise when Nina grabbed the gun and shot herself to keep Windmark from reading her, it didn't keep it from being a significant punch in the gut. Walter's devastated reaction when he found her body later was one of the show's more emotional moments, trumping any of the reactions the team had to Etta's death earlier in the season.
And, of course, this leads to Michael, who turns out not to be a child Observer but a genetic anomaly (just how old is he?). Thanks to Nina's tech, Michael is able to connect with Walter and finally reveal to him -- but not the audience -- the details of his plan. Naturally, it's all linked to September (Michael Cerveris, FINALLY), who in a twist we probably all saw coming, turns out to be Walter's mysterious friend Donald. But in a twist I'm sure none of us saw coming, September appeared to be human (meaning, with hair and emotions). Before Walter got a chance to explain what any of this meant, the episode ended and we're now three weeks away from "The Boy Must Live," the episode that will undoubtedly be a major information download for viewers and will that will propel us into the finale.
Despite a slow start, "Anomaly XB-6783746" turned out to be one of the best of a rather uneven season. It certainly looks like the ball is rolling for a major finale -- and a strong finish is all this series needs for us to forget its faults and remember it for the fantastic show that it is.
"The Boy Must Live" airs January 11 on FOX.