When "Fringe" gets around to the tailend of their season, they often like to go for an eccentric ride on their nineteenth episode. In season 2 we had the totally fictitious noir-musical marijuana dream of "Brown Betty". In season 3, we were taken inside Olivia's William Bell infested mind on an animated adventure. Season 4 certainly had its work cut out for it, but the writers have instead decided to do something immensely trippy, yet not quite with the happy jib of previous 19th installments. Why? Because at no point in this episode, beginning or end, do they confirm or deny that the future world we are seeing is avoidable, like the one we saw in "The Day We Died".
That episode quite obviously had a lot more rewarding factors, while this one was an immense tease, and I applaud the writers to no end for perpetrating it. What we're shown is a contained world riddled with teasers about things that have yet to come in the current timeline of the story. It's quite a risk, letting us know that David Robert Jones clearly didn't succeed so much as he hoped. One could stand to reason it reliefs all the tension of the current apocalyptic situation in the year 2012 to show that we made it to 2036. But they luckily put in a crucial detail in this episode, that it wasn't without paying a cost that they saved the world.
But this world isn't one of catastrophe averted. In the opening scrawl of the episode, we learn that in the year 2015, the observers stopped observing and seized control of our planet. The survivors were called natives, and the natives who swore fealty to the observers were called loyalists. Fringe Division now is assigned to police the natives, and we're shown that they're "high tech" is no longer so operable. The facility is in massive disrepair, falling apart in small capacity. The agents we focus on, Simon and Etta, are wading the waters of this new world, desperately trying to keep on living, or in Etta's case, looking for a way to find back.
What the find is Dr. Walter Bishop, encased in Amber for twenty years, and with difficulty they are able to remove him from his carbonite prison. Unfortunately for them, his brain has degraded even further beyond what it was without the missing pieces of his brain. So they head after Nina Sharp, who like Phillip Broyles hasn't had an amber day spa to keep her looking young. So much from the optimistic "Brazil" comparisons we were all hoping for. As it turns out, Walter's missing brain pieces still exist. Whether they were kept separate from the ones we saw in "Grey Matters", or if they are those ones that William Bell removed later on to put into safe suspension, I'm sure we'll learn. The timeline isn't about to remedy itself, it seems. Does it need to?
And as inane as Walter's babbling is, it is the source of most of this episode's fun. In such a bleak future with Observers grabbing away all the good prostitutes, Walter gives us a gleefully uncensored ray of happiness. (Examples: "Simon? Like Simon Says! I'll have be listening to you!", "I am not a number! I am a free man!", "LICORICE!") Of course, like all good things, it doesn't last. They make it into the city, to massive dynamic, and are able to join the man with his old brain pieces. What he comes back as? Certainly not the bright and optimistic Walter that we remember. There's a coldness to him, and a stern cynicism. The man Simon Foster was at first so glad to meet now chastises Simon for not doing the impossible, which Walter himself has become something of an expert on.
They make it to the underground amber chamber of the other Fringe members, and find three people there. One of them's Astrid, another's Peter, but the third is not Olivia Dunham. It's William Bell. But Mistah Kurtz, he dead! Isn't he? Apparently not, which raises the question of where the hell he's been, how he got brought back into the fold, and how many times are they going to bring Leonard Nimoy back out of retirement? Anyway, they're able to get Astrid out, and Peter, but not without Simon making the sacrifice to become encased in Amber himself. For his parents, and for his world, he is willing to make the sacrifice that Walter admonished him for not doing before.
The last five minutes of the episode do not wrap up the story. We're not even entirely certain if this is just some flight of fancy, or something to be genuinely afraid of. But the way they attach it to this current season is quite emotional. Astrid chides Walter for being so cold to leave William Bell behind, only for Walter to come back by saying he deserved it for "what he did to Olivia." Is she dead? I have a feeling not. Perhaps something worst. And then we see the Walter he used to be, lifting his old best friend's severed hand out of his bag, saying they have everything they need. I get the feeling that if we ever get back to this future, this Walter is gonna be a problem.
And then there's Peter and Etta, who asks the former if he knows her. But how could he? He's been in amber for twenty years. And that's when he realizes, a little bit after we realize it, that she's his daughter, Henry... I mean... Henrietta. For a moment I wondered if Henry came back into existence and got a sex change. When is "Fringe" going to do that already? I'm waiting! I was kind of hoping Henry Cusick was going to play the male version of Olivia! That would've been, as pre-amber Walter would have said, "Wonderful!". But yeah, it's his daughter, affectionately named after the son who was erased from destroyed in a universal apocalypse, saved by Peter's actions at the end of "The Day We Died", and then subsequently erased because of him. He never had a chance.
So now it's time for some left over questions, and boy do I have plenty. Like, whatever happened to the alternate universe? Will we find out in the next three episodes? Did they narrowly escape the observer occupation of our planet? Speaking of which, I think I understand the whole time traveling observers thing now. They came back as "scientists", believing themselves to be observing their beginnings, but they were later betrayed by the others who came back with them, who are clearly not scientists. Their alcohol is water, which we happen to have in abundance. But they did not become trapped in this timeline, like I thought. They poisoned their (our?) atmosphere, deprived it of all its resources, and then came back for more, continuing a cycle of dominance.
But is this future where the observers even exist avoidable? Like September said, the timeline has become rewritten by their actions. Is their remedy to that taking over the planet so that they're still there to poison it 700 years in the future? Perhaps that's what they've been trying to do all along. Not keep the timeline intact, but ensure their own existence. In any case, might we be able to call the alt-universe for help? Will they even be there? We assume they weren't decimated, since our universe and theirs are linked inextricably. So what happened, or happens? We'll find out, along with plenty other questions to be answered with much heartache. This season isn't up yet. Even if we know where we're going, getting there is the real story. Fact of the matter, that makes this such a stirring hour, is that we know this is where we're going. The future isn't avoidable. Like the observers, we've already experienced.