If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.
The team tries to get answers out of Michael, the child Observer, but he refuses to speak, write or give any indication of answers. Olivia contacts Nina at the Ministry of Science in her office. Windmark arrives just after she leaves, having determined that the sublimation device came from there; they listen to Nina’s recorded conversation via the glass, and realize she mentioned a child Observer.
Peter and Nina discuss Walter’s decision to remove the parts of his brain after the plan is over; Peter questions whether or not he can survive having it done twice, but Nina says he might regress fully anyway and Walter will decide not to. Essentially, Peter will lose his father either way.
Nina takes them to a Massive Dynamic Black Lab, where they have Observers being kept in a storage container similar to the one as John Scott to extract information. They use a neural translator to attempt to “read” his mind, but they realize Michael processes information in a way that’s fundamentally different from other Observers. She suggests getting a device that would help them connect with him through another person, but they’d have to get the device from Hastings at the Ministry of Science. However, Windmark interrogates the staff and makes it to Hastings. When the team goes to retrieve the device, they spot Hastings being interrogated; they go to rescue him, only to realize that Nina has been compromised.
Michael touches Nina and imparts some kind of information on her. She hides him, and when Windmark arrives, he interrogates her. He reveals that Michael was a chromosomal anomaly and is not special; it was simply a mystery why he disappeared. Nina, however, remarks that Observers honed primitive instincts; they can’t experience love or beauty or make bonds. They’re the animals. When Windmark prepares to take her away, she grabs a Loyalist’s gun and kills herself.
The team returns and mourns over her body; they also find Michael hiding. They see Michael shed a tear, showing that he is capable of feeling emotion. With the tech in hand, Walter and Michael connect with the device. Michael touches Walter and shows him flashes of the past (from both timelines) and reveals the truth—Donald is September.
Back in “Five-Twenty-Ten,” I described why that episode worked so well despite it not doing anything new: it’s predictable, but for all the right reasons. ”Anomaly XB-6783746″ is in the same situation here, dishing out answers and revelations that aren’t really all that revelatory, but are still satisfying. September was probably at the top of most of the audience’s lists of candidates for Donald’s identity, and it’s fair. Anyone it could have been otherwise had an alibi, and it would have been a letdown if it was just a random past character. Not saying this wasn’t at all a surprise; if anything, viewers might have written off September as a solution because it’s the obvious choice. Either way, it was spoiled by Michael Cerveris’ name popping up in the credits anyway.
All that’s to say, the reveal wasn’t a big “gasp” moment. Nina’s noble sacrifice, on the other hand, was—but you could still see it coming from a mile away. Even at her most crucial, Nina’s always been a background player or a catalyst for other characters to play off of. Blair Brown got ample screentime here—one of the reasons it became apparent that this would be her swan song—but she utilized it very well throughout. Brown has always had tendency to do some scenery chewing here and there, but for her final outing she shines with an ample mix of subtly and emotion. Brown captivates both the grandmotherly warmth and protective instincts her character has gained during the 20 year jump, which serves to bring in the oomph even more when we realize she won’t survive this. She even gets some piercing last words at the Observers—the wonderful comparison to lizards, and the explanation of their head-tilting—a well-written piece of dialogue that proves Nina is still a badass even in that electric wheelchair.
It’s great to see a character introduced as a potentially villainous enigma grow and, despite being occasionally demonized by the characters, end by proving she’s an inarguable hero. Despite the dark circumstances, it brings a twisted sense of optimism to the situation; even if everyone the team loves dies, they’ll at least die heroes. Nina herself states the theme: “anything worth fighting for comes with a cost,” something Walter, Olivia and Peter have been experiencing non-stop.
This is another plot-light one, with plenty of time spent on the team searching and hiding and studying. But it’s okay, because the time spent with Nina and building up to these revelations is worth it, and the constant tension provided by Nina being discovered right in act one keeps it from feeling slow. The only issue is some logic; it’s way too coincidental that Windmark’s interrogations would take place in windowed room right across from where the team is searching. And Windmark calling them “animals” because they experimented on their kind seemed forced, only to provide a jumping-off point for Nina’s otherwise awesome speech. Observers aren’t supposed to feel emotion aside from surprise now and then; Windmark himself has never batted an eye when his assistants are frequently gunned down. For him to suddenly be so offended rings false.
It’s surprising how many references to the first season the show has been able to integrate into the plot, in spite of the alternate timeline and future setting. In this episode alone, we have answers about Michael from “Inner Child,” detecting recorded soundwaves in glass like Peter did in “The Road Not Taken,” and the same tanks and methods Nina used on John Scott in the first arc of the series. And while the references are not always necessary to the plot, they tend to be organic enough to not feel anvilicious. You don’t have to remember the John Scott arc to get the gist of the tanks Nina keeps the Observer corpses in. The Observers listening to the glass vibrations borders on fan service a bit since it would be strange to anyone who didn’t remember that plot point from four years ago, but it does make sense that the Observers would utilize that particularly innovative technology.
The way it’s handled those full-circle references is part of a bigger reason why Fringe has utilized the concept of a mythology-heavy show’s final season so well. It’s definitely a little different from what we’ve come to expect from final seasons of TV shows; instead of closing a five-year-long plot, it let season 4 close the major stuff, while season 5 is something of an addendum. Everything the team worked on didn’t lead to this; it led to the final battle of the parallel universes in season 3, which in turn led to the culmination of cosmic crisis, Fringe monsters and Cortexiphan in season 4’s finale. With the exception of “Letters of Transit” and the last few seconds of the finale, season 1-4 honestly tells a complete story—maybe not a wholly satisfying one since season 4 is a bit lacking, but a complete one—with no more loose ends than a usual sci-fi show.
Season 5, on the other hand, is Fringe‘s own internal miniseries, closing the chapters on the characters and tying up some of those pesky loose ends. It’s not wholly unprecedented—the back half of Chuck‘s final season was pretty much a standalone story with a handful of shoehorned-in ties to the shows origins, for example—but it’s rare to see a final season so vastly detached from its beginnings, plot-wise. Smallville, Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all packed in too much too late in their final seasons, either detracting from the main characters or solving new plots without tying the loose ends we actually cared about. Essentially, planned final seasons for shows like Fringe often collapse under the weight of their long runs.
But “Anomaly XB-6783746” exemplifies why Fringe’s final season format actually works. We’ve never had a true Nina-centric episode before, and to have one now, after she’s been all-but written out completely and barely has relevance, seems like it would feel like a waste of time. But it doesn’t; there really isn’t much going on this season outside of our main goal to defeat the Observers. We have ample room to breathe and explore the characters and world more than we had before. Granted, we don’t learn anything new about Nina, but like “Five-Twenty-Ten,” we’re given some final strokes on her character that seal the deal on what we do know about her. The whole season has been superb at that. Even as much as I griped about Observer-Peter ultimately being irrelevant, that was more about its anticlimax; the mini-arc before the end was brilliant and suspenseful, and was necessary for him to get past his grief. These things don’t feel like they’re detracting from the series as a whole, even as they slow the momentum to the finale. They simply give us more meat to chew, and more time to spend with the characters. Once the show ends, even in spite of some loose ends and plotholes I’m sure some fans can pick out, we should be satisfied that we got enough.
We haven’t seen the finale yet, so the ending has a chance of being a letdown, but as a whole the season thus far has been quite captivating and character-centric. Nina got a surprisingly great farewell for a character so often put on the back burner, and Blair Brown turned in a wonderful performance at that. Despite a few logic slip-ups (and perhaps a lack of much to do for our three leads) it’s an engaging and tense hour, placing in more stepping stones in this solid, even if sometimes predictable, final season.
Odds & Ends
- Rowan Longworth does a really nice job as Michael, keeping the kid feeling warm and likeable in spite of his colder mannerisms and alien-like presence. His make-up took some getting used to, but it yields an even more alien look, which seems more prevalent now with the Observers than in past years.
- It’s intriguing that Michael’s touch seemed to give Walter flashes of both timelines, which Olivia hinted he was aware of last week. Perhaps the timeline concept will actually become important to the plot to take out the Observers?
- It’s only a minor moment, but Peter realizing that he might lose Walter no matter what happens is quite chilling.
- The music cue for Etta and her memory is quite beautiful.
- “Acid” is second only to “Astro” for best Astrid names.
- Also, even though I mentioned how well this season has utilized its free time to develop all of the characters, I’m not forgetting how Astrid continues to be pretty much thrown by the wayside every week.