Fringe Review: What Is May Never Be

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If you've been on the Fringe trip with me for the last couple of seasons, you know it's rare that I am left speechless. "Letters Of Transit," however, seems to have taken my words, right along with their letters, and stored them some place inaccessible.

I had the luxury of watching this episode early and still find myself with an intense thought block. Perhaps, like the word Freedom that was wrapped in barbed wire in the credit sequence, the Fringe team has done something to my ability to think.

Walter Gets Disturbing News

The reason I find it so difficult to discuss is I don't know what we were watching. It was obviously one of a million different possible futures. By jumping forward without context, we don't know how this future came to be, only that it was at the cost of civilization as we knew it. Small thing, right? Okay, not really, but amazingly difficult to examine without just recapping the episode. So bear with me folks, as I may fly off on some tangents here.

In this futureverse one thing was for certain, the children of Peter and Olivia did not create the generation of Observers, a thought I have bandied about in this column in the past. They seemed to have gone from having no feelings to being horrid, ugly creatures, both inside and out.

In 2015 they were dragging people out of their houses and killing them in the streets. In 2609 the Observers poisoned the planet and went back in time to claim it as there own. But how did they get to that state of decay in 2609 in the first place? I'll never look at the Observers the same again, will you?

Am I to believe an entire race of people is without women? Did I miss the female Observers or is that why the lugs had to kidnap them from bars? If they did kidnap them from bars to procreate, where the were the diverse Observers? Was I really just so expecting of snow-white, bald-headed, hat-wearing dudes that they were all my mind could pick up? Just wondering, did you have a tough time spotting the Observer in this episode? HA!

To add a little mystery, Etta should have taken after Peter. A straight haired blond girl named Henrietta was too easy to call as the child of our lovebirds. Her eagerness to track down the other Fringe team members once Walter was discovered was a giveaway, as was Simon calling him him her grandfather when they entered the city. Did you note the shout out to Star Wars Episode IV? You can find it in the Fringe quotes section!

As Widmark said, she was always just what she seemed. The cortexiphan didn't give her super powers like her mom, but she did have the ability to hide her feelings from the Observers, and that was as super as you could get in the future. She didn't even need to lie, because they never knew the difference. What I couldn't tell was the relationship between Etta and Nina. I would hope Etta had someone from the old regime left as "family."

Admittedly, with as excited as Etta was to find the other team members who were ambered with Walter, I expected both Olivia and Peter to be encased. To discover William Bell killed Olivia was upsetting, but we've known for a while was meant to die; that she had a child prior to leaving this earth was a nice touch.

I wonder if Peter named Etta Henrietta after the son he would never see, or if the timelines were further altered and this was the original plan all along. After all, in the current time we don't know the status of William Bell but he managed to get ambered with the group. 

Other thoughts:

  • What's the deal with coffee? Unavailable in the alterverse and you eat it but can't drink it in the futureverse. Odd.
  • It was 2036 and they hadn't come up with something better than a flask or a modern day laptop? For shame.
  • Our modern day Fringe team was obviously never surpassed or they wouldn't have been a part of folklore or worthy of Simon giving up his life to save one of them.
  • The piece of amber, once Walter was released, looked like a giant amber Spongebob Squarepants
  • I enjoyed seeing our characters age. Nina looked fabulous in grey hair and dark lipstick. So dramatic!
  • Walter's brain tissue finally came in handy after 40 years. He was cute as hell dancing next to the river though, wasn't he?
  • Observers get drunk off of water? If only it were that easy for the rest of us.
  • I'm glad Henry Ian Cusak (Simon) gave his life up for Peter and not William Bell. That would have been tragic.
  • Will we ever find out what Bell did to Olivia? 
  • I enjoyed the opening credits. One of my favorite parts of the series has been the show's ability to meaningfully adapt those credits as necessary. These were frightening.
  • There was no mention of the alterverse. Just a hint as to whether it survived would have been a nice nod.
  • Did you think this episode served a purpose, or was it just cool to see one of millions of possibilities? I'm torn, myself.

I guess it was nice to know our gang fought as long as they could. Whether they ambered themselves in the hope a different future or were ambered by someone else, I don't know. Once freed, their intent to destroy the Observers remained intact. For three more years the division fights on before the world is upended. It's too bad Fringe won't continue on as long as that to see the story play out in real time. What can I say, I'm a dreamer. 


Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (163 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


When did they say that William Bell killed Olivia? They just said "You remember what he did to olivia" I mean if she was dead don't you think he would have said it outright?


@Kwire23 Thanks for pointing that out. I don't think its random, because after watching it again, there was no need to show the exact code. I hope that you have guessed it right. To all those Anna marks who are trolling around here, shut up. She isn't going anywhere. Olivia is an integral part of Fringe but that doesn't mean that we can't have an episode without her if the story demands so.


@KansasGuest: No that wasn"t peter, it's when Peter and Etta are talking, we see Walter and Astrid behind them, sitting next to each other. And there's someone else sitting in the corner but I guess it's just a passenger.


Why 4 stars? It was a perfect fringe episode. I couldn't even believe that it had ended when it did. Only fringe has the ability to create a new universe and make us think that it has always been there. The greatest show ever.


Great episode. Fringe never ceases to amaze me.


Some amazingly stupid people post here. The episode was phenomenal. I think some of you need to stick to CBS shows.


Fringe nailed it! I have great respect for them right now. They fit in Henrietta perfectly in the show and there is just three episodes left. I was a bit worried for them, but the actress did a wonderful job so congrats Loooooooooove the episode! Missed Olivia though.


As for the "dry coffee" issue. I suspect this might have something to do with the fact that water affects the Observers in mysterious different ways. Perhaps even our drinking of plain water might somehow block the Observers "reading" capabilities, or something like that. (?) In which case they might be restricting/banning the drinking of water to all non-observers (???) - Just a thought. ... But there's some or other importance with them and water. (Which they've probably completely poisoned/destroyed in their future). And whilst I try to respect everybody else's opinions here. I'm sorry but @Egnirf your nonsense ramblings are just completely bonkers. You've obviously just completely missed the point. It's seems the whole of Fringe has just zipped waaaaaay over your head. ... In fact, I highly suspect you're even really a Fringe fan as such, but only an obsessive Torv fan instead. Have you understood anything that has happened these past 4 seasons ? It certainly doesn't sound like it. Torv has hardly missed an episode till this one. (& certainly much less than other members of the cast). Her story-arcs have been central and epic. Yet you seem fixated that she's been somehow wronged, mistreated and robbed (?) And hurling unsubstantiated insults at others. ~ Sorry but you sound seriously "non compos mentis", (especially to the whole plot !)


(cont.) ... feeling alienated because the episode "came out of nowhere", or left unresolved threads. This really shouldn't come as a surprise, as it's nothing new for Fringe. In fact part of what makes it such a great show is the fact that it does not pander to, or insult their audience's intelligence by "dumbing down". Which is only to be admired. All those that have not really understood what has gone on must not have been paying very close attention to the larger-arcs and all that came before. (Either this, or else you're just one of the rather unfortunate that actually prefers to be spoon-fed). Personally I think this episode made a stellar job of teasing and foreshadowing a fantastic possible 5th season. I think it's easily the best "special 19th episode" of the lot. And all the while finally clueing us to the original planned denouement, which is looking all the more awesome for it. I'm now all the more excited about a 5th season. ~ PLEASE "powers-that-be" grant us a 5th !!! (*fingers, toes & legs crossed*)


Absolute genius ! - Hands down my favourite episode of the season. Maybe even all seasons.
it was probably particularly satisfying as I've for some time now been suspecting the Observers would turn out to be the ultimate antagonists/villains. (With only September (& few others) as compassionate exceptions.) So it was great to finally see this confirmed as I expected. Made perfect sense to me that it's what we've been building up to all this time - a perfectly logical conclusion.
It was perfectly obvious from the very get-go that Etta was Anna/Peter's daughter. Obviously deliberately so, but this only added to the episode's lovely and touching "reveal" at the end. From all the clues It was pretty much just how I expected Anna's story-arc to develop before her predicted "heart-string-pulling" demise. So the whole episode was to me like seeing all the missing puzzle pieces finally aligning and falling into place. I seriously can't understand all these people complaining of feeling lost or alienated by this episode, because it "came from nowhere" or left unresolved threads (??) If it made no sense to you, then you must not have been paying much attention to the larger story-arcs and all that's come before. (Either that, or you just prefer to be spoon-fed !?) This shouldn't come as a surprise really, as it's certainly nothing new for Fringe and actually exactly part of what makes Fringe so great in the first place. Fringe doesn't insult it's audience by "dumbing down" which is to be admired ! As a "special 19th" "left field" episode, it's just easily surpassed all the previous to become my favourite. And as a foreshadowing tease, it couldn't possibly have been any better at setting up a 5th season. It's just made me all the more hungry/desperate for another season (so PLEASE "powers-that-be", let there be a 5th !!) ~ I seriously couldn't have seen it go in any other direction, for a more truly satisfying dénouement. Bravo team-Fringe !!! ~ Bring it on !!

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Fringe Season 4 Episode 19 Quotes

Broyles: Widmark. What did you do up there in the future to get yourself such a crap detail?
Widmark: I like animals.

I'll be a toe on a foot in a grave.