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+.


@Marine - There is no mystery. PETER was the person sitting opposite Walter & Astrid. Then Peter went to talk to Etta in the final scene.


Okay, just rewatched the end, so I guess that's not olivia sitting in the far corner in the train.
But if she isn't dead, where is she? And what's Etta's bullet?


@Malternate: Well, they didn't they Olivia was dead in the episode but in the review and here in the comments everyone seem to say so, so I just assumed I missed something.
But I still think there was someone sitting opposite Walter and Astrid in this train.


This relates alot to Season 3 episode 21 "He seems to be laying on his side and his vision is blurry. Shadowy figures scramble around in the dark, hazy distance. He groggily sits-up as the sound of mayhem fills the night air. The street is littered with burning debris as the chaos around him continues with a nearby explosion. Peter stands-up, unsure of his footing and hears the loudspeaker announcement - All civilians proceed to evacuation route immediately. Explosions continue along the street and Peter takes cover near a memorial plaque remembering those lost in September of 2001. The plaque was dedicated in September of 2021. Confused at what he just read, and still dazed from all of the chaos, Peter stands-up again and stares at the huge skyscraper that was designed to overlook New York Harbor from the One World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan - the Freedom Tower. A nearby Fringe Division member sees that Agent Bishop is exposed to the threat and runs up and tackles him to the ground just in time to save him from another explosion as it goes off. Peter looks at the man that just saved his life, sees his official insignia and wants to know where the hell he is. Peter is injured and a medic is called in. " We were given an insight to this and I would love to see where this goes and how the all the dots connect.


Anyone else note the meaning of the ep title, "Letters of Transit?" It's the 70th anniversary of the movie, CASABLANCA. If you've never watched the entire thing, the letters of transit are what enables travelers to leave Nazi-controlled Casablanca. Without them, they're stuck and could even be arrested. They're also what could enable the antihero, Rick, to reunited with Ilsa, his long-lost love. IMO, the ep title hints at the most bittersweet of romances - two lovers who give each other up for the greater good of saving the world. *sniff* Just an observation because any reference to CASABLANCA has to have some romantic significance. It's what the movie is known for - an unlikely hero sticking one's neck out for an ideal.


I LOVE FRINGE! Thank you for a great episode! The only thing I regret about this episode is that Simon will not exist past this point. Too bad; he was a character I'd like to see more. Amazing how the writers can flesh out such a well-rounded, appealing guy in under 30 minutes.


In my opinion this episode seemed a lot like "The terminator"(mainly that explanation in the beginning). It explained why September saved Peter, why he is so important, and why he was erased. I believe september (and some other observers are against the occupation of the planet and knowing that somehow Peter and Etta would save this world he had to go to the past, save Peter from dying in that lake and had to erase him because he'd had a baby with the wrong Olivia. Remember September told Peter that he had to have a baby with the Olivia from his universe. Because he knew she(ETTA) would be important in saving the world. (That's why september was shot and locked by the observers.


@marine: "I'm still not taking in the fact that Olivia's dead and Bell killed her." We don't know that Olivia is dead; all we know (with some level of confidence) is that she wasn't in that block of amber and that Walter didn't want to revive Bell "after what he did to Olivia." Maybe Bell killed her. Maybe he was the one who ordered Jones to give Olivia cortexipham. Maybe he sued her for copyright violations after she said "Live long and prosper!" to Peter. We don't know. @Patti K.: "Did this whole week just not happen?" I think what we saw was the future as it would be if there was no further tinkering with the timeline between the present and the arrival of the Bad Observers. There will be further tinkering, so this future will not "stick". Somebody is going to try to keep Marty from disappearing ("Back to the Future" reference).


Hands down one of my favourite episodes ever!
It does provide alot of food for thought & infinite possibilities for the future of Fringe.
And can I just say that Walter is the best + cutest character in the show!


Well, that was a real weird storyline. At least after reading your review I can get some semblance of sanity back into my mind. I couldn't wait for the preview and that didn't help much. Did this whole week just not happen? Will Peter and his newfound daughter continue on to next week? Will Olivia, who I totally missed this week, ever know that Etta and her Father found each other? confusion will not be erased until all the special characters like Lincoln and Olivia are all back into the fold. Who ever thought it was a good idea to give them the week off? Loved the daughter but missed the Mother. Thanks Carissa for shining a little light onto the entire episode. Well done with what you had to work with.......

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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.