OK, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: Fringe is fucking great! It’s one of my favorite shows of all time, and this episode, in which we took a long, strange trip inside Walter’s acid-addled mind, was one of the strongest hours of the season.
“Black Blotter” was inventive, surprising, suspenseful and challenging. Also: crazy, fun, clever and … did I mention the crazy? And here’s why all the crazy stuff worked so well – like every great Fringe episode before it, this one was deeply rooted in character, plot and emotion. All of the entertaining and bizarre elements of this episode allowed us to peer deeper into the mind and heart of Walter Bishop, and Walter’s strange and glorious acid trip even helped move the season’s plot forward.
For the past few seasons, Fringe has treated us to an episode that breaks the usual format and goes for something weirder (I’m thinking of the “Brown Betty,” “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide,” and “Letters of Transit”). And while most of this season has been pretty different from seasons past, the showrunners decided to continue the tradition with this wonderfully trippy episode.
For most TV shows, taking a major character on an acid trip means goofy visual tricks, tired Pink Floyd references, obvious music cues and maybe some flat Yellow Submarine-esque cartoonery. On Fringe, those goofy visuals are more inventive, the references and music are less obvious, and the cartoonery, well, let’s just say it was an absolute pleasure to watch Walter journey into a Terry Gilliam-inspired animated fantasy that looked like it was pulled straight from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I really didn’t expect that, and I loved how that sequence cut the tension of the scene it interrupted. With the war against The Observers, the death of Etta and Peter’s recent dark spiral into Observer-dom, it’s refreshing to see Fringe offer up some much needed levity while also staying true to the tense and dark nature of this final season.
While I had a blast with all the inventive visuals – Walter’s red and green fairies, the rainbow flame, and Walter watching Peter and crew on TV were favorites – “Black Blotter” wasn’t all drug-induced whimsy. Walter’s trip was laced with dark moments, not the least of which included the return of his dead lab assistant Carla Warren (or a projection of her), who represented the disturbing and dangerous elements of Walter’s personality he’s desperately trying to suppress. It was nice to see Jenni Blong’s beautiful face again here, but her portrayal of Warren grew tedious after her first few appearances. And while an argument could be made that Walter has been dealing with the same issue all season (trying to keep his power-hungry tendencies at bay) and no new ground was trod here, it’s worth mentioning that this episode did a great job of bringing Walter’s internal conflict to the forefront.
Perhaps the most effective scene in “Black Blotter” came near the end. Walter was haunted by the painful memories of the first time he crossed over into the Other Universe, which director Thomas Gormley smartly portrayed as scenes from the classic episode “Peter” projected over the lab and over Walter’s troubled face. These powerful and emotional minutes were followed up by a troubling scene that saw Walter burning his evil science playbook, which wasn’t real, and coming face to face with the dark and smug version of himself that threatens to take over.
After watching this episode, it’s clear that Fringe’s greatest villain, “The Walter That Was,” is still a huge threat. Fringe Division’s goal of defeating The Observers and saving the world is no doubt tied to Walter’s goal of defeating The Walter That Was, or at least making sure he doesn’t resurface before The Observers are dealt with.
While Walter was the focus here, the other characters still had a lot to do. The signal from the radio they found in the pocket universe led Peter and Olivia on a trek to locate the mysterious Donald. Our man Donald was nowhere to be found, but Olivia and Peter did find the body of Sam Weiss, who apparently passed away trying to protect Walter’s plan to defeat The Observers. They also found The Littlest Observer, or “Michael,” as his guardians called him. It surprised Peter to learn that Michael could recall meeting Olivia from a previous timeline, but Olivia said it seemed to make sense, since Observers experience time differently than we do. That seemed like a good enough explanation for me, and perhaps Michael’s memories of that previous timeline will help Fringe Division bring out the plan to save the world.
And speaking of Peter and Olivia, I appreciated their brief “makeup” scenes near the start and in the middle of the episode. It’s good to see that their recent trials have seemingly brought them closer together instead of further apart.
“Black Blotter” was another great and rewarding hour of television from Fringe. There was a lot to chew on here, and there was plenty of fun to be had as well. It’s great to see that Fringe, so far, seems to be going out on a high note without compromising its creative spirit and unique vision.