The big problem with tonight’s Fringe episode “Five-Twenty-Ten” is that roughly a third of it is redundant to anyone who’s been watching the season so far. Several minutes are taken up by Walter and Nina Sharp talking about Walter’s fear that his restored brain is turning him into the cold and ruthless Walter Bishop of old, which is something that came up in the last episode, at some length. Meanwhile, Olivia is worried that Peter is responding to Etta’s death by withdrawing from her and becoming obsessive (a trait exacerbated by the secret Observer-tech in his head), which has been the major topic of conversation on this show for the past two episodes. Even the rudiments of the plot—which sees the team unearthing one of Past Walter’s videotapes and going hunting for some hidden technology related to an old Fringe case—is largely indistinguishable from any other episode in season five. Taken as a whole, “Five-Twenty-Ten” isn’t exactly a Fringe for the ages.
Taken in pieces, though? Well, there are some spectacular pieces. And besides, what has this season been about, if not the profoundly human quality of being scatterbrained, and only fleetingly excellent?
Okay, perhaps that’s a reach; perhaps I’m trying to make “Five-Twenty-Ten” sound better and more meaningful than it actually is. But I’m not reaching when I say that “Five-Twenty-Ten” is fleetingly excellent. Just about anything to do with Peter’s covert mission to sabotage The Observers—which takes up about a third of the episode—is both fascinating and tense, as Peter uses his new predictive abilities to chart where The Observers’ main lieutenants will be, and when. The problem for Peter is that by borrowing The Observers’ talent for precognition, he’s also borrowing their divorcement from humanity, which means that while Peter can predict what should happen, he can’t always predict what will, given the randomness that some might call “the human factor.”
Nevertheless, Peter’s efforts net him one big win, as with the help of their Resistance liaison Anil, Peter determines where three of Windmark’s top baldies will be, and arranges to replace one of their briefcases with a case containing the flesh-eating toxin that factored in the very first Fringe episode. Soon there’s an explosion, and The Observers’ jaws drop right off. (The benefit to this is that now they can’t eat, so they won’t act on their hunger. Lop off their arms and they’ll be perfectly safe. Or am I thinking of another show?)
As for the tape-of-the-week, it sends our heroes to William Bell’s storage facility, to find two of those cylindrical beacons that have been a part of Observer-related Fringe episodes since the first season. The return to Bell-ville occasions much discussion of why Bell was found with them in amber in the first place, and whether he had rejoined them in their fight against The Observers before they froze themselves, or whether he had betrayed them. The general consensus, based on everyone’s foggy memories? Bell sold them out. And it’s that fear of becoming like Bell that provokes Walter to have that overly familiar talk with Nina about what he is becoming, and to ask her to help him by cutting up his brain again.
On the other hand, once Walter and the team break into Bell’s storage facility and get into his safe—thanks to a Massive Dynamic device that converts mass into gas, and thanks to Bell always using the same “5-20-10” lock-combination—they find a disc that unearths the two cylinders they need, and they find a photograph of a young Nina Sharp. The latter tells Walter that even at his worst, Bell was still capable of human sentiment; which means that perhaps there’s hope for Walter as well, even at his most calculating.
Bell’s hideaway also contains Walter’s old copy of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, which sets up the fantastic final five minutes of “Five-Twenty-Ten.” Though the entire episode may not be a keeper, the Bowie-scored ending most definitely is, bringing to a head the growing distance between Olivia and this new Pete/Observer hybrid. She’s fretful that he’s not sleeping, that he has weird headaches, that his ears start bleeding spontaneously, and that he keeps going off on missions without her (after she expressly said she wants to be included). Well, at the end of “Five-Twenty-Ten,” he explains himself, telling her the truth about what he’s done to his brain and why.
This may be the strongest indication that he’s slipped completely into Peteserver mode. Not the Vulcan-like, “It’s logical that we split up.” Not the transparent boards in the living room, covered with Observer-movement timelines. Not that he can say what Olivia’s about to say a fraction of a second before she says it. Not that his hair is falling out in clumps. It’s that now he’s being honest, because he no longer cares if the truth hurts her.
- Can’t be too down on any episode that contains the line, “Fire up the laser, Agnes. Let’s get that hand out of amber.”
- Very sweet reunion between Olivia and Nina, given that in this reality, the latter is still the Nina who raised Olivia from girlhood—even if Olivia is not the same Olivia who remembers growing up with Nina.
- Astrid talks with Olivia about her Peter-worries while they’re sitting in a car, which is a nice extension of the Fringe tradition of “car chatter” being the most from-the-heart.
- Walter remembers Bell, pre-amber, being accompanied by a man with an accent who tortured Walter. It is suggested that Walter may be recalling the plot of Marathon Man.
- Nice shot of the hat-check counter at the restaurant, with neat shelves full of fedoras and briefcases.
- What were The Observers eating at that restaurant? Some kind of shaved ham? (Spicy shaved ham, perhaps?)