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Fringe: “The Bullet That Saved The World”

Illustration for article titled iFringe/i: “The Bullet That Saved The World”
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This is not the story of the bullet that saved the world, but rather the chain that might’ve doomed it. The bullet, as Fringe devotees well-know, had been dangling from the end of a chain around Etta Bishop’s neck, until the necklace clasp broke, and she loaned the chain to her father and grandfather for one of their so-crazy-it-just-might-work science experiments. At the beginning of this week’s episode, Peter goes scrounging in one of the remaining human thrift shops, to replace his daughter’s necklace. And there he’s cornered by an Observer, who isn’t fooled by Peter’s amateur attempts to shield his thoughts. (“What is base-ball?” the Observer asks.) The Observer knows that Peter is buying the chain for some blonde woman, and that Peter might be associated with the fugitive resistance fighters that have been the talk of the dystopia lately. So an entire covert rebellion is jeopardized, because of a cheap piece of jewelry. “Worth every bump and bruise, kiddo,” Peter says to Etta. By the end of this episode, he’ll feel very differently about that.

I suspect that when all is said and done, “The Bullet That Saved The World” is going to be one of those Fringe episodes that fans will remember by the title alone. Which one is “The Bullet That Saved The World?” It’s the one where Etta dies. And though we haven’t spent enough time with Etta to feel the loss the way we might’ve if it’d been Astrid who’d gotten shot and then blown herself up—or Broyles, who makes a memorable reappearance in this episode—the death is still meaningful, both for how it affects the direction of this episode, and how it affects our heroes. It also matters in defining what The Resistance is fighting for. Mean-ass Observer Captain Windmark asks Broyles about the chain Peter was buying, wondering, “What is its purpose?” To which Broyles grunts, “Its purpose? You wear it.” A couple of weeks ago, our Loyalist pal Manfretti said that everything would be easier if The Resistance would just stop resisting and accept the inevitable. But even if it’s just for a few more years before total extermination, do we really want to live in a world run by people who don’t see the point in decoration?


On the other hand, is the messy sentimentality of humankind a liability? As noted in this episode, The Observers are always two steps ahead of The Resistance—and “more if they focus”—and while the ephemera that clutters human minds can be useful as a diversionary tactic, that same ephemera also makes it hard for us to focus. Plus, Etta was the person best at training people how to turn human thought into “a labyrinth” that The Observers couldn’t navigate. And now she’s gone.

I don’t want to spend this entire review talking about the beginning and the ending of thus episode—and how one led to the other—because even beyond the major events of “The Bullet That Saved The World,” this was a tense and exciting hour, full of fun detours and drop-ins. I’ve already mentioned the return of Broyles, who we learn this week has been aiding The Resistance from his position inside Fringe Division, using the code-name “The Dove” to send tips and warnings. When Broyles arrives to meet with the team—and to provide them with some powerfully explosive anti-matter batons to use as weapons—the way that he says “Agent Dunham” to Olivia and the way she answers “Philip” is one of the sweetest moments in Fringe history, and well-earned.


Also sweet—in the surfer lingo sense of the word—is the sequence where Walter leads the team down to his hidden trophy room beneath the lab, where he’d collected souvenirs from Fringe Events in his past life. (“My porcupine-man!”) Our heroes need a diversion so that they can make their way into a heavily guarded Penn Station, and Walter has the idea to create a Fringe Event using some of their leftovers. And while I’m sure we were all hoping he’d find some way to make use of his “window to another universe”—perhaps by series end, oh please oh please—he settles on the gas that closes people’s face-holes.

The reason for the Penn Station expedition is that one of Past Walter’s tapes has revealed the existence of secret plans, and though the tape’s too garbled to reveal the location of those plans, Walter suddenly remembers the “Manhattan Mystery Tours” he used to take with his mother as a boy, and how he hid his collection of Detective Comics in a subway platform in Penn Station. So one Fringe-y diversion later, Walter is once again standing in the place where he stood as a kid and as an adult (albeit decades ago), retrieving what he stashed.


There are a few problems though. One, The Observers find them fairly quickly, forcing a narrow escape facilitated by Etta getting wounded and then activating one of those anti-matter batons, to force her parents to leave her behind and to do maximum damage to the enemy. Two, the plans appear to have been drawn up by September, and are too complicated for Walter to understand. (They’re not Greek to him, because he can read Greek. They’re Aramaic to him. But not the Western dialect, because he can speak that.) Three, The Observers now know that something funny’s been going on at the old Harvard lab, which means that the team has had to re-amber it, before having the chance to watch the rest of Past Walter’s videotapes.

Perhaps there’s some hope in the last tape they watched, in which Past Walter told them to “accept the reversibility of all phenomena.” Does that include the death of Etta? Because it’s awful to think that she’s gone so quickly, done in by a bullet that she retrieved from her old house when she was 13, and by her last happy memories of dandelions.


On the other hand, how typical is it of Fringe to leave Peter Bishop where he is at the end of “The Bullet That Saved The World?” A few weeks ago, I talked about this show as the tragic story of Walter Bishop, but it’s also been Peter’s sad story too. Here’s a man who was ripped from his world as little boy, who has spent his entire life trying to cobble together some semblance of a happy reality from what he’s been left with. And whenever he comes close to an ideal, he finds out that his true love has been replaced by a woman from another universe, or he winks out of existence, or The Observers invade. And now: He’s lost his daughter, whom he spent years—plus decades in amber—trying to find. Peter has always been the most human character on Fringe, which means he’s always the one who bears the brunt of these sloppy mistakes that humans make.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • I liked “The Recordist” fairly well, but I wonder if it says something about its overall relevance to the season as a whole that the “previously on Fringe” this week contained nothing from that episode.
  • Among the rare treasures seen in the opening thrift store scene: a Simon game, an “If You Want To Make God Laugh Tell Him Your Plans” pillow, a cymbal monkey, and U.S. currency.
  • More shots of people staring down hatches this episode. It’s a motif!
  • Can I interest you in a spongy donut hole, with jelly tendrils?
  • Pet peeve of mine in adventure stories: People in hiding places (like Astrid is in this episode, avoiding The Loyalists) really shouldn’t pop out right after the people they’re hiding from walk by. I know that running-time is at a premium on network television, but sheesh, give it a minute.
  • Walter is so cool when he mutters “you electrocuted me” to an Observer at the Penn Station checkpoint.
  • One advantage of getting to watch this episode early: I had lots of time after I finished to read the Wikipedia entry on the origins of the “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti.
  • “Astriff! Prepare the laser!”

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