|Desmond asks Walter if he knows where Penny is.|
The fourth season's highly anticipated installment, however, didn't seem to be shaping up to be anything outrageous. We've been to the future before (in the third season finale that erased Peter Bishop from the timeline) but we had never seen one that had been taken over by the Observers and that was the big draw, as far as I was concerned. Little did I know that this single episode could quite literally be a - and I know how abused this phrase is - game-changer.
It's 2036. The Observers (seemingly endless in number) have seized control of our universe (there was no mention of how Fauxlivia, Walternate, our Lincoln Lee, et al. fared "Over There" - which I'll discuss later). Humanity - now known as the Natives - are divided into two groups: the Resistance and the Loyalists. Loyalists have gnarly tattoos on their right cheek's (on their faces, people!) to set them apart. Our Fringe Team fought against their conquerors but were ultimately put down, leading the division to be taken over and reduced to being a simple police force to monitor the Natives. Phillip Broyles remains in charge and the stress of the job is certainly showing. Homeboy needs a serious facial and should consider a little Botox. Nina Sharp is working in the "Ministry of Science" - presumably under the Observers' collective thumb - and Massive Dynamic has been abandoned.
"Letters of Transit" opens with a mysterious, nameless blonde (red flag number 1) saving a man from certain-death-by-mind-meld at the hands of an Observer. The mysterious, nameless blonde (who I shall call MNB until she's no longer nameless) is revealed to have the ability to block an Observer from reading her thoughts (red flag number 2). She leaves with the man, who takes her to a van in the alley where he has something of interest to her: a man encased in amber. Just as he's about to tell MNB where he found him - and where another man and woman, both "younger," can be found - he's shot by an unknown assailant and MNB drives away. Under a bridge - because where else do you do these things in the dark of night - she goes to look at the man-in-amber and it's then that we see who it is: Walter Bishop.
Then some stuff happens, some talking, blah, blah, look it's Desmond! Desmond is named Simon, though, and he's of a higher rank than MNB and he was apparently a major fighter in the Resistance (although he keeps that on the hush-hush now) because his parents were killed in the Purge (a brutal massacre of many members of the Resistance in 2015). Anywho...MNB and Simon discover that the amber has been altered so that it solidifies almost instantly after being reverted to its gaseous state and that Walter himself activated the amber protocol. After checking out a nifty air-gun from the Department of Antiques (I'm making this name up now), they free Walter and, naturally, he asks for some Red Vines - about two times because his mind has decayed during the 20 years that he was encased. It's also at this point that MNB gets a name: Etta. I initially couldn't make out what it was and thought it was "Ella" until I rewatched the scene (red flag number 3 - kind of). Simon wants to know if Walter can create a device that he made plans for that would rid the planet of the Observers while Etta apparently wants to know where he was encased in amber so they can find the rest of his team (read flag number 4). But, alas, his short-term memory is shot and he's been rendered more childlike than ever before.
So they go to see Nina Sharp - who is now very Professor-X-meets-Storm-in-the-crappy-third-X-Men-movie with her wheelchair and hot silver hairdo - and she says that they can stimulateWalter's brain to heal itself by using the piece that William Bell cut out so many decades ago. But she says they have to go to the old Massive Dynamic building to get it - which is deep in the heart of Manhattan, Observer Central.
When Simon, Etta, and Walter start their journey into the belly of the beast, they're stopped by a Loyalist and Simon insists that Walter is Etta's grandfather, who they just checked out of the old folks' home so he can see his wife's grave (red flag number 5 - kind of). Walter is greatly offended when the Loyalist calls him a criminal and goes all Obi-Wan Kenobi but, eventually, they make it to Massive Dynamic. They get into the building using a code - 092112 (red flag number 6) - but it's not that easy, of course, since they unknowingly trip a silent alarm which results in an Extra Observer and a group of Loyalists coming for them. But before the tyrant and his ass-kissers arrive, Simon and Etta have a heart-to-heart about their families, how his were killed and how Etta last saw her parents when she was four years old (red flag number 7) and their plan works and Walter is good ol' Walter, again.
This is when stuff gets even crazier. Taking a page out of the 2009 "Star Trek" script, Walter uses anti-matter to literally remove the Massive Dynamic building from time and space once they make it outside, taking care of the Extra Observer and the Loyalists who were hot on their tails. It just disappears. Gone. Everyone stares in shock and awe as the trio make their way to safety.
They go to where Walter ambered himself and his team and, although we can't see anyone's faces, body language makes it pretty damn clear that it's not Olivia that's going to come out of there with Peter. Low and behold, it's Astrid! Much to the dismay of Etta (red flag number 8). At this point, Broyles activates Simon's tracker which interferes with the device they're using to revert the amber to gas and the air-gun inconveniently breaks. Simon's trying to fix this but - well, I'll get there in a second.
Off in a corner somewhere, Walter and Astrid look at a specific spot in the amber, at someone in particular, someone who's cameo was kept so under-wraps that I don't think anyone had any idea that it was even a possibility. Trapped in the amber with Walter, Astrid, and Peter is...wait for it...
NOTE: At this point, I was literally screaming because of how shocking this reveal was. I just couldn't believe it. Not only did I have no idea that Leonard Nimoy would have a cameo in the episode (and executive producer Joel Wyman confirmed that it was definitely him and not some computer creation, like we've seen before on the show) but it was just so unprecedented! I've been wondering what Bell-y is up to in the Peter-less Timeline (because without Peter, the season 2 finale had no reason to happen, so Bell never would've had to sacrifice himself, right?) and it looks like we might just find out!
But back to the episode...
Simon and Etta figure out what's causing their device to go haywire (Simon's tracker) and it's then that Simon decides that he must do something huge for the good of the cause. Because the amber solidifies almost immediately after being made gas, Simon sacrifices himself by pushing Peter out of the danger zone and letting himself be encased. Poor Desmond can't catch a break.
Broyles and the Fringe Police arrive on the scene and find Simon in the amber and a half eaten Red Vine but Etta, Walter, Astrid, and Peter are long gone. We don't know if Broyles found the secret corner of the room where William Bell is encased, though, but I have a feeling he didn't or won't.
Our four heroes have made it on a bullet train, taking them out of Manhattan. Walter and Astrid whisper secretly while Etta stares out the window at the city behind them. Astrid is appalled that Walter decided to just leave William Bell behind but Walter reminds her that Bell did something awful to Olivia (we don't know what) and that even Astrid doesn't have enough compassion to save him because of it. She retorts that they need Bell but Walter pulls out a chunk of amber from his bag to reveal that he took Bell's hand. They have what they need - but to do what?
Over by the window, Joshua Jackson's face appears for the first time in the episode as Peter thanks Etta for what she did. It's then that we get the big reveal that didn't shock me quite as much as I might've hoped given how bright those damn red flags were throughout the episode.
Etta: Do you know me?He's shocked. He touches her cheek. She smiles, tearfully, and we watch the train speed off into the night.
Peter: I don't know how I could. I've been stuck in that amber for over 20 years, you barely look old enough...Henrietta?
Etta: Hi dad.
End of episode.
End of my life.
I cracked up laughing as soon as the credits rolled. I couldn't handle the brilliance of this episode - I still can't! That's why I'm writing a recap of it; I want to relive it! I went in the shower and was still smiling to myself like a total idiot, working through what it all means for the show and, because of this, I now have a couple of working theories about where the rest of the season is headed and what a fifth season could look like. All of that will be in the next post, though.
For now, we wait for episode twenty, which looks to be a total doozy as we go back to 2012 and watch both the Fringe team and the Fringe Division work together to stop David Robert Jones from destroying the two universes and, based on the trailer, the only way to do that is to...turn off the Machine? I'm intrigued and it certainly gives credence to my theory about why the alternate universe wasn't mentioned once in this entire episode...
So there you have it! If you didn't watch "Letters of Transit" live, then I suggest you get your life together, sort out your priorities, ditch your friends/lovers/spouses/family/pets or whatever was responsible for you not watching this episode. But if that's not possible, then you should definitely be on the look out for whenever the episode is put up on Hulu. And watch it with a friend! This episode was surprisingly accessible for new viewers. They might not appreciate what it all means but they would understand everything just fine, I'm sure, and they'll be hooked instantly!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my follow-up, theory-laden post!