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Fringe Review: "The Human Kind" (Episode 5.08)

December 9, 2012  |  9:33am
<i>Fringe</i> Review: "The Human Kind" (Episode 5.08)

“It’s all just numbers.”-Olivia Dunham

If nothing else seems familiar to longtime Fringe fans about this season, they can take comfort in at least one thing: Fringe always comes back strong from a hiatus. So the good news is that the show returns with one of its strongest outings of the season. The bad news is that it’s one of the strongest episodes of this season.

The episode is divided into parallel storylines, Peter’s ongoing effort to orchestrate Windmark’s future and Olivia’s quest to recover the latest item in Walter’s scavenger hunt. Surprisingly, both are actually pretty compelling.

This week was by far the most interesting use of the Peter as Observer plot device as we got to witness multiple machinations of Peter making subtle changes to Windmark’s timeline in order to steer him to some future event which will allow Peter to kill him (this ends up being somewhat ironic, but more on that later). I do wish we got to see a little more of exactly what Peter was seeing. There was obviously some major Rube Goldberg planning going on in his balding noggin that made him choose the changes he was choosing, and I wish we had gotten to see a little more of it, particularly what made him choose the particular time of Windmark’s death as the most ideal option. All in all, however, it was a fun cat-and-mouse set-up, particularly with Windmark constantly trying to retaliate while seeming more than a little concerned about Peter’s increasing abilities.

The rest of the cast get some solid moments while trying to draw Peter back into the fold with John Noble shining the brightest. Granted, it really isn’t a fair comparison. Anna Torv actually does nice work in the episode’s final moments, but even with the hiatus I’ve grown pretty weary of the “distraught Olivia making a heartfelt plea to Peter” scenes.

She fares much better in the scavenger hunt storyline, which involves a flatbed truck, a giant magnet and a really, really bizarre performance by Jill Scott. I truly don’t even know if I can call it a bad performance because it seemed to be from a completely different show. It was a combination of constant eyebrow contortions and the strangest line readings in recent memory. My best guess is that the director told her to act mystical and make every sentence sound like a question.

There’s some contrived suspense regarding whether Jill Scott and her people are good or bad, and a fairly generic action beat involving some kidnappers, but the real takeaway from the whole storyline is a pretty overt statement about religion and causality in the Fringe universe. It was a pretty bold bit of speechifying, and it seemed more like a manifesto from the creative team than a character moment. It will be interesting to see if those sentiments pop back up in the final few episodes or if it was a one-time bit of lip service.

Of course, that same question can be applied to multiple items from this episode. The history of Fringe is littered with dropped ideas, failed plot starters and dead-end ideas. Will Jill Scott’s apparent telepathy mean anything in the big picture? Will we ever find out how and when the brain-burrowing tech that turns humans into Observers was actually invented? Most importantly, now that Peter has removed his device, will he follow through with his plan to kill Windmark? Can he?

Only time, of course, will tell, but at least this week we got an episode that renewed my interest in finding out.

Some closing thoughts:

-For some reason, religion has become a major player in televised science fiction for the last 10 years or so. Even if viewers weren’t always aware of it, it ended up playing a major role in both Lost and Battlestar Galactica. As I said, I have no idea whether it will continue to play a thematic role or simply be a one-time exclamation by a conflicted character, but either way I suppose after this week you can add Fringe to that list.

-Not a lot of sci-fi homage stuff going on this week, but there was definitely one BIG MacGyver shout-out. So we’ll just go with that.

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