Episode 9: Black Blotter
By: Carlos Uribe
Fringe is a show about a small team of people who are trying to save our world from the Observers.
Fringe has a tradition of going crazy every nineteenth episode of each season. The second season had a musical episode, the third season it was animated, and the fourth was set in the future. These episodes not only broke form and style but they managed to always find a way to belong on the show. The musical is a story made up by Walter to entertain Olivia's niece. The third season was Peter entering Olivia's mind in order to save her and as a way for the series to set up who is going to kill her. The fourth season acted as a secret backdoor pilot to the final season. This fifth season isn't going to have a nineteenth episode but it makes sense that the ninth episode takes it's place. This is a an episode that is very score-oriented, has animated sequences, and is set in the future. It is like a combination of all the previous special episodes that had broken form but they remained within the Fringe universe. The future setting is similar to the rest of the season as it's the timeline but the animated sequences are due to Walter dripping on acid. Black Blotter manages to also advance the plot in a significant way while continuing to deal with Walter's inner struggle with the man he used to be and the man he has become. An inner struggle that is externalized with Walter's hallucinations of his former assistant. Black Blotter is yet another brilliant entry into this final season.
It's true that Black Blotter advanced the plot in a significant way but it really isn't a large one. The plot development is that the characters are able to track a radio signal and find Michael, the little Observer kid. The entire episode is them getting the kid back. This is integral to the major plan to bring down the Observers but the episode didn't make any other contributions to the plot. Donald's identity remains a mystery along with his whereabouts. The Observers aren't weakened, the plan is still unknown, and this episode barely touches on Peter's disconnection from the Observer machine. The latter makes sense since this episode concentrates on Walter and it does have some scenes relating to it. It's just that considering how recent it was, you'd think it would have a bigger impact this episode. The episode might not have moved many pieces of the serialized plot but moving the single one it did was very fun to watch. Whether it was the team taking out a squad of loyalists or finding the old battlefield between Sam Weiss and the Observers, it really did feel like constant action while making the Fringe world feel more real. Having the battlefield makes the rebellion feel like it actually happened but having Sam Weiss be a victim was a way to make it feel like it actually happened on the show Fringe. This isn't just some random dystopian future but one that happened in the Fringe world.
A large part of the reason that the journey to getting Michael back was Walter's acid trip. His conversations with his old assistant might have been a bit-on-the-nose, if justifiable, but it's the more odd elements that made it work. While the fairies were a nice touch, I'm talking about the part of the episode where it became a Monty Python cartoon. The cartoon was a visual way for Walter to reach the password they need to get Michael but it was an inventive technique to get there. That the series used the acid trip to develop the plot in such a way helped make this episode memorable. That wasn't the only time where the acid trip really worked in it's favor: the scene where Walter thinks he took a cab to an Observer base was a strong one as it visually played with the fears of his own actions. The most powerful moment of the episode came when Walter hallucinated a home video of what occurred when he went to the other universe to get Peter. It is a bit disappointing that in such a strong episode with visual cues like this that it resorted to using the assistant to develop a lot of his internal crisis. It makes sense and it's justifiable but it feels rather weak compared to the other techniques that this very episode employs.
Fringe might have moved to the future but it's concentration on characters remains true. Even the background emotional scenes to this. Peter is largely dealing with the emotional fallout of having used Observer technology and leaving Olivia behind while she largely forgives him. The real focus of the episode isn't on those two but on Walter. A recurring element of the season has been that Walter is afraid of regressing into his old self. He's hoping that his son will be able to save him but he's also trying to have his actual brain piece removed once he remembers the plan. That's part of the reason he took the acid: he was hoping it would unravel the plan for him. The entire episode's premise is built on Walter's character but so is everything he ends up seeing. Black Blotter simply wouldn't have worked if Walter had gone on a random accidental drug trip or if the hallucinations were crazy without meaning. It needed both elements for it to truly function. A large note is that it's a bit shocking to see a character on network television using hard drugs and there being no real reaction from any groups. There might be a blessing to being a low-rated Friday night show after all.
Black Blotter is an episode that allowed the plot to make a small step forward but kept the journey interesting while concentrating on Walter's character. The series probably shouldn't be moving so slow as we're getting pretty close to the end-game now. There are after all only three episodes left before the two-hour series finale. At the same time, this is such a great episode on it's own that I couldn't imagine the season without it.