Episode 509 “Black Blotter”
THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!
[Photos: Liane Hentscher/FOX]
This week’s episode entitled “Black Blotter” begins with a sleeping Astrid awoken by the sound of a strange beeping noise. Astrid tentatively calls out for Walter, but when she doesn’t get a response, she reaches for the gun under her cot in the lab. Is it just me, or does anyone else ever forget that she’s actually an FBI agent who can handle a gun quite capably?
Astrid follows the beeping to the radio stuck on just one frequency that the team pulled from the pocket universe back in Episode 6. While examining it, she hears the floor creak and she jumps, only to relax when it’s just Walter in the lab. When he says, “Hello, Astrid,” getting her name right for once, it’s obvious immediately that something is wrong.
Although it’s 2 a.m., Astrid gets Peter and Liv who were already awake because of Peter’s frequent headaches and ensuing insomnia. Astrid explains that the beeping sound emanating from the radio is a pattern repeating on a loop, like Morse code but something different. The team wonders if it’s Donald trying to reach them, and they ask Walter to provide some enlightenment. After all, why would Donald send Walter a message that Walter couldn’t understand? Unfortunately, a poorly timed decision to drop some Black Blotter acid prevents Walter from fully participating in the discussion.
Never one to be shy about altering reality, Walter explains that his decision to drop acid stems from his desperation to make sense of the plan before the Walter-that-was prior to brain surgery fully takes over his personality again. He also reveals for the first time to the team that he and Nina plan to re-excise the offending brain components so he can regain his humility and thus retain the people who matter to him.
When Peter protests, Walter provides concerning supportive evidence of the need for speed: a couple of nights prior, Walter came to dressed and about to walk out of the lab. He didn’t know where he was going, but Walter-that-was did. Walter-that-was is a risk to the whole team. Throughout this conversation, Walter hallucinates the presence of an old lab assistant named Carla Warren. She peppers him with reminders of the horrible man that he used to be, and implies that the old Walter’s successful coup d’état is merely a matter of time.
Realizing that Walter is in no state of mind to assist, Olivia reasons that if they can discover the source of the radio signal, they may not need to know the contents of the message. With Anil’s additional receiver, they triangulate the source to a forest in Connecticut. The walk through the forest gives Peter a chance to apologize to Olivia for his stupid mistakes, but a gracious Liv downplays it until they’re distracted by the discovery of an RV that’s lost the war with the elements.
Scattered around the RV are the skeletal remains of two Observers and a Loyalist. Another skeleton at the wheel of the RV has an early prototype Observer gun. Based on the remains and the positions of the bodies, Olivia guesses that ten to fifteen years earlier, the man in the RV tried to protect the signal and killed the other three bodies, before dying of his own injuries. Olivia checks the driver’s skeleton for ID, and discovers that the body was Sam Weiss, our favorite bowling alley manager, philosopher, and guidance counselor. It’s a sad if noble end for this secondary character, but it’s also nice to have some closure on him before the series end.
Peter locates the source of the signal near the RV, but unfortunately, it’s just a relay used to boost the signal from elsewhere, and Walter doesn’t remember anything about Sam Weiss’s involvement in the plan to defeat the Observers. Astrid wonders whether Sam and Donald could possibly be the same person, but Olivia downplays that possibility given that the glimpses of Donald in the tapes suggested a man of different body build and hair than Sam.
Meanwhile, Carla continues to harass Walter with a game of hot and cold, until he discovers a book documenting his life work underneath a tile in his lab. Carla also continues to persuade him to give in to the Walter-that-was: “You’ve been him longer than you’ve been you,” and suggesting that the Walter-that-was would go to the Observers and dazzle them with his brilliance. In the next scene, Walter is leafing through his book in the back of a taxi with Carla and wondering why he keeps thinking about black umbrellas, until he suddenly wonders where the heck he is. Funny you should ask that, Walter; we’ve been wondering, too. Turns out he’s in Manhattan in the Observer precinct, and an Observer is heading straight for the car. Guess Walter-that-was took over and took Carla’s advice…
…Except the Observer who opens the taxi door turns out to be Astrid, and Walter steps out of the car onto a boat dock, not a sidewalk. Naturally, Walter experiences a bit of disorientation, and Astrid reminds him that they’re meeting Peter and Olivia to rent a boat because the actual origin point of the signal is on an island. The team is briefly stopped by the Loyalist Coast Guard, but our heroes quickly kill them all and reach the island successfully. Alas, Carla is there waiting for Walter.
The team hones in on the origin of the signal from a house on the island. An older man greets them on the porch with a gun, so the team quickly requests to meet Donald. The man initially seems unconvinced, but when the child Observer seen on the tapes from the pocket universe appears on the front porch with the man, the team realizes they are in fact in the right place. Liv, ever the peacemaker and bridge, tells the man and his now-appeared wife that Donald had left a radio for them and that it led them to their home on this island. The man acknowledges that it contained a message and a password, that Donald had said the man who would come would know the password.
The scene that follows as Walter recedes into his drug-addled brain in his search of the password is an homage to Monty Python, all chock full of quirky random images. Walter rides his cow into a factory where a frog, dog and seahorse are assembled, and they roam the countryside until they happen upon a knight sleeping beneath a tree with a keyhole. The knight, who has a dour Walter face, awakes and appears to be on the verge of smacking down Hero-Walter, when the frog eats the bad knight. Hero-Walter unlocks the tree, and out pop several crying baby heads. Hero-Walter reaches into the tree stump amongst the baby-heads and retrieves a black umbrella. And thus, Walter recalls and relays the password to the team awaiting him in reality: “Black umbrella. The password is black umbrella.” A little green fairy claps her approval, and a bashful Walter ducks his head with a grin.
Inside the house, the couple explains they had assisted the resistance until Donald left the Observer child Michael with them about eight months after the invasion. Donald had told the couple he’d not be coming back so as not to endanger them any further, and the older man heard Donald had since died. Before Donald left, he requested that the couple turn on the signal every five days until the scientist from Boston came for the boy.
Although the boy doesn’t speak, he is clearly connected to the couple and they to him; Michael touches the woman’s face compassionately as they say goodbye. The scene plays out beautifully without words, because after all, what words could possibly say what these people are feeling? All assembled know that the boy has to leave with the Fringe team, and in an ironic turn of events, Olivia is the one to separate the couple from the boy they’ve come to think of as their child.
Once in the lab back at Harvard, Walter’s trip continues with a painful memories of things the Walter-that-was had done that the Walter-of-now clearly regrets, including his conversation with Carla where she tries to talk him out of his plan to create a wormhole. This scene is so well done, with the memories played out like home movies on Walter and the desk he’s leaning on. It’s not a technique I could ever have thought of employing, yet it’s crystal clear that the images are memories.
Again reminded how his past work had so little regard for anything except flexing his genius, Walter tosses his notebook into a glass bowl and douses it with accelerant. Carla retorts that the journal doesn’t matter, because there’s nothing to burn, and indeed when Walter looks again, the only thing burning in the bowl is the accelerant. Carla taunts Walter with notion of giving in to Walter-that-was, and then she morphs into bad Walter. The camera changes angles and we the audience see a frightened Walter standing alone in front of a burning bowl.
Next week’s 12/21 episode is the final episode before the mid-season break. We pick back up on 1/11 for the final regular episode of the episode of the final season. And finally, the series concludes on 1/18 with a two-hour special.