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Black Blotter was Fringe at its best. The episode used Walter and Olivia to pull us into a story that tied loose ends. The episode also gathered several elements across timelines in a coherent narrative while restoring the team's faith in the plan to defeat the Observers.
Fringe has always relied a bit more on Walter and Olivia to get through to the viewers. The remaining regular and recurrent characters, including Peter who is much more prominent than Walter, have never appeared as the constant emotional poles that Walter and Olivia have been over the years. Last week, the balance was restored because the show resumed using Olivia that way, and this week, it got even better because in just one episode, Fringe got us invested in its two emotional poles.
We are very familiar with Walter's idiosyncrasies, and his "Walterisms" still make us laugh five years later, but in Black Blotter, we were pulled into his fantasies and hallucinations like never before, and it worked beautifully.
There was no tape, but there was still a quest as the radio picked up in Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There started blurting out some sort of signal. In a way, Black Blotter was the second part to that earlier episode in which the target, the Observer child, was missing from the pocket universe. The acid-induced hallucinations ultimately helped Walter with that storyline, but they also invited us into the development of the Walter-from-before subplot which turned out to be much better than expected.
The craft of the episode is in the way it intertwined the investigation conducted by its signature couple with Walter's attempts to make sense of the wealth of information the drug was giving him access to. The show was well inspired to use the former lab assistant (who was a strong marker for those years before pieces of his brain were removed) and Nina Sharp who tried to ground him in this reality, but none of them topped the fairy, a personal favorite.
As Peter and Olivia followed the trail leading to Sam Weiss and to connections to another timeline skillfully introduced here, Walter went down the rabbit hole of his own threatening former self. I absolutely disliked the way Nina Sharp and Walter introduced that threat a couple of episodes ago, but here, conversations with the lab assistant and the final memories of his crossing (into a different universe) were an excellent exploration of Walter in this timeline. That storyline also had the added benefit to draw a sharp contrast with what was going on with Olivia and Peter who are now dealing with people (Michael the Observer child and Sam Weiss) they met in a timeline that Walter and Astrid have no memories of. For the first time this season, the fact that the story of Fringe happened across multiple timelines and universes was really outlined and used as a way to propel the overall narrative forward.
It is typical of the show to sort out character issues in the middle of scenes that have a much broader significance for the bigger story. On their way to what they thought was the signal's origin point, Peter and Olivia had one of those conversations that make the handling of their relationship a remarkable feat. When Peter said, "I don't deserve you," I couldn't have agreed more, but then again, it's exactly why they belong together.
That conversation in the woods got me thinking that when we are caught in the intricacies of the story, it's easy to forget how the writing and the acting in Fringe is generally much better than what we are used to. Black Blotter brought that back into focus because it was much more character driven than the preceding episodes of the season. The only action sequence, the gunfight with the loyalists, although very well executed, was not really necessary.
The writing and the acting stood out in so many ways that it's impossible to go over all the little things that made a difference. From the way Astrid got her gun out of the holster to the way the fairy appeared for the first time, the way she clapped when Walter got the password right, the way Walter admitted he was most definitely tripping to the way he was led by his lab assistant (and by the amazing cartoon that unlocked the key), the episode was a brilliant example of a TV show at it best.
There was something in the conversation with Michael's keepers in their house that I felt not quite in tune with the rest, and the fact that Michael is now officially called "Observer child" raises some questions as to how he became one (as so far we know that Observers are made using tech). Even so, the minor quibbles and the potentially major questions couldn't derail a story that came after an episode that put us back on track and took things even further by righting many of the wrongs of the season.