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Fringe – The Human Kind Review: A Return to Normalcy with Style

The Human Kind brought Fringe back on track, and that is not because Peter was literally pulled back by his wife, but rather because the episode restored the series emotional balance while competently pushing its own agenda forward.

In my review of the previous episode, I mentioned that it was good that Olivia was made aware of what Peter had done because she would try to do something about it. The Human Kind opened with her getting from the resistance the same tech for Walter to study even before informing him of what his son had done. She broke the news in the lab while giving Walter and Astrid the means to investigate what was happening to Peter and try and find out how to revert or stop it. With that opening scene, the story showed right from the start that it would stop using her as an idle supporting character (which it has done for most of the current season) and bring her back to her old pivotal self. Very much in keeping with what we have come to expect from agent Dunham, she refused to stick around to pine over the possible loss of her love and went off to follow the instructions from tape number 8.

Olivia Dunham
The tape sent Olivia to a specific location to retrieve a giant magnet that was waiting for more than twenty years. The difference with the previous tapes is that the object was entrusted to the care of some people and not just hidden somewhere, so Olivia had to interact with them. I will not go over why Walter doesn't seem to have backup plans for the items required by his grand scheme, and by that I mean we have every reason to wonder the chances of a magnet being kept for twenty-one years by anyone. I will not fret over such a minor detail because this wasn't about the magnet as Simone (and her mother) could have been keeping a toaster for all that time and it would not have changed a single thing in the storyline. This was about Olivia. This was about a journey that would allow our favorite Fringe agent to break with her behavioral pattern.

Olivia tends to hide inside herself when in trouble, while her husband has trouble letting go of anything. Peter was faithful to himself and went down the rabbit hole, losing himself to pain and revenge, and disguising that as a quest to honor his daughter. Their only hope for both of them was for Olivia to act differently this time around. The trip to retrieve the magnet didn't start out that well as I thought the owner (Simone) was almost too conveniently faithful to a promise made by her mother more than two decades before, but it turned out it was exactly the kind of unsophisticated faith and trust Olivia needed to be confronted with.

I liked how the episode tried to throw us (and Olivia) off with Simone's request to her employee and with Olivia's conversation with the little girl, but I liked Simone's reaction even more: the way she gulped down the glass of water was refreshing in more ways than one. The story pitted Olivia's extensive experience with fringe events against the simplistic human faith embodied by Simone and largely pulled it off. To long time viewers, I would say I never liked the way Walter involved God when dealing with the "white tulip" in past seasons but here, the confrontation between a solid understanding of the world (math as Olivia put it) and basic human faith (be it religious or not) was excellent because it pulled Simone's "gift" into the fringe vision of the world without denying the value of her understanding. And of course, it did not hurt that the two actresses held their own almost flawlessly. When Olivia got into the truck to leave, it was obvious Simone's wide believer eyes had made a dent into her self-assurance and her grasp of things because she was a bit defensive.

Left alone in the lab to deal with what was the case of the week, Walter and Astrid gave us what we needed to understand Peter's transformation and the danger that came with it. It has been a while since a case of the week was so relevant to the main storyline, and here we even had the signature humor (Astrid to Walter: "And whose [brain] did you have in mind?"), some excellent visuals, and very acceptable fringe explanations on the cerebral cortex threat to the seat of emotions. 

Peter Bishop
As for the human subject himself, for the first time since Peter was "upgraded", I really enjoyed everything he did as an aspiring-Observer. We saw the math in action and how Observers use probabilities to "predict" the future. All the confrontations with Windmark, whether verbal or physical were of superior quality. We could enjoy the fight scene and the (almost) emotionless displays of wits and intelligence because our emotions were taken care of elsewhere. We saw Olivia struggling to distance herself and Walter's outpouring of worries to whoever would listen, including his son.

In a previous review, I said that Fringe could arguably be described as a story about Olivia or a story about love and how it can save us from ourselves. My point was that the show was wrong to have Walter discuss (with Nina Sharp) the importance of love. In that episode, the writers put the theme in the mouth of a character instead of having it more elegantly emerge from the story. In The Human Kind, there was no such lack of elegance because everything was in the characters' actions. Shaken by her day with Simone whose humble faith (despite being maybe based on some wrong premises) had the advantage to be more human than any superior understanding of math, she went to try something she had not done the previous time around. Against all hopes, she went to try and pull back her husband without any elaborate plan or technology. She went to him to appeal to his humanity and his love for her.

Everything Olivia Dunham said in that long monologue to her husband was beautiful, and although the scene didn't work as well as others in the episode (because let's face it, she had an almost emotionless Peter in front of her), everything that had passed before was enough to drive home the overall message and part of the missing emotional climax.

The Human Kind gave us back our series. Relying on remarkable writing and the always impressive cast, the episode pulled back the prodigal son while welcoming the viewers to Olivia Dunham's plight, just as it should be.



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