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“The Recordist” featured a road trip to retrieve something important, a pursuit by the Observers, a strange skin condition, some gripping Bishop family drama, and life within a secluded community bent on recording human history. However, instead of being about any of those things or simply about the man singled-out in its title, the episode was ultimately about courage with an emphasis on its loneliest form, the form of sacrifice.
Last week, the main storyline was laid out for us as the Fringe team was set off on a quest to reunite all the pieces of the plan to defeat the Observers. Prepared by a Walter under influence, the betamax video tapes were set out of order, so “The Recordist” was actually about tape 3 in which the elder Bishop sends the team to Northern Pennsylvania. Like in any respectable quest, things are not just handed to our heroes. The tapes have to be taken out of amber, a process which “requires the precision of a surgeon” and is likely to damage them even more than the time spent in the artificial resin. The fact that the Bishop family traveled without knowing exactly what they were after allowed the story to take it time to develop after they reached the secluded community. It also led to several crucial appearances by Astrid, which is always a good thing.
The community headed by Edwin, the recordist, provided both the case of the week and the most important storyline of the episode. The case was the skin condition affecting everyone in the community, and while it was somewhat understood, it wasn’t solved in the traditional sense. The case also provided the weakest point of the story: somehow the episode failed to make the case of why the history keepers had to stay near the mine. Once they realized the area was responsible for their skin condition, they could have tried to relocate. Edwin said they stayed because their work was important. I would argue that because of the importance of that work, they should have moved.
In spite of the somewhat flawed premise behind their continuing presence in the area, the reality of their affliction combined with the fact that their record keeping role somehow “cowardly” took them out of the fight created in the community the right ingredients for what was to take place later in the episode. Just as it moved effortlessly from the rugged men living in a forest to the spotless high tech record room, the episode smoothly intertwined the search for the crystallized crimson quartz with the hunt for the fugitives and the survival of the afflicted community. We saw enough of Edwin and his son River to understand the young boy’s yearning for heroics, and to care about what would happen to them. Edwin’s sacrifice was the emotional peak of the hour because it came from an unlikely source, and perhaps also because his son was ready to deal with it — even if he could not fully understand the struggle his father had to go through. To me, the storyline also featured the best lines, my favorite being the one that summarized Edwin’s journey, “There’s a time for recording history, and there’s a time for making it.”
Courage, or maybe its lack thereof, was also at the heart of the Bishop family troubles during the episode. The way this storyline was introduced is one of the reasons why I will miss Fringe. Etta and her family are still in the process of mutual discovery, so besides Walter’s eccentricities, at the beginning of this episode, it was firmly established Olivia’s memory was remarkable. What could have been construed as a reminder for the viewers and a new information for Etta turned out to be the reason why Peter knew something was afoot with his wife during the mission, which in turn led to more information on what happened 21 years ago. Besides showing how these two know each other, the incident showed how they complement each other, while reminding what each of them stands for. Olivia was depicted as carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, almost unwilling to contemplate the possibility of happiness for herself. Peter was portrayed as the person who sees through that facade and brings her to admit she is her worst enemy, forcing her to do something about it.
Olivia’s inner struggles were set off by her daughter’s admiration for her, something that was sweet and came in the scene in the woods where they looked very well together, sporting the same hairdo and similar clothes. Etta’s presence enhanced the overall storyline because she took in everything happening between her parents, but refrained to make any comment. The closing scene with Olivia in the passenger seat grasping her daughter’s ankle behind her was subtle and spoke volume on her willingness to give happiness a shot. It should be said that it is one of the show’s strengths to be able to ground scenes like these in the middle of anything. And although I have mentioned it before, I would like to add that Olivia’s journey here is not exactly new, but fits in the tendency of the show to repeat its storylines with subtle variations until the characters get it right. Here, even if everything was done to accommodate newcomers to the series, the fact is that we had Olivia opening up to Peter like never before.
In spite of particular circumstances stemming from the fact that our protagonists are fugitives in the year 2036, “The Recordist” followed the pattern we have become familiar with over the years. The showrunner could have chosen to heavily rely on the quest (by the team) and the hunt for them (by the Observers), but he gave us a case of the week with the type complexity and emotional connections we have come to enjoy.