Even by Fringe standards, "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" is as intriguing as an episode title gets. By the time its meaning was elegantly demystified, the story was so engrossing that I had forgotten my earlier fixation on its title. The story picks up the day after the events in the previous season episode "Letters of Transit." The day after Etta, Olivia and Peter's daughter, helped free her father, her grandfather and Astrid from Amber in an Observer-run world. The one person missing from that episode was Olivia, the soul of the series, and that of course had to be remedied before the story could carried on. "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" is about the quest for Olivia and to a lesser degree, about setting the stakes for "the battle to save mankind."
Whenever Fringe returns on TV, I become more demanding towards other shows I review. The attention to details, the quality of the writing and the superb ensemble cast make it the best sci-fi show on TV, and that was again demonstrated in the fifth and final season premiere.
Fringe has always had a limited number of characters, and over the years the show has become very skilled at using them to satisfy our needs for human drama. Instead of adding new characters, it has spawned new versions of our favorites with subtle variations, and the season premiere has always been used as a character reboot. When the season premiere starts, Walter is not really "our" Walter because he was injected with his liquid brain-matter in "Letters of Transit." He is sharper, sure of himself, but also more abrasive and less considerate toward others. The interrogation session with the lead Observer did not only send our heroes back to the drawing board as far as a plan for freedom goes, but it also gave us back a damaged Walter.
Olivia is the heart and soul of the show not because she is adorable, which she is, but because the series has treated her ruthlessly in the past four years — by giving her remarkable traits and allowing her to overcome her many trials. Here again the showrunner seems determined not to give her a moment of bliss. Besides the shock (extremely well played by Torv) of seeing her baby daughter as a grown woman not much younger than herself, we soon realize the loss of their daughter of 3 years, 1 month and 5 days wreaked havoc on the show's couple. Now, there is a relationship that needs to be rebuilt, a daughter that needs to be rediscovered, and a father (Walter) harboring some resentment towards his son. In fact, the only bright spot was between Etta and her grandfather. All this was explored with a few quick scenes extremely well-written and sprinkled over events of significant importance for the future of the planet. Watching all that unfold, I could not help but think: that's how one handles the tribulations of a family in a post-apocalyptic world...
I must add that the propensity of the show to put Olivia and Peter through a hard time, and its habit to repeat some of its stories until its characters get it right don't bode well for the future of Etta. Viewers shouldn't be overly surprised if the showrunner decided to test the couple again by having them lose their daughter for real this time.
The bigger narrative had its problems (I found the part about the new suspended-animation tech a bit weak for example), but the overall story was competently put together. The soundtrack helped with the general sense of urgency that could be felt throughout the episode, and the continuity from "Letters of Transit" was simply perfect. Olivia was seamlessly added to the whole and the theory behind the thought unifier was, as often with Fringe, very attractive. The state of the world in 2036 was touched on through details that provided some insight into the daily life of people. In that category, while amber-gypsies and egg-sticks were amusing, the production of carbon monoxide raised a question: in previous timelines, the Observers seemed perfectly fine in our atmosphere. The poetic beauty (and possibly the significance) of the final scene with Walter listening to music and spotting the lone flower was refreshing.
"Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" was a much better season premiere than the previous one. It brought back the team together in a state that would allow some growth, and it seemed to take away the obvious path to freedom, allowing the story to build new ones from next week. Despite everything that has happened before, the episode also managed to be accessible enough for newcomers by explaining everything that needed explaining and by staying away from everything unrelated to the Observers take-over.