“There’s a time for recording history. And there’s a time for making it.”
Some humans have chosen to fight the Observers. Others have chosen to submit.
And yet others have chosen to record human history going forward on data cubes so it won’t be written by the winners—the Observers. Pessimism aside – which does indeed run rampant amongst many humans that aren’t the “original” Fringe team – it does beg the question of whether documenting the end of human civilization is more important than, you know, saving it?
Then again, we need only look to our own tragedies in the real world and see how valuable documentation is. It hopefully prevents us from making the same mistakes. (Or at least tries to.) Think Anne Frank’s diary.
Except, in “The Recordist,” the first somewhat clunker of the final Fringe season, we can’t really absorb that impact because we spend so little time seeing what they’re documenting. We’re just told it will be important.
Olivia, Peter, Etta and Walter come across Edwin Massey and his team of documentarians (who are growing bark-like deformities all over their face) when looking for the first tape of a series of six (or seven or more) that has September’s plan for taking the Observers done.
(Side note: here’s hoping that every episode for the remaining season is not a search for a different tape in a different place.)
(One more side note: Astrid oddly stays behind to help uncover more of the tape, which is damaged. Even though they were indeed on dangerous ground at Harvard, it did seem like no one was going to come looking for the team… why couldn’t they all just stay behind and finish fixing the tape as a team, instead of leaving Astrid by herself?)
While in the woods, the Fringe team learns that someone named Donald attempted to retrieve something from the mine before he was taken away by the Observers. Since Walter says he doesn’t know a Donald, and we never find out his name, it’s likely we
will meet Donald again. Unless we already have. (William Bell anyone?)
The team is looking for special quartz rocks that will power the “machine” that will stop the Observers. Except, to get to those rocks hidden in a mine, you’re going to get completely covered in that bark-like substance and it will likely kill you.
A deus ex machina solution almost comes in the form of a second nearby camp that will provide another material to help Walter build a suit to let them enter the cave safely. But that’s quickly a side notion, since the episode is building to Edwin making a decision to stop recording history, and make some. He goes into the mine and gets close enough to the entrance with the quartz before dying.
(While impressing that notion on his son with the above quote.)
The sacrifice, while noble, isn’t emotionally effective. It may have been because the actor portraying Edwin isn’t as strong as, let’s say Eric Lange was last week as the Loyalist that Etta tortures. Or he just wasn’t written that strong.
The episode also had a ton of subplots that were dropped as well. That second town for one. The fact that the Fringe team themselves were starting to get infected with the bark-life infection. (Did what they develop disappear when they left? That’s left somewhat unclear.)
One of the best scenes, however, is when Olivia and Peter discuss what ultimately drove them apart. Olivia was conflicted about being a mother because of all the experiments done on her as a child. She wondered, after Etta was taken if that was punishment for that uneasiness she felt. That scene delivered, but also served to remind us to wonder why the heck Olivia and Peter hadn’t, you know, asked Etta what happened when she got abducted?
(That answer is likely coming. It just seems too derivative and hackneyed for the producers to hold it at bay.)
Progress is made in the Fringe team’s quest to destroy the Observers in this episode, but it also seemed like a waste of an opportunity to tell an interesting story about the other people in an apocalyptic story—the ones who watch and record. And hope to contribute to humanity by reminding us of what true history is. And was.