The moral of last night's episode of Fringe was probably expressed in the opening minute, when the Rastafarian shopkeeper offers Peter Bishop an embroidered pillow that says, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan." Except if you really want to make God bust a gut, hide your plan on inaccessible video tapes and put one key component in the worst possible place.
So I sort of thought that this season of Fringe was going to be about Walter Bishop being a straight-up hero, after years of storylines about how Walter was really responsible for all the bad stuff that was going on, with his universe-crossing and terrible gear-inventing. Now, at last, we were going to have a situation where none of this was Walter's fault, and in fact he'd been groomed by September for the role of saviour.
Except that it seems like the show has found a new way to make Walter responsible for everything terrible that transpires — it's not his fault that his brain got wiped by Windmark, of course, but his method of storing the backup plan is just plain goofy. He recorded the whole thing on a series of Betamax video tapes, which he stored in amber (a medium which the "Amber gypsies" can cut into, but the Observers cannot.) And now it turns out the components of the plan are stored in various places — and one of the most important, the tube of incomprehensible equations, is stored in Newark Penn Station, which (somewhat predictably) is one of the most secure facilities in the dystopian future.
So yeah, everything bad that happens in this episode is Walter's fault. Including that shocking death, which we'll get to in a minute.
Although actually, the Observers were also more of a threat this time around. "The Bullet That Saved the World" was the first time since the season opener that we've really felt like this future was like a prison. The Observers actually start, you know, observing stuff in this episode. (I was starting to think their name came from the fact that they observed all the minor holidays, like St. Swithin's Day or Secretary's Day. Those Observers, always throwing celebrations for National Pie-Eating Day.)
At the start of the episode, a random Observer happens upon Peter in the antique store, and starts to "read" him, getting an image of Etta from Peter's mind before Peter can run away and get himself blown up in a sewer tunnel. Later on, the Observers actually find a Resistance mole inside the Loyalists, and start interrogating him. And they find out, at last, that Walter and the gang are hiding out in Walter's old lab at Harvard, forcing the Bishops and Astrid to flee and re-amber the lab to erase all sign that they were ever there. (Although the Observers, apparently, can't spare a few guards or a security camera to keep tabs on the lab after that.) The Observers finally show signs of being aware that Broyles used to know these fugitives rather well, which seems like a key fact. And they manage to track down the fugitives and deal with them once and for all. All in all, the Observers are a bit more competent this week than they've been in a while.
The Observers just have one stumbling block: they can't understand regular human emotions, chief among them love. So Windmark is puzzled as to why Peter would risk everything to get a necklace chain for Etta, and believes the chain must have some secret purpose other than neck adornment. Later, after Etta gets herself shot, the Observers believe that the rest of her crew will have to go back for her, because they believe love is a weakness. Instead, love turns out to be a source of strength, as Etta does what she has to do to save her parents, killing a buttload of Observers in the process.
Oh, and the necklace that Peter takes such great risk to get for Etta is for a bullet that she wears around her neck — which she scavenged from her mom's bedroom after the looting in Boston. Olivia had kept it because it was "the bullet that saved the world," although we don't really get a full explanation of why that is. (Maybe just a metaphor for how small things can make big changes? Update: People in comments are saying it's the bullet from when Walter shot Olivia in the head, in the season four finale.) And Etta kept the bullet, as a necklace, to remind her of her parents.
Update: I forgot to mention — there's a mysterious resistance leader named the Dove, whom the Observers keep hearing about. Is this Broyles? Or someone we haven't seen lately? (Nina?)
So the actual plot of this episode is pretty simple. After Peter gets blown up buying a necklace for Etta, the gang gets a new videotape, which tells them to go fetch the huge page of incomprehensible equations from Newark Penn Station. But that facility is incredibly well guarded, so they resort to raiding a previously unseen basement of souvenirs from past Fringe cases, so they can create a Fringe event to get into the station. (I was a bit disappointed that it was only one Fringe event, the face-skin thing. When Walter said they were going to create a few Fringe events of their own, I was hoping for three or four at once, in some kind of totally bonkers sequence featuring shout-outs to lots of past episodes.) Miraculously, our gang gets away clean after killing a ton of people — but they have a tracker on their car. Also, they pause to talk to Broyles, who's secretly on their side, surprising absolutely nobody. They get attacked by Observers, and Broyles runs off with the page of incomprehensible equations. The rest of the crew isn't so lucky, however — and Etta blows herself up in a replay of that Supernatural episode, to help her parents escape.
I have to say Etta's death didn't have that much impact for me. Maybe it's the fact that it came out of nowhere — which is something, to be fair, that I liked about Derek Reese's death on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Maybe it's the fact that the Observers' decision not to take her prisoner felt somewhat illogical, given how much they could have learned from her once they broke through her mental blocks. Maybe it's because her death was so clearly avoidable, if our heroes had been a bit more competent. Or maybe it's just that I was only just starting to connect with Etta as a character — this is her fifth episode, counting "Letters of Transit," and most of this season she's been just sort of part of the gang. I had much stronger feelings about the death of Charlie Francis, back in season two.
I think it might just have been a bit too soon to lose Etta. And now they've almost run out of non-Bishop characters to kill off — Astrid and Broyles should be watching their backs.
I guess "The Bullet That Saved the World" felt like a perfectly sturdy hour of television, with a shocking death thrown in at the end to give the whole thing more weight. I feel like there was a story here about love and sacrifice, but I didn't quite get to see it, because the episode was jam-packed with incident, including all the "exploring the secret basement of Fringe relics" stuff and "Broyles is really good at having a poker face" stuff. In retrospect, Etta feels a bit more like a throwaway character, although her death will be a huge turning point for Peter and Olivia, who are going to have to deal with losing their daughter all over again.
And maybe, as someone suggested to me on email, we'll get to see Peter following in his father's footsteps — breaking the universe in some way to get his daughter back. Maybe involving time travel back to 2012? That would be pretty fascinating, especially if it actually does break the universe. Fingers crossed that this death leads to some pretty intense pay-off, down the line.