On Fringe, we're laughing at the superior intellect

When Fringe first showed us the Observer-dominated future, in "Letters of Transit," there was a lot of emphasis on fighting to survive against an unstoppable, implacable foe. It's the kind of situation that brings out the best and worst in people, and I was excited to see more of Walter blowing up shit and facing impossible odds.

Alas, a lot of the season thus far has been consumed with the "scavenger hunt" stuff of running around in the woods and looking for items on Walter's videotapes. The gang got a secure homebase, with Walter's ambered lab, and apart from one scare has been left completely undisturbed there. We did have the story of Peter putting Observer tech in his head, which was like a parable of becoming a monster to fight other monsters. But in general, the season has been fairly low on the sort of thrills that I felt like "Letters of Transit" promised.

So I was pretty into last night's Fringe, in particular the stuff with Nina going head to head with Windmark. Give Blair Brown some good material, and she can just run with it all day long. I'm sure other stuff happened in this episode, but the main thing that sticks in my mind is Nina looking Windmark dead in the face, without any fear, and cutting him down a few sizes before denying him any information, the hard way. By putting a bullet in her own brain.

Nina's fate is actually sealed from the very start of the episode — the Observers have finally figured out that she was the source of the concrete-melting device Walter and the gang used back in "Five Twenty Ten," and they go to her office looking for her, just as she has gone out to meet with Public Enemies Number One through Three. Nina clearly knows her days are numbered, because Olivia says something about all the risks Nina is taking, and Nina says she's nothing if she can't be a resource to Olivia. (At this point, Olivia probably barely remembers that in this timeline, Nina was her surrogate mom.)

Soon enough, the Observers are interrogating Nina's staff, both at her office and at the facility where the concrete-melting "sublimation unit" came from. Which, by coincidence, is the same facility where Olivia and the Bishops have gone to get a brain helmet so they can communicate with Michael, the Child Observer.

Michael not only doesn't speak, he won't write things down the way he did back in season one, and he seems not to be tuned in to the people around him at all. (Of course, as soon as the others go to get the helmet, Michael touches Nina and gives her a huge telepathic/empathic download.)

Once again, the meat of the episode seems to have to do with what separates the Observers from humans, whether it's evolution or tech. Windmark sees Nina and the other humans as "animals," especially after he learns that the humans experimented on some captured Observers. (In much the same way that the Observers experimented on some captive humans, as we saw earlier in the season with Desmond from Lost.) The Observers see themselves as highly evolved and innately superior — and the Child Observer is neither a child nor an Observer, but rather just a curiosity, an evolutionary anomaly that was supposed to be eliminated long ago.

Peter's attempt to cut the Observers down involved proving that they're just their tech — if Peter had their tech in his head, he'd be just as badass as they are. But Nina's is a bit more interesting — she points out the characteristic Observer habit of tilting their heads to one side, which she identifies as a lizard instinct that humans have abandoned long ago. The Observers, through their years of accelerated evolution, have actually regressed in some ways, and represent atavism, rather than progress. In other words, she's laughing at the superior intellect.

Nina explaining this to Windmark is probably my favorite moment of the season thus far, or at least tied with last week's Monty Python sequence.

And meanwhile, Nina has indeed promised to cut the Evil Genius bits out of Walter's brain — but as she explains to Peter, it's a pretty long shot that this will ever actually happen. For one thing, Walter first has to defeat an entire planetary occupation by supertelepaths from the future. For another, if Walter actually reaches that goal, he may have changed so much that he no longer wants the Evil Genius neurons removed. (Plus now Nina is dead, so the point is somewhat academic.)

Walter acts like sort of a dick throughout the episode, proposing to put the Child Observer in a coma and referring to him as "the Subject" — so it's a pretty intense surprise when Walter finds Nina's dead body and melts down with grief. Walter doesn't even mention that Nina can't do the promised surgery any more, he's too busy being moved by her sacrifice, and worried about what's happened to the child.

So in the end, we get the Observer Child back to Walter's lab and hook up the brain helmets, and the kid finally starts communicating a bit, before giving Walter the Full Download of Walter's own memories. And we learn that... drum roll... Gordon is September. Sorry, not Gordon. Donald. That's how much I was paying attention to the "Donald" mystery. The main surprise is that September grew hair, which possibly means that he stopped being an Observer or just that he found some Rogaine.

I really hope Walter and September's plan fails. First, because it apparently involves hitting the reset button (at least, judging from the promo for the next episode, airing Jan. 11.) And because it will feel a bit too linear if we spend a whole season gathering the pieces of a plan, and then the plan actually works — after all this build-up, the whole thing has to go horribly wrong, or I'll feel cheated. In any case, it looks like when the show returns in January for its final three hours, we'll learn at last just why September went to such great lengths to keep Peter Bishop alive.

Let's hope the final episodes of Fringe serve up something as memorable as Nina's finest hour.