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Deconstruction Review of Fringe, Episode 19 Season 4 Letters of Transit

Posted by Karl Withakay on April 20, 2012

A Dreary Blue Episode

As always, an episode synopsis will be found over at Scott’s Polite Dissent

Opening Theme Fringe Terms






Private Thought

Due Process


Free Will


Presumably in the Observer Controlled Future (OCF) of 2036 , all these concepts are mostly unachievable fringe notions.

You Look Like You Could Use a Few Pieces of Joe

In the OCF of 2036, liquid coffee hasn’t existed as a drinkable beverage for a long time.  Now coffee is consumed as “Coffee Chews” which are chocolate covered coffee beans.

From the packaging:

Nutritional Information

Serving Size: 1pkg (50g)

Calories                        480 Cal

Calories from Fat          0

Total Fat 2g                  0%

Saturated Fat 1g         0%

Cholesterol 0mg           0%

Sodium 105mg 10%

Carbohydrate 45g        15%

Fiber 0g                     0%

Sugars 30g

Protein 0g

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Coffee Beans, sugar, brown sugar, glucose, modified corn [starch], wheat flour, water, treacle[…] palm oil, artificial flavor, […]artificial color (FD&C B[…] monoglyceride.

Coffee Talk

I’m not sure where all those Calories come from.  Carbohydrates (sugar is a type of carbohydrate) have  4 calories (kcal) per gram.  Doing the math results in 180 calories in one 50 gram serving.  Somewhere an extra 300 calories have been added that is not accounted for in the rest of the nutritional information.

Also, there don’t seem to be any chocolate in chocolate covered coffee beans according to the ingredients list.

Nutritional information is still based on a 2000 calorie diet in the OCF.

“Old fashioned” one dimensional UPC barcodes are still used on food packages and it appears that two dimension barcodes never caught on for UPC labels.

Cardboard packaging is still used for candy treats like chocolate covered coffee beans.

More OCF of 2036 Notes

The Brooklyn Bridge road deck is destroyed, but the towers still stand.

Central Park has been razed and paved over.

Some Loyalist forces carry FN P-90 personal defense weapons, originally designed in 1990.  (This is not necessarily surprising.  In 2012, the US military still uses the M-16 rifle, which was originally designed in 1957.)

Closed captioning refers to an unnamed Observer in the OCF of 2036 as a Neo Observer.  I assume that means they are new Observers rather than Observers who watch the central character of The Matrix trilogy.

Quotes of the Show

Shortly after being called Prisoner by a Loyalist trooper, Walter says,

“I am not a number.  I am a free man!”

While bluffing their way past the same trooper, Walter also says,

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

And after succeeding at tricking the trooper into letting them pass, Walter says.

“Move along.”

For the Search Engines

Neurotrophins are indeed growth factor proteins.  Apparently in the OCF of 2036, synthetic ones are florescent yellow-green.


24 Responses to “Deconstruction Review of Fringe, Episode 19 Season 4 Letters of Transit”

  1. “I am not a number. I am a free man!” << I took this as a Half Life reference, specifically, the entire dystopian future reminds me of City 17 in Half Life 2. I'm not sure if the reference was intentional or not but given Walter followed up with Star Wars references, it probably was. I hope it was. G-Man is also very, very similar to the Observers. I hope the writers at least acknowledge where they get some of their materials.

    I really didn't like this episode a whole lot. While it's part of an arc, I really felt that Walter's brain being damaged was an unnecessary detour. We're introduced to new characters and we see old ones that seem very bland and uneventful. Broyles still holds a desk job and Nina got Medicare to pay for a new scooter from the Scooter Store.

    The new future Fringe duo knocked a 60+ year old man into a wall out of amber. I guess they don't have pillows in the future? There was an episode in season 3 that dealt with removing someone from amber. Even though it was in an alternate universe … well, uh, they managed to get someone out of it without having to do some elaborate "knock them out of the way really fast" tactic in order to do so.

    The Observers just seemed very out of character given how we've seen them previously within the context and world of the show. For enlightened, all seeing beings from the future, the writers have dumbed them down to petty thugs.

    Leonard Nimoy's appearance was a surprise … but since he supposedly retired from acting and he had no speaking lines, it makes me wonder how much of the show's budget they had to set aside to write his paycheck.

    It really didn't take 40 something minutes to figure out the new girl on the show was Peter and Olivia's daughter. The fact that the writers intentionally threw things in to avoid it early on felt forced and unconvincing to the viewer.

  2. Reyes said

    I thought the “I am not a number” quote was from “The Prisoner”. Didn’t really see any big plastic bubbles anywhere trying to capture anybody. Again we have an alternate future just like in “The Day We Died” but 10 years later (2036 vs. 2026). I guess the timelines are just going crazy. At least it wasn’t a cartoon. As for the Amber, I think they answered the question earlier in that it was 3rd generation amber and not as easily dissolved. Other than a one-off episode, what does the observers have to do with David Robert Jones? I liked that they showed how easily Walter could have become Walternate. Now, ask yourself, could you spot the observer in this episode?

  3. viru5detected said

    I loved last week’s episode and was looking forward to how they’d pick up from there this week. This sudden shift in the story and addition of so many new characters made the whole experience rather off for me since we’re hardly properly acquainted with the already established characters. Obviously David Robert Jones is a very integral part of the story and I’d like to see the writers explore his character further. The characters in this episode were rather bland and it kinda made me realize why people are loosing interest and the ratings are dropping…too many new characters and story arcs being introduced without adequate exploration of the already ongoing ones

    Also,ditto what Jedivulcan said about the observers.These were somewhat mysterious beings with unknown powers and capabilities but we’ve suddenly dumped them down to petty politicians with no clearly apparent agenda

  4. Ashley said

    I’m so glad Walter pointed out what idiots they were for not checking surveillance on Massive Dynamic. I know it’s Fringe Division and they’re sorta lax on that kind of thing, but you’re supposed to be double agents. How have you not been caught yet?? I’m intrigued by William Bell’s role in Olivia’s death as he’s supposedly dead. If we have to wait until next year for the second part of that episode, we might be waiting forever.

  5. Karl Withakay said

    I’d be willing to bet a substantiation majority of my life’s savings that the “I am not a number..” line was a reference to The Prisoner and not Half Life 2. I assume you are not familiar with the TV series The Prisoner and suggest you check it out on Wikipedia. Replace City 17 with The Village and the G-Man with Number 2 and you’re on the right track. I also highly recommend watching the original series (not the 2009 remake) except for the last episode. (I have it both on DVD and Blu-Ray)

  6. @Karl Withakay I’m definitely going to check it out. You’d think with all the old and the obscure there on Netflix instant streaming, “The Prisoner” would be available (it’s not *boo* *hiss*).

    @Ashley You’d think Nina Sharp, with multi-dimensional overlords and some very basic wiretapping concepts, would be a bit more paranoid when speaking over the telephone. It baffled me that in the scene where Walter fixes her robotic arm that Nina would be so casual to someone over the telephone that she’s with Walter, a guy that could potentially be the key to stopping the Observer regime.

    I got the impression in the episode though that the Observers aren’t as all seeing as they’re cracked up to be, or at least, these guys aren’t. It looked like the writers also made an effort to not have Observers in gun fights. They didn’t show any significant speed or bullet hand grabbing abilities we’ve seen them with in prior episodes but they do possess some extra-human abilities.

    Probably not blatant product placement but Broyles was using a Dell laptop on his desk. I guess they’re doing well in the future.

    @ Viru5detected It just seems that putting David Robert Jones as an antagonist in this season wasn’t a good idea. My theory is, with Mad Men and Sherlock Holmes (and probably other movie and television projects), Jared Harris has been unavailable and Fringe producers have been working around his schedule, hence David Robert Jones seemingly getting a week off here and there. That’s just my theory, since I see the actor in Fringe on Fridays and then Mad Men on Sundays and I think to myself … “Wow, he must be really busy”.

    The future settings are starting to remind me a bit of how Heroes showed all these different futures and never really rolled with them. They were kind of just thrown out there for kicks, and while conceptually interesting, really didn’t do much for the series, particularly in later seasons.

    I have no real hope that the 2036 story line will go anywhere if Fringe gets renewed for a 5th season just because they never really went anywhere with the 2026 story from last season. There wasn’t even much of a hint in the last season that they’d bring Jared Harris as David Robert Jones. No surprising cliff hanger or setup. Peter disappears. That’s the cliffhanger. It’s something they had to address in the next season. The writers seemed to want to get Peter back in the story as fewer episodes as possible (compared to the 7-8 it took to get Olivia back at the beginning of season 3, which by the way, apparently didn’t happen with the new season 4 bland-o-verse).

    I don’t think the writers can pitch a fifth season set in a dystopian future. There’s no room for product placement. Fringe, has to me, always been this sort of advertising experiment for Fox. They did extended episodes for the first season experimental advertising, and since then, they’ve had some very blatant product placement from Sprint, Ford … and I think Nissan. Unless they can find some convincing way to have Observers carry around Think Pads or drive around Chevy Volts, eh …

  7. I didn’t have a problem with the Observers being more emotional and thug like. Up till now we have just seen a subset of them, who have more or less been on their best behavior. We have also seen some evidence that the longer they interact with people the more likely they are to display emotion.

    It is possible the original Observers were just on a scientific/historical mission. Or it is possible they were scouting for a time/dimension to homestead in. I don’t think we have enough information to say yet.

    But the point is the Observers we are seeing now aren’t the ones like the original team. They have been here for at least 21 years, and presumably not in the flitting from moment to moment way the original observers were (the OO’s just like OG’s but different ;). That is a lot of interaction time.

    As such, it is easy to imagine them seeing themselves as gods amongst the ants. Like British colonialists in some “backwater” part of Africa or Asia. The world is their mollusk.

    The question I kept asking myself was: which universe was it? It some ways it felt like the alternate, certainly the Finge offices looked far more like the Alternate offices. However the “Team” was “ours”.

    I will end on a stray thought: The last time we jumped to the future, it was Peter being shown what happens if he picked one universe over the other. I wonder if this time we are seeing what would happen if Jones succeeds in collapsing the two universes into one. There would be bits and pieces of each reality mixed together.

  8. @Jock Murphy I’m pretty sure it was “our” universe. The alternate universe didn’t have One World Trade Center or Massive Dynamic. There was also a reference to the days before they had giant Willy Wonka-ized coffee beans and actually drank coffee. They’ve made it a point in a few episodes to note that coffee is extremely scarce in the alternate universe. I even think Astrid gave her alternate self a bag of coffee beans in the episode before this.

  9. essjayar said

    First time ive seen this blog… very interesting look at a show, even if only for die hard fans and the analy retentive lol. So instead of just putting this as the one-off bit of fun it is ill join in the easter egg hunt 🙂

    The Prisoner – in its time the original was ground breaking, putting the mysterious number 6 in a strange dystopian place without any real answers, not even at the end. Nice to see it referenced. Can almost forget the remake.

    Those carbs? Perhaps the sugar content in this universe is different lol.

    Is it the current Fringe universe? No way of knowing. Bell was back (Rip Mr Nimoy) and not in cartoon form… perhaps this is simply a “what if”. I dont see “our observers” heading this way… that would be too much against their current back story. Then again, their twins from another dimension if the dimensions are not reconciled in 600 years… who knows?

    So forget the “wheres olivia” or other questions here. Just hope Fringe continues and doesnt lose its way. It still has plenty of room and I hope it gets commisoned for many years to come. At least 2015 🙂

  10. HomiSite said

    Oh dear… Although it was the first episode of a new (mini?) arc and a lot of details remain unclear, I feel a bit cheated like the cheap way the authors chose with the end of season 3. Again quite a reset of the world, this time quite idiot-proof with the intro text and new characters no one cares about (yet; nice to see Lost’s Desmond – and thanks that the show at least didn’t speak out that Etta was Peter’s daughter).

    Fringe authors: “Observers are boring with their obscure science mission and their seldom appearance [I personally don’t really like them], let’s make them to inter-temporal pseudo-Nazi observ-, eh, occupiers! David Robert Jones had just got a bit more background for dramatic impact, let’s remove him [he’ll probably appear again]!”

    It is interesting to look for new and old things and think how all fit together, but it gets tedious! Well, I am still curious how Bell came back and what he did to Olivia (and what happened to the other characters). I guess we saw a collapsed/merged universe (hi, Jones, where are your mutant super-humans? :-)), although no alternative character appeared at all…

    The observers/occupiers need more background – didn’t they risk there own existence with their occupation? And why choosing a time where Walter & Co. are able to build WODs (Weapons of Observer Destruction :-))?

    PS: “I am not a number. I am a free man!” is for sure from the quite crazy UK 1960s show The Prisoner. Even the last episode is remarkable 🙂 (and at least you know for sure what is the last episode – there isn’t really a real episode order, at least not the production order).

  11. shadowkate said

    @Homisite – IIRC this was suppose to drop us in midway through the story since it is going to be part of their ‘see, this is why we need a season 5′ pitch. Therefore there ar ea lot of questions. It reminded me of Epitaph One episode of Dollhouse. Same sort of feeling of being dropped into the middle of story and they spend a good portion of the second season explaining how that future came to be. I knwo I'[m not the only one with that feeling either.

    I would love to see more of this future as well as how we got there. I’m sure David Robert Jones is part of it (maybe he brings the rest of the observers?) and while it is possible that they have to work around Jared Harris’ schedule, I have a feeling that Jones’ on and off apperence has more to do with how Fringe is written then his schedule.

    Still, I hope we at least get a 13 episode 5th season.

  12. @Jedivulcan yes but there is the Fringe Division logo and offices, the Amber, and “crowd control” weapons that were all things from the alternate universe. So I don’t think it is clear which it is.

    The more I think of it, the more I think it is a third universe, most likely caused by Jones collapsing the two universes we know. This leaves us with universe prime, a hybrid of the the two we know of.

    Unlike others I loved the ep. I didn’t mind being dropped into the middle of a new storyline, they gave us more than we needed in the opening crawl to have a sense of what was going on. It also gave us some additional insight into why Walter had part of his brain removed. The show has always been about landing in the deep end. The rules have changed more than once, and they are going to change again in the future.

    Assuming that the show has a future. 🙂

  13. Jay Landberg said

    Where did peter come from at the very end? Why am i the only one who didnt get this; they said walter was trapped in amber with two other people. one was Astrid and the other was Bell, then suddenly it appears peter was in the amber too? I dont get it, i thought there were only two other people, one male and one female.
    Also what universe is this based on on if Bell is alive???

    Please, please, explain this to me; I dont get it at all, watched the episode twice and seem to be the only person asking these questions (most interested in how peter appeared all of a sudden)

  14. HomiSite said

    @Shadowkate: Raising questions with a jump into the cold water of a more or less new enviroment/setting/location isn’t bad per se (and I am interested in it, too), but I just have the feeling (again) that the Fringe writers don’t know where to go – or to be more specific: To close stories in a good way – resets and time jumps are kind of cheap. Quite the whole season 4 was about introducing a new enemy with a still quite obscure agenda and also the realization that the former Peter-less time is somehow the original timeline. At least the 2036 version of the main characters are more or less our known ones. And the future setting itself: Is it that interesting? It seems more a mix of all SF occupation settings…

    @Jock Murphy: Can you elaborate a bit more about Walter’s brain removal? I don’t recall it very well (and was surprised that the pieces still exist).

    @Jay Landberg: Oh, your are right that the Etta’s contact at the beginning spoke of “two more, man and a woman” besides Walter. Hm… I forgot that and thought that the audience just wasn’t shown all details of the amber imprisoners. Well, Simon obviously sacrificed himself to free Peter, while Walter cut off Bell’s hand (and yeah, it will be very interesting where he just came from – where there a living alternate Bell?).

    Well, I guess the next episode will bring more needed insight…

  15. @Homisite We first learn about Walter’s missing brain bits, in the episode “Grey Matters” (Season 2 Episode 10:

    We learn that Walter had parts of his brain removed by William Bell — at Walter’s request. In the end we find out that they had been found by Newton (one of Walternate’s shapeshifters) and inserted into the brains of psychiatric patients in an attempt to reassemble the missing knowledge… how to open a portal between the two universes.

    Now how Massive Dynamic got ahold of these bits of tissue are hard to say. Perhaps in the Post Machine Reconstructed Reality (PMMR) Walternate never got ahold of them; or perhaps Massive Dynamic recovered them some other way. Hard to say.

    But when Nina was asked why Walter had part of his brain removed, she gave a very interesting answer: “I don’t think he liked the person he was becoming”. So Walter may have had two reasons for the decision: to hide the portal knowledge, and to change who he was.

    Once Walter’s brain was “fixed” we definitely see him as a harder, more dangerous man. There is less of the sense of whimsy, and we see a man willing to make an antimatter bomb at the drop of a hat. Whereas our Walter would have been bashful in light of Simon’s little speech, this Walter was all business and chided him.

    There were a lot of factors in what made Walter the lovable mad scientist, and what made Walternate the Director of Defense willing to destroy a whole univers and encase his own people in amber. Both Walters were cold men, willing to experiment on people without their knowledge, willing to make hard decisions for the greater good… or just for the pursuit of the unknown. But “our” Walter is less like that now, possibly in part because of the missing parts of his brain.

    As much as I like this explanation it is possible that there is a different explanation for the missing grey matter this time. It could be in the PMMR (or in the Jones Collapsed Universe) Walter had the tissue removed before putting himself in amber, to prevent the Watchers from getting at some important piece of information — since they seem to be able to read people’s minds. I think this is less likely, but it should not be discounted.

  16. […] This week’s Fringe cipher was: QUAKE. A list of all previous Fringe reviews is available here. Karl, as always, has more to add. […]

  17. HomiSite said

    That’s what I more or less recalled, too – the point how the brain pieces ended up at Massive Dynamic was the interesting one. But a good call about Walter being the harsh man of action afterwards: I just thought that the events after the Observer invasion made him so, not also maybe his “complete” brain. Well, let’s wait for the next episodes.

    PS: Although I got the feeling that in 2036 we have one merged universe, Robert David Jones stated in the last episode: “Matcha [tea] is one of the few things I’m going to miss.” That sounds more likely that collapsing both universes means destroying them. But we don’t know yet what Jones did since the present.

  18. bros said

    Keep in mind that the opening title sequence said that the Fringe TEAM (which is Walter, Olivia, Peter) resisted and were quickly defeated. But Fringe DIVISION (what the redverse’s fringe team is called) was allowed to contiue operating

  19. @Bros it took me a minute to get the distinction you were getting at, but once I grokked it, that is a very good point.

    I can think of a couple of reasons for it, but will (for the moment) pretend it continues to argue for a combined universe 😉

    @HomiSite I am not sure what to make of Jones’ comment about missing Matcha. The Original Jones did a lot of things without a deep awareness of their actual result, simply that he was trying to make sure that “out” universe was victorious. I don’t think the new Jones is any different.

    We don’t know yet what the New Jones’ agenda is. He isn’t the leader of the ZFT. He isn’t fighting (as far as I can tell) for one side or the other. But I think Walter hit the nail on the head when he said that Jones’ wanted control.

    He wants to control the further evolution of mankind (by guiding and directing it), so I could see why he would dislike the fact that there are two universes. It’s just way too untidy. So he wants there to be one. And I think he is trying to merge them, and be in a position of power once it happens.

    As such he simply cannot be sure what parts of what universes will survive, and I think that is what he was referring to.

    Of course we all must remember this is just Kremlinology. We have a handful of facts and no real information. The only way we may lean more is to see more episodes. Until then I will leave my more crazy speculations unexamined:

    1. We know that the Observers come from one possible future of man. Perhaps the Neo Observers come from a different possible future

    2. Is Jone’s working/being guided by the Neo Observers in our timeline?


  20. So I finally got around to looking at the preview (and the description) for this week’s episode of Fringe, only to see that it will be about the two Fringe teams working together to try and prevent the two universes from collapsing.

    That just reinforces what I was saying before, that the universe we saw in the most recent episode was a combination of the two. My guess is we will see the the episodes alternate between the present timeline and the 2036 timeline.

  21. Purpleloft said

    Nobody recognized the “Blade Runner” intro ? …even the Vangelis-type music was almost as identical as the opening credits for the movie. It gave me goosebumps. Loved the episode by the way,…bring on the 5th season !!!

  22. John said

    It appears that this episode was an overt attempt by the producers/writers/executive producers of Fringe to save their jobs. I believe these types of shows are referred to as “back-door pilots.” Or as I might call it “Fringe for the Dumb.” Fringe as an action adventure show with distinct bad guys, shiny heroes; a pretty blond, striking male leader with an accent, some of the original Fringers and a dark gooey city-scape that will almost always be filmed at night or in the rain. Many of the special effects were either very quickly shown or eluded to, like the blasting of Walter from the amber, or the vanishing building—probably shots that could be replicated with a camcorder and a Mac.

    I do not believe the episode will have any bearing in the last three episodes, or the story to date. I can imagine the writers being instructed to find a way to produce 44 minutes of an action Fringe that would appeal to the typical the FOX viewer, the ones that used to watch 24, or used to watch House.

    It was not pleasant to watch an hour of Fringe without Anna Torv, and if this is what FOX would serve up as Fringe in the future maybe if would be better if Mr. Jones melted down every single one of the Fringe universes.

  23. @john According to Variety a backdoor pilot is a “pilot episode filmed as a standalone movie so it can be broadcast if not picked up as a series” this also applies to episodes of existing TV shows that introduce new characters and situations that would be the basis of a new show.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the Finge writers/producers were intending “Letters Of Transit” be the basis of a spin-off from Fringe. So it wouldn’t be a backdoor pilot.

    Is it a radically different episode intended to spark some controversy and notoriety in hopes of getting ratings to go up? Maybe. Is it also an echo of what was done at the end of Season 3? Most definitely.

    It most definitely wasn’t “Fringe for the dumb” however as it get anything out of the episode you had to be pretty clued in to the Fringe mythology. If anything it was “Fringe for the insiders”. The opening crawl would do nothing for people unfamiliar with the show.

    As for the rest of your comments, we will have to agree to disagree…

  24. […] episode is debunked at Polite Dissent and Cordial Deconstruction, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. […]

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