I don't really have much to say about last night's episode of Fringe. It felt... half baked. And not in a delicious chunky ice cream way. More in a "we threw in a bunch of ideas to see if any of them would stick to something" way. Spoilers ahead...
So basically, we're going to be doing the "scavenger hunt" storyline all season on Fringe, it seems like. And that's going to provide us with an excuse for "freak of the week" stories, of some sort or another, as the team travels around the post-apocalyptic countryside and searches for the ingredients of Walter's plan to defeat the Observers. And, presumably, also for more Betamax video tapes that Walter squirreled away somewhere.
Even as Walter Bishop schemes go, the notion of hiding the fool proof anti-Observer plan in this fashion is pretty nutty. It relies on: A) People figuring out how to get stuff out of amber, but the Observers never mastering that technique, or not caring enough to bother. B) Betamax tapes still being playable after umpteen years and the rough treatment required to get them out of amber. C) Whoever watches the tapes having the highly specific technical knowledge to understand Walter's jargon.
Obviously, the main point of all this is to give our heroes a quest, and also to get them out of the cities, where the show has to spend a lot of money on CG matte shots of the Observer-dominated world. (And also, to keep our heroes from having to interact too much with the Observers directly, so that we don't keep asking why the Observers don't simply read their minds or swat them like bugs.)
So in last night's episode, the gang goes searching for Unobtanium. (More or less.) The miraculous energy-generating crystals are hidden at the bottom of a tapped-out gold mine in Pennsylvania, and one of the major challenges in this storyline is just understanding what Walter's saying in his video tape — there are several scenes of Astrid blowing compressed air into the tape, fiddling with the tracking and generally fussing over the Betamax player to try and get all of the crucial details. (No puns about the Observers' mindwiping abilities and need for "head cleaner," however.)
Here are the random story ideas that are tossed around in "The Recordist": 1) There's a mysterious illness, which seems to come from proximity to that gold mine, which causes skin blotches, and maybe Walter and the gang are going to be affected. Don't worry, they have like one blotch each, and they're removable. Phew. 2) The main guy we meet is the eponymous "recordist," who's created a fancy holographic historical database thingy, and he particularly obsesses over the heroic deeds of the Fringe gang. But he's content to record humanity's heroic deeds, rather than actually being a hero himself. Until he changes his mind and dies to get our guys some Unobtanium. 3) The main guy's son is even more obsessed with the Fringe team, drawing remarkably professional looking comic books about them in a way that reminds me of Alcatraz trying to make Jorge Garcia being a comic-book artist into a running thing.
Oh, and shoehorned into all of this is some stuff about Peter and Olivia's relationship. Hearing about a rough patch they went through in the past continues to be not as interesting as witnessing an actual rough patch in the present, although Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson do their best to sell it. We learn that Olivia felt conflicted about being a mom, and when Etta vanished she felt like that was her punishment for having mixed feelings — which is a really nice piece of character-building, except that we're being told about it in retrospect. If half this episode had been flashbacks, that might actually have been more interesting.
So all in all, this was a pretty forgettable episode of Fringe — ironic, given that it's about remembring your history. To the extent that it had a message, I guess it was "face blotches are removable at first, don't worry." And also, "Historians are useless because they don't actually make history." That second message is something I actually disagree with strongly, and I kind of wish someone had stopped nameless historian guy from going down the mine, by giving a speech saying that preserving history is as important as fighting bad guys, and we need historians as much as we need redshirts. But nobody makes that point, sadly. And in the very next scene, we see Walter wearing kick-ass sunglasses and whooping it up, nameless guy's sacrifice already forgotten.