Observing Fringe... Fringe last tackled an intense quarantine thriller in season two's excellent 'What Lies Below' so suggestions early this week that a mysterious affliction was affecting a colony - and could soon be threatening our heroes - was rather exciting. But - as in the past two weeks - 'The Recordist' focuses less on the creepy case of the week than Fringe used to, relying instead on our investment in the show's characters and their relationships for most of its drama.
Following the revelation last week that Walter (John Noble) stored his plan to defeat the Observers, piecemeal, on a series of scattered video-tapes, the Fringe team follow a set of co-ordinates to a location in northwest Pennsylvania, where they discover a colony of people infected with a strange, bark-like material that coats their skin...
Walter's garbled tape - painstakingly restored by Astrid (Jasika Nicole) - ultimately revealed that the colony used to contain a gold mine and when our team explore the underground tunnels, they stumble upon a calcified corpse and learn that the mine is the source of the affliction...
But if you're looking for something approaching 'What Lies Below' then you're going to come away from 'The Recordist' disappointed. Aside from a single token scene in which Olivia and Walter are seen to develop small traces of the 'bark', the episode doesn't focus much on the impending threat of infection and we never really get the feeling that our leads are under threat, at least not from the plague.
Instead, with the colony mostly cut off from the outside world, this episode takes another chance to explore the relationships between the show's central characters. One of the strengths of Fringe has always been its emotional depth, but more and more in season five, the show's sci-fi trappings feel like nothing more than a backdrop to character.
That's not a criticism, merely an observation, and perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised given that showrunner Joel Wyman has made it clear that these final episodes are as much about "emotion" and "family" as they are about bringing an end to the Observers' reign of terror.
'The Recordist' fills in more pre-invasion blanks as Peter recalls a trip to a favourite restaurant, leading to an emotional conversation with Olivia, whose power of perfect recall means she remembers those painful days when Ella was missing in excruciating detail.
In her third week as a series regular, Georgina Haig certainly gets less to do, but the character of Etta remains absolutely central through the impact she's had on her parents' lives, Peter and Olivia's new family situation being the emotional crux of the episode.
So there's plenty of emotional drama as we've come to expect from this season of Fringe but thankfully 'The Recordist' amps up the humour too. Walter - who's been uncharacteristically well-behaved of late - finally gets to let loose this week, lambasting a laser-wielding Astrid for having the "finesse of a butcher", reminding us of his fondness for marijuana, and speculating on the presence of a "wicked tree dwarf" in the woods. It's all great fun - John Noble at his comic best.
One final note: the presence of young River (Connor Beardmore) was a nice touch. The son of the episode's sacrificial lamb Edwin Massey (Paul McGillion), River is effectively the in-show equivalent of a Fringe fanboy - he even draws his own fan comics.
The cast and crew of Fringe have made it clear time and time again how much the support of fans has meant to them in the face of falling ratings and other pressures, so it's nice to see this show's loyal supporters get something of an on-screen nod. When Peter tells River "You're my hero", that's one for the fans.
• This week's Fringe glyphs spell out the word A N G E R - quite an odd choice, given that no-one was particularly angry this week - except possibly Olivia, tough on herself over the conflict she felt raising young Etta.
What did you make of 'The Recordist'? Leave your comments on the latest Fringe episode below!