After what seemed like one of the longest hiatus’s I’ve ever had to endure, Fringe finally returned this past Friday night for it’s 4th season in full force. The season opener picked up where last season left off, providing just as many questions as it answered in true Fringe fashion.
For those not in the know, Fringe follows Agent Olivia Dunham, (Ana Torv) a member of a division within the FBI that investigates crimes related to the area of “Fringe Science;” experimental ideas that aren’t accepted by mainstream scientists. Working along side Agent Dunham are Walter Bishop, (John Noble) a scientist who specializes in Fringe science and who had spent the last 17 years of his life in an insane asylum, his son Peter, (Joshua Jackson), a genius conman, and Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), a Junior FBI agent. While Peter at first only stuck around out of necessity—he was legally required to act as Walter’s guardian while outside of the asylum—he quickly becomes wrapped up in the mysterious “fringe science” crimes, and dedicates himself to helping Olivia and his father solve the mysteries behind them. One of the stranger elements of the show’s first season was the introduction of “The Observers,” a group of bald, pale-skinned men who exist outside of time, and exist to observe (and, it seems, protect) important moments in time.
As the show moved forward, it was discovered that the pattern of fringe crimes were being committed by a science-based terrorist organization called “ZFT.” It was eventually revealed, in season two, that ZFT was, in fact, based in an alternate reality, in which Walter Bishop was the ruthless Secretary of Defense, and headed a Fringe Division that has come to completely replace the FBI. It was then revealed that Peter was born in this alternate universe, and is the biological son of the Walter Bishop from that side, but was kidnapped by “our” Walter as a boy, in order to save him from the same sickness that killed “his” Peter. But instead of returning Peter to the other side as he intended, he couldn’t bear to part with the boy, and raised him as his own. What’s worse, when Walter crossed over to the other side, it damaged the fabric of that universe, causing catastrophes all around their world. Secretary Bishop (whom our heroes came to call “Walternate”) blamed Walter for those problems, and has thus declared war on “our” universe, sending synthetic humanoid shape-shifters into “our” world to gather intelligence, and spearhead pattern-crimes.
During season three, every other episode of the show took place in the other universe, depicting Walternate and his Fringe Division’s attempt to stop their world from falling apart while trying to figure out ways into our universe to punish Walter for his crimes. Meanwhile, in our universe, the fringe team found a billion year old machine created by “The First People,” along with a drawing indicating that Peter is the only one who can use the machine, and that the machine is capable of either creating…or destroying.
When last we saw our heroes at the end of season three, they were at Ellis Island, inside of the statue of liberty, gathered around Peter Bishop, who had bravely decided to face his destiny and use the Doomsday Machine to destroy the alternate-reality first introduced in season two. But before he could destroy the other universe, the machine gave Peter a glimpse into a terrifying potential future, where his use of the machine to destroy the other universe caused an irreparable tear in the fabric of existence.
As a result, instead of using the machine to destroy the other universe, Peter decided to use it to create a bridge between the two universes, bringing them together. Peter approached both versions of his father upon exiting the machine, and told them that the only way that they could prevent the destruction of the universe is by working together, and trusting each other. But as the final moments of the season 3 finale played out, Peter suddenly vanished into thin air….and not one of the characters seemed to notice. Meanwhile, elsewhere on Ellis Island a group of observers noted that Peter has “served his purpose,” and thus has “ceased to exist.”
The season four premier, titled “Neither Here, nor There,” picked up where last season’s finale left off, with the two universes joined together via the Doomsday Machine, and the inside of the Statue of Liberty acting as a bridge between the two universes. The first thing that really jumped out at me about this episode was the new opening titles. In the first two seasons of the show, the opening titles were blue, and during season three there were alternating titles: Blue when we were “over here,” red when we were “over there.” This season, however, the opening titles are a yellowish-amber color. It seemed to me that this new color is reflective of the new timeline that exists now that Peter has ceased to be. It’s also an interesting callback to the “amber” substance used by the alternate-universe Fringe Division to plug up holes in the universe caused by the damage done by Walter, trapping anyone and anything that happens to be in the hole’s vicinity. To me, this seemed to say that perhaps with the two universes joined together, our heroes may start adopting some of the more questionable practices employed by their alternates.
The episode opened in the “bridge room” at Ellis Island that joins the two universes, as Olivia and Altivia (the fan-given nickname of Olivia’s double from the alternate universe) exchanged case files from their respective fringe divisions. The atmosphere between the two was tense, and it was pretty clear that neither one of these women even remotely trusted each other. There is some snippy dialogue between them, but the real strength of the scene was in the subtle looks of utter disdain that the two Dunham’s shoot at each other. There’s a lot of delicious tension to be explored now that the two realities are reluctant allies, and this episode seems to imply that this is something that is definitely going to be explored.
Another strong point of this episode was the reintroduction of FBI Agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel). Agent Lee’s alternate-reality counterpart has been a regular part of Fringe since season two, however the Agent Lee from “over here” had only been shown in one previous episode. In this new, Peter-less version of the “Fringe” timeline, however, Agent Lee had never before met Agent Dunham and the rest of the Fringe team. So, when his partner (Stargate Atlantis’s Joe Flannigan, who I really wish would have had more to do in this episode) turns up dead as a result of a contagion that turns his skin clear and stops his heart, the words “Fringe division” mean nothing to him when our heroes arrive at the scene of the crime.
Agent Lee acts as a guide for the viewers in this episode, and much of the changes made to the “post-peter” timeline are learned as Agent Lee discovers more about the Fringe team, and it’s place in the FBI. While it was a little bit heavy-handed at times, overall it worked as a clever way to clue in viewers to some of the more subtle changes and fit in with the story nicely, allowing the plot to move along at a good pace. The dynamic between Olivia and Agent Lee was fresh, and never once did I feel like Agent Lee was acting as a “Peter proxy.” One of the more important things that we learn through Agent Lee, is that Walter is much less in touch with reality in this new timeline now that he doesn’t have peter to act as his anchor. He never leaves his laboratory and refuses even to go to crime scenes, opting instead to view them through a handheld camera worn by Astrid.
John Noble did an amazing job portraying a version of Walter that was more adrift, and haze-minded than usual, while still managing to keep in tact the character traits of the Walter we know and love. It’s through him that we learned a very important fact that will, no doubt, become a huge part of season four in episodes to come: Peter Bishop still exists. All throughout the episode, Walter saw quick glimpses of “a man,” who appeared only for seconds at a time, first in a mirror, then in a TV screen. Through a chilling scene with the Observers, we learned that this “man,” is, in fact, Peter himself, who appeared because remnants of himself still remain in the new timeline. One of the observers, named September (Michael Cerveris), accidentally interfered in Peter’s life, thus throwing him off the course of his destiny, and was tasked early on in the episode with building a machine to erase Peter from the timeline to correct his mistakes once and for all. By the episode’s end, however, September couldn’t bring himself to turn the machine on, opting instead to allow the remnants of Peter to continue showing themselves, for reasons that weren’t made clear.
At first, it seemed to me as if the fringe case introduced in the show’s opening minutes was a weak point. The fringe team spent most of the episode chasing down a pair of men who were infecting people with a virus that turned their skin clear and stopped their hearts. My first impression was that it was little more than a callback to a similar fringe case introduced in the pilot episode. But the case did a great job of keeping the story moving forward, however, and as the episode moved forward it became clear how the case fits in with the larger mythology of the show. The men spreading the virus were eventually revealed to be a variant of the shape-shifting soldier built by Walternate. But unlike the mercury-blooded synthetic shape-shifters we’ve seen previously, these new shape-shifters turned out to heavily modified human beings, and the virus they were spreading was an attempt to create more of themselves. While it’s unclear how this development will end up fitting into the story-arc of season four, it seems clear that we haven’t seen the last of these new, clear-skinned shape-shifters.
What reverberated the strongest throughout the entire episode was the absence of Peter Bishop. Like all episodes of Fringe, I watched this one twice, and on my first viewing I just couldn’t get over how empty the show seemed without him. It felt like there was a gaping hole in the show and as a result things just didn’t feel quite right. This was clearest during Olivia’s scenes. She seemed to float through events, and emanated a near constant sense of confused sadness. On the surface she was, by and large, the Olivia Dunham that viewers have come to know, however something about her seemed “off,” and it was a feeling that spread throughout the entire episode. Upon my second viewing, however, I realized that this might just be exactly what the Fringe writers want us to think. The question “where is Peter Bishop?” is one of the big themes of this season, and as I re-watched the season premier it seemed as if noticeable emptiness created by Peter’s absence was meant to get the viewers thinking about just where the heck he might be. The lack of Peter created a feeling so potent that it almost seemed like a character in itself. That, combined with the revelation that remnants of Peter still exist in the timeline, gave me a strong feeling that yes, Peter does in fact still exist, and eventually he’ll be back. His absence threw the dynamic of the show way off, but it became clear to me that this is something the characters of the show will come to realize as well, and it will eventually lead them into figuring out why their lives don’t feel quite right.
Overall, “Neither Here, nor There,” was a strong episode. While the weight of introducing a new timeline weighed things down a bit, it still did a good job of exploring the consequences of Peter being (mostly) erased from time, and dropped some interesting hints about what we’ll be seeing in future episodes. And while Peter Bishop’s absence definitely left a hole in the show, it seemed as if this was intentional, meant to act as a starting point for our heroes to answer the question of “where is Peter Bishop?”
Fringe airs on Fox, at 9/8c. All episodes are made available online eight days after their original air date on Http://www.fox.com/fringe
Image obtained via Http://www.fringefiles.com