TVangie is away this week on a well-deserved vacation, so I’m starting off our Fringe coverage in her absence. Look for her thoughts on the series starting next week.
After a three week absence (thanks World Series!), Fringe returns with its first new episode since Peter Bishop’s (Joshua Jackson) reappearance. So far this season we’ve been asked to reconstruct not only the world of Fringe, but also all of the relationships between our principle players in the aftermath of Peter using the machine to bridge the two worlds. ‘Novation’ continued to address some lingering questions while advancing the plot regarding the new human-hybrid shapeshifters, but considering this was the first time Peter has been physically present, the lack of interaction between Walter (John Noble), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Peter was disappointing.
There’s been a lot of internet chatter about whether the payoff for Peter’s disappearance will justify the first four episodes of the new season. As fans (and few are more passionate than Fringe fans), we’ve been asked to do a lot of heavy lifting over the years as new worlds, faux characters and future timelines have been explored. Thus far it’s been well worth the ride, especially when the writers go all-in to develop the mythology of the show. Few shows in recent years have rewarded attentive viewers in the way that this show has, and for fans of serial storytelling, Fringe remains one of the few bright spots in the television landscape.
That’s why season four has been difficult: the entire fabric of the show has been reworked so that everything we knew (and loved) from the first three seasons has been reimagined. In and of itself, this isn’t a negative, but thus far the fallout from Peter’s disappearance has been confusing and maddeningly slow to be explained. It’s not clear what past histories we’re expected to remember and when we do find out, the information is frequently presented in teases and throw-away comments. Instead of rewarding fans for paying attention, the show has at times felt like Where’s Waldo in spotting the differences between season 1-3 and this new season 4 world. As such, a lot of questions remain or have yet to be fully explained. (For example: Fauxlivia has no baby because Peter never grew up to have an affair with her, but why then does our Olivia have such a contentious relationship with her? Was our Olivia ever held hostage by Walternate?) Instead of addressing the questions we have about these characters and their interactions, the show has been focusing primarily on no-so-subtle references to what the world lost without Peter in it and the case of the week. The result is that instead of exploring the new world, we get little comments such as this week’s reveal that Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) raised Olivia after her father’s death. It’s fun to know, but when you stop to consider it, this minor change dramatically alters the existing relationship between Olivia and Nina (consider how cold and distrustful of Nina Olivia was back in season 1).
Perhaps I went into ‘Novation’ with unfair expectations that Peter’s presence would radically shift this dynamic, but I became increasingly frustrated as the episode progressed and we spent more and more time with shapeshifter Nadine Park (Michelle Krusiec) and Dr. Malcolm Truss (Arye Gross) as they worked on the serum for her cellular disintegration. I appreciate that Fringe is moving towards a big reveal of who these shapeshifters are, where they come from, and the new question: who are they reporting to, but considering that this was our first episode with in-the-flesh Peter, each time we returned to Nadine and Malcolm, I couldn’t help but sigh.
The fact that Malcolm’s kidnapping and Nadine’s ultimate escape with the serum was both obvious and expected didn’t help. Instead I found myself focusing on the story that was only being told in the periphery: the one in which Olivia navigated her conflicted feelings about Peter and Walter dismissed a second chance to bond with his long-dead son. What was there felt underwhelming, though, not because Olivia and Walter’s reactions weren’t genuine, but because it was only given a few minutes of screentime. This after the show spent a freaking month teasing Peter’s return! We’re talking about a character that has such a dramatic impact on two worlds that his disappearance literally altered them. So after all this build-up his subdued role in ‘Novation’ (cracking the memory disc to track down Nadine) felt like a huge missed opportunity.
I understand the Fringe has a narrative arc that they’re exploring with the shape-shifters, but as a viewer, I wanted to explore the relationship between Olivia, Walter, and Peter. As much as I enjoy the weird science, random drug use (barbiturates and adrenaline, Walter?!) and multiple worlds, it’s that core between the three leads that has made me invest three years of my life in this show. I can only hope that next week’s episode acknowledges that these characters are just as integral to the show as the plot developments.
- This week’s title, ‘Novation’ means “substitution of a new obligation for an old one.” This can be applied to Dr. Truss and his obligation to finish what he started before William Bell pulled the plug on his cellular reconstruction research, as well as Olivia’s and (I would argue, moreso) Walter’s obligations to Peter. It’s clear that Peter is not going anywhere now that he’s returned, but how the show explores Fringe division’s reliance on him to deal with the impending shifter threat should give more heft to the emotional center of the show (At least I hope so!).
- Obviously there’s an inherent interest in the agenda of the shapeshifters and their leader. In previous seasons we’ve seen shifters use the typewriter to communicate with the world Over There, but that was in service of finding a way to create a bridge because Over There was being destroyed. What is the goal now that the two worlds are already bridged? What’s the role of Fauxlivia and Walternate in all this?
- Our Broyles (Lance Reddick) is significantly more angry than he was before Peter’s disappearance. Hopefully we’ll get some backstory on the reasons behind his aggressive attitude makeover
- Of all the season four developments to come out of Peter’s disappearance, I’ve been most pleased with the increased role for Seth Gabel’s Lincoln Lee. While I know we’re supposed to be shipping for Peter and Olivia, am I the only one hoping that Olivia’s invitation to take Lincoln out for dinner leads to something more?
- Finally, Astrid was barely present this week after a more active role in the field in the first few episodes. Who’s with me that we need more Astrid?
What did you think, Fringe fans? Am I off base with these feelings, or were you wishing for more Peter now that he’s finally back?
Quick note too: The side comment on the Observers. How will that affect everything, now that we know that both Universes don’t know about them. They’re still there, just as before, but they haven’t’ been noticed.
Ah yes, I’d forgotten about the bit with the Observers. They’ve been surprisingly absent, so I’m wondering if they’re going to play as large a role this season.