In the first episode of the fourth season of Fringe, we are introduced to the lives of our cast of characters who no longer experienced Peter Bishop. The small changes to their lives are exacerbated by a new team member, and violent group of killers, a possible war with the parallel universe, and the mysterious flashes of someone they don’t recognize. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.
I think the writers have taken the mind-shattering reveal at the end of season three and chosen to do something unexpected here: slowly reveal this season’s mythology. “Neither Here Nor There” is a slow episode in a way, but none of it felt unnecessary or forced. Things have so fundamentally changed for the Fringe Division that it’s sort of impossible to drop us into the action without a whole lot of exposition. That exposition is spread out over 45 minutes as well and the process helps us to get a better picture for how these two universes will work together, what a Peter-less existence is like, and what we can expect from the format of the show.
Like season three, Fringe is now entirely serialized, a choice that I feel has energized the show and made me love it more. It has also allowed the writers to explore the “monster-of-the-week” format, though I do admit that this episode might have been stronger if it had focused a bit more on the ramifications of the season three finale. The cold open, though, does directly address this. We see that the two universes have agreed to get along for the sake of it, but that doesn’t mean that Olivia and Polivia have to get along, either. As the two trade barbs and insults, I just want to grab them and hug them and make them understand. But they are not the same people as they were at the end of season three. If you recall in “The Day We Died,” Fauxlivia is ready to agree that the destruction of the other universe is immoral, but here, she’s much more abrasive and rude. (ALSO LOOK AT THAT AMAZING ROOM THAT WAS BUILT AROUND THE BRIDGE.)
The Observers are still a huge part of this show’s mythology, too, though September is tasked with a terrifying job throughout “Neither Here Nor There.” I thought something was wrong with my television during the prologue when I saw something flash across the screen. I had to watch the episode days after it aired through my cable’s On Demand service, and it’s pretty wonky as it is. So I thought that is what I saw flash behind the Olivias. But September is ordered to fully take care of the problem of Peter. What problem is that? Despite being erased from time, he is still bleeding through. So September must fully erase his entire life from those who knew him. As December tells him, “They can never know the boy lived to be a man.”
YEAH COULD YOU NOT. But it’s part of the mysterious purpose of the Observers. They act to correct the timeline, don’t they? September intervened when Walter stole his son from the other universe, and then they had to act to ensure that the universes didn’t collapse. Was Peter always supposed to disappear, regardless of the universe he was in, or was that all because of what his father did?
“Neither Here Nor There” also introduces a new full-time character that is brilliant and welcome and MORE SETH GABEL IN THOSE CUTE GLASSES ALL OF THE TIME. I loved Lincoln’s character in the alternate world a whole lot, and the show introduces his alternate version in our world extremely well. Actuallyâ€¦I do have a small complaint. WHY DID YOU NAME HIS PARTNER DANZIG. Oh god, what if he started singing Misfits songs. Yeah, it was distracting becauseâ€¦.that name. That name means only one thing!
Okay, that’s petty. I know! But everything else about Lincoln’s introduction is done to act as a reintroduction to the world of the Fringe Division, but one without Peter. It’s actually rather brilliant once you think about it. How else are we going to find out how Astrid, Walter, and Olivia operate? Instead of just telling us, we move through the perspective of Lincoln, who becomes furious at the mysterious nature of his partner’s death during a chase. Why does Olivia Dunham have the power to take his partner’s body away? What is it about the killer (THAT CREEPY TRANSLUCENT MAN) that prompts her department to have legal precedence? Why so much secrecy?
Like his parallel universe counterpart, Lincoln is highly observant and persistent, and these two qualities help to get his foot in on the investigation. He’s the one who notices the prospective witness at the second crime scene. (Who, by the way, I thought was Morena Baccarin at first, and I nearly peed myself with joy. AWWWW IT WASN’T.) In his own way, Lincoln helps, and I’m glad his character does get a choice and is not only an insert for the audience. He has an effect on Olivia’s case in a positive way, and I starting hoping that this would be the way the show would allow him to continue being on the Fringe Team. He brings an interesting dynamic to a team that also doesn’t seem the same anymore.
Actually, that’s an important point to bring up. We see the small things that are different since Peter’s disappearance. Olivia was the one to get Walter out of a mental institution. Astrid is field agent now, not a caretaker of sorts for Walter. (Though she does get Walter’s pants for him.) (Also, please give us an Astrid-centric episode soon, Fringe.) (How are we in the fourth season without any significant backstory on Astrid?) (I’m going to stop these parenthetical asides before it gets away from me again.)
What makes “Neither Here Nor There” as strong as it is (aside from character development) is that the plot, which seems like a random case unconnected to anything) is the huge reveal that these translucent people actually are part of the show’s greater mythology. The thrilling pursuit scene in the railway station first expands this idea when Lincoln is told by a wounded cop that there is more than one of these beings. (Also, Olivia doesn’t blink when she shoots anymore!) And even after Lincoln shoots the second one, the camera pans away to show us that a third being is watching the entire thing.
Given that this was near the end of the episode, I was confused as to how this would be resolved. Truth is, it is not resolved at all. Walter discovers a device within one of the bodies that looks just like the module found in the shapeshifters. Whichâ€¦butâ€¦.they have a truce with the other universe! Are they producing new shapeshifters? Did the shapeshifters evolve or mutate on their own? This revelation also serves to remind us just how goddamn weird this show can be. I forgot that Lincoln has NO FUCKING CLUE what the shapeshifters are, or why there is a module in someone’s body, or WHAT THE HOLY FUCK IS GOING ON. Oh my god, Lincoln is totally me when I start a new series RIGHT??? It’s true IN EVERY UNIVERSE.
So what does Olivia do? Oh, right, she takes him to the Machine room. And it is easily the best moment of the show, and I’m so glad that Lincoln does not say a thing. I actually love that the bulk of the shot after Lincoln is run through security is totally silent. He just takes in the room, the two weather systems, and A FUCKING DIRIGIBLE, in complete silence. Even more bewildering, Fauxlivia arrives to take the component piece and Olivia makes a point of stating that she now has justification not to trust their side. Oh god, I love the cursory glance at Lincoln, only long enough to acknowledge he is there, and then Fauxlivia just ignores him the whole time.
The ending helps set up the other recurring motif we’ll deal with in season four: Walter Bishop still has flashes of memory of Peter. September ultimately does not go through with erasing Peter, and Walter sees a complete image of him in his television. It’s not even a flash. He’s there, staring at his father. I don’t think that the entirety of season four will deal with this; we’ll probably have some resolution of this plot line midway through the season. But at this point, I’m glad we weren’t dumped with tons of information in the season premiere. The writers are allowing this new version of everything to have space to breathe and stretch out. It feels like they’re merely setting up dominoes, awaiting the moment when they can knock them all down and we’ll all shriek and sob in response.
Basically, I’m ready for the ride that is season four of Fringe. BRING IT.