In the fifth episode of the fourth season of Fringe, the Fringe division deals with the appearance of Peter Bishop and the return of the shapeshifters. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.
Oh, Fringe. The things you are doing to all of us! The return of Peter Bishop to this show is awkward, frustrating, and wonderfully fantastic, while at the same time showing us that the premiere episode of this season had a lot more to do the mythology than we’d previously thought.
But let’s just jump right into discussing what’s arguably the most interesting thing about “Novation”: how the people in this universe react to Peter Bishop. I can’t believe that, yet again, this show how found a credible and coherent way to add another dynamic to this batch of characters. From parallel worlds, future visions, and possessions, now these people have to deal with someone who was a paradox and disappeared from time. It’s clear that the first three seasons were always leading to this point, where the Observer who pulled Peter from the lake in our world was never supposed to do that, that a single action by Walter Bishop and a single action from September were what ripped apart the two universes.
So the question changes, as do a lot of other ones by the end of “Novation”: How is it possible that Peter Bishop came back? And why doesn’t his arrival trigger the universe correcting itself to account for him? It seems that he now exists outside of all of history, despite having an entire lifetime of experiences. Which, interestingly enough, haven’t disappeared either. “Novation” doesn’t really address how Peter is going to “fix” this, but that’s okay. Instead, it concerns itself with how Broyles, Walter, and Olivia react to a man who claims to be someone who died as a child. Once again, we get to see how all of these characters (Lincoln and Nina included) all make subtle changes to how they are portrayed. I think my favorite in the bunch is Broyles’ complete unwillingness to give Peter one goddamn second of his time. Have we ever seen him don such a ridiculous hate stare before?
Olivia’s reaction is quiet confusion, something which Lincoln picks up on later in the episode. She’s stoic when around Peter, mostly because she doesn’t understand why this man has such a marked attachment to her when she’s never seen him before in his life. What I love about “Novation,” though, is that it doesn’t ignore the fact that Walter Bishop would be affected by all of this more than anyone else. The writers also remind us that Walter just had a breakthrough in terms of dealing with his own anxieties and fears, and now he’s dealt this, so his frustration is two-fold.
But the presence of this man is upsetting to Walter Bishop in a way that I didn’t anticipate, and as frustrating as it is, I’m excited to see how Fringe deals with it. We get more insight into how Olivia came to live with Nina Sharp, and in the process, we learn that Nina was a lot closer to Walter in this version of the universe, too. Obviously, Walter’s going to be intrigued by Peter, since Peter died all those years ago. But the writers choose to do something totally different with this, and it’s something that is unbearably brilliant when you give it a moment of thought: Walter feels undeserving of Peter.
It was something I didn’t understand initially. Your son is right there, I thought. There’s that moment when it looks like Walter is just going to accept Peter finally, just accept the weirdness of this all. But then we are reminded of what he said to Nina Sharp earlier in the episode:
“I saw him, Nina. The man. I saw my boy in that man’s eyes. The way he looked that night in the iceâ€¦floating away from me. God help me, Iâ€¦saw the eyes of my boy in a man’s face. That filled me withâ€¦indescribable joy. But I don’t deserve joy. For anyone else, this would be received as a miracleâ€¦to get a glimpse of their dead son. Why should I be rewarded for what I’ve done?”
This version of Walter is much more aware of the ill-effects of the tests he did on children, on the horrible thing he did all those years ago on Reiden Lake. The other versions of Walter always ran away from their guilt, but this third version of the man accepts it. (I think the events of “Subject 9” certainly affect this mentality as well.) So even though I believed that Walter might accept Peter and just go with it, Nina Sharp was unable to convince Walter to accept a second chance. For Walter, this is a punishment, and one that’s certainly going to carry into the future for a time being. Of course, now I’m going to wonder if we’ll get some moment that will change Walter’s mind in the future. Or, better yet, is there still a way to restore the normal timeline?
Threaded throughout this plot is the story of a rogue shapeshifter who visits a former Massive Dynamic scientist in order to repair the technology that makes them function. In hindsight, the plot is a whole lot more interesting given the final reveal, which I’ll address in a second, but I must admit that I found myself wishing to spend more time with Peter, Olivia, and Walter more than with the shapeshifter and Dr. Malcolm Truss. I don’t think the story is boring or poorly written; I was actually impressed with how the writers gave us these intimate portraits of both Dr. Truss and the shapeshifter. We even got quite a few references to William Bell! I think this is just a case of one of the plots just paling in comparison only because the other is just so goddamn wonderful.
To be fair, I am totally enamored with how shapeshifters are being introduced without it feeling like familiar. Without Peter Bishop, we wouldn’t even find out half the shit we discover about them in “Novation.” (True story: When Broyles asked Peter how he knew so much about the shapeshifters, I thought he was going to reply that he had killed a bunch of them.) We learn a pretty terrifying fact when Peter’s able to decode their memory disks: these shapeshifters are so advanced that they can not only replicate a human down to their genetic make-up, but they store all past versions of themselves. So basically, Fringe just introduced Cylons and I can only hope that Katee Sackhoff or Mary McDonnell or Tricia Helfer will appear on the show soon. BUT NO SERIOUSLY HOW COOL IS THAT.
I’d sort of been developing an idea of where season four would go, if we’d see an overarching mythology to it all. And in the last five minutes of “Novation,” I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what this show was going to do to us. With the introduction of the fact that shapeshifters are no longer detectable, Olivia has a bewildering moment at the end of this episode whereâ€¦.jesus, I don’t even know what truly happened. Was that deja vu? Did she repeat time? Or was that agent (Wiki tells me her name was Jill) possibly a shapeshifter? Like Battlestar Galactica, it creates this instant distrust and paranoia on our part.
And then. But. But okay. Okay. Why is the shapeshifter sitting down with a typewriter? Oh, it’s like the quantum locked typewriter from the past? Oh, so they’re talking with Over There. But. But. WHAT. WHAT.Â WHAT THE FUCK. THEY’RE SENDING MORE?????
so NOW I HAVE A BILLION QUESTIONS. But of course none of them will be answered. Is this another parallel world? Or is it Over There? And WHY IS THERE EVEN THE NEED FOR MORE SHAPESHIFTERS? WHAT IS THEIR MISSION.
oh god I NEED MORE OF THIS SHOW RIGHT NOW.