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Fringe: Novation

“Why am I here? How am I back?”

Having been woefully sick for a woeful amount of time, I find myself in an odd situation as I review this episode: I am asking myself what I remember, five days after having watched it. (And having watched it in a Theraflu-induced haze.) What sticks with me most is the sensation of the enormous risk the creative minds behind Fringe took by “renovating” their show in the manner they have.

We’ve been waiting for Peter’s return since the moment he disappeared. Regardless of how much we like Peter (and there are some haters out there), the other characters don’t. Olivia doesn’t know him, and certainly doesn’t love him. To her, he is a case. Walter doesn’t trust him, and hasn’t experience three years of coming to love him, fight for him, and grow because of it. Broyles doesn’t trust him (to say the least), and ultimately no one knows quite what to do with him, his skills, or his claims.

We are working at cross-purposes with the actors. We want them to realize what they have been missing, but they don’t even know they’re missing anything. And, in a way, they aren’t. All of our heroes have lived Peter-less lives. The tension that creates great stories is there: how will our characters react to this odd situation? But the desired resolution isn’t clear: are we going to maintain this odd dramatic irony? To do so means that we discount the new backstories our characters have—even though there is no reason to think they are any less valid than the backstories they had that did include Peter. Do we want everything to go back the way it was? Wouldn’t that re-set the timeline yet again, making the mass destruction we saw at the end of last season once again a possible possibility? Do we want Peter to find his way into everyone’s hearts? It took two and a half seasons for that to happen the first time. Can we wait that long?

And, hey—what did go wrong? I’ve been so preoccupied wondering when Peter would come back that it didn’t occur to me until Peter brought it up that his re-appearance means something has gone wrong. If asked how such a thing could be possible, I would probably have said something like “he pushed his way back into reality.” While that may be the explanation, it’s pretty weak. What game are some of the Observers playing, if they’re ultimately behind this? Surely, it’s more than just a desire to see Peter and Olivia settle down together. What do the repeat moments that Olivia experienced at the end have to do with it all?

As tantalizing as we find those questions, we cannot dwell on them too much, because our characters are not as preoccupied than we are with them. The shapeshifter plot of the week was quite interesting in a simple, character-based way. I like Malcolm Truss: he loved his work, thought it had great potential, and wound up risking everything and making a terrible decision because he couldn’t see all the angles. There’s a parallel in there somewhere. (I also think the actor did an incredible job selling the “truth” of the character in a very short amount of time.)

Speaking of parallels: last episode ended with Peter, alive, emerging from a lake. This one ended with a man who had been shape-shifted being pulled, dead, from a river.

This Is Amazing:

• Olivia: “Who sleeps like this?” Anna Torv gives great exasperation.

• Astrid: “What’s an Observer?” Wow!

• Truss: “The fact that you’re even alive is nothing short of a miracle.”

• Bell: “Some things are not ours to tamper with.” How does this line relate to…well, everything?

• Walter: “Seeing this man has brought up many things I’m trying to forget.”

• Peter: “What do luxury cars and shapeshifters have in common?”

• Fun info about Nina Sharp and Olivia, huh?

• I loved the improbability of Peter hacking into the phone lines through the door keypad.

• Ugh! Walter did the face-touching thing again! We haven’t seen that since Season Two, have we?

Peter said, of Walter, “I was talking to him like he was the man that I knew, but clearly he isn’t.” The question that we’re faced with now, as we slowly learn exactly how these characters will grapple with this newness, is how the writers will satisfy our urge for closure without relying on sentimentality. It’ll be an interesting journey, and because so much is left unresolved and so many questions unanswered, I’m going to wait until next week before I start to play the ratings game.

How many calming custards would you award it?

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. I have to confess, this season, I've been pretty nonplussed about Peter returning. I've been enjoying the subtle strangeness his absence has created. But I was actually quite pleased to see him fully back this week. I don't hate Peter. but he's never really seemed that useful to me. Or maybe I just can't get over seeing him as Pacey.

    Get well soon, Josie.

  2. I'm really glad I was able to catch up before this episode aired, because I don't think it would have been nearly as resonant or interesting if I didn't know the history. That scene with Walter flipping the coin over his fingers just killed me. Sob.

    That said, I'm now struggling a bit to make sense of what's happening.

    If Peter died in this universe, then who was it that operated the machine to build the bridge between universes? I thought the machine sent back by another alt-Walter was designed to only respond to Peter's genetic signature? How did we get to this state of joined worlds?

    I also don't understand the argument that Peter was never supposed to exist. It seemed to me that Peter was supposed to live Over There. In 'Peter', Walternate discovered the cure for young Peter, but the Observer distracted him at a key moment and he didn't realize he had the cure, which is what set all this child-stealing/universe-tearing business into motion in the first place.

    The Observer seemed panicked that he had changed the course of history by distracting Walternate and that Peter would now die, when he was supposed to live. But the others reassured him that he'd have the chance to fix that mistake, which is why he saved Peter from drowning in Reiden Lake and told Walter that Peter had to live. Right? So why are we now being told that Peter was meant to die or should never have existed in the first place? It doesn't make any damn sense.

    As for the current threat, who is behind these even more advanced shapeshifters? Walternate? Trying to undermine the tentative peace in an effort to destroy Over Here? A new and not improved version of William Bell? Are these shapeshifters from Over There or some third universe? The quantum entangled typewriter seemed different.

    I'm certainly curious to see how things continue to unfold, but as you said, Josie, I have no idea what kind of resolution I'm supposed to be rooting for!

  3. It's upsetting, as you've said, that all that character building and relationship building, which is for me the best part of the series, is gone, and I soooo don't want it gone for good. But this situation is fascinating, too. I guess I need to relax and just let them take me where they're going and trust it will be the right place.

    Three out of four custards.

  4. "What did go wrong?"

    From what I gathered from the first episode of the season, some "echo" or "trace" of Peter from the original timeline survived. The Observer was supposed to erase this trace with the gizmo he was lugging around, but at the last minute he didn't. So eventually the trace-Peter was able to break back through into the timeline. Somehow.


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