‘Fringe’ recap: the bottomless well
Season Four has been slowly rewriting "Fringe." By erasing Peter Bishop from existence, the writers gave themselves the chance to change anything they wanted. They could toss out events they didn’t like, alter established relationships, even bring people back from the dead. With any other show, this might have driven the audience crazy, but "Fringe" pulls it off. Mostly by going back to the history and characters and really delving into that bottomless well.
Right off the back, we know "Subject 9" is a mythology episode because the crazy science event of the week didn’t happen to an unfortunate random stranger, it happened to Olivia. Not only that, it happened before her alarm went off (it’s terrible when a floating, disembodied magnetic cloud won’t even let you sleep in). As the audience, we know the hovering blue light show has something to do with Peter. The fun is watching Olivia and Walter slowly figure it out.
At first, Walter believes the energy field is connected to his Cortexiphan trials. Apparently even in the world where Peter died in Lake Reiden, Walter and William Bell still experimented on children in the hopes of making soldiers to protect if Walternate came looking for payback. One of the subjects developed the ability to astrally project, with side effects similar to the disturbances happening around Olivia. It’s their only lead, and it takes them on a trip through the new history of "Fringe."
The Cortexiphan trials are part of that bottomless well of ‘Fringe.’ Not only did it give Olivia her ability to travel between the two universes, it also produced characters like Simon Phillips (the mind reader), Nick Lane (the guy projecting his thoughts into Olivia’s brain), and Nancy Lewis (the fire starter). Any time you needed a person with a bizarre power, you could always go back to Cortexiphan trials. They even provided the backdrop to last season’s flashback episode. This time, the well dishes up Cameron James, a guy who got stuck with all the side effects but none of the powers.
If the Cortexiphan trials weren't enough, "Subject 9" also dips into the bottomless well of Walter’s mental state. Last week, Doctor Sumner paid Walter a visit to see how he was doing outside the protective walls of St. Claire’s Mental Hospital. This week while “not snooping” in Olivia’s jacket, Walter finds an evaluation questionnaire, asking if she thinks he should be recommitted. It is still blank, prompting Walter to try and prove himself useful and leave his lab for the first time in pursuit of Cameron.
Walter and Olivia’s investigation gives them a lot of time alone together, which gives John Nobel and Anna Torv great opportunities to play off each other. Not having Peter in their lives have given both Olivia and Walter gaping holes in their personalities. It also shifted their dynamic. Olivia feels a heavier weight of responsibility when it comes to Walter. She’s the one dealing with his eccentricities. His emotional outbursts and panic attacks. Another reason the rewrite of "Fringe" history is so easy to swallow might be the strength of performances this season. It certainly doesn’t hurt.
All this leads up to Peter popping back to reality, shirtless in Reiden Lake. While "Fringe" spent this last handful of episodes building the world where Peter didn’t exist, I couldn’t help but wonder how they would set everything back to the way it was once he returned. Now I’m wondering if I even want that. Could "Fringe" just go on in this new reality where only Peter remembers the events as they happened in the last three seasons? It’s a bold move, but as we all know, "Fringe" is a show of bold moves. Let me know what you think.
What’s the deal with Nina Sharp? – Nina shows up for the first time in a while, giving a nefarious speech about Massive Dynamic’s focus on invention without concern for practical application. Not quite sure who she was giving that speech to. Shareholders? Scientists? Random guys in suits? More importantly what’s her relationship with Olivia? In this version of history, it looks like they’ve known each other a lot longer and have a more mother/daughter relationship. How did that happen?
Astrid Action – “Really!?!” That might have been one of my favorite Astrid moments ever. After Walter calls her Claire. Astrid has always been pretty forgiving with Walter’s problem remembering her name, but this time he went too far. “That doesn’t even start with an A.”
Spot the Observer – No fair, "Fringe." I was scouring the crowds as Walter took his first, agoraphobic steps in New York. I searched the background of the café where they stopped for root beer floats. Then the Observer just stood in front of the camera after Peter appeared in Lake Reiden. I should have known in a mythology episode, he would have been a little easier to spot. I know he’ll be impossible to find once again next week.
-- Andrew Hanson
Photo: Olivia (Anna Torv) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) investigate an event. Credit: Fox Television