(Just Like) Starting Over
I find this post's title most apt given the options, but Fringe's Season Four premiere didn't actually bring us back to the point at which the rewritten timeline we're viewing diverged from the familiar one decades ago. Rather...
... picked up shortly after the Season Three finale, with Peter erased from reality due to actions he undertook to save his native and adopted universes. Over Here and Over There both still exist; in fact, they coexist in the room that houses the First People's machine — where members of each side's Fringe Division meet to compare notes, as we see Olivia and her counterpart Fauxlivia do grudgingly.
Yeah, I've decided to write up some thoughts on the episode, despite the near certainty that I won't be doing so weekly. Partly it's an imperfect salve for the fact that I never got to finish out the brief run that I began at the end of last season — not that there aren't plenty of other unpublished or just plain unwritten posts in Blam's Blog history whose absence irritates me — and partly it's because if/when I do get to resume Fringe reviews I'll likely appreciate having this as a foundation. In case you're new to these posts, I should explain that having named my Lost episode analyses after Beatles tunes I decided to name my "Fringe Thinking" installments after John Lennon songs (Beatles or solo); unfortunately, some titles perfect for this post were either already used for "Lost in Thought".
Here's some of what made me think:
The new opening has a different array of phenomena in the text and, more importantly, is yellow rather than the traditional smoky blue or "Other Side" red. I've never paid much attention to what's in the opening, frankly, but I think that the usual terms were replaced for the Over There episodes as well as for the episode with the nifty retro opening set in 1985. [Update: Fringepedia has a page showing the "fringe sciences" listed in each variation of the title sequence.] Yellow feels like a strange choice if it's meant to relate to the merging of the universes, since blue plus red equals purple, whereas yellow, being the third of the primary colors along with red and blue, would seem instead to signify another parallel universe altogether. One possible rationale for the yellow would be that it's a color common to both universes' Fringe Divisions in the form of the amber substance used Over There and later adopted by Over Here to contain the dangerous rifts between dimensions. Another is that yellow (in fact, amber) is the light on traffic signals used between green and red; the original Fringe credits always looked to me to have a greenish tint to them, although the glyphs are definitely blue.
Was the episode's title, "Neither Here Nor There", supposed to have a meaning beyond that of the room on Liberty Island that lets the denizens of This Side and The Other Side interact? The visions of Peter that Walter (and we) saw could indicate that he's trapped in some kind of limbo rather than entirely gone. Maybe the title suggests that reality itself is no longer or not yet what it's supposed to be, either, by whatever metrics such things are measured.
I sure hope that we get some kind of primer on just how events transpired in this altered reality — especially an explanation of the seeming paradox inherent in the fact that if Peter never existed, or at least never grew to adulthood, then he couldn't have brought about this altered reality in which he doesn't exist; someone or something else must have stood in for him.
Alistair Peck told Walter Bishop in Episode 2.18, one of the series' finest hours, "It's not our place to adjust the universe. ... I have traveled through madness to figure this out. And you will too." Does that hold for Peter as much as it did his father, who breached the walls of existence and endangered entire universes to hold onto a version of his son?
Peter's absence means that Olivia and Agt. Broyles had to find some way to get Walter Bishop released to their custody. Events have apparently transpired roughly along the same lines as before, with the notable exception of Walter remaining withdrawn and more neurotic than he was thanks to Peter's care or just the very presence of Peter in his life to give him an impetus to overcome certain issues. Did anyone else become Olivia's partner, though? How did she or others survive cases in which Peter played a significant role, if they happened at all? Just who or what operated the machine built by the First People? I already brought up that last point, I know, but I don't like paradoxes.
Has Astrid been more of a field agent all along, or is her assumption of that role in this episode — a role in which we saw her operate at the end of last season in the no-longer-possible future — something new, the same natural progression that would have happened regardless of the rewritten timeline? Lincoln and Olivia's introduction to one another demonstrates that certain past events didn't happen or happened rather differently, since they'd previously met on a case when Olivia was possessed by the spirit of William Bell. Fauxlivia, on the other hand, remains enigmatic enough that we're not sure whether her nonplussed reaction to Lincoln's presence in the shared-universe room on Liberty Island is just lack of interest or bemusement that Olivia is only now meeting someone who's one of her closest friends. Olivia seems to still have been partnered with John Scott a few years ago, given her references to losing someone and to the way in which the translucent bodies remind her of an earlier case, but she obviously never knew Peter and of course Fauxlivia never became pregnant by him.
Peter's appearance to Walter and, pending further revelations, nobody else (aside from us, the viewers, who may have been the only ones who saw him flicker into view in the first act) is curious both in its specificity and its very occurrence. The fact that the vision is of Peter at the age he was when he was erased from the timeline strongly suggests that the previous timeline was in some way the proper one or at least one that's difficult to rewrite if Peter is bleeding through into Walter's consciousness. Likewise the fact that the Observers recall and reference Peter's actions suggest that those actions happened in some empirical way that's as real as or more real than any timeline that might result from his removal. And just what caused the animosity between Walter and Walternate, or more generally Walternate and the whole of Over Here, assuming that his actions in the new timeline more-or-less mirror those in the old one? Did Walter still abduct Walternate's son from Over There to try to save him after his own Peter died? Has Peter never existed at all, which the Observers' dialogue at the end of last season implied, or did he exist but die as a boy from his illness or from drowning in the lake? I'm tempted to speculate that Peter was born and remained Over There, never taken by Over Here's Walter, growing to adulthood there but having such a strong connection to Walter through the previous reality that he's appearing to him on This Side now; while a neat twist, however, it's totally at odds with the Observers' admittedly vague references to Peter no longer being... well, no longer being, period.
Given what the senior Observer prompted the one who's been involved in the Bishops' lives to do, the Observers themselves (or whatever entity they act on behalf of) seem to be taking the approach that what Peter did was if not ultimately necessary then at least an effort that must be preserved and undiscovered by those who once knew him, but again the Observer who once saved Peter's life has defied orders. I wasn't entirely sure myself whether at the end of this episode he actually failed to operate the device that he assembled or whether it just had no visible effect, although subsequent conversations and a peek at other reviews online bear out the conclusion that he didn't go through with whatever he was directed to do that would effect a higher level of permanence to Peter's erasure from reality. Perhaps he simply has an emotional connection to the Bishops, or perhaps he has nagging doubts over whether Peter's nonexistence is truly for the greater good; the biggest question hanging over Peter's disappearance for me is whether it was a course-correction, to borrow some terminology from Lost's destiny speak, of the fact that he lived when he should have died, or whether it is itself an undesirable anomaly requiring such action that the Observers or Peter's surrogate family in Fringe Division will ultimately realize that they have to undertake.
I don't know that Fringe can be recommended to new viewers at this point, but for those of us who've stuck with it through three increasingly enjoyable seasons it's great to have it back.