Entertainment Magazine

Review #3116: Fringe 4.5: “Novation”

Posted on the 07 November 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by J.C. Orci and Graham Roland
Directed by Paul Holahan

It feels like “Fringe” has been on a baseball-induced hiatus for months, which ought to be an indication of how strong the show still is, despite the vocal protestations of those who couldn’t understand why the writers felt the need to change things up again. Considering that this series has been all about perception and permutation since the very beginning, the current plot arc is hardly shocking. And the return of Peter Bishop is, as usual, not at all what it seems.

Review #3116: Fringe 4.5: “Novation”

This episode calls right back to the season premiere with the return of the new organic shapeshifters, who are clearly infiltrating Fringe Prime for some power on the Alt-Fringe side. The fact that the technology is simply an advancement of the original shapeshifters (as evidenced by Peter’s ability to manipulate the tech, based on his experiments from the third season) points to two possible masterminds of this latest scourge: Walternate or William Bell.

It would be a lot of fun to discover that William Bell is, in this version of the timeline, more sinister, considering how there was the strong possibility for much of the first two seasons that Bell was the primary villain of the series. But Nimoy’s re-retirement puts a bit of a wrench into using Bell as a recurring character (one big reason I was not a fan of that particular example of stunt casting). The logical alternative, then, is Walternate, who has been mentioned here and there, but not yet seen.

Another alternative could be the emergence of ZFT, from the first season, as a more potent, lingering threat in the revised timelines. We saw how things ended in the original Fringe Prime timeline, but many (including myself) felt that ZFT was never used to its full potential. And we never saw the potential analog to ZFT on the Alt-Fringe side. It’s quite possible that the technology of the original shapeshifters could fall into the wrong hands, like so much of the technology that ZFT employed from the Alt-Fringe universe in the first season (before we knew that was the source).

Whatever the case, the latest incursion of the shapeshifters is reminiscent of the Cylons from “Battlestar Galactica”, in that there is every reason to think that someone in the Fringe Division command is one of the enemy. Meanwhile, it is used as an effective foil to Peter’s struggle to establish his identity with Walter, Olivia, and the rest of the gang.

While so much else is going on, there is more than enough character work taking place to justify the slow but steady exploration of the revised timelines over the first few episodes of the season. We had to understand the dynamics of the other characters well enough to recognize why they reacted to Peter’s return as they have. Knowing the background between Olivia, Nina, and Walter makes Nina’s overture to Walter in this episode all the more powerful. And of course, we had to experience the depth of Walter’s sans-Peter descent to comprehend why he rejected Peter in the end.

On the Critical Myth Podcast, we’ve also speculated that the Observers are being set up as major players over the course of the season. The fact that Astrid (and presumably the rest of Fringe Prime) has never even heard of the Observers is a subtle but telling piece of information: Fringe Division is working with a lot less information than we might think. As it stands, this provides an organic reason for the characters to start looking into the Observers, and since they will be without any guidance from previous experience, they could uncover things heretofore unseen.

Regardless, the return of Peter Bishop seems to mark an acceleration of the plot arc, which is all for the best. “Fringe” has been struggling in the ratings lately, and I think some of that is due to Peter’s absence. It’s under stiff competition this season, so it’s great to see the writers taking up the challenge and delivering.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10

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