Monday, 26 September 2011

Review: FRINGE, 4.1 – "Neither Here Nor There"

Monday, 26 September 2011
written by J.H Wyman & Jeff Pinkner;
story by Jeff Pinkner, J.H Wyman & Akiva Goldsman; directed by Joe Chappelle
starring Anna Torv, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Jasika Nicole, Seth Gabel & Joshua Jackson

The weakest ever premiere of Fringe, and one that outlined this season's chief concerns in such a way that I'm worried a desire to keep reinventing itself is about to backfire, badly. It was a brilliant idea to introduce an alternate universe for season 2 (a move that helped differentiate Fringe from all X Files wannabes), and it was fantastic to see the writers play with the possibilities of a dual-universe throughout season 3, but season 4's change of the timeline owing to Peter's (Joshua Jackson) erasure from existence feels more like a very irritating hurdle than a bold new direction. We all know he'll be back, after all.

As I mentioned, Peter Bishop's never existed now he's "served his purpose" for The Observers after creating a dimensional stitch where the two universes commune to avoid mutually-assured armageddon. So we're now treated to two realities where Peter was never an influence on Walter (John Noble) or his alternate, which in our universe means Walter's never been emotionally "tethered"  and is consequently an agoraphobic who lives and works in his Harvard lab. Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) never had Peter as a partner and lover, so is marginally frostier than usual, and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) is... well, altogether unchanged by Peter's absence.

See, one problem with giving is two timelines where Peter never existed is that, frankly, his character's the weakest of the cast and his loss isn't actually felt that hard. In fact, seeing as "Neither Here Nor There" spent some time promoting FBI Agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) to be Peter's "replacement" on the show, and a helpful proxy for any new viewers, I'm already over Peter's loss and wouldn't mind a permanent Lincoln and Olivia partnership.

The actual story in "Neither Here Nor There" was a good example of Fringe on autopilot, too. It being yet another tale about someone who kills victims in a bizarre way (turning their skin translucent), albeit taken in a mildly more interesting direction when it became clear the villain was a new breed of "shape-shifter" the team have encountered before. But that didn't hide the fact most of this investigation rested, for the umpteenth time, on Walter finding a commonality between the victims' corpses and Olivia sticking pins into a map of the city to find a pattern.

It's "TV Investigation For Beginners", which is becoming a concern for Fringe, as it really needs to start writing plots are truly compelling mysteries in themselves. There's a feeling the show is relying too much on its mythology now, as interesting as that stuff undoubtedly is. Here, it was more noticeable than ever that the writers had a very weak plot but were ameliorating it with the serialized elements—including scenes of The Observer (Michael Cerveris) creating a device from humdrum electrical parts that can erase Peter from history permanently. Inexplicably, as the title suggests, Peter's erasure doesn't appear to have gone according to plan, as Walter keeps seeing his son in reflected surfaces. We even had a microsecond glimpse of a ghostly Peter in one early scene, which was a fun addition. (Are these Tyler Durden-esque one-frame flashes going to be a regular Easter Egg for the season?)

Overall, I couldn't help being sorely disappointed by season 4' premiere. There wasn't enough focus on the idea of there being an uneasy truce between the two worlds (although I loved the moment when Lee visited the dimensional crossroads, split by a sunny sky and a cloudy sky containing a dirigible), and I'm not really sold on the idea that Peter never existed. If that's true, for what possibly reason did Walter cross to the "other side" in 1985 and accidentally trigger all the "fringe events"? By erasing Peter, you remove a great deal of the motivation for everything the show's built on. I hope the writers have a plausible explanation in mind, because, without one, none of this season's going to make much sense to me.


  • Another gripe: if Peter never existed, who went into the "Doomsday Device" that enabled Peter to merge the two universes together in a single location? Paradox?
  • Given its terrible rating of 3.53m, which means it hasn't really increased its audience since the latter-third of season 3, I can't see Fringe making it to a fifth season. It's kind of amazing it managed to get a fourth season, so I hope the writers are told early if they're going to be axed and can work towards a proper conclusion.
23 September 2011 / Fox

Next time...