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TV Review: Fringe – “Novation”

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After being delayed due to baseball playoffs (completely unacceptable, but that’s a whole other article), FOX finally returns Fringe this week with “Novation.” Peter (Joshua Jackson) is locked up, and no one is quite sure what to do with him, as they don’t remember anything about him. Especially not Walter (John Noble), who feels too guilty for destroying the two universes to allow himself any joy about seeing his deceased son grown. But then Peter proves valuable when the team investigates a shape shifter who has kidnapped a scientist. Peter shows Fringe Division how to track the shifter. They find the kidnap victim, but the shifter gets away, with a new formula that will solidify its DNA, making it virtually indistinguishable from humans.

The threat posed in “Novation” is an extremely scary one. With no way of knowing who might be a shape shifter, short of cutting them open, things become very risky for everyone in the world. Anyone could be replaced, and no one would know it. World events may be influenced, nuclear weapons could be fired, or worse. If anyone in the Fringe Division is taken out, this opens up the potential for an undetected invasion from the other side, as is clearly the goal. At the end of “Novation,” the shifter prepares for “others” to come join it.

How can Fringe protect against such an invasion? Perhaps an x-ray could be done to identify the disc, but what’s to stop the shifters from finding a way to move the disc within the body? Not to mention the harmful effects of radiation from multiple x-rays. This is where Peter might really come in handy. As he understands the shifter disc technology, he could possibly build some kind of detector that might pick up the chip from outside the body. This is the only possibility that jumps to mind, and that doesn’t stop the shifters from coming over. Instead, it only prevents further incursion when the shifters get near the device.

Given the new shifters’ ability to replicate DNA, how soon before the Fringe team starts thinking that Peter might be a shifter, built from the DNA of Walter’s dead son? It’s a logical conclusion, given Peter’s appearance now, and his knowledge of shape shifters. He could be just trying to trick them. However, that doesn’t explain Peter’s wealth of classified knowledge about Fringe Division, and thus, he should be wiped of suspicion.

So will Peter’s name soon be cleared so that he can join the team? They’ve seen their share of strange things over the years. Surely Peter’s truth is something that they can eventually accept, when his story isn’t able to be proven wrong. There are signs that even Broyles (Lance Reddick) is grudgingly beginning to tolerate him, like the funny moment when Broyles notices Peter’s escape attempt, but can’t say anything about it, because he needs Peter’s help. Lincoln (Seth Gabel), the person least connected to Peter-related events, seems least concerned, and most willing to work with Peter. Prediction: Peter will be permanently out of a cell by next week, two weeks at the latest. As it should be.

Walter is punishing himself for connecting the universes when he kidnaps alt-Peter as a boy, twenty-five years ago. Despite Nina’s (Blair Brown) insistence in “Novation” that this might be a second chance for Walter, he sees it only as temptation, or a reward that he doesn’t deserve and cannot accept. The Walter of the first three seasons isn’t so mired in self-loathing because part of him is glad that he succeeded in saving Peter, no matter the cost. But this Walter never has that taste of partial victory, and thus, allows himself to be mired down in the negative feelings. While Peter is good at handling Walter, without Walter’s part of the connection, it may prove nearly impossible. While makes for a more erratic, unpredictable Walter, an enjoyable circumstance for Fringe fans.

Olivia (Anna Torv) has an even bigger conundrum than Walter. She understands why son would appear to father, but not why Peter haunts her dreams. Viewers know that the pair love each other, and certainly so does Peter, though there is no good way to broach this to a woman who thinks of him as a stranger. But sooner or later, Olivia will have to put together the pieces that he means something serious to her. There is no other way to explain their connection when Peter didn’t fully exist in the universe.

And why is Peter appearing now? The Observer (Michael Cerveris) is ordered to destroy any trace of Peter left. Instead, Peter is allowed to take solid form again. How does this come about? Why aren’t the other Observers swooping in and getting rid of him? It makes sense that Fringe doesn’t know about the Observers, since their connection was through Peter. But surely these bald watchers have a way of getting to Peter! It’s curious that they don’t do it prior to Peter being found by the government.

The Peter issue is only part of what is going on. When Peter appears as a ball of blue energy to Olivia, she experiences small time jumps, repeating a minute or so. It is assumed that this is some kind of side-effect from what is happening with Peter, until it occurs again this week, with some paperwork. So that time jumping is its own problem, one that will need to be addressed before it becomes more serious. Given the preview for next week’s episode, it appears that the poop is about to hit the fan in a huge way.

There is one more major mystery pertaining to things that change in a Peter-less world, and that is Nina taking in Olivia and her sister as children. Could it be because she sees the pain Walter experiences from losing Peter, and wants to help a child? Whatever Nina’s reason, this gives Nina and Olivia a different relationship than they have previously, and makes Olivia much more trusting of the woman. The implication here is that if Nina is hiding something, and she is surely hiding many things, Olivia is less likely to distrust her and look for those secrets. How much this will hamper future investigations is anyone’s guess, but the Fringe writers wouldn’t act randomly. There is some real danger in this revelation, and it will manifest itself at some point, likely sooner rather than later.

The changed dynamic between Walter and Nina, on the other hand, explained in “Novation,” is nothing to worry about. The reasons were predictable before the discussion happens, and they shouldn’t matter towards anything important. Other than that Walter no longer owns Massive Dynamic. Nor is he in any position to capably own any corporation.

One small complaint is that, so far in season four, Fringe is sticking to a more procedural format than last year. However, “Novation” isn’t too procedural, and indications are that it is leaving the formula behind again soon. The reason the show may have reverted back to cases of the week could be to allow the differences in the world to creepy up slowly, and see a new normal. But several episodes just didn’t love up to the usual high standard. The series is always much better as a heavy serial, which is what it should be.

Watch Fringe, easily one of the best shows currently on television, Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX. Fringe also stars Jasika Nicole.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • scooter

    Nice review and agreed about the serialization. I much prefer that format. I wonder what influence the newly redrafted writers such as Orci have had.