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TV Review: Fringe – “Novation”

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Uncomfortable moments: those are the two words I would use to describe the current season of Fringe.

We are at about a quarter of the way through the fourth season of the show, and yet I still find it equally fascinating and uncomfortable to watch.  It is as if I had found the most beautiful, comfortable pair of pants except that were stitched just a little, tiny bit off centre. The most surprising moment of this week’s episode, when Astrid asked who the Observers are, felt like a readjustment of said pants…in the wrong direction.  And this, despite the fact that this timeline is not aware of the Observers; after all, September did not dive into the lake to save Peter and so, did not reveal the existence of his race.

The other question that continues to puzzle just about every character both fictional and otherwise (except, perhaps, Walter) is where Peter came from. Do the laws of the universe as Fringe ascribes to allow not only for alternate universes, but also for alternate timelines? And what of the existence of yet another timeline? The producers of Fringe, Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, both repeatedly admitted the existence of other universes. However, they did deny and sometimes quite vehemently the introduction of another universe in the Fringe mythology. But we are forced to face the possibility of a plotline related to a third universe by none other than Walter. What if the producers were not planning for this, but that this is where the show is inexorably taking them?

Another uncomfortable moment occurred when we found out the nature of Nina and Olivia’s relationship in this timeline. While it was nice to know that someone took what seems to be good care of Olivia and Rachel after the latter killed their abusive stepfather (another previous uncomfortable moment in this timeline), I can’t help but wonder if Nina took in the girls out of the goodness of her heart, or if it was for more sinister motives, such as keeping the shining star of the Cortexiphan trials under close watch.

Another deeply uncomfortable moment, albeit for different reasons, was Bell’s ethical concerns regarding Truss’ research project, which, in light of everything Massive Dynamic has done, seems a little hypocritical (assuming that in this timeline, the company’s evolution followed pretty much the same path as the one in the previous one.) Truss worked on cellular replication, trying to develop a method to replace damaged cells with new ones. He was shut down by Bell because “Some things are not meant to be tampered with. Some things are God’s.” I highly doubt that, in this timeline, Bell is very different from the one we have come to know, and once again, my nerves were grated by the man’s arrogance.

It is pretty clear that shutting down Truss’ research, in the end, served little purpose. Even had Truss died or Nadine not been able to find him, someone else could have picked it up where he had left off. And let’s be honest: had Truss not found anything, someone else would have. After all, we were all created with intellect and curiosity that make us explore and try to understand the world around us. So while Bell’s decision might have delayed the perfecting of shapeshifting technology, the only way it could have been outright avoided would have been a profound transformation of society on the Other Side to see its purpose being more than simply destroying this universe, in whatever timeline. Again, the concept of perception becomes a central feature of a seemingly unrelated topic.

In contrast to all this discomfort, the different expression of Walter Bishop’s guilt comes as a rather refreshing new take on the way he feels about what he did back in 1985. As discussed in previous reviews of this season’s episodes, it is interesting to see how Peter 2.0’s death in this timeline has lead to a guilt based on self-hate rather than on anger, like the guilt of the Walter from the other timeline.  This Walter is convinced that he deserves to suffer as punishment for what he did, rather than realize, as Nina points out, that he has not only already suffered a lot, but that he has changed from the man he used to be.

The scene between Walter and Nina was particularly revealing because he admitted out loud – no small feat for a man with a healthy level of arrogance – that his perception of her was greatly tainted by the events of 1985. The Walter from the previous timeline had yet to express any such reflection the last time we saw him. Blaming others for things that, were we to admit were our fault, would cause a breakdown is part of a natural but destructive defense mechanism. As Walter tells Nina, admitting to what we have done would make us unable to live with ourselves. And so we tend to blame others, especially if they had previously warned us of the possible consequences of our actions.

The one comfort-giving constant in this mostly disconcerting timeline is Peter, although he has come a long way from Season 1. While we do see a bit of the out-of-place Peter from the beginning of Season 1, the one with attitude who bargains relentlessly to get what he wants, he bother does not have the anger and has much most focus, both a reflection of a new level of maturity the last three years have allowed him to develop.

Malcolm Truss’ dilemma was refreshingly neutral. Life is about creating coherence between its various aspects. This implies that the many parts of one’s life need to balance out and feed into each other. Truss was so focused on his research that he neglected his marriage. Furthermore, this focus ruined whatever might have still been salvageable when Bell stopped Truss’ project; the researcher had poured so much of himself into his work that it felt like everything was taken from him. The subsequent anger was the straw that broke the Truss’ marriage. We are reminded, of course, of Walter and Elizabeth, as well as Walternate and Alt-Elizabeth; both marriages crumbled in the other timeline after Peter 2.0’s abduction from the alternate universe because Walter/Walternate poured themselves into their work as a consequence, one to avoid the boy because of overwhelming feelings of guilt and the other, out of anger.

As if the slight discomfort of it all was not enough, here are a couple more brain teasers that are going to keep us up at night. What does Peter mean, that he is a paradox? And if he is not supposed to be in this timeline, how did he get there? What are the limits of the statement “Great progress requires great sacrifice”? What is Bell’s implication in Nadine’s statement to Truss that “Your work created me”? How does the typewriter Nadine uses work? Who is she talking to? And who or what are the other? Does this mean we are going to meet this timeline’s Walternate soon?

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