Fringe returned from a longer-than-planned fall sabbatical last night (thanks to an epic, enjoyable Word Series), and so did Peter Bishop, fully restored to the show’s storytelling following four episodes stranded in the cold margins of reality. It was the same Peter Bishop that we’ve come to know and love during the first three seasons of Fringe — a Peter Bishop who still contained those three seasons of adventures in his head. As such, the prodigal found himself dazed and confused by the reboot history of season 4, populated by new versions of friends and family, loved ones and enemies that are strangers to him, and vise versa, because in this new construction of reality, Peter died when he was a child. “Novation” framed Peter in a provocative way: by labeling him a “paradox” that never should have existed in the version of Fringe we know best (seasons 1-3). Does that mean that the reboot represents “proper” history? Or might this iteration of history be flawed, too? Has Fringe given us “the best of all possible worlds” — or is that world still to come?
The episode may have given us a hint of which direction it’s heading during the closing moments, when an assistant handed a set of blue file folders to Olivia… then did so again a few moments later, as if it was the first time she had done so. It reminded me of the black cat/déjà vu moment in The Matrix. In that film, Morpheus explained that the buggy blip was something that occurred during a system update within the virtual reality prison created by The Machines. A couple recaps ago, we wondered if perhaps the new timeline wasn’t an organic expression of the question “What would happen if Peter never lived?” but a product of design — as if the reboot was a program executed by a computer capable of rendering reality itself. Peter’s inextinguishable existence and Olivia’s blue file/déjà vu moment could be proofs that the software isn’t working like it should, and might be fundamentally corrupt. The charade is starting to shatter…
Regardless, as Peter saw it, something went wrong when he activated Walter’s salvation machine last season. (I don’t want to call it a “doomsday machine” anymore, per Peter’s perspective that it was actually built by Future Walter to save both parallel worlds.) Peter’s new quest: To figure out why no one can remember him; to figure out why he still exists if he’s not supposed to exist. Once a paradox, always paradox. Perhaps that’s his role in the multiverse: To serve as The Variable; the chaos bringer that blows up the set order of things — or rather, the radical that blows up our understanding of what we think is the set order of things, so that we can pursue a better, deeper understanding.
Peter’s re-insertion into the mix promises to make for great drama — provided, I think, that you, dear Fringe fanatic, actually give a damn about this new timeline and these “new” versions of Olivia, Walter, Broyles, Astrid, Nina Sharp, and more. I think the show, at present, wants us to feel conflicted. Do I want to see the old version of Fringe history restored? Do I want this new version of Fringe history to flourish? What do I root for? But the only way that conflict can be interesting and entertaining – regardless of which outcome you want — is that you actually feel something for these new edition characters. Because if you don’t give a crap, it could be a tedious slog toward a conclusion that leaves you pissed. Our message boards desire your thoughts on this matter.
While “Novation” had us cheering for Peter’s return, it was the anti-Cheers for the man himself: Nobody knew his name, nobody was glad he came. Bewildered and deeply bothered by Peter’s depth of knowledge about Fringe Division, and unwilling to set Peter free until the stranger proved himself trustworthy, Broyles had Bishop incarcerated within Fringe Division’s high tech Batcave somewhere inside the black rock Federal building in downtown Boston. (I missed being in the Harvard lab, and look forward to Peter’s transfer in the episodes to come.)
NEXT: Though I should walk through the uncanny valley of death, I shall fear no shape-shifter