I’m short on time this weekend, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on the season four premiere of Fringe. This post will be brief.
Fringe is in a weird position. Or at least it seems that way to me. Season three discarded all pretensions and presumptions of general popularity and dove quickly and deeply into the series’ mythology. The exploration of the separate universes was the biggest idea that the series had and last season, particularly the first half, did a masterful job of living up to fan expectations. But the second half of season three felt aimless and plodding at times (almost as if the writers panicked when they realized they ran out of great ideas) and the sloppy, short-hand and frivolous finale hammered that home even further. Heading into this fourth season, I’m not really sure what Fringe is doing anymore. I know Peter is gone and I know the universes are working together, but neither of those ideas sound particularly engaging to me. I still believe in the production team and I hoped that “Neither Here Nor There” would display the kind of brazen confidence that last year’s “Olivia” did.
Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen. “Neither Here Nor There” is an entertaining effort that does a nice job of showing us the small changes in the lives of Olivia, Walter and Fringe Division because of Peter’s supposed absence. Things are generally the same, but still noticeably different. Olivia still has her hard edge (and she’s probably even more distant here than she was at the beginning of the series), Walter lacks any the emotional connection that tethers him to reality, both of them appear to have bigger issues with their alt-verse counterparts and Fringe Division appears to be more of a secret than before. These small shifts are fine and I guess I would prefer the series keep the changes small instead of going off the deep end (Olivia’s a lesbian! Walter has an eye-patch!), but there’s no big hook, narrative or emotional, to this episode.
“Neither Here Nor There” is just…predictable. I’m guessing that if you polled most Fringe fans in June and asked them what the premiere would look like, they pretty much could have guessed it would look like this. And though Fringe doesn’t predicate itself on unpredictablility like Lost, the series has always done a fantastic job of supporting its relatively easily understandable plot turns with great character work and emotional weight. This episode doesn’t really have that. Anna Torv and John Noble do the best they can to project a certain sadness that their characters can quite explain, but it doesn’t feel like there is really anything on the page for them to play. Moreover, I’m very excited that the primary universe’s Lincoln is going to be around more often and I thought Seth Gabel did a really great job bringing us a slightly different version of that character as well, yet there’s nothing here to get too excited about.
I’m a bit worried about where season four of Fringe is headed and I’m disappointed in this episode to some degree. Nevertheless, I’m trying not to let my concerns get too out of control for a few reasons. For one, there was still some quality stuff in this episode. I mentioned the performances, but I’m also intrigued by the new kind of human shapeshifter (even if it feels a bit like a retread) and especially curious to see how September’s decision not to erase Peter from Walter’s memory all together (it appears both versions of Peter just died as a boy, no?) plays out in the next few episodes. And of course, this is still just the first episode of what will be a very long and surely very solid season. I was disappointed at how quickly this episode walked away from the universe-joining bridge, but there’s still potential for intrigue and quality storytelling there. Fringe is still a great series with really smart people behind the scenes. I’m fairly certain they will turn things around and produce episodes that match narrative successes with character gravitas, but “Neither Here Nor There” didn’t have too much of either.