Tuesday 2 September 2014

Fringe: Season 4

Spoilers, of course. It would be impossible to discuss this show without them.

Season three of Fringe ended with a nice note of happily-ever-after. The two universes were brought together to create a new world and prevent all-out apocalypse. But then - Peter Bishop, who brought about the unification, popped out of existence. Oops.

The credits sequences of Fringe in season three were colour-coded in order to quickly establish which universe each episode would take place in: blue-green for the original world, and red for the alternative universe. Season four's credits were coloured in yellow. Or amber, if you prefer... ominous in itself when you consider that amber is used in the second universe as a preservative to prevent any holes in the world from growing and spreading. And this new season's setting and characters are different. Despite the lack of Peter, there has still been a "bridge" built between the universes, and the two Fringe teams are working together to repair the damage rather than to destroy each other. But the characters are subtly altered. Our Olivia is harder, having killed her abusive stepfather without Peter there to save her as a child. She was brought up by Massive Dynamic's Nina Sharp, and wears pale pink lipstick. Her redheaded counterpart from the other universe is no longer a mother (has never been a mother - Peter never existed and so neither did their son Henry.) Walter is more broken, and never leaves his lab in the Harvard basement. Other characters are still alive who should have been dead, and vice-versa. It would be interesting to watch the entire first three seasons through and pay attention to every event influenced by Peter in one way or another.

Despite what the observers (the creepy pale bald men who keep showing up whenever anything big is about to happen, and who know too much) have said, it is not that Peter never existed, but that both versions of him really did die as a child. Except, whoops, he doesn't seem to have got the memo, and materialises in the river to find himself in a terrifying It's A Wonderful Life world where no one knows him. His memories are intact, but the world around him is not quite the same - everything and everyone that had been impacted by coming into contact with Peter now is as if he had never been there. The big question is: is this yet another alternative universe, or an altered version of his own world? Can he go home, or is he there already, finding it changed out of recognition?

In this version of reality, poor Olivia is suffering from dreadful migraines - which turn out to have been induced by mysterious figures breaking into her house and secretly dosing her with Cortexifan, the mind-enhancing drug developed by William Bell and Walter Bishop to give her psychic powers. And then we discover that Massive Dynamic's Nina Sharp - in this version, her own foster-mother - is behind it all. As a migraine-sufferer, I hated her for this. Clearly Nina is up to something nefarious - but never mind that; inflicting migraines on a person is pure evil.

But as it happens, it is the other Nina Sharp behind the migraines - the one from the other universe and it turns out she is working for someone else: David Robert Jones, the Big Bad of season one. We last saw him gruesomely killed by being trapped in a door between universes - but in the Peterless universe, Jones survived and is as magnificently evil as ever. His purposes are not made clear, but they are full of havoc and destruction, the end of the world.

Episode nineteen takes a break from the main season's plotline and flashes forward to a very bad future. It begins with scrolling text: "They came from the future." The title credit sequence, traditionally covered in words of science just outside possibility, is changed to include words such as "Joy" "Individuality" "Community." I wibbled and screamed a bit watching this new sequence. If the future Peter had witnessed from the doomsday machine at the end of season three was grim, it is nothing compared with this future. The observers are revealed to have come from a future Earth - perhaps a later stage of human evolution - and we already knew that they can see all points in time, all the different things that might happen. But now it seems they are not just disinterested observers, dispassionately committed to ensuring that events take their rightful course. Now we see another side to them - time travellers from an uninhabitable future earth, who come to 2036 and enslave humanity.

We are introduced to a new team of resistance fighters, and find Walter, Peter and Astrid (who I have unjustly neglected in my reviews. She is a brilliant scientist, a valuable member of the Fringe team, and just lovely) frozen a la Han Solo in amber. Olivia is nowhere to be seen, which is ominous. Earlier in the season (in her own time) she was warned by an Observer that there is no version of the future in which she will not die. Well... surely that goes without saying of anyone? But Olivia has taken his message to heart, and expects this death to be imminent. One young woman from the future resistence (Etta) at one point claims Walter as her grandfather, which set my mind going. If she's, say, 24, she could have been born not long after the current season takes place. Her name - Etta - short for Henrietta - and what was the other Olivia's short-lived son's name, again? Yes, she really is Peter and Olivia's daughter, Walter's granddaughter. Which means that Olivia has a little longer to live, anyway.

Episode twenty takes us right back to the present day, as if we had not seen the future, and we meet the real - real - Big Bad. Now, I'd accidentally been spoiled on this by reading the box blurb. I had thought before that we had not finished the William Bell story. His attempt at immortality in season three had gone nowhere. But after all the shenanigans involved in getting the character into season three without showing Leonard Nimoy - Anna Torv's uncanny impersonation, the animated episode - I had not expected to actually see him in the role again. But it seems that he just cannot stay in retirement. I'd never been quite sure where to place Dr Bell on the scale of good and evil. Certainly his methods were morally dubious, but he was pretty likeable in person. But in this altered universe in which Peter died young, Dr Bell had heard his science partner's rage against the universe and decided to do something about it: to destroy the world and create a new one for just him and Walter, a universe with no place for the human race.

Of course, the season finale ends with the Fringe team saving the day again, but not without great cost. Bell needed Olivia's psychic powers to bring about his new universe, so Walter shoots not his old friend, but Olivia herself. (It's all right - she gets better.) Apocalypse is averted once more, Olivia is expecting a baby, so Peter, Olivia and Walter can look forward to a bright new future...

Future, you say? Remember episode nineteen...

Best episodes: 

2. One Night In October: The Fringe team recruit the other-world counterpart of a serial killer to help solve their case.
6. And Those We've Left Behind: Time loops can be traced back to a husband's desperation to keep hold of his wife.
10. Forced Perspective: A teenage girl has the power to predict death.
11. Making Angels: A beautiful episode bringing together the Astrids of both worlds.
14. The End of All Things: Olivia is held captive. David Robert Jones wants her powers.
18. The Consultant: Events in one universe have effects on the other.
19. Letters of Transit: The terrifying future, in which the Observers have enslaved mankind.
20. Worlds Apart: After spending a season working together, the two Fringe teams must say goodbye and close the door between their worlds.
21 and 22: Brave New World: In which we discover a bigger, badder Big Bad planning a bigger, badder apocalypse than ever before.

Just one more season to go now, and it's a short one - only 13 episodes compared with the other seasons' 22. I'm expecting this final season to take place mostly or entirely in the bad future of episode 19, which is a chilling thought. I wonder if it might not have been better to finish the series here - but then that would leave season 19 as an unfinished plotline. Besides, I thought that last season and look how season 4 turned out!

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