Season four of ‘Fringe’ has gotten mixed reviews. At the end of season three, Peter used the machine in order to save both universes from destruction. A new timeline was created as a result of Peter’s actions. In this new universe Peter never existed. Dr. Walter Bishop did discover a way to cross between timelines, and he did cross into the other universe in order to save that world’s Peter. However, when the ice broke upon their return, the Observer did not save Peter, so Walter saw Peter die twice. This Peter-less timeline is dour, dire, and devoid of a lot of the warmth and charm of the previous seasons. The Observer decided not to erase Peter, which allowed him to return, but the previous timeline was not restored. Because no one remembers who he is, Peter has decided to try to find a way back home.
This half of the season has been spent exploring a Peter-less timeline. Walter still was committed to the sanitarium; Olivia had him released to help on a case. Olivia, Walter, Astrid, and Broyles are the Fringe division. Since his release, Walter refuses to leave the lab. He has Astrid wear a headset that allows him to see and hear what she does in the field. Walter is stubborn and prone to more mood swings because he does not have Peter to help him adjust to society.
Olivia still underwent the Cortexiphan trials as a child. The big change in Olivia’s life was who raised her. After her mother died, Olivia and her sister were raised by Nina Sharp, the head of Massive Dynamic after William Bell died. Olivia is serious and does not let many people in. During the midseason finale, we learn that Nina is injecting Olivia with something; either Nina is continuing the Cortexiphan experiment or is doing something else. Broyles is basically the same. Lincoln Lee is the new addition to the team. In the season premiere, Lee stumbles on a fringe case; his work on the case earns him a spot on the team. Lee has a romantic interest in Olivia, and she seems to have a similar interest in him.
While the acting and the writing in individual episodes have been of quality work (example: ‘And Those We’ve Left Behind’), this season as a whole feels stuck. For weeks many of us have been waiting and wanting the writers to make a decision between staying in this new timeline and diving into it full force or sending Peter back to the timeline we have known and loved for three years.
Part of the problem is that the intended midseason finale did not air when planned because it got bumped due to the World Series. The episode that was meant to air as the midseason finale will air in January, and the previews for that episode makes it seem Peter will take action.
I trust the writers of ‘Fringe,’ but by the fourth week, we understood that Peter’s absence changed everyone, and not for the better. The point was made, and once that point was made, the series needed to have moved forward. I’m positive the second half of the season will improve because the writers will move Peter’s story forward. As Peter’s story develops, the tension will intensify, and ‘Fringe’ will regain its momentum. Do I still recommend ‘Fringe’ to others? Of course. The writing and the acting are some of the finest on television. Although this experiment did not turn out the way the producers expected, not many television shows take such risks anymore, and I appreciate what the writers were trying to do during this part of the season.
‘Fringe’ returns to FOX on Friday, January 13.