TV Review: FRINGE 4.08 “Back to Where You’ve Never Been”

FRINGE returns and Peter’s story nabs the spotlight in a big way.

Meet Mike Moody, who will be doing Fringe reviews for BAD from now until... well, we'll see how long the show hangs on. In the meatime, here's his first review:

Fringe kicked off 2012 with a fleeting vision of better days gone by: Walter was making chocolate chip and banana pancakes (shirtless but wearing a snug lady’s apron), Olivia was in a smiley-kissy mood, and Peter was enjoying breakfast with his family – the family we’ve come to know and love over the past three seasons. (He didn’t even mind that the waffle iron was broken.) This was a smart if heartbreaking way to open the episode, the first since the series went on break last November. The opening scene acted as a reminder of what Peter and the rest of us have lost and what we desperately want to see restored: the wonderful, tight-knit family dynamic between Peter, Walter and Olivia that took three long years to build.

The heart of the show was ripped apart after Peter saved the universes and disappeared at the end of last season, leaving the younger Bishop, and viewers, stuck in a new world that’s both strangely familiar but entirely foreign. After seven compelling, mostly one-off episodes about the new Peter-less timeline and its inhabitants, Fringe’s fourth season finally started shifting the focus back to Peter and his plight to get back home.

As much as I enjoyed this season’s first seven episodes, I’m glad to see Peter’s story finally nab the spotlight in a big way. It’s also exciting to see Peter’s journey mix and mingle with the strange goings on with Walternate and the Earth 2 Shapeshifters. “Back to Where You’ve Never Been” was mostly set up – hopefully for a big payoff that’s not too far down the line – but it was thrilling set up. The episode began with a bright, sunny vibe, slipped in some intense showdowns, surprises and Shapeshifter craziness, and ended on a dour but intriguing note.

In between all the car chases, gunplay and body-morphing, this episode delivered some fine emotional scenes between Peter and Walter/Walternate. This may be a different version of Walter we’re watching in Timeline 2 (let’s just call it that), but this Walter is still deeply plagued by his dark past and mad scientist wrongdoings. Peter made a fine argument when trying to convince Walter to operate the machine and help him return home, but Walter refused to do more damage to the universes by trying to help another version of the son he lost or, as he put it, “someone else’s child.” Not even a big box of pastries could change his mind. John Noble capped off the memorable exchange with another quiet and masterful soliloquy about death and dying (I love it when he does that). This time, Walter told Peter about Elizabeth’s suicide, and how he blames himself for her death. Walter’s sorrowful tale about finding Elizabeth’s dead body set the stage for her satisfying reemergence in Earth 2 several scenes later. It was a nice change of pace to see Orla Brady return to Fringe playing a less guarded version of Elizabeth. It was the first of two emotional reunions for Peter, whose desperation led him to try and make a deal with the devil, or Fringe’s version of the devil, Walternate.

Peter and Walternate’s initial meeting offered some of the episode’s most suspenseful minutes, even if the twist – Walterate is a good guy who wants to help Peter get home and stop the Shapeshifters – was easy to figure out before the reveal. It was obvious early on that Brandon Bot, acting more wooden than ever, was the Shapeshifter who called in the order to kill Peter and Agent Lee. Still, without knowing much about this version of Walternate or the new version of Earth 2, I still had my doubts about who was pulling the strings here.

We learned that Walternate was not responsible for creating the super Shapeshifters, but he created a weapon that can identify and kill them. We also learned that Earth 2 Broyles might actually be a Shapeshifter, or he’s at least in collusion with the puppet master, who was revealed to be classic Fringe “bad guy” David Robert Jones. The reveal of Mr. Jones was a bit of a shocker, and it played out with some much appreciated sly comedy thanks to Peter’s earlier comment about slicing him in half years ago. (The reveal has me itching to rewatch those old episodes with Jones nudging Olivia to use her Cortexipowers.) I’m glad to see creepy-guy-for-hire Jared Harris back on the show, and Jones’ arrival will most likely motivate Peter to join the battle and ditch his new mantra, “This is not my fight.”

Jones’ return works quite well with this season’s theme of displacement, or how things that don’t belong can have a lasting impact on their foreign surroundings. We still don’t know exactly which version of Jones we’re dealing with here, but something tells me he’s not supposed to be alive in this new timeline, much less running a Shapeshifter factory in the Flatiron District. Perhaps Peter’s emergence in this timeline is closely linked to Jones’ reappearance. Fringe has never shied away from placing Peter at the center of universe-shattering conflicts and asking him to act the hero.

And then there’s the matter of The Observer’s visit to Olivia at the end of the episode. Cryptic as it was, the dying Observer’s warning to Olivia, “I have looked at all possible futures. And in every one, the result is the same. You have to die,” only reiterates what most savvy viewers already knew: Olivia is destined for death. We witnessed her untimely death in another alternate timeline last season, and Olivia herself came fact-to-face with a person she identified as “the man who’s going to kill me” in the brain-melting season three episode “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.” But what will her possible futuredeath mean? Who will be responsible? And can she escape it?

Perhaps the more pressing questions is: Will Fox allow the creators of Fringe to finish their story? Fox chief Kevin Reilly’s recent statements about the show’s tendency to lose the network money has put a fifth season in doubt. Fringe fans should be used to seeing their show on the bubble by now. Still, it’s tough to face the idea that Fringe may not have the chance to wrap things up in a satisfying way by the end of season four.

“Back to Where You’ve Never Been” was a fantastic episode and a great way for Fringe to return to the tube. It proved to be a much stronger outing than last November’s “Wallflower,” which mostly centered on a case-of-the-week mystery with thematic ties to the season’s major arc. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, with Fauxlivia and Alt-Lee heading into a trap at the Shapeshifter factory, and Peter on the cusp of a major decision. It’s nice to know that we won’t have to wait two months to find out what happens.

Other thoughts:

- Lincoln Lee meets Lincoln Lee. This was a lot more fun the way it played out in my head.

- Fauxlivia proves again that she’s a sharp rebel who’s willing to risk everything to follow a hunch – even if her instincts are leading her in the wrong direction.

- I can’t stop thinking that Walter’s comments about the pinwheel that spins “against the flow of air completely violating the law of physics” is some sort of clue about Peter and his destiny in this timeline.

-- Mike Moody