TV Review: FRINGE 4.13 “A Better Human Being”

More shocking reveals and cliffhanger endings on FRINGE.

Fringe is beginning to resemble Lost now more than ever by ending recent episodes with compelling cliffhangers and shocking reveals. I’m not complaining. I love Lost, and I love genre shows that can pull off what Lost did best: Deliver exceptional self-contained episodes while offering rich and engaging season-long mysteries and satisfying character development. Fringe does all of those things and more. It challenges us. Like, a lot.

This season has been particularly challenging, and keeping up with every new mind-bending development the show lobs our way can sometimes feel overwhelming. First there were two different universes. Then there were two different timelines. Now it seems like the two timelines are slowly merging and creating something strange and new. Maybe. Or maybe it’s all a dream or … something. I have no idea.

This week's fantastic episode, "A Better Human Being," ended with another baffling but intriguing cliffhanger. I have my theories about why Olivia and Nina were tied up in that basement at the end of this week’s episode, and why Olivia’s old memories were rushing back, but I’m not ready to say I've figured it all out just yet. After the mindfrak that was last season’s finale and all the unpredictable reveals we’ve seen so far, there’s no telling what the Fringe brain trust has in store for us at the end of this season. But one thing is certain: I’m loving every minute of it.

The show has been challenging but rewarding this season, and Season 4 has delivered some of the finest Fringe episodes in years (I’m thinking of “One Night in October” and  “And Those We Left Behind”). Even this episode, which was mostly about a swarm of pasty nerdboys terrorizing helpless old men, kept me on edge with a swift pace and a tense tone.

Last week’s cliffhanger ending – with New Olivia acting like the Old Olivia and kissing Peter – was addressed in the opening moments of this episode. No one could explain why New Olivia was essentially becoming Old Olivia. Walter’s theory about Peter unconsciously willing the change to happen seemed to be based more on his past obsessions and less on the evidence at hand. And Peter later figured out that his memories couldn’t be influencing Olivia, since she remembered things he never knew happened. So why and how was New Olivia accessing Old Olivia’s memories? We didn’t get a real answer to that question (other than Walter saying it had something to do with her being secretly dosed with Cortexiphan on a regular basis), but the guessing game about Olivia’s memories mingled quite well with the mystery of the week, which involved a boy whose head was filled with the voices of others (No, not those Others).

The Olivia development set up some interesting conflict between Peter and Walter as Peter was also struggling with his feelings towards this New Olivia/Old Olivia hybrid. But the most enjoyable thing about Olivia’s arc in this episode was how she immediately came to embrace her new memories and personality with open arms.

At the beginning of the season, Olivia mentioned that she felt like something was missing from her life. She was feeling hollow and incomplete, and that’s the Olivia we’ve been following all season – the one with a hole in her heart, the one who doesn’t seem genuinely connected to anyone or anything. But all of that changed this week. Olivia became vibrant, joyous, and even a bit giddy when her memories returned. She finally found what was missing from her life – her relationship with Peter and the comfort and stability that relationship provided. Olivia was missing the security of knowing that, after a long day of battling supernatural baddies, she could curl up in bed with someone who accepted and understood her and her work. It was a joy to watch Olivia find some peace here, but the happy-feely session was short lived.

And that brings us right back to this week’s cliffhanger ending: Olivia and Nina tied up in a dark and dank room and Nina saying, “We're gonna be OK.” Hopefully we’ll get some answers next week. Something tells me Mr. Jones and his murderous Shapeshifters are involved in the Olivia and Nina-napping.

Other Thoughts:

  • I've been obsessing over the scene between Peter and Olivia in the car near the end of the episode. Peter admitted that his Olivia, our Olivia, had returned – not just her memories, but her heart and soul as well. Peter has been working to return to his timeline, but maybe his timeline is now returning to him instead. Perhaps Olivia recovering her memories could be the first sign that the world is starting to wake up and remember Peter Bishop – the first sign that the original timeline is finally being restored.
  • Walter bonds with the guy who thinks he’s on another planet. Of course he does.
  • I enjoyed the scenes with Astrid comforting pasty head case boy. Jaskia Nicole continues to bring a warm, calming presence to the show.
  • I was hoping Walter would shatter the vial of phony Cortexiphan against the wall after tasting it, Norman Osborn style. Maybe next week.