TV Review: FRINGE 4.16 “Nothing As It Seems”

Is this Fringe Division or the Porcupine Monster Squad?

The ghoulish Were-porcupines from Season One returned to terrorize our heroes on Friday’s episode of Fringe. And they grew wings! What a creepshow.

This episode, titled “Nothing As It Seems,” recreated scenes from the Season One ep “Transformation” with sly new twists, and it offered the first glimpse of a new threat the Fringies are bound to face before the season wraps.

This was an exciting episode, but it was a little silly and absurd, what with Lincoln stuffing his maw with bacon and eyeing Walter’s love handles, not to mention the giant porcupine man sprouting wings and flying over downtown Boston (OK, maybe it was a lot absurd). This episode, while fun and intriguing, seemed disconnected from the past several episodes. Over the past several weeks, the major conflicts have been more personal -- the characters were dealing with internal struggles, and the stories explored deep complex themes of love, loss, connection and identity. “Nothing As It Seems” played like Fringe’s fun, twisted take on a classic monster movie (or its version of a Syfy Saturday night movie). I liked the way it riffed on an older episode and revealed layers we never knew were there, but it felt a bit shallow when compared to most of the recent Season Four stories.

I still enjoyed the episode. I liked the renderings of the porcupine men; the practical effects and the close-ups of the beasts looked good enough to give me the chills. The show made the smart decision to mostly keep the monsters in the shadows, and the scene where one took flight had a wonderfully macabre, gothic quality. The overt monster movie stuff may have been a little much for some viewers (This ain't Sanctuary after all), and I would never want to see Fringe devolve into an Underworld-esque shoot-em-up horror show, but I appreciated the creepy special effects and extreme monster makeup this episode had to offer. Fringe doesn’t often go there, but when it does, it’s usually a lot of fun.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Friday’s episode was the introduction of a new group of baddies, which we’ll call the “guided evolution” cult. This new band of weirdos most likely answers to the wonderfully arrogant Robert David Jones, and judging by the episode’s final scene, they’re prepping for a full-blown mutant revolution. The cult’s goal, according to our old friend Ed, is to evolve into higher beings and - you guessed it - rule the world. Jones oversaw the creation of the virus that transformed these crazy people into mutant monsters, but it’s still unclear if he’s actually the one pulling their strings. The episode’s final moments took place inside of a barge packed with mutated beasts both fuzzy and slimy, leaving the threat of a great big man vs. monster war hanging in the air. But is Jones really behind this new batch of bad?  According to Walter, Jones is likely leading the cult, but we never saw him interact with the creatures or cult members here. Still, we know Jones is big on gene manipulation, and he’s already emerged as the season’s top villain, so it’s probably safe to pin him as our mutant messiah.

If it weren’t for all the crazy mutant/monster action, this episode would probably be remembered as the one where Lincoln ate a big, heaping pile of shit. Lincoln was feeling low thanks to Olivia forgetting about their budding romance and choosing Peter, and things only got worse when he contracted the mutant porcupine virus. He was put through the ringer and shat upon over and over in this episode, but Lincoln finally found some solace when he heard Walter count him as part of the family. To his surprise, Walter was delighted to become part of a family, and he didn’t leave Lincoln out of the equation. Despite suffering a major loss and being pushed to the sidelines lately, Lincoln has proved to be an asset to the team as well as a “good guy.” And, after all, he is a “perfectly-suited chess partner.”

But this episode wasn’t all monster porcupine mayhem and Lincoln bashing. There was the matter of Olivia’s new memories to deal with and how they would affect her status with the FBI. At the start of the hour, Olivia was shocked to learn that almost half of the information she provided about her life to the FBI shrinks was incorrect. She was pulled from active duty as the bureau mulled over how to proceed in light of her “weird” situation. Stubborn as always, Olivia defied orders and helped Peter and Lincoln with the case. Her presence on the scene may have led to Lincoln getting scratched by the baddie, but her memories of the other timeline came in handy when Peter was having trouble remembering details about the case. Oh, right, Peter couldn’t remember a suspect’s name from the previous timeline – was this a convenient plot development to get Olivia back into the fold, or was it a sign that Peter’s memory is slipping somehow? Some folks I’ve spoken to say it’s the latter, but I’m not convinced that’s the case.

I’d hate to see Peter lose his memories now, especially since he and Walter are doing so great. Did you see that gleeful grin on Walter’s face when he was rummaging through that box of birthday presents for Peter? And he was speechless when Peter gave him a well-deserved hug. Like I’ve said before, I’m enjoying watching the Bishop boys reconnect. I’m looking forward to seeing Walter move back into house with Peter soon.

Other thoughts:

- In an early scene, Olivia told an FBI shrink, “I work for Fringe Division. Weird is a matter of degrees.” Indeed. Nice way to set up the weirdness of this episode.

- Good to see Broyles fight to keep Olivia on the team. He says she’s only “60% of the Olivia I knew” but she’s “better than 90% of the agents I’ve ever worked with.”

- Walter’s birthday gift for a sixteen-year-old Peter: A copy of Hump magazine, which Walter later sneaks into the bathroom.

- Peter and Walter share a love of geeky science toys.

- Battlestar Galactica’s Alessandro Juliana played a guy who joins a crazy cult where people say things like, “We can be children of the new world.” Oh, Gaeta, when will you learn to stay away from the doomed hard-liners?

- “I like porcupines. It shows that God has a sense of humor."

- “Did you find his genitals, son?”

- “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a passenger who is having a hard time.”