TV Review: FRINGE 4.21 “Brave New World, Part 1”

Walter's old frenemy returns as FRINGE kicks off a baffling season-ending two-parter.

There was a lot to love about Friday's tense and surprising episode of Fringe. "Brave New World, Part 1" delivered the stuff Fringe fans have been looking forward to seeing since Season One – Peter and Olivia gettin' all cozy and planning a future together, Olivia using her Cortexi-powers like a badass superhero and Walter working at the height of his confidence. This was a fun and dark episode that moved at a rapid clip and seemed to pile on new and intriguing layers every few minutes.

The season's penultimate episode (the first of a two-parter) started out looking like a routine Fringe Division case-of-the-week – Walter and crew were called to investigate what seemed to be a series of spontaneous human combustions – but it soon morphed into a twisty, arc-heavy hour packed with suspense and some pretty big shocking moments and reveals.

With the Alt-Timeline arc/mystery/experiment mostly wrapped up and Peter fully integrated into the Fringie family unit again, the show is now free to ramp up the pace and race to the end of the season with a more focused and conventional storyline: Stop the big bad from ending the world. Over the past several weeks, that big bad's name was David Robert Jones, the former Massive Dynamic researcher turned gene-mixing wacko who set his sights on destroying both universes to create a new world in his own image. In this episode, we learned that Jones was not the man in charge -- he was merely William Bell's MVP.

Bell's reappearance here was quite a surprise, but it didn't come as a huge shock. We saw him a few weeks ago in the future-set one-off episode "Letters on Transit," in which he was trapped in amber. In that episode, Walter clearly had lost all love for his old friend and partner, and he made a vague reference about Bell possibly being responsible for Olivia's death. So after all that, it only seemed like a matter of time before Bell would show up again. Still, I didn't expect to see him this soon (I don't watch the promos before the episodes air, but I'm pretty sure Fox promoted Leonard Nimoy's guest appearance, so maybe it wasn't a surprise for some of you.)

I liked seeing Nimoy return as Bell. I've always liked the character of William Bell, but I'm not sure how I feel about this version of the character. Bell was revealed to be a good guy (for the most part) when he became a larger part of the show last season. He wasn't exactly a white knight, and he had his many crimes to answer for just like Walter does, but it felt rewarding and appropriate when Bell started helping the team and guiding Olivia and encouraging Walter. But now, with the timeline altered and things still slanting sideways, it seems like Bell has become a big baddie with an eeeee-ville agenda to rule or destroy the world. Yeah, it seems that way, but I'm guessing there's a lot more to it than that. I'm looking forward to next week's Season 4 finale to learn exactly why and how Bell has reemerged. Does he have something to do with the timeline being altered? Does he hold the key to restoring the original timeline? Does he really have a human-rhinoceros hybrid in one of those crates? And will he be a big part of Season 5? (Hooray, Season 5!)

I suppose the more pressing question is: Will Jasika Nicole's Astrid return for Season 5? There's no telling what's going to happen there – maybe Astrid will survive the gunshot, or maybe the show will figure out a way to reset the timeline, undoing all of the crazy stuff we've seen go down this season, including Astrid getting shot. I didn't like seeing Astrid get shot, but after four years of thrilling, emotional and incredibly engaging experimental TV, I have grown to trust J.H Wyman, Jeff Pinkner and all the other mad scientists behind every episode of Fringe. I don't want to see Astrid get killed off, but if she does, I'm pretty sure her death will make sense, at least emotionally, and it will be avenged before all is said and done. Until next week, peace out!