Fringe Review: “Nothing As It Seems” (Episode 4.16)

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<i>Fringe</i> Review: &#8220;Nothing As It Seems&#8221; (Episode 4.16)

“Let’s take it one step at a time.”
-Walter Bishop

I’m going to pick some nits before this is over, but let’s get one thing clear off the top. This was the most entertaining episode of Fringe in quite some time. Not the most emotional or most informative or most eye-opening, but easily the most entertaining. It reminded me of some of the best episodes of The X-Files. Every once in a while, maybe once a season, The X-Files would take a break from all its conspiracy pretentions and overly serious dramatic drudgery and offer up something different and fun, a black and white Frankenstein homage for instance. Or a parody of the show supposedly written by a hack science fiction writer. Fringe is taking a page from that playbook here, and it plays like a revelation.

This season has been so focused and so meticulously planned, that I’d almost forgotten how fun and effortless the show can be when it wants to. There has been a heaviness over the proceedings, but it appears that now that the ‘Getting Peter Back Home’ storyline is all but over, the tone is shifting. What is it shifting to? Well, honestly it’s shifting to something more like the first season, which isn’t an accident.

The whole point of this episode (and this whole season) is to reflect back on an earlier point in the show. This case isn’t just similar to one we’ve seen before (episode 13 of season one for those playing at home), it actually is the same case we’ve seen before, just played out slightly differently. Once again, the creative team is playing with the same plot devices that the final season of Lost tried out, using an alternate version of familiar events to deepen our understanding of who our characters are.

As I’ve stated before, the difference here is striking. Where Lost ended up alienating some viewers by holding back key information about what the audience was actually seeing, Fringe is reaping the benefits of letting the audience in on the secret as we go along, often even before the characters figure things out which then adds yet another layer of interest.

Most satisfying to me is the ongoing evolution of the Peter/Walter relationship. What began last week continues here, and it’s really handled brilliantly. The old birthday presents concept could have been played as heart-wrenching, but instead we get some legitimately touching moments out of it (Walter’s reaction to Peter’s hug was marvelous) as well as humorous moments scattered throughout the episode (the multiple appearances of the Hump magazine were priceless).

Agent Lee gets a big chunk of screen time and even Lincoln haters will have to admit that he was an asset to the show on multiple fronts. First off, his relationship with Walter continues to grow in unexpected and often hilarious ways. Walter seems to view Lincoln more as a protégé or a partner in many instances, almost as a younger surrogate for Walter’s days with William Bell. Second, I liked that they not only went ahead and handled the love triangle issue but that it was handled in a nice little scene between Peter and Lincoln that spoke volumes about both men and reminded us why we liked them in the first place.

David Robert Jones doesn’t actually appear this week, but his presence is everywhere. I feel that special acknowledgement must go to both the creative team and Jared Harris for the work they’ve put into Jones. Consider this: they have developed Jones into a well-rounded and memorable villain not once, but twice. They’ve managed to elevate the character to the point that the mere mention of his name is enough to cast a mood over a scene. It helps that he’s saddled with a three-name moniker a la John Wayne Gacy or Lee Harvey Oswald, but it helps even more to have veteran actors like Blair Brown that utter his name with the same dread and reverence given to Voldemort or calling for the Candyman.

Despite the overall fun and lightness of the episode, it does end on an ominous tone that sets the stage for Jones’ return and raises some real questions about where this is all heading. It seems that Jones has his own Ark, a cargo ship filled with the worst creatures that mad science has to offer, some we’ve seen before and some we don’t really want to imagine.

Some closing thoughts:

- So it appears that Olivia now has 40 percent of her original memories that have overwritten her memories from this timeline. Thank you, writers, for giving us an easy to understand signpost with which to gauge where we stand in the progression of things.

- Now that it’s really, really obvious that this time will have many, many similar but identical events to the one that Peter (and 40 percent of Olivia) remember, shouldn’t Broyles just have the two of them locked in a room doing nothing but writing down information about cases that haven’t happened yet so that they can prevent them? Just a thought.

- I cannot overstress how different this Walter is from any previous incarnation. It’s an interesting twist that apparently the only way that Walter would ever be happy is by losing both Peters and then gaining this third Peter down the line. Regardless, from his observation about how perfect Peter and Olivia are to his boundless joy while diagnosing and attempting to treat Lincoln, this is a whole new guy and he’s a blast to watch.

- Perhaps it’s a budgetary thing (though I struggle to understand how a wig and some costume changes could be that costly), but I find it strange that we continue to go long stretches without even a glimpse of the other side. Given their efforts to help him, don’t alt-Elizabeth and Walternate deserve to know that Peter is staying in this timeline? More importantly, how are Faux-livia and Lincoln Prime going to get together and make nerdy redheaded babies if they never see other? Seriously though, with so many important events happening, it seems strange to never even peek in to see what’s happening over there.