Fringe: Pondering Purpose Post-Peter

By Tim Surette

Sep 24, 2011

Fringe returned Friday night for its fourth season, and going into the premiere there was one question on fans' minds: "Where is Peter Bishop!?!?!" An hour later, the episode ended and there was one question on fans' minds: "Seriously dudes, where is Peter Bishop!?!?!" It's always difficult to come back after a season finale that hinged on one major, mind-exploding question (Where is Peter Bishop!?!?!) and not get an answer in the season opener. This is going to divide Fringe's audience into two camps: those who are simply happy the show is back, and those who feel slighted. Where do you stand?

There was no responsibility on the part of the Fringe staff to answer the question of Peter's whereabouts in the first hour of Season 4. But I can't be alone in thinking it would have been nice to get a little more of a clue, right? Instead, "Neither Here Nor There" (great episode name, btw) served as a noob-friendly series relaunch, which is both exciting and worrisome.

Assuming my math is correct, we're now in the series' fourth "existence," for lack of a better term. We have our normal Peter universe, the "over there" universe, the Season 3 finale's future plane, and this season's Peter-less timeline. The problem with the newest universe is that it essentially throws a lot of the things we learned from the other existences out the window. At least, that's what I first thought, but that's wrong. Don't be dumb, Tim.

What started as a series about creepy-crawlies and G-Men from who-knows-where has become a series about existence and the lengths to which some cosmic force will go in order to tie things together. That's why it's now important to look at Fringe from about 30,000 feet away. Go top-down. See the big differences in the characters and the influence the various existences have on each other.

The new Olivia has regressed back to pre-Peter times, where she was a frump—an Eeyore to everyone else's Tigger. It's unfortunate that she's a more boring Olivia, but it just goes to show how much the old Olivia grew. (Personally I think Anna Torv overplayed it to the point of getting us not to like her, but that was probably intentional; for a similar example, take a look at soulless Sam Winchester in the early episodes of Supernatural's sixth season.) The difference in Walter is less noticeable, but to me he seems a little loonier than usual. He's all highs and lows without Peter, acting more like a child prodigy than the man who'd come to understand responsibility thanks to being a father three times (to original Peter, other-universe Peter, and adult Peter when he came back into Walter's life)—and, you know, also thanks to that thing about destroying a few universes. Something to think about.

To illustrate how all these familiar faces are getting along without Peter (which I would say is not that well), Friday's premiere was told mostly through the eyes of Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel). He's nerded out over here, with his suit and glasses, but still shows flashes of the more badass, "over there" Lincoln. Lincoln is great and I've loved Gabel since his days on Dirty Sexy Money, but let's get one thing straight: He is NOT Peter and never will be.

And that's one of my major concerns right now. How long can the writers keep Peter away? A few flashes of his image aren't going to cut it, and will get old fast. I'm also wondering how many of Fringe's small details are going to remain important now that a reset button has been pushed. Remember when you realized that half of what you'd learned in Lost didn't really matter? I'm scared that could happen again.

You'll notice that I haven't written much about the specific events of "Neither Here Nor There," and that's because there weren't actually that many big incidents (I've included some notes on what did happen below). Fringe is normally a pro at blowing our minds in the final few minutes of an episode, but when the show ended and the credits rolled, I checked my brain and found it safely in place. I'm guessing "Neither Here Nor There" was aimed more toward roping in a new audience to boost the series' sagging ratings, because a lot of the "wow" moments concerned things we already knew about: the shapeshifters, the secret room where the two universes converge, the Observer saying he wanted to erase Peter from time.

"Neither Here No There" wasn't the typical sprint out of the gate we're used to from season premieres; in fact, I'd go so far as to call it "slow." But Fringe isn't a typical show. We got a few answers and asked even more questions, but we also got some philosophy to ponder. Fringe is one of those shows where the more you stretch your brain to think about it, the better it gets. The answers will come, and from the look of the "Coming up on Fringe" segment at the end of Friday's premiere, so will the awesomeness. In the meantime, try to wrap your mind around the possibilities the show is positing and sprinkle some LSD on your brain.

Notes From the Other Side:
– A new intro (yellow!) means new fringe science terms in the opening credits: Psychogenesis, Psychometry, Philosopher's Stone, Quantum Entanglement (a Walter favorite), Viral Therapy, Gravitons, Psychic Surgery, Transgenics. But the ones I'm particularly interested in, and which clearly relate to Peter's situation, are Bilocation (the ability to appear in two places at once), Ethereal Plane (a plane of existence beyond our own), Time Paradox (for obvious reasons), and what I think is the big one, the simple idea of Existence.

– Near the end of the episode, when Walter was checking out the tech inside the shapeshifter, he said, "I knew we couldn't trust him!" referring to Walternate. Is Walternate sending people over to our universe, or is someone else sending them?

– "Neither Here Nor There" contained a bit of hand-holding that I don't expect from Fringe, with its constant reminders that "something is missing" or "there's a hole in my life that I've had as long as I can remember." We know. No need to rub it in our faces. We're smarter than that.

– Though I think it's been debunked, I really like the Peter-is-an-Observer theory, even though my understanding of Observers is shaky at best. Don't the Observers travel through time, ensuring the universes are as they should be? Didn't Peter essentially do the same thing? Can Observers be people who have ceased to exist, and in this state of non-existence lose their hair, go pale as a ghost, and thirst for hot sauce? Maybe the Observers are flickering like Peter back in the times/planes where they originally existed?

– It's time for some stream-of-consciousness theorizing about where Peter is now: He either was never born, died as a young child, or was simply erased. Did Peter sacrifice himself, Donnie Darko-style, when he saw the crappy future in the Season 3 finale? At one point in that episode, Walter said that if he could, he would go back in time and never pull young Peter between universes. Did he pull that off? Or did the Machines go back to the past through wormholes, planted there by Walter, or Peter, or the Observers? Guys, I'm confused.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • AaronWesley Nov 13, 2011

    "There's a hole in my life that I've had as long as I can remember." I can understand your indignation at this episode's slow pace for a season premiere, but come on, this was a magnificent line. Not the most subtle of poetry, but poetry nonetheless. And Torv's delivery was nothing less than poignant. I didn't mind the so-called handholding: this episode was as much an introductory lesson for new viewers as it was to longtime fans a touching demonstration of the Fringe team's fractured existence sans Peter. You righty pointed out that the characters heretofore have had tremendous growth since the team's inception, and untwining Peter's presence from that character development would logically have an impact, even undoing some of those differences, in Walter and Olivia especially. On a different point: oh, ye of little faith. I can't believe you were worried that half the series' mythology might have to simply be forgotten, as in Lost. (I do remember that moment by the way :[ )

  • snippiet Sep 29, 2011

    I am watching this season but Peter better come back some how,some way. I like Lincoln but he is NO Peter..

  • Hiro1972 Sep 29, 2011

    Hi all,

    I so happy Fringe is back :) I loved the "new" characters.

    About Peter ans the Observers. I think that Peter dieded in this new reality when he fell in the water. In our original time time, the Observer saved him.

    About the damages to the Universes, once Walter crossed over they started and that will have an effect in the both Universes and on Observers. So everything that happened on seasons 1 to 3, still occurred, but this time without Peter's help to solve it.

    I always thinked there should be more universes and for some reason these two universes are linked to the Observers Universe. And for some reason Peter been alive changed something. Butterfly effect maybe. The changes are small but it is all it takes.

    We already know that both universes have some physical laws not working as they should, meaning that when Peter fused both worlds and corrected the time line, in that spot maybe his love/connection with Olivia was stronger than physics and a fragment was left behind. And I hope he cames back. Lee is not Peter :)

  • dama82 Sep 29, 2011

    this plot makes no sense at all. if there is/was no peter then all of the stuff that happened before doesn't matter cuz it never happened. peter brought the 2 universes together, if he doesn't fracking exist, who the frack opened the bridge then. and if he doesn't exist then who is walter seeing, this is another universe, if let's say peter materialized and was like "hey guys i am back", the first thing people would say is "who the frack are you?". and would peter know who the frack he is :\ my head is gonna explode. the season 3 universe where he opened the bridge, will he go back to that universe or will he spawn into the season 4 universe where nobody except the black hats know about him. aaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggggghhhh

  • cinthy_11 Sep 28, 2011

    I'm just happy that the show is back but Where the f@$/ is Peter??

  • Otterdog01 Sep 28, 2011

    Well clearly there is a third party. I mean we have the original blonde Olivia crew, the feisty red head Olivia crew and the Observers. I think there may be a FOURTH party in the mix. Perhaps multi-dimensional anarchists to oppose the Order fixated Observers? An infinate Reich bent on multiversal domination? Who knows. Is Walternate still a terrorist now? Or did Peter rewriting things make him back into head of Alter-Fringe?

  • elhund Sep 27, 2011

    I dont know why, but I have come to believe that there is a third party at play in both the universes and that both the current fused universes will have to join up and set aside there differencies in order to defeat this common enemy.

    As to Peters reappearence I'm placing a bet that he comes back around episode 8 or 9.

  • mfmschaser Sep 27, 2011

    Did anyone notice the leaf in the palm scanner? It appeared after Lincoln walked away.

  • gent-b Sep 27, 2011

    I have a question: Shouldn't it be another parallel universe, or another, or another etc? Who is to say that there is just one parallel universe? So now the other question is: Where are the Other Olivias and Peters and Walters of the other Universes? But i guess that would be to much ey?

    Anyhow, J.J. Abrams is a genius. Wait for it...

  • smithinjapan Sep 27, 2011

    I just started watching Fringe a couple of days ago and am half-way through the first season. Glad I have a lot to look forward to, as it seems a pretty amazing show.

  • DanFixx Sep 27, 2011

    When I started watching, I thought OK, this is a 21st century X-Files. (Frankly I was a bit dissapointed.) But this thing grows... For me, it is one of the best series around.

  • for_farooq Sep 27, 2011

    you will not be disappointed. Fringe is a great show

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