Fringe: Deja Vu All Over Again

Fringe S04E16: "Nothing As It Seems"

Friday's delightfully bizarre episode of Fringe, "Nothing As It Seems," was one of the more interesting hours of Fringe this season, proving that there's plenty of creativity to spare in this alternate timeline universe. A lot of things about the episode worked really well, but the momentum of the Creature Feature story sputtered a bit toward the end and didn't fully realize the potential of what the writers breached. Still, anytime there's a giant porcupine man on board for the ride, count me in.

The big trick here is that this week's case was one we'd seen before. Quite literally. "Nothing As It Seems" was a callback to the Season 1 episode "The Transformation," featuring the exact same case with different results. In the original case, a man injected himself with a super-mutation virus, boarded a plane, accidentally transformed into a giant, grotesque porcupine monster sometime between the complimentary beverage service and the cardboard sandwich plate, and caused the plane to crash. In Friday's case, the transformation was averted and the man didn't transform until the plane landed.

The cases looked the same on the outside, but they were actually slightly different. It was a nifty trick that only shows like Fringe have the opportunity to take advantage of, and this instance was particularly rewarding for fans who have stuck around since Season 1. We love this kind of shit, it makes us feel special.

If Friday's case had been identical to the Season 1 case, it would've only been a matter of time before Peter remembered how they solved it the first time around and we would have spent a lot more time this episode with everyone standing around looking for ways to kill the time. But the case was different enough, and it turned out that the new round of porcupeople came from a cult that used a super-mutating virus intended to transform its hosts into the "next-level" of evolution. The evolutionary advantages of having giant quills on your back and a face that only a blind mother with horrible taste could love were not explained. But if that's the next step in evolution, I'm halfway there!

The porcupeople in this timeline also had another trick up their sleeve: bat wings! And like the brave little bumblebee that defies all physics by taking flight, so too could these monsters. The bat wings and the odd Beauty and the Beast-ish love story were where this episode lost me a little. I guess I was looking for some more information on what made the creature more evolved. Personally, I think humans are doing pretty okay in our current form, and I imagine our next evolutionary step would involve developing telekinesis, erasing our disturbing proclivity to kill each other, and getting rid of whatever part of our brains keep reality shows on the air. Anyway, behind all the science of the super virus was David Robert Jones, though we never saw him, from his time at Massive Dynamic. That bit seemed kind of tacked-on at the end, but I'll bite.

The other interesting aspect of "Nothing As It Seems" involved Olivia trying to deal with her new life as Old-livia. Technically, it was the Fringe Division dealing with Olivia being Old-livia. An agent in the field who has memories of another life isn't good for the club, and after a grilling from the FBI shrink (probably my favorite scene of the episode), Broyles arrived at the decision to bench Olivia because she couldn't get basic facts straight (he even got her down to being 40 percent Old-livia and 60 percent new Olivia) despite appearing to be mentally all-there. And that's how the case tied into Olivia's story: Just as Porcupeople Part 2 was mostly familiar, so too was this Olivia. But that was all thrown out the window at the end, when Broyles reinstated her after she showed proficiency in the field. Or was it because the rest of the agents out there were that incompetent? I would not have minded the show having a little more bite and airing a few episodes with Broyles stiff-arming Olivia and Olivia trying to get back onto the frontlines.

And if flying procupeople weren't enough, the episode closed on a barge full of all sorts of mutants on its way to who-knows-where to do who-knows-what. I doubt Fringe is headed down the path of DRJ leading an army of reject creatures, but I also have no better answer for what is going on with that boat. Maybe it's the original prototype for Disney Cruise Lines and it's full of failed anthropomorphic Mickeys and Donalds?

There weren't any bigger-picture arcs going on this week aside from reminding us that this Olivia isn't completely one Olivia or the other. "Nothing As It Seems" was an instance of the gimmick outperforming the actual story, but the gimmick was so strong that it made for a fun hour of television that especially resonated with longtime fans, and given that Fringe might not be back next year, it could be perceived as a final nod to the viewers who got this show this far.



Notes from the Other Side

– There were really great Walter moments in this episode with the birthday gifts, bacon sandwiches, and Peter hugs. This Walter might be the happiest we've ever seen the guy. But he's also still relegated to being the lab buffoon. I'm waiting for him to get a heftier storyline.

– I hate silly "monster jumps out of the dark" surprises, but the one early with Lincoln made me pee my pants and I didn't hate it.

– There wasn't a whole lot of panic surrounding Lincoln's potential infection. I guess that's what happens when your daily routine involves investigating some really freaky stuff.

– This case took place in the other timeline years ago, correct? There's a bit of leeway to give the idea that an identical case could spring up years later in this timeline, but if you subscribe to the idea that even the smallest changes can throw things off in a big way, then this case could reasonably be occurring in this timeline now. Oh just accept it, it makes the show more enjoyable.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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This was probably my favorite episode of the season so far. Finally, all the characters felt like the old characters we loved from the beginning, and it seems the old Fringe is back.

Tim, I do have to partially question your questioning of David Robert Jones making an army of weird mutant creatures.The way I see it, DRJ has already succeeded in creating a new version of shape-shifters which cannot be detected. He definitely seems crazy enough to not only create these new beings, but to also create (or subtly hypnotize people into injecting themselves) these new porcupeople, or next generation of human evolution. After his success with the shape-shifters, isn't is possible that now he felt he needed more monsteresque humans? It would seem that the new monsters which have been created would be more of an efficient army for him... couldn't he be using them as the backbone for a new workforce for this new world he is attempting to create? Or maybe he is hoping to use them as guards to keep humans in line. Honestly, it doesn't really seem that far of a stretch for a man who has already created altered human beings, to want to create monsteresque humans. I think it is very possible that he has a purpose in mind for them.



Favorite line of the episode: "Now, I know what you're thinking... wouldn't it be easier to just eat people?"
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This twist on the show is interesting, it gives the writers a bit of a "redo" opportunity. Like fixing Fauxlivia having Peter's baby. I always found that too soap operaish for my taste, the redo (alternate universe) is better than it all being a stupid dream too. Too bad Broyles is still dead in the other universe though.
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genetically-altered-evolutionary noah's ark! all the creatures in the boat were in pairs.
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Palindromic words like madam or boob
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I never really like monster episodes. It was fun to revisit something we've seen in season 1, but a monster seems out of place in such a good science fiction TV show. On the same day I watched Fringe and Grimm. I have no problems to find monsters in Grimm, that's where they belong. But in Fringe monsters looks like a cheap way to explore a science subject.
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All the creatures on the boat were creatures from past episodes in the alternate timeline. We're now learning that Jones was involved in all those mutations. I liked what another poster wrote about the Noah's Arc of mutated creatures. I think that's Jones plan. The problem in this timeline is that with Peter missing in the beginning, they never stopped all those other events.
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One of the best episodes this season.

Walter was hilarious this week, I absolutely enjoyed every moment of him, from the presents, to being apathetic to Lincoln. John is brilliant, I love this version of Walter the most, can't wait to see how he'll pull of the next version, lets face it, this is Fringe, there probably will be another universe/timeline.

The case was a great callback to season one, the only thing that bothered me was that exactly everyone from the original flight was on board this time, come on? I also enjoyed that the episode reminded me of early episodes when the case's 'badguy' didn't get to much screen time and it was more about working the case.



I'm just gonna say it: What the hell was with Astrid's hair?



The Final ship scene: I'm so excited!!!! The porcupine monsters, the wired hybrid monster from "unleashed", the original prototype of the monster from "unleashed" from Walters note book (the spider legged thing) and the squid thingy from "snakehead"... this is a huge pay off for every fan of the show. last year we got a few callbacks to season one but this season its callbackpalooza! It reminds me of Alias' fourth season with the Rumbaldi device. My guess is that the writers are finishing the story this year, the finale will end the arc from the first season and open a new possibility for future seasons, if will get any.
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*spoiler idea*



i think that the whole boat thing is a play off of noah's arc. i think that DRJ is going to try to destroy the human race and has a boat of two of every new genetically enhanced human animal to repopulate the earth. anyone get the same idea when the boat guy said "you two quiet down"?
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Episode 13 - Season 1 (procedural) - The transformation - 12.78 million viewers.

Episode 15 - Season 4 (serial) - Nothing as it seems - 3.08 million viewers.



For essentially the same episode, 10M less people watched. I don't think I've seen a better example of how badly the majority of america watches TV. Especially with DVR's, how hard is it to watch a show once a week? You can't figure out what's going on in a show unless the entire story is encompassed in a single hour? Seriously?

There's a reason that CBS has the most viewers but the fewest reviews on TV.com (I'm assuming, I don't actually have numbers in front of me, POI is the only show that comes to mind). Procedurals are BORING!! How many times can you fall for a false lead before they find the real killer? C'mon!

Maybe the only thing we can hope for is that so many different channels are creaetd that 3M becomes a good numbers. Thank you NBC for getting a head start on that trend.

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The show has also been moved to 2 different nights/timeslots since then. Then the show got majorly serialized. So of course it dropped in viewers. Although you're right. It's annoying always watching Bubble Shows. It'd be nice to just be able to watch Fringe and not worry about cancellation.
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Best crossover idea ever alert!. Walter and Finch (POI), in a fear and loathing style ball trip episode.
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Fringe BETTER be back next year! I love this show.



I can't wait to for Walter to remember HIS past memories. Because he's Peter's Walter, too! The birthday gifts were the best part of this episode. Walter kills me.
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This episode just made me straight-up happy, guys!



Like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day (with mini-marshmallows), or seeing an old friend again after such a long time apart.



My favorite scene was when Walter was fondly gazing at Peter and Olivia while they were working on the case in the lab. For the first time in a long time he felt like he had a family. He was happy. And I'll be damned if that didn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.



PETER & OLIVIA ARE BACK! God, it's great seeing them together again. I almost wanted to go find a good tree and carve "P.B&O.D" in a heart-shaped box. Everything is right and as it should be in the world of Fringe again.



But I'm worried, guys. Peter and Olivia could give Romeo and Juliet a run for their money in the star-crossed lovers department. Nothing is ever easy with these two. And when I think about the endless amount of possible things that could screw this up, I keep coming back to when September said Olivia had to die. What exactly did he mean? I hope he was just talking figuratively, because in a sense Olivia has "died" and is being replaced by Old-livia. That could be what he meant, but I'm not entirely certain. I also think back to the LSD (tripping balls) episode, when Olivia matter-o-factly and nonchalantly said the man with the X on his shirt (or X-man) would kill her. That of course happened in a different timeline, but it still concerns me.



Ah well, at the very least I am extremely contented for now. My favorite television couple is back together. What more could I ask for?
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@fernkelsey write your review here or some other place that actually counts as Fringe support (personal sites really don't).



I really enjoyed this episose, great premise that was only possible in this show.



Wouldn't mind a bit of Alt-universe action though, and as Tim said, something bigger for Walter.
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Hey all you Fringies out there! Great episode!! Also, Tim, great review! I always like your sense of Fringe fan-ness that you put into your reviews! :) Also, I wrote a short review on my new blog, and I'd love to hear what some of you think!



http://themedialogue.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/fringe-s04e16-nothing-as-it-seems-review/



I promise, I'm not a troll or anything, just sharing my love of Fringe!

Thanks all!
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I read this and it was not particularly informative or interesting. Just some gushing that could've been written here. Don't bother...
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I enjoyed this episode a lot. It was creepy and nostalgic, and it felt like it had a ton of stuff in it. Like Walter said, the family is back together, and I'm loving the return of that. I'm also extremely interested in the new (or ancient) cult, that may be the over-arching villain of the season.



The ratings are the cherry on top for this episode.
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i enjoyed this episode. i actually didnt want to c the Olivia not being fit for duty thing drag on because the end with Broyles was exactly what i wanted, Broyles, like he has done in the past, sticking up for his best agent. The case itself was a great callback for longtime fans and of course netime Markham is there i love it. Poor lincoln though got the short end of the stick this week...but he had some funny moments here...and walter was awesome, his birthday presents for Peter was my favorite moment in this 1 hands down...for jones, my theory is that he wants to merge the two universes together, or create a new universe where he becomes the god of all things (create a new beginning out of chaos)...dunno how Olivia factors in but maybe he needs her powers to force people into submitting to his rule? food for thought
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It's been speculated that Jones want to merge the two universe so that both worlds will get destroyed , just like what happened in Welcome To Westfield. Then Jones can begin to seed new lives.
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Hey, maybe they're in an alternate timeline/universe where WE don't exist. God, I hope I don't just wink out of existence this week. That may or may not suck...
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I usually hate this kind of episodes ( or when a minor character makes a comeback ) because my memory sucks and I don't know what the hell happened back then, but this one was quite good even if you didn't remember the episode.

I like more this "timeline" now. John Noble is the man
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I watched season 1 in season 1, and had only vague memories of this case (and wouldn't have realized it was a semi-duplicate if they hadn't put into the "previously on Fringe..." intro.
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Does easy online jobs means spamming? Because I'd love to make more than mostly any job in the freaking world by just spamming nonsense stuff about making 5k a week doing online jobs.
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-I heart Walter a little too much. Bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. Sounds so disgusting. Sounds so Walter.

-Agree with both points here.

-I thought it was hilarious the way Lincoln started freaking out for like 30 seconds only for Walter to be all "it ain't no thang".

-I accept it. It's awesome. Plus the whole David Robert Jones thing could shift a lot of stuff.
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I wish I had some bacon.
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Having a case recur that Peter and the gang - and we - already lived through really screws with our heads - a-la Lost. It indicates - at least for now - that this is not Peter's timeline and 'splaining it could get dicey - if they even bother. But like you said, Tim, I'll bite - they really haven't let us down yet. I'm in for the long haul and I love the show. As for the cages of monsters, ho hum. There are a lot of threads to clean up and I'm hoping for the best that they will end this thing with the dignity that Lost didn't...
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Fans, and even the Observers seem to make one major mistake when talking about what's happening in this season. They freely interchange the terms parallel universe and timeline. These are not the same thing at all. Is this the same universe that Peter left? Yes. Olivia's body is the same body she had before, and the same is true for everybody. However, it is not the same timeline as Peter left. September said last episode that Peter was erased, and that created new circumstances for the universe after the events of Reiden Lake, so everybody's lives are different as a result. That is the very definition of a "new timeline," so why he felt the need to confuse things even more, saying that he's in his normal timeline, I have no idea. It's one example of bad writing in an otherwise great season.
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The problem is that something that happened before, happened again much later and differently. I'm sure most of us know that timelines are different than parallel universes but this is getting conceptionally confusing seeing as how they used their memories from the previous incident to help deal with this one in which one or more of the previous characters had died. If you're not confused then you're not paying attention...
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Very well explained, HH.



HH: Decoding Lost and then Fringe for the betterment of mankind.
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It is Peter's timeline. That was confirmed in last weeks episode, and alluded to in the episode before that. There is no arguing. Peter is in the right timeline. But erasing him changed SOOOO much. All these characters are our characters. They just need to remember.
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The problem here is that Peter's being erased caused things to change - rather drastically in some instances. It's not just memories. In order for the universe(s) to return to a world where Peter existed the timeline must change again. I don't make the rules and this conforms to the rules. The problem with Lost was that in the final season they tossed the rulebook out the window. Let's not do that here.
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Noah's ark or not , i thought of introducing monsters for overall story is so stupid for a great show like Fringe . I need something new and mind blowing not a fucking monsters right now!
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The second half of the season is getting very good, which is quite sad as I fear it'll keep getting better only to be told there's no season 5.



One more season. Pleeeeeeeaaaseee?!
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I do not get something. Didn't last week's episode revealed that this is not an "alternate" timeline ? That Peter was in his original timeline all along except for the fact that Peter was erased from everyones' mind, well atleast the Observers attempted to, but we found out that the power of 'Love' did not allow that to happen.

But if this is the original timeline, why is this case happening again ? And even if we give in to the notion that this is the alternate timeline, how is this case related to Peter that delayed the incident several years ?
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I think the idea the writers are trying to get across is that even the removal of one life, one persons existence, can have a profound effect on the universe. Also, that some things are inevitable and will happen one way or another albeit under different circumstances.
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Personally, I thought the closing scene was supposed to be something like Noah's arc. It seemed like it had two of each creature, males and females. You couldn't really see the other cages but the way they were talking the entire episode and the couples going on about being Adam and Eve, etc.that's what I assumed.



Given that information, I made a tiny leap and guessed one of DRJ's possible end games. Maybe he want's to destroy all of humanity and repopulate the world with these things. Again, Noah's arc. This is all guessing though, of course.
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It would reason with his "God complex". Interesting idea!
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"I would not have minded the show having a little more bite and airing a few episodes with Broyles stiff-arming Olivia and Olivia trying to get back onto the frontlines"



Couldn't agree more. It seems the writers are far too interested of "giving people what they want".
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"I doubt Fringe is headed down the path of DRJ leading an army of reject creatures, but I also have no better answer for what is going on with that boat"



Noah's Ark. A weird-ass Noah's Ark, but Noah's Ark all the same. Did you catch the weird squid thing from "Snakehead" in Season 2? It was swimming around in a tank on the ship.
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