Maybe the whole baseball delay was a good thing, because imagine if we'd had to suffer through a months-long break after the end of tonight's episode, "Back to Where You've Never Been." Originally planned as the midseason finale, this mind-blower rolled credits after grabbing Fringe fans' jaws and slamming them to the ground (more on that later). But thanks to some late-game heroics from professional sports guy David Freese in November, we now only have to wait a week to find out what happens next! That probably saved at least a few Fringe fans from having heart attacks and breaking and entering Fox's HQ to steal the next episode. Thanks, baseball!
"Back to Where You've Never Been" was the type of Fringe episode I've adored ever since the notion of multiple universes was introduced. My nerd thermometer leaks Mercury every time the two universes intermingle. (That previous sentence wasn't meant to be vaguely pornographic, sorry about that.) You'll recall how much I loved this season's second episode, when *our* Fringe Division dragged a man to the other universe in order to stop his alter(nate-universe) ego, who was a serial killer. Seeing the cast of the show bounce back and forth between hairstyles and personalities is like watching high-production pretend time with quality actors.
This time it was Peter, Olivia, and Lincoln crossing over, after Peter came up with the idea to talk to Walternate in order to fix the Machine so he could get back to his own universe/timeline. While they were over there, Olivia and Lincoln figured they could get to the bottom of the imminent war between shapeshifters and their universe by snooping around. But of course, one can't simply walk into Walternate's office, and things got a little complicated as the other universe's Fringe Division wondered what these trespassers from the other universe were up to.
Our Fringe Division agents assumed that Walternate had sent over shapeshifters to start a war, but we (you readers and me) had correctly picked up on the idea several episodes ago that it probably wasn't Walternate who made the new hybrid shapeshifters... assuming Walternate isn't lying. There's a third party involved in this mess, and that third party has something to do with David Robert Jones, our old enemy from Season 1 who was sliced in half by a trans-universe portal (too bad the surprise was kind of ruined from a previous promo). But who does DRJ work for? And is that person of this universe? Or are we holding onto the possibility that there's a third universe? How many shapeshifters are in those tanks? Is this a shapeshifter war against one universe, both universes, or this timeline? Are these guys after Peter? Yeesh! It's time for Walter and Walternate to join noggins and stop these amorphous body snatchers from destroying the existence of everything.
And what's up with Broyles selling out Alt-livia and Lincoln to DRJ by letting him know they're coming? That's one of the fun things Fringe gets to play around with in using multiple universes and timelines. Each iteration of each character can be killed, altered willy-nilly, or even, as in the current Broyles' case, turned into a shapeshifter. (He IS a shapeshifter, right? Or is he just a sell-out?)
Only one thing's for certain: The final moments of the episode are the ones we'll all be talking about until next week. Back in the "other-timeline our universe" (nomenclature is getting very difficult, bear with me), Olivia had an impromptu meeting with Mr. September, our favorite gent from the Sexy Observer 2012 calendar. And September, after playing the most annoying game of "I'm going to say everything right as you say it," told Olivia: "I came to tell you. I have looked at all possible futures. And in every one, the result is the same. You have to die." *BRAIN EXPLOSION SOUND!*
Let's break that down a bit, because it was a fantastic scene with enormous implications for the show. Here's my theory: September has been scrambling around time and space trying to make things right. One idea was to erase Peter, which didn't really work, and that's what we've been dealing with in Season 4. Through his adventures bouncing around existence, September has been in this situation with Olivia several times before, and that's how he knows exactly what Olivia is going to say. It doesn't, however, excuse him for being such a jerk by repeating everything she says as if he were your annoying 10-year-old cousin. As for the bullet hole in his chest? Caused by a different Olivia in one of his other visits to this very same scene—an Olivia with less patience and restraint. For bonus points, I hope the writers make it the Olivia we know from Seasons 1, 2, and 3. But why does Olivia have to die?
One thing I keep coming back to is September's "all possible future" phrase. To me, that's very specific wording and confirms what we've suspected for a while: that Fringe is built on the abstract idea that we're not limited to just two universes,and that multiple universes and timelines are concurrently existing with the ones we're witnessing in Season 4. Throughout Season 3 we had concrete evidence of two universes, and in Season 4 Peter was erased. The show wanted us to think we were back in the same universes without Peter, but maybe we've just jumped to one of the other multi-universe scenarios (not necessarily those SAME two universes from Seasons 1-3 but without Peter). Actually I'm not even sure that makes sense or is anything that you didn't already know. I just know that I love it.
"Back to Where You've Never Been Before" was a very strong episode of Fringe and one of this season's best. If it's an indication of things to come (more back-and-forth between the universes, please!), Season 4 is headed in the right direction.
Notes from the Other Side:
– It seems like this other universe is full of shapeshifters in positions of power. Brandon, Broyles (we suspect), who else?
– How about that Nissan product placement, eh? Hey, whatever it takes to keep this show on the air. If the Fringe Division wants to wear Burger King logos on their uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so be it!
– How many people are working on Lincoln's hair? It's like four stylists all had an idea for what his hair should look like and they divided up his head, and then each person claimed one section and styled it however they wanted to.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom