Don't you hate it when you get a shapeshifter only to see it become obsolete the very next season by a newer, better model? Fringe explored that consumer annoyance in its own way tonight, giving us an up-close look at one of the new shapeshifters that makes the old ones look like your 8GB iPod. But "Novation" did more than just that. It answered several lingering questions about the differences between our old universes and the new universes, brought some guy named Peter back into the mix, and may have started an inter-universal war that will destroy everything as we know it. In other words, it was just another week for Fringe.
Peter's back and blah blah, we'll get to that later. First, I'd like to discuss the Shapeshifters, of which I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert on. So bear with me. "Novation" gave us the specs on a new breed of shapeshifter, the ones we've seen since the beginning of this season. They're the shiniest new model of the shapeshifters, able to retain the ability to turn into their previous forms (we saw a bit of that last episode, at least I think it was last episode, it's been so long), they can shift at greater speeds thanks to quad-core shifting processors, and they have super Wi-fi enabled typewriters. Finally! Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if you could push their belly button and ask for directions to the nearest dog groomer, like Siri. Finally, Peter believes that except for some hardware inside of them, they'd be virtually indistinguishable from whoever they bodyjacked. In other words, these shifters are badass and if for some reason someone sent a ton of them to our universe for some sort of war, we'd be pretty screwed. Foreshadowing alert!
What it also means is that Fringe is about to get some serious Battlestar Galactica stuff going on, with shifters able to slip into our midst with ease just like Cylons will in the future. Yes, this shifter might be the model worth standing in line for on release date. It's that good. And it's all fixed and healed thanks to Dr. Malcolm Truss, a former employee of Massive Dynamic that worked on cellular regeneration. He's kidnapped by one of these shapeshifters, Nadine, who old him she needs his help to get fixed because his research was used to help her regenerate skin as a cancer patient. She left out the bit about being a shapeshifter from another universe, though. Later, she's caught shapeshifting into Truss' wife so she played the "Be objective, you're a scientist!" card to get him to keep scientisting, and Truss whipped up a potion that fixed her. Oh Malcolm, you killed us all, you moron. Fringe's A-Team knocked down the door, but Nadine was able to escape thanks to ridonkulous parkour skills. At a bus station, she whipped out her Shifter Typewriter 4S and she did the tappy tappy thing on the keyboard to say she's got the formula. Remember this typewriter is Wi-fi so she doesn't have to be in the back room of an antiques store, and the response came back fast: UNDERSTOOD. BEGIN PREPARATIONS. WE'RE SENDING THE OTHERS.
Are they sending them all over so they can get the magical healing elixir? Are they sending them all over because it's time for war? Is there some sort of Groupon on inter-universe travel? I don't know. But if I had to guess, I'd say it's both A and B, and we're all going to die. Nice knowing you.
What I'm also not sure of is exactly who is the big boss of these shapeshifters. We're supposed to believe it's Walternate from these two universes, but is that for certain? Please discuss in the comments, because honestly, I don't remember if we found out. Even Walter early in the episode said it's reasonable to believe that there's a third universe out there, so why couldn't it be possible that these shapeshifters aren't from the Walternate universe? Perhaps they came here because they needed to get fixed up by our version of Dr. Truss, who is the only version of him left. I don't know what I'm talking about, I'm just throwin' stuff out there. And maybe these red and blue universes team up to fight the other universe! Okay, I'm really getting ridiculous.
Now we can talk about Peter. The best part about Peter coming back is that finally we have someone who knows everything we know, because unlike everyone else, he's the same guy we've hung out with the previous three seasons. It's like finding the only other person at a party who doesn't know anyone else there. Because as much as Walter, Olivia, Astrid, Broyles and others look like the ones we grew up knowing, they're not. Apparently some people are having a problem with this and can't emotionally connect with these new sets of Fringe characters. Technically, I can't blame them, but don't find it an issue. I see them as the essences of the characters we knew and a possibility of what they could be, and it also kicks in my paternal instinct to root for them to find their path and my internal philosopher to enjoy seeing how one small difference can have such a profound impact on their development. Sure, I miss the old Walter. But if I look really hard at the new Walter, I can see the old guy in there somewhere. That's something else to discuss: do you hate having to hang out with these new versions of characters we all loved?
But back to Peter. He's here, and he's remarkably together (and super confident!) for someone who should be banging his head off a wall of a universe where no one remembers him. But his return is a little underwhelming, and for some reason, I ain't complaining. We didn't learn much about where he's been, we didn't learn much about why he's here, and we get just a tad about why he left in the first place (Peter thinks he became a paradox when he should have died in both universes). We're not going to find this out right away, people. In fact, get ready to wait a long time to learn that and just enjoy it. No need to open your Christmas presents early.
It's clear Peter's return is not doing good things to Walter's head. It's so bad, that Walter's injecting all kinds of awesome stuff into himself to calm himself down because, well, he can. We know this Walter has lost two Peters, and the difference between this one and the one we know is pretty big. But there's a glimmer of hope at the end when Walter is able to look into Peter's eyes and see his son. Even though he claims Peter's return is his punishment, we get the sense that he may come around down the line.
There were also lots of lingering questions resolved. We found out that Nina practically (or literally?) adopted Olivia and her sister after Olivia's mom died. That's why they were so chummy a few episodes back. We also got intel on Walter's hatred of Nina; turns out he blames, or blamed, her for Peter's death as she told him not to cross the line. We also got confirmation that William Bell is dead (perhaps we already knew? Again, there's too much information in this show for a simpleton like me to keep track of).
[UPDATE] I forgot to add a bit about Olivia's deja vu, of which we've seen something similar before in the last episode. I think it's a "time slip," which was teased in the "next on Fringe." If you're unclear about those, you're not alone. I'm expecting next episode to be about that. [/UPDATE]
What made "Novation" such an enjoyable episode was that Fringe has been off for two weeks and it's been way too long. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But seriously, what made it so entertaining was how evenly the episode was distributed: we got a few questions answered about the relationships between these "new" characters, we got the thrill of having Peter back, and some new awesome shifters with super Wi-fi typewriters just declared war on us. Solid, solid episode.
Notes From the Other Side:
– I know I shouldn't really like any scenes without any of the familiar Fringe characters in it so much, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Nadine-Truss storyline. Plus Arye Gross! Remember him? Soul Man?
– This universe doesn't know anything about the Observers. Finally! Someone on my level!
– Did Olivia ask Lincoln out? I know some people are thinking that, but I didn't see it that way. I think she noticed Lincoln was acting a little down and just wanted to help him out.
– Yo! Was Dr. Truss' dog Vincent from Lost?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom