After such a tantalizing first season finale and a long summer hiatus, this season premiere seems like a bit of a step backwards. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The show is complicated enough that the writers had to be conscious of the learning curve for any potential new viewers. With the buzz surrounding the show, the producers had to know that the first hour back would need to be a primer of sorts.
Enter the new Agent Jessup, who is essentially designed to help the audience get back up to speed. As Agent Jessup gets herself acquainted with the ways of Fringe Division, thanks to a personal interest in the strange and bizarre, so does the audience ease into their world again. While that might seem like a waste of time to those well-versed in the DVDs and minutia of the "Fringe" mythos, it's a necessary evil.
The plot is not unlike something that one would expect from a classic "X-Files" season opener, with the Fringe Division in danger of being shot down and one of the leads reeling from some inexplicable personal experience of great import. With the presence of otherworldly shape-shifters now part of the story, the writers made a point to reference, however obliquely, its forebear. It won't help make the case that "Fringe" is more than just a retread of the "X-Files" mythology, but anyone still beating on that drum is unlikely to come around anyway.
In a nutshell, Olivia doesn't remember much from her jaunt into the alternate reality or her conversation with William Bell, but the enemy (apparently from that alternate reality) wants to find out what she knows and eliminate her before she can tell anyone else. This soldier can take on the form of another through the use of a specific device with three nails (nice Christ imagery). In the end, Olivia is saved from the assassin, but Charlie is killed and his form is assumed by the assassin, setting up a subplot going into the season.
The nice part about Olivia's condition is that her process of discovering the truth and uncovering her memories will lead the audience on the same revelatory path. She knows something is hidden, she knows it will be vital to the survival of everyone in the Fringe Prime universe, and now all the principles know that the war with the Alt-Fringe universe is coming home to roost. Questions abound regarding all of those aspects of the story.
I've mentioned more than once that the creative team behind "Fringe" seems to be dedicated to treading the same ground as "X-Files", only without making the same mistakes. While the continuity aspects for "Fringe" have been a vast improvement, they need to be careful. "X-Files" suffered from a lack of forethought, so there were a ton of loose details that were never tied into the overall tapestry in a satisfying manner. The origins and purpose of the shape-shifter should eventually be explained, even if the motives seem to fit what is already known from the first season.
Playing fair with Agent Jessup would be another good move. One major drawback to the structure of "X-Files" was the limited cast. The writers never made a solid effort to provide a means to expand beyond the Mulder-Scully dynamic. Characters like Doggett and Reyes were brought in far too late, and earlier supporting characters never seemed to get the right amount of development.
Agent Jessup has the potential to take the story in new directions, while allowing the core Fringe Division to remain the focus. In particular, I'm intrigued by how she has taken the incidents from the first season and linked them to imagery from the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic tales are a personal favorite of mine, particularly in terms of how different writers tie in interpretations of Revelation (see: "Supernatural"), so that immediately gained my interest. Once again, the Biblical imagery and connections were all over "X-Files" mythology, but they never seemed to gel into anything definitive. Hopefully that will not be the case with "Fringe".
I found it intriguing that the operatives from Alt-Fringe (if that's where the shape-shifter indeed originated) have collaborators in Fringe Prime. It also appears that the ZFT terrorist groups, developing the technology originally conceived and tested by Bishop and Bell, are simply engaging in their end of a cross-universe arms race. This leads me to believe, as before, that Walter was responsible, perhaps along with William Bell, for initiating the war. I can't help but think that stealing Alt-Peter and bringing him to Fringe Prime ties into it all.
I also love the imagery suggested by the use of the "magic mirror". Clearly that particular typewriter is supposed to be a product of the Alt-Fringe universe, and the mirror connects it to either someone or an identical typewriter on the other side. The metaphor of the "mirror universe" was a nice touch, and further underscores the notion that it is only these two universes that are involved in the current crisis. (Which, of course, would make sense if it were the result of Walter's very personal and specific act.)
I've compared "Fringe" to "X-Files" quite a bit in this review, but that's partly due to the references that were in the episode. Also, I think it's a fair comparison to make, since the premise is quite similar and Abrams is infamous for creating shows that are, in essence, his own versions of classic concepts. This season premiere was as much about paying homage to the past as it was paving the way towards the future.