Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 5: “Novation”
Written by J. R. Orci and Graham Roland
Directed by Paul Holahan
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Fox
This week, on Fringe: Walter reminisces, Peter LoJacks a shapeshifter, and Olivia experiences déjà vu.
The first four episodes of this season have been leading to this point, Peter’s return, and after last week’s preemption due to the Game Six heroics of the St. Louis Cardinals, anticipation for “Novation” was high. Few episodes could live up to this hype, but even putting that aside, this week’s installment is underwhelming. It’s not a weak episode- plenty happens to move along the various story threads and we get some nice character beats with Olivia and Walter, but after a spectacular build up, Fringe seems to have bobbled, though not dropped, the ball.
A few major questions have been answered. Olivia and Nina’s relationship is illuminated, explaining their closeness and Olivia’s happier disposition. It would seem that while she still had a lot of darkness in her youth, this time around there were some happy memories thrown in as well. We’re also given an explanation of Walter’s animosity toward Nina and while it’s nice to have that gap filled in, it’s too bad we won’t be treated to any more of his hilarious antagonistic rants. The tidbit dropped that this Fringe Division is unaware of the Observers is interesting, but the main info-dump this week pertains to the shapeshifters. Of all of the repetitive elements of this season, they remain the only one that feels like a cheat or retcon. They smack of writerly regret at the original handling of the concept, that the PTB wish they’d made the original shapeshifters harder to spot or hadn’t killed ‘em off. At this point, the prospect of a shapeshifted mole in Fringe Division prompts annoyance, rather than intrigue. We’ve seen Charlie killed and replaced. We’ve seen Olivia kidnapped and replaced. While it’s always possible the writers will surprise, going back to the well a third time just feels lazy.After Battlestar Galactica’s excellent execution of a similar concept (biomechanical enemies hidden in plain sight), even a mediocre one will grate. Here’s hoping there is a larger purpose for the shapeshifters other than those discussed this week.
One element handled very well is Peter’s return. Any hope for a simple fix, even interpersonally, is out the window and Peter is more alone than he’s ever been (while corporeal, at least). Joshua Jackson plays him well, falling back into Peter’s cockier season one persona and only letting a glimpse of his fear and sense of loss in his scenes with Walter. Olivia’s confusion and distrust of her own thoughts and reactions is also well played and prompts thoughts of John Scott and his trips through her mind. It would be very interesting to know if that particular incident occurred in this timeline- Olivia has met the man of her dreams at least twice now. That has to leave a mark, particularly on one so hesitant to trust in the first place. Once again, Jasika Nicole is wasted, with Astrid reduced to practically a cameo. More time is spent with the shapeshifter, who seems to prefer hanging out as Nicole, and Dr. Malcolm Truss, played by reliable character actor Arye Gross. Neither Gross nor Michelle Krusiec (Nadine) are given much to do, besides drive and play with sciencey stuff, and therein lies the main problem with the episode.
Not much happens. For an episode that’s been built to for this long, very little actually transpires. There is a lot of sitting around and talking about things (and a few exchanges that are poorly disguised visits from the Exposition Fairy), but for the most part, it comes off as filler. No season can be all build, there always have to be slower weeks for the viewer (and the show’s budget) to catch their breath and prepare for the stories to come, but this is not the time for that. We are told that Peter stopped cooperating after talking with Olivia at the end of “Subject 9”, instead of shown. We are told Walter hated Nina for her actions at the lake, instead of shown. We are told Truss had a falling out with Bell, instead of shown. Yes, some of these would be difficult to do in a different way, but piling them all into the same episode makes for a lot of people explaining why they feel the way they do and very little of people making decisions based on how they feel or, at the least, demonstrating how they feel.
It’s not a bad episode. It’s well executed and one can see how moving the pieces to where they are at the end of the episode will allow for certain stories to come in the next few weeks. After the excellence this series has demonstrated in the past, however, it’s a bit disappointing to be able to see the strings.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Did you like getting Peter back? Post your thoughts in the comment section below!