Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 8: “Back to Where You’ve Never Been”
Written by David Fury and Graham Roland
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Fox
This week, on Fringe: Peter crosses over to the Other Universe, Lincoln plays Clincoln, and shapeshifters are once again up to no good
After a long break, the best sci-fi series going is back. This week’s episode was intended as the fall finale, but when the best Game Six in World Series history shook up the schedule last October, it was pushed ‘til now. Its original position in the season is easy to spot- with its fantastic ending, “Back to Where You’ve Never Been” would have functioned excellently as a tease to take the audience through the hiatus and may have resulted in the series getting a bit more end-of-year list love. It’s not a perfect episode, but a few key scenes provide clues to the larger picture, reinforcing (or, for some, restoring) the viewer’s faith that there is indeed a plan.
After spending so much time this season with a third iteration of our main characters, this week we meet a fourth. One might expect this Walternate to be the same as the original one, as Peter’s erasure wouldn’t affect the Other Universe’s timeline. Most of the episode plays on this expectation and John Noble is predictably excellent throughout the episode, both playing in to and later subverting our expectations. The brief time spent with this Fauxlivia and Clincoln (still looking for a better name for the Other Lincoln, btw) shows them to be similar to their counterparts, setting us up nicely for the late episode turn. It’s a smart move, aside from its purpose as a mislead. Not only is it logical for both versions of Fauxlivia and Clincoln to have had similar experiences up until encountering Peter, it streamlines things a bit. Audiences already have three distinct personalities to keep track of for each main character- adding on a fourth, particularly with so little dramatic need for it, would feel a bit excessive.
Before we cross to the Other Universe, however, we spend some time with Walter, Olivia, and Lincoln. Each actor gives their usual strong performance, but the most entertaining element of the episode in this Universe is Olivia’s clear play of Peter. The ease with which he accepts her placation that, for now, it’s all about him, is fun and also shows Peter’s state of mind. Were he fully on his game, she never could have pulled that on him- he’s the con man, not her. Instead, he’s so wrapped up in his quest that he misreads her, Lincoln, and later Walternate. Time will tell if this is a trend in his behavior or a lesson he’ll learn, leading to a return to his earlier, less trusting nature.
Though this is an episode of reveals, teases, and big moments, several of the smaller ones in the Other Universe stand out. Lincoln’s first moments outside the Opera House and spotting of the Twin Towers is played extremely well, with subtlety and stillness. Peter’s trust of Fauxlivia is also a nice choice. Newer fans may connect this to his trust of his Olivia, but more likely, this connects to his time spent with, for lack of a better descriptor, his Fauxlivia and demonstrates his forgiveness of her for at least her betrayal of him, if not Olivia. Our time with Fauxlivia and Clincoln is fun, as ever, and while Kirk Acevedo is still sorely missed, bringing in Seth Gabel full time has proven to be a wise move. The script is strong overall, but Peter’s reunion with his not-mother is a particular standout. Orla Brady radiates warmth and love and Joshua Jackson is nearly glowing with contentment.
The small moments are nice, but what people will remember from this episode are the big ones and the moves made this week are bold. Both Universes are under attack by the shapeshifters. Other Broyles is (presumably) a shapeshifter. Other Brandon Fayette is a shapeshifter. Walternate is a good guy whose entire organization has been infiltrated. David Robert Jones is back, growing clones, and up to no good. Perhaps most ominously of all, The Observer is back, gutshot, and can see only one future- Olivia’s death. In a season many found too slowly paced and lacking in direction, this episode’s momentum is a welcome change and one that will hopefully stick.
It isn’t a perfect episode, unfortunately. Walter’s early scene with Peter is utterly undermined by poor sound mixing and underscoring. John Noble’s performance is moving, but the cello line (in particular) turns every bit of Noble’s emotional punctuation into exclamation points. Fauxlivia’s walk with Clincoln from the Opera House to their car is cut together incredibly awkwardly. The three locations used are clearly not connected- they don’t look remotely similar and in a show that’s used teleportation and consciousness transference (ie, time travel-ish) in the past, such a poor attempt to hide disparate locations sparks immediate confusion. Perhaps most frustrating is the blatant Nissan commercial we’re treated to early in the episode. Some will be annoyed by its lack of subtlety (though it doesn’t even approach the brazen car commercials in Bones) but as a series constantly on the bubble and in need of massive budget cuts to even possibly come back next year, perhaps this particular brand of selling out is acceptable.**
**As a musician, I feel it’s important to note that almost everyone sells out. I sold out in middle school. As soon as you take a gig, or in TV, a network note, that you don’t want to because of money, you’ve sold out. Does this excuse poorly handled product placement? No. But certain people’s over-eagerness to criticize based on “selling out” merely demonstrates foolishness on their part.
Despite these complaints, “Back to…” is a strong installment and one that goes a long way towards moving Fringe from the more contemplative and episodic season we’ve seen thus far to the action-packed thriller of previous years.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Are you excited for Jared Harris’ return? Post your thoughts below!