Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 4: “Subject 9”
Written by Jeff Pinkner & J. H. Wyman & Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Joe Chappelle
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Fox
This week, on Fringe: Walter is inspired by The Matrix, Olivia has a new magnetic friend (or two), and the two go off on a buddy cop adventure. Also, Peter’s back.
In the past few weeks, many Fringe fans have expressed displeasure at the direction the season has taken, doling out answers slowly and spending very little time on the Peter mystery. Many wondered how long it would take before he showed up again, and just how much time they would feel they’d wasted when he did, as either this new timeline would be negated by Peter’s reemergence or the previous 3 seasons would be negated if Fringe didn’t revert to the original timeline upon his return. This week, the writers took their first steps towards Option C, bringing Peter back and keeping the current timeline (at least for now) while maintaining the original through Peter’s memories (and the Observers), all while executing an excellent character study of both Olivia and Walter. In what has been a strong season, “Subject 9” is the best episode yet.
Anna Torv and John Noble consistently deliver in their roles, but both shine particularly this week. They have a good script to work with, and what makes this episode so great is the time we spend with the characters. The Case of the Week is little more than an excuse to get Olivia and Walter out on the road together and what we see once they’re there is a gentler Olivia than ever before and a Walter just as damaged as last week, but with an inner strength and resolve that neither of them knew he had. He struggles on the street, but plays his part in interviewing Cameron’s neighbor perfectly. When Fauxlivia replaced Olivia, she was better with Walter than ours had been, but this new Olivia is better than either of them. She shows a patience with and understanding of Walter that our original Olivia never really had and she doesn’t seem to have any bitterness towards him- quite a feat given their past. Yes, she’s the most reserved Olivia yet, but perhaps she’s also the most forgiving. Astrid is again sidelined, and Broyles gets even less to do than her, but though episodes featuring both of them are long overdue, this was not the week for it.
“Subject 9” should feel like a retread. Once again, the gang investigates a Cortexiphan case, but in this new reality, everything old is new again, and Jeff Pinkner, J. H. Wyman, and Akiva Goldsman deserve credit for making this story fresh. Fringe Division never explored the Cortexiphan cases, we learn, and, in more evidence of the stark differences in this Olivia, she brings the trials up to Walter casually and prompts the trip down memory lane. What was a narrative dead end (interesting it was, the Cortexiphan Kids plotline eventually felt played out) is now fertile soil for future episodes. In this way, it is far more successful than the retread of the shapeshifters we got earlier in the season. The Kid of the Week, Cameron, gets enough screen time and backstory to be interesting without feeling like too much of a red herring. The writers manage to sell, about a third of the way through the episode, the possibility that the “attacks” on Olivia are unrelated to Peter, and yet when the story comes back back to him towards the end, the trip to New York doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Watching Walter teach Olivia the best way to drink a root beer float is enough of a justification for the entire episode itself, but the exploration of the characters and their pasts is what really makes the episode work.
In what could have been a rather heavy episode, we get several moments of much appreciated levity. The aforementioned scene is great, but perhaps the most fun scene in the episode is the exchange we see between Walter and Nina (via Astrid). This new antagonism is promising and a lot of fun, and hopefully we’ll get more such scenes in the future. Also of particular interest is the tidbit dropped that Nina was around when Olivia went to the prom. She and Olivia clearly have a closer relationship than in the previous timeline, and that’s something one can assume we’ll see more of. The handing of the Peter reveal is another check in the success column. Rather than stretch it out and end with a shot of Peter appearing, we cut immediately from the power station to Reiden Lake. Instead of ending with Peter’s return, the cliffhanger is the realization that the new timeline remains unchanged, as does Peter’s original timeline/memories. Showing the Observer waiting by the lake also adds an interesting wrinkle to things, but one can only wonder what will happen next. Walter is still fundamentally Walter, but how is this Olivia any better for Peter to be with than Fauxlivia?
Fringe is consistently well written, acted, and executed, but this week’s episode is particularly stylish. Chappelle demonstrates a lot of visual flair, particularly in the angles he chooses. The sound design is fantastic, and even the lighting guys seem to be extra on-the-ball. If they keep this up, Fringe will quickly be the show to beat; it’s already neck-and-neck with The Good Wife as the best the networks are offering. Now that Peter’s back, and we’ve had enough time to really get to know these new (and in some ways, more interesting) versions of our characters, the next episode can’t come quickly enough.
What did you think of the episode? Glad to have Peter back? Post your thoughts below!
Follow me on Twitter @theteleverse to see what else I’m watching and to let me know what you’d like to see at SoS TV