Well, now we've got two of our real characters back. So that’s a start.
 
I’m accentuating the positive because I know if you’re still around, you still like “Fringe” and have little interest in reading anything negative. I don’t see a way in which this wasn’t the start of the show’s final stretch, but I really and truly hope there’s a fifth season of this show. Why? Well, for starters, it beats the hell out of another Gordon Ramsey-hosted cooking show populating the airwaves. Second? It might give the show a chance to go out on something besides a 22-episode recovery from a fundamental narrative mistake.
 
Even putting aside my season-long reservations with the decision to push Peter out of the way, this was a fairly mediocre episode of “Fringe.” “A Short Story About Love” finally put those two epically criss-crossed lovebirds together, and it’s a solid start for this stretch of eight consecutive episodes. But almost everything leading up until that climatic moment was a rote revisiting of the show’s signature moves. I’m all about a case-of-the-week that ties into the emotional state of the characters. Heck, that’s been the show’s MO since it found its groove near the end of Season 1. But when it feels like the show going through the motions rather than employing it as a dramatic necessity, the whole thing turns into a paint-by-numbers enterprise.
 
I’ve talked about “Fringe” with some friends over the hiatus, and a few of them pointed out just how much the missed the procedural nature of the show. It’s one thing for the show to go all in on its freaky nature. But it’s another to eschew a series of interconnected hours for a 22-chapter tale. I’d argue tonight’s episode had more of a stand-along aspect to its main plot than many of its episodes this season, but it wasn’t really strong. “Welcome to Westfield”, essentially a stand-along haunted town saga, worked wonderfully in comparison to this.
 
Tonight’s biggest problem? The villain of the week was non-descript to the point of being essentially invisible. Anson Carr was a cipher, not a fleshed-out character. (Pun semi-intended.) This meant his strategy – killing couples in the throes of love in order to concoct a love potion to enable everyone to fulfill their “right” to love – felt like filler more than the meat of the episode. I spent most of his onscreen time wanting to know how he ended up looking like a burn victim. Instead, we got vague proclamations about universal romantic rights. I wouldn’t harp on the lack of a three-dimensional villain, except the show has demonstrated its ability to do so on multiple occasions, especially this season. (Raymond from “And Those We’ve Left Behind” jumps instantly to mind.)
 
This, naturally, dovetailed into Olivia’s ongoing identity crisis in the wake of remembering things from the old universe. Whereas her memories of this universe once stood in the back of her mind, now they are disappearing completely. Also disappearing completely? Lincoln Lee’s dialogue, as he was reduced this week to making puppy eyes at Olivia and mentally humming Morrissey records to himself. As the two watch over a potential victim of Anson, they listen to her discuss how she’s never been truly able to shift from “being in love with someone” and “actually loving them.” This was the show’s anvilicious way of describing both Olivia and Lincoln. The latter pines for the former, whereas the former truly loves Peter. I think. I was having too many flashbacks to college and girls saying they “liked” me but didn’t “like like” me.
 
Where was Peter? On a scavenger hunt for September, thanks to Walter using a high-speed imaging capture machine to notice the Observer slipping a little note into Peter’s eye during their psychic confab. (Say what you will about “Fringe,” but what other show’s plot could be accurately described using that sentence?) The scavenger hunt leads Peter to September’s apartment, where he finds a GPS device that leads him to Foxboro. There, Peter finds not Tom Brady but rather a beacon, last seen for real in Season 1’s “The Arrival” (and inside the musical world of Season 2’s “Brown Betty”). Activating the beacon allows Peter to free September from whatever universal purgatory his fellow Observers had placed him in. I love the idea of September building an escape hatch. Nice of September to think ahead of the day in which he might need it, no? (Then again, it’s easy to think ahead when you essentially exist outside of time and space.)
 
After September appears, Peter begs the Observer to help him home. And here’s where September confirmed what I thought all season: Peter had been home all along, and that the Olivia now in this world in love with him is in fact the one he’s supposed to be with after all. On one hand, sweet: answers! On the other hand: didn’t we all at least suspect this? And if we didn’t, what to make of the final Olivia/Nina scene tonight? Objectively speaking, Anna Torv and Blair Brown knocked that sucker out of the park. Just awesome stuff between them in Nina’s well-appointed apartment. But all of the emotion of that scene is based upon the fundamental lie that is this entire season. How are we supposed to care about two characters about to lose memories of a reality that was never supposed to be in the first place? Shouldn’t we, in fact, be ROOTING for Olivia to not care and let the old memories wash over her?
 
September’s revelation sets up a myriad of questions about how the rest of the season will unfold. Is it enough that Peter and Olivia have found each other again? Will everyone else start remembering the way things were? Will reality itself start to shift along with the memories of those people? I’m not particularly interested in figuring that out, just as I’ve been generally uncurious about that all season. That I correctly predicted the nature of this universe isn’t something to boast about: It seemed like the logical end-game for this storyline. But having September essentially say, “A LOVE WIZARD DID IT!” seems like some seriously weak sauce. If powerful love could bring things back despite the universe’s desire to have it erased, then “Terriers” would still be on the air, darnit. I watch the show for these characters, and now I have another one fully back in the fold. The future can wait.
 
As for now, the real-deal versions of both Peter and Olivia are back. And that’s something. I don’t know if it will be enough to save the series from either cancellation or my low estimation, but it’s a start enough as we move through these next two months.
 
What did you think of the return of “Fringe”? Did The Observer’s revelations surprise you, or just confirm what you thought all along? Did Anson serve as solid villain or just an inferior version of the show’s normally strong antagonists? What do you want to see happen over the next few weeks if indeed this is the show’s final stretch? Sound off below!