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Olivia Dunham has recently found herself unable to remember the events of her life since David Robert Jones’ cortiphexan injections helped awaken her to her past reality. In semi-related news, I found myself in the curious position tonight of no longer really remembering what happened on “Fringe
” before Peter fused the two worlds together. And honestly? I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. On one level it was almost definitely a good thing: “Everything In Its Right Place
” had problems but definitely stood out as one of the season’s strongest entries. But it’s also one of the strongest entries precisely because I no longer find myself wondering when things will return to normal. While that might be music to some of your ears, it sounds like Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” to mine.
“Returning to normal” is, of course, a subjective thing. And there’s no indication there will be a return to anything at all, even if Over Here Peter and Over Here Olivia now are swooning over each other while taking Gene out for a grazing day with Walter. A few weeks ago, Lincoln Lee’s emo-fused trip Over There would have elicited a few paragraphs about how his emotions only derive from a reality created by The Observers. Now? Whatever. You win, “Fringe,” for better or worse. If we’re watching a Lincoln who joined Fringe Division because a new Jones created a new series of shapeshifters that killed a new partner, then let’s talk about that one. Let’s talk about character types, rather than actual characters. After all, that’s what tonight’s episode was all about.
We’ve seen plenty of ways in which one character Over Here is vastly different from the one Over There. Usually, “Fringe” posits that each person starts off with the same deck of cards, lifewise, and branches out based on which cards are played when. (This is the Kenny Rogers Theory of Causality: You have to know when to hold timespace, but also when to fold it.) But the timid, reserved, unloved Agent Lee and the powerful, outgoing, and revered Captain Lee share nearly identical backstories. Agent Lee keeps waiting for the one example that can explain where his “superior” version zigged where he zagged, but can find no biographical difference to explain the divergence. As the two versions hunt for the same shapeshifting, crime-fighting vigilante, Captain Lee suggests it’s all about free will. He does so via dialogue “Fringe” often deploys out that would undoubtedly look awesome on an inspirational poster featuring a forest or a whale emerging from the ocean: “I don’t buy that we’re all just defined by our circumstances.”
If “Fringe” is only concerned with a season-long “what if” scenario in which these characters learned about what makes them tick, perhaps this experiment will ultimately find a way towards a graceful conclusion. That’s different than saying the experiment was worth it, since I’ll never agree that’s true. One or two episodes TOPS would have sufficed, and even then, it might have been too much. But if there’s a way to incorporate character continuity, at the expense of actual narrative continuity, I suppose that’s better than nothing heading into the show’s still ambiguous future. This Lincoln Lee isn’t the Lincoln Lee from the reality with which we started. No one on the show (save for Peter and Olivia) is. But just as those Over Here and Over There find themselves in disparate situations, so too do Back When and Here And Now versions find themselves operating under different precepts. (Good God. My nose is bleeding after typing all this. And I’m trying to defend the freakin’ show for once this season. Ugh.)
I’d argue that free will Agent Lee mentions tonight left the building the moment those bald-headed future scientists hit Ctrl+Alt+Dead on the universe, but hey, that’s the old me talking. Still, where stuff gets tricky here on in lies in the continuity of reality. Incorporating multiple viewpoints into one psyche? Difficult but possible. Incorporating multiple events into one physical plane? A lot messier. Let’s try to throw a few variables into the equation. Deep breath….
Olivia and Peter remember the old timeline, but no one else does…Captain Lee is dead, even though in this reality he apparently also survived a horrific injury once upon a time…Over There Broyles was once dead, but now he’s a shapeshifter, which means he’s dead but possibly in another way than saving Olivia as seen in Season 3…The old Jones died in Season 1, but he’s now alive…Also, he’s got a new breed of human beings in the works different from those in the old time line…But apparently THOSE shapeshifters also existed in this timeline, making Jones’ current work a whole new ball of interdimensional (amber?) wax…
I’m not sure Walter or Walternate, from either reality, could diagram this in a way that makes any lick of sense at this point. This means, of course, that I’ve probably just described a vital scene from the season’s penultimate episode in which that very map will be drawn in four-dimensional timespace by four Walters as four Genes moo mournfully in the background. My head feels like I just drank an ice-cold Slusho too fast.
This is what I meant about the double-edged sword of just going along for the ride. On one level, I enjoyed tonight’s episode more than any other this year. On the other hand, I enjoyed it because I let just about all over it glide over me. I could try to figure out everything in that previous paragraph. I just can’t muster up the energy or interest to do so. I’m not sure I ever truly cared, except in as much as it mattered to the characters I followed each week. After all, this show never used to glide over me. This show used to punch me in the gut.
I should care that Agent Lee got killed. I should be happy for Lincoln that at least one Olivia in one universe in one reality might actually give him a shot. I should want Alterna-Astrid to figure out her boss is a shapeshifter. Instead, I spent far too long tonight trying to remember why Over There Broyles was being such a jerk. I used to be on top of the show’s various narrative machinations, treating them as gospel while each week added layer of emotional impact atop a solid genre show. Now? The show’s all surface for me. It’s a nice, shiny, still horrifically gross surface. (The less said about the new shapeshifting technique, the better. MY GOD, no one tell the PTC that happened.) But a rolling stone gathers no moss, and a casual fan gathers no lasting impression.
It’s weird being a casual fan with only five episodes left in the season/series. It’s not something I particularly enjoy. More curiously, it’s not something I particularly hate, either. It just is. But if this fourth season wanted to strip everything away from the show that made it one of primetime’s more vibrant, vital, and intriguing hours in order to go on a season-long journey without any of those aspects intact, apathy is perhaps the best outcome possible. The powers that be at “Fringe” might say this entire season was in service to their characters. But to pivot off the episode’s title, nothing has been in its right place on “Fringe” for so long that most of us have forgotten where it is supposed to be. Being in tune with this season should have solved my problems with this show. The problem? I still miss the old song and dance. I’ve spent nearly a year watching a cover band play the same melody. Sure, they are striking a lot of the same notes. But it couldn’t sound more different.
What did you think of tonight’s Lincoln-centric ep? Were you in tune with it, or find it dissonant? With only five episodes to go, what do you see as this season’s endgame? If there were a fifth season, what should happen to wrap things up satisfactorily for you? Sound off below!
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