Fringe recap – 4×16: ‘Nothing As It Seems’

Courtesy of FOX

Fringe takes us down memory lane with another solidly entertaining episode this week. Our Olivia’s (Anna Torv) memories are back, leaving her in blissful romance with Peter (Joshua Jackson) but what about the rest of the Fringe team? And what does the slow erasure of this timeline’s Olivia mean for this world?

Let’s take a closer look after the jump.

This week we have what seemed to be a straightforward monster of the week formula, but revisiting a case from the first season brings a freshness that solidifies Fringe‘s status as television worth watching. And while questions regarding the larger implications of what’s happening to Olivia aren’t answered, they’re on everyone’s minds throughout the episode.

Courtesy of FOX

We begin with essentially the same cold open as we saw way back in the thirteenth episode of Fringe‘s first season, ‘The Transformation’, with porcupine man Marshall Bowman (Neal Huff) beginning his pre-mutation at 40,000 ft. in the air. But the twist? He doesn’t complete his transformation in this timeline – his mutation is temporarily delayed. As enjoyable as it is to get a new take on a previous case, I was far more interested in what was bubbling underneath. Think about how we – the viewers – are implicated since we have seen all of this before. How do our expectations alter our experience of this new episode? It’s a nice metatextual example of how aware the show is: as we “remember” our previous experiences as viewers, it gives us a window into how the characters (Peter and Olivia) are working through the same issue with their own previous/present memories.

What an ingenious way to bring out the larger themes of the timeline weirdness that we’ve encountered during our journeys with Fringe division! What does it all mean in terms of the bigger picture for the show? Thankfully because these themes aren’t part of the “A” storyline (read: porcupine monster), our brains don’t explode trying to process it all in one go. Engaging with these issues in a slow-burn, multiple episode arc along with the characters will likely produce a more satisfying payoff when things are finally revealed to us later on.

In addition to Fringe going into “meta” territory, this episode felt like a wonderful trip down memory lane by further reintroducing past strengths of the show. First, we got the return of another vibrant character: eccentric bookseller Edward Markham (Clark Middleton). I’m loving the return of the memorable guest stars this season, such as Jared Harris’ diabolical (and unseen in this episode) David Robert Jones, Peter’s mum Elizabeth played by Orla Brady and now Middleton. I hope we get more face-time with these characters. (Fingers crossed for the reappearance of Kevin Corrigan’s bowling alley owner, Sam Weiss!)

We also get some great teamwork action in the lab with the entire crew, including good ol’ Broyles (Lance Reddick), who  returns with his trademark “stern father” vibes. His entrance nearing the tail end of the episode to presumably scold Olivia for working through her suspension is classic Broyles. The sheer magnitude of his authority is evident the moment he enters the lab, but he still somehow remains lovable despite his steely glares and stoic demeanor. I’m still hoping for a Broyles-centric episode, but I’m happy to have him back in this capacity if only for a little bit.

The other big conversation piece of the episode is the crazy closing sequence. First, a quick summary of the episode for context purposes: turns out porcupine man is actually just one of many followers who believe that a new stage in evolution is coming. Rather than waiting for an omnipotent god to kick-start everything, followers of the movement inject themselves with weird drugs to start the mutation. You could say “God” is involved, as its revealed the drugs came from Massive Dynamic (courtesy of a project initiated by David Robert Jones). It’s explicitly inferred that he’s behind it all. In the end, it appears that the Fringe team has eliminated the threat of these mutated monsters, but, as we learn in the final shot, they haven’t even begun to scrape the surface. We see a huge facility with a number of caged up Doctor Moreau-like creepy crawlies, presumably all of whom are involved in this ‘new evolution”. We then crane out to reveal they’re all aboard a massive freighter in the middle of the ocean. Bam! Fade to black. Credits.

Looks like the “big bad” of this season goes well beyond our-world/alt world relations as we get a further glimpse into Jones’ devilish end game, though the questions of what he’s up to and where we go from here remains a mystery.

Other Observations:

  • Poor Lincoln (Seth Gabel)! Turns out the sweet flirtation that was budding in the first half of the season is officially quashed now that Olivia has forgotten all about it. My heart breaks for Lincoln. I guess it’s true: the good guy never gets the girl.
  • I’m finding the science in the show is taking a backseat in favour of progressing the juicer narrative bits. We get a pretty glossed over – even outright ignored – explanation of how Walter (John Noble) is able to cure the infected Lincoln.
  • It makes the most sense that Walter is next to recoup his memories as Olivia did, but with his over-the-top enthusiasm for the developing relationship he’s building with Peter in this episode, I suspect that it will play out in a less obvious way.
  • A self-indulgent point: When searching for porcupine man number two (both at his house or in the plastic surgery lab), Fringe manages to make me jump more than The River ever did.

So what did you think Fringe fans? Did you appreciate revisiting a past case? Any other guest stars you’d like to see return? Any theories about the ship o’ monsters? Sound off in the comments section!

Fringe airs at 9pm EST Fridays on FOX.

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

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  1. Pingback: Fringe recap: 4×17 – ‘Everything in Its Right Place « Bitch Stole My Remote