A Hole In Your Life
Fox Network, Fridays, 9 PM
“Neither Here Nor There”
Teleplay by J. H. Wyman & Jeff Pinkner
Story by Jeff Pinkner & J. H. Wyman & Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Joe Chappelle
“We’re fixing the world. What other choice do we have?” – Astrid
There’s nothing like erasing a major character to leave the audience dangling at the end of a season. Last May, Peter Bishop established a “bridge” between two universes in order to keep them from destroying one another – and then vanished in mid-syllable. No one even noticed he was gone, because as the Observers observed, he had never been. So now we have a third universe, one which Peter Bishop created by melding two, and then erases himself? If he never existed, how could he manipulate the Doomsday Machine into creating the Bridge? And what happened to his son? My head hurts. Best not to think about these things too deeply.
“I’ve always had a hole in my life.” — Olivia
This season gives us yet another version of an alternate universe – our own, minus Peter. His invisible presence permeates this episode, even as his ghostly image flickers in and out of focus in the background, unnoticed by the others. Walter mumbles and stumbles through life, a little more cheerful but also a little more lost than the Walter who was obsessed with his son. At one point, Olivia even observes that he has had nothing to anchor him, his whole life. (And if he didn’t cross to the other universe to bring back his son, how did the hole between the worlds open up? My head hurts.) Olivia admits that she’s been restless and unsatisfied until life led her to Fringe Division, where she intuits she will find answers. Bolivia, our Olivia’s red-headed alter ego from the Other Side, is back to her cocky strut, apparently unburdened by an unexpected child by Peter Bishop. Most surprising of all is the presence of so many Fringe agents. For the last three years, the lab team has been the core of so many stories, rushing off to deal with Fringe events more or less on their own. Suddenly, we have FBI agents right, left and center, delivering bodies, investigating Fringe events, filling hallways. There are guards. There are pass codes to get into the Bridge. Where did all of this appear from, in only one week? This is more evidence to me that we are in a thirduniverse, a hybrid.
“A biological-mechanical hybrid – but these are different. These are human. And they don’t work.” — Walter
In keeping with these leaner economic times, I suppose, the writers recycle bits from earlier episodes. We had shapeshifters for three years; now we get the same again, on a different chassis. This time around, a human shapeshifter is trying to prevent translucence by extracting minerals from the blood of afflicted humans and injecting it. But the technique fails, and instead the victims become infected with this “translucence”. Which begs the question, is it a virus? My head hurts. The presence of these failed copies of the earlier, very powerful shapeshifters only deepens Olivia’s distrust of her Otherverse twin, Bolivia. As she notes to her alter ego, the last set of shapeshifters answered to Walternate, implying that this set does as well. Since Bolivia has shed the suspicion of Walternate from last season, we have to reset our expectations of her reaction, as well. She’s skeptical not of her boss, but of Olivia. We’re back to Season Two, in that respect.
“You are not a part of this investigation.” — Olivia
Besides resetting our main characters to zero, as it were, we get some interesting twists on others – primarily, the character of Lincoln Lee. Last season Seth Gabel absolutely enthralled me as his Otherverse version of Lincoln Lee. In the red world, he was the de facto head of Fringe Division, a tough guy totally focused on two things: protecting his world and loving Olivia Dunham. Seth Gabel’s story in the episode “Bloodline” was game-changing. I could not be more pleased to see this actor back in what looks to be a recurring role. This time, we get to see the Ourverse version of Lee: a funny, smart, compassionate agent who is shocked when his partner is killed by a man who somehow turns his partner translucent. Having had no prior exposure (that he remembers) to Fringe events, Lee is suspicious of Olivia, reserved around Walter, and fierce in his protection of the victims, even the dead ones.
“You mean you aren’t returning these people to their families? Can you imagine what that would be like, to have that hole in your life?” – Agent Lee
This Lee brings to the series something we have been missing: a conscience. Walter has none, Peter has very little, and Olivia is, well, flexible. But when Lee discovers that many Fringe victims are not being returned to their families, he explodes in righteous indignation, forcing Olivia to confront the inhumanity of Fringe Division’s “policy”. And after all, it strains credulity to imagine that the FBI could not manage a cover-up of a strange death, or falsify paperwork to fool families. The FBI is more experienced at making people disappear in credible ways than this clumsy attempt. Gabel’s dialogue does not necessarily show Lee’s emotions, emotions we have to read on Gabel’s wonderfully expressive face. The grief and anger that dawn on him as he realizes that his partner (Joe Flanigan, Stargate: Atlantis) will not be returned to a family Lee holds as close as his own is sincere, quiet, convincing.
“I don’t think there’s anything sadder than when two people are meant to be together, and something intervenes.” — Walter
Despite Lee’s initial animosity towards Olivia for usurping his case, we can see an emerging attraction towards her, reflected in his shy query: why did Olivia pull strings to get his partner’s body released, against all Fringe Division policy? Was it a personal favor? And if so, why? The Lincoln Lee of the red world fell in love with Olivia Dunham; it’s not crazy to think that the Lincoln Lee of this world will too. It stands to reason, if the denizens of the red universe are so close to the inhabitants of our own, that relationships might play out the same. Frankly, the longer Seth Gabel/Lincoln Lee is in this story, the harder it is going to be for me to remember Joshua Jackson/Peter Bishop. I continue to be annoyed, as well, by constant references to what was “meant” to be. Both Walter and the Observers insist that there is some overall plan, some structure or blueprint that has to be adhered to lest chaos descend. Philosophically, this means there is no true free will, which makes all of these characters mere puppets of fate. Perhaps this is psychologically pleasing to a screenwriter, but it makes for unsatisfying characterizations.
“There was a man in the mirror!” – Walter
The strangest thing about this episode, for me, was watching Walter panic when Peter’s image showed up. The man who destroyed two worlds to be with his son now does not even recognize him, never knew he existed. It’s a disturbing comment on love and relationships, disturbing to think that someone so beloved as a child could be erased from memory. But is he? Apparently memory is less pliable than we think, since the Observers are disturbed that Peter is not entirely gone. And how could he be, when the Observers themselves remember him? They seem oblivious to the irony of this situation, as they order the Observer to “erase” him from time. After all, if they really succeed in this mission, how will they know?
“Sometimes answers lead to more questions.” – Olivia
Last season’s finale, in which Peter disappeared, finished at a 1.2 share for adults, a dangerous low for a prime time broadcast network show. This first episode of the fourth season roared back with a 25% uptick from those numbers, bringing 3.5 million viewers for a 1.5 adult rating. Those are not great numbers, but for a Friday night on Fox, maybe it’s enough to keep the show going long enough to find out what happened to Peter Bishop. I just hope that his return does not mean the departure of Lincoln Lee; he’s just too good to lose.