After spending a few weeks away from Fringe—and even longer away from Peter Bishop—it’s tempting to treat the return of both as a cause for raucous celebration, regardless of the content of the actual episode. But “Novation” isn’t exactly a powerhouse; it’s more explanatory and less sensational, designed to explore the immediate ramifications of Peter’s inconvenient reappearance, and to set up some of what’s to come. Next week’s Fringe, I’m told, is more of a wow. (I have access to it right now, but as is my custom, I won’t watch it until after the discussion of this week’s episode has run its course.) “Novation,” on the other hand, is more sinew and bone than muscle.
But it’s well-structured sinew and bone, I’d say. I particularly appreciated the way the writers—along with Joshua Jackson—handled Peter’s reintegration into the Fringe Division family. I’ve always hated the It’s A Wonderful Life approach to alternate realities, where the George Bailey of the story refuses to grasp that he’s in a different world and instead runs around like a lunatic, shouting, “Mary, don’t ya know me?!” Peter doesn’t do that. He very quickly figures out that this isn’t exactly the same world he left, and so he goes along with the program (and even has a little smirk on his face when Broyles has him locked up in a holding facility, as though he’s thinking to himself, “Same ol’ Broyles”). Peter then adjusts his plan as needed. Early on, he figures that if he can just get Walter alone in a room, he can explain everything and his brilliant, intuitive father will grasp it. Instead, when Peter starts talking about the machine the binds the universes and the Observer who saved his life as a child, Walter freaks out. He’s never heard of the Observers, and though he knows about the machine, he wasn’t the one who built it. Peter quickly realizes that he’s going to have to deal with the Walter that is, not the Walter he remembers.
“Novation” gets more into how Walter has changed. We find out that he hates Nina Sharp because he blames for the death of Peter-2, since she was there when he fell through the ice. And we find out that ever since both of his Peters died, Walter has been convinced that he doesn’t deserve joy. He keeps mementoes of Peter scattered about to remind him of what a mistake he made, as a way of punishing himself. That’s why it bothers Walter so much when he looks at the grown Peter and sees “the eyes of my boy in a man’s face.” It’s a moment Walter’s long imagined, and it makes him so happy he can’t stand it.
Naturally, while all this angst is playing out, Fringe Division is handling a freak of the week. One of those new-model shape-shifters, last seen wearing the form of Nadine Park, has now disguised itself as the wife of Dr. Malcolm Truss, in order to access the files from Malcolm’s Massive Dynamic experiments on cellular replication. The only problem is that Malcolm has recently separated from his wife, which means the man “Nadine” kills in the Truss’ home is the wife’s boyfriend, who knows nothing about any files. So Nadine travels to where Dr. Truss is now living, and kidnaps him, explaining him that she was a cancer patient who was cured using the techniques he came up with at Massive Dynamic, but that the cure needs a little tweaking.
The scenes between Malcolm and Nadine are much quieter and more complex than the typical Fringe freak interactions. (They’re also a little wooden, unfortunately, due to the performance of the actress playing Nadine.) Nadine tries to gain Malcolm’s trust, not just by telling the cancer story but by encouraging him when he talks about getting back together with the wife that Nadine has already killed. Nadine also insists that the late William Bell was wrong when he shut down Malcolm’s project, claiming that “some things are not ours to tamper with.” Nadine disagrees, believing that Malcolm’s work is genuinely important. But after the shape-shifter inadvertently changes identities during one of Malcolm’s tests, the doc’s confidence is shaken, and he tries to slip her a hypodermic full of a fluid that he claims will induce a state of permanent hyper-replication, but will actually induce fatal hemorrhaging. Nadine is not fooled. Thus ends a budding friendship.
And that’s a problem, because as Peter figures out back at Fringe HQ, this new breed of shape-shifters is capable of switching between every identity they’ve ever taken, right down to their DNA, which makes them all-but-impossible to track. Sure enough, by the time the authorities arrive at Malcolm Truss’ super-lab, the shape-shifter has parkoured its mercurial ass away from the scene, and has found its way to a secret spot where it can type a message to the other side, saying that it got what it needed from Malcolm. The response? “Begin preparation. We’re sending the others.”
So that’s the set up for what’s to come. But what I liked most about “Novation” was that within all the set-up and explanation, Fringe delves into something important. After Peter’s first failure with Walter, he takes a second run at the old man, telling him that he knows what Walter’s capable of, and that he’s confident that Walter can figure out how to fix whatever they’ve screwed up. But all the while that Peter’s saying that, there’s a red light flashing in the background, and I seriously doubt that this light is merely an atmospheric piece of set design. It reminded me of “Nadine” telling Malcolm that he had to let his wife go so that he could pursue his amazing scientific breakthroughs (that, y’know, might just lead to the conquest of the Earth by an army of extra-dimensional shape-shifters, but whatever). Embracing destiny requires sacrifice. Just as Malcolm had to lose his marriage to lend aid—however inadvertently—to the other side, so Walter maybe had to lose Peter to prevent the other side from winning. After all, to date, his meddling has only made things worse. “Some things are not ours to tamper with,” as William Bell once said.
And yet, here’s Peter, craftily re-wiring the communication box in his cage so he can hear what’s going on outside, and smartly offering suggestions about how to beat the shape-shifters by studying their memory discs. Why is Peter back? Who tampered with what? And what will he and Walter nearly destroy this time?
- We find out more of the Nina/Olivia backstory in this episode: Nina took Olivia and her sister in after they were orphaned, and raised them as her own. No doubt that was another reason why Walter has hated Nina for long. Not only is she partly responsible for killing Peter-2, she’s been leading a happy life with her adopted daughters—one of whom is a runaway from Walter’s research—ever since.
- But what of Lincoln Lee? We see him trying to assert himself a little more this week, asking Peter if he thinks he could decrypt another shape-shifter memory-disc (cue Broyles: “I’ll ask the questions!”).
- Walter speculates initially that the grown Peter might be from a third universe. That’d be a hell of a thing, huh?
- Walter’s dish of the day: his son’s favorite dessert, custard.
- Anybody else take one look at Malcolm Truss’ super-lab and think about how much meth he could cook in there?