By Josie Kafka 3/31/2012 03:42:00 AM Categories: Episode Review, Fringe. Season 4, Nothing Is As It Seems
“It is either a miracle, or an accident.”
The Fringe showrunners have said that this season is a love letter to the show, and this episode’s extended callback to Season One’s “The Transformation” didn’t just revamp an old story, but complicated it, and extended it. It also shows just how far this show has come in terms of both individual scenes and larger ideas: “The Transformation” was a weak episode of a show that was finding its footing. “Nothing As It Seems” is a strong episode that plays on many, if not all, of a mature show’s strengths, including a delightful willingness to mix humor and pathos.
The framing tension of this episode was Olivia’s increasing amnesia about her old life. The FBI, unable to grapple with such fringy craziness, wants to take from her the one thing she isn’t willing to give up: her job. While it’s a bit disturbing that she’d sacrifice knowledge of Nephew Eddie for Peter, I’m unable to criticize her decision. She feels it is correct, and it’s so wacky that I must assume it is correct for her to gradually become the Olivia we’ve known for all these years. Correct—but is it a miracle or an accident? Engineered or happenstance?
What does that mean for this world that we’re in now? Who knows? An old case sorta returned, but with enough changes that it seems more like a coincidence appropriate to two universes that are closely related. Walter is less crazy than he was earlier, but we could chalk that up to Peter’s influence rather than a merging of Walter-brains. In other words, we still have no idea whether Olivia is changing, or if the entire universe will, or something else. It’d be weird for the entire world to re-set, again: as Peter and Olivia’s conversation with our old friend Ed Markham indicated, this really isn’t the same world at all.
(Olivia was re-instated, which is almost a pity: I was imagining Season Five as Peter and Olivia living a life of universe-hopping moral crime, righting wrongs under the radar and beyond the government. Like Torchwood meets Person of Interest with a dash of Leverage. Wouldn’t that be awesome?)
All that aside, the highlight of this episode wasn’t the mythos or Olivia or the gigantic flying porcupine man. It was Lincoln “Good Guy” Lee’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day and his tragic realization that he’s not only lost the girl, the girl has lost her memory of their brief flirtation. On top of that, he also: realized he was such a “good guy” that he wouldn’t fight for a girl he can’t have; got attacked by a giant porcupine; had to participate in his own suturing; was treated like a child by Walter (three times); became infected with a giant-flying-porcupine virus; had his suspicion that he didn’t belong in this ersatz family confirmed by Walter, who only values him for his chess-playing abilities; went on a bacon-eating binge; had to drink a wheatgrass, penicillin, mint, and laxative smoothie; got attacked again; got beat up by a girl; had to be rescued by the guy who’d taken his crush. And he accepted it all with adorable humiliated grace.
The fat-eating gigantic flying porcupine was also interesting, although I am having some difficulty seeing how anything that bumpy and moany could represent a step forward in evolution. The “secret cult” that adhered to the doctrine of guided evolution had a touch of Dr. Moreau, but the final scene indicates either: 1) the cult has a huge bankroll and is putting a lot of effort into their culty ideas, or 2) an evil criminal mastermind has created a complicated pseudo-religious background to create a bizarre menagerie of creepy monsters. I’m leaning towards number two. Either way, I hope we see more of them, because that was Gaeta from BSG!
Weird Is A Matter of Degrees:
• TSA Agent: “Not since Bush II.”
• Olivia: “What? The world isn’t going to live up to my every expectation?”
• Walter: “I like porcupines. Shows that God has a sense of humor.”
• Walter: “Did you find his genitals, son?”
• Walter: “Which was that, good or bad?...I’m not clear. Which was the good news?” The good news/ bad news distinction is a direct allusion to a conversation in “The Transformation.”
• Olivia: “Porcupines are nocturnal. They sleep during the day.”
Walter: “So do vampires.”
• Olivia emphasized Jones as the overriding concern of this season. I suspect we shouldn’t forget about him.
• I’m a little confused about how Walter could have bought, wrapped, and stored all of those gifts while he was in St. Claire’s. Ideas?
• Yiddish is not an ancient language.
• I loved Lincoln “Porcupine” Lee eying Walter’s love handles like they were yummy, yummy food.
This was a fun, fast-paced, interesting, funny, tragic, uplifting episode. But I’ve been reserving judgment for most of this season, and I’m going to do it again tonight. It feels like an abdication of my reviewer responsibilities—I ought to offer you some wacky Doc Josie theorizing for you to agree with, disagree with, and dissect like mad. But I can’t. As fun as this episode was, Fringe refuses to even hint at possible answers and has, throughout the season, undercut any sense of narrative direction. All I can say, at this point (again) is that we’ll know by the end of the season whether or not this was a good episode or a great one. Right now, though, I can’t tell if Fringe is spinning its wheels or building to an explosive finish.
How many porcupines out of four?
(Josie Kafka reviews episodes of Fringe, Awake, Vampire Diaries, and Game of Thrones for billiedoux.com. Winter is coming! Yipee!)