Fringe Review: Nothing As It Seems ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Review: Nothing As It Seems

      Email Post       3/31/2012 03:42:00 AM      

“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 Winter is coming! Yipee!)


Anonymous said...

He was locked up, but nothing prevented him from having someone buy it for him. Most hospitals have services which can help in such things. They could have easily seen it as part of a coping mechinism and allowed him to do this. After all in this timeline he went nuts because of his wifes suicide.

I loved this episode. Something more intresting to me is how DRJ was able to go in and erase files. To me this hints at someone on the inside. If this had been done when Alt nina had swiped the vials, then there would have been Video of her accessing it.

Anonymous said...

I tend to disagree, if FRINGE Nation can tolerate such apostasy. I think this ep was one of the weakest of season 4. Further, it plodded along glacially with tons of 'filler'. There was a couple of cute moments, but not enough to make up for the downside. Comparing to Season One is kind of damning with faint praise. Then the story doesn't end as much as it stops. With maybe six eps left, do we need to be creating more loose ends to resolve? I think they cando a whole lot better.

History said...

History : I Love Fringe All the eps, cant wait
for next eps17 I think someone Will die
(olivia or lincoln ) that to bad:(
On this Episode 16 the Psychiatrist is The same person in Season 3 ep 1 ( Olivia )
Yes,Oh Yeh ;D

pMaestro said...

I was thinking Dr Moreau meets Noah's Ark ... one pair of every new species ...

Zepp said...

Thanks Josie Kafka, by their views and settings in your post, I liked them very much.

Even though I will fall into the common place, I must say, I also consider this a great episode, solid and very interesting, in my expectations of the content presented so far in Fringe, without a doubt.

It seems to me that Fringe has led me to another parallel universe, and is showing me as all that has happened, especially at the start, or how it might be different if viewed from other angles. One way or another, we seem to be reviving, wonderfully, some certain times of the 1st season of Fringe. In this new context, the old context emerges gradually, like flashes. It appears that some already known to us, Fringe phenomena reappear with a new reading, with another "dress", with differences in the attitudes of the characters located in other atmospheric sounds, but with the same "faces" known to us. And amidst all this fantastic new context, is "unchangeable" Peter, who experiences it all, trying to include this new world, in its relentless pursuit of something that existed only for him. Peter got me looking more like a "traveler," where he, occasionally there is, also, from one moment to another, can also not be there anymore. In reality - or unreality - the universes are changing around him, which, in a magical way he (and us ..) fits somehow experiencing unexpected, drastic changes every door he opens, or that closes behind him. Fringe is this: a masterpiece that should have at least a fifth season!

jophan said...

Funny, while I found the porcupine-men the most egregiously pseudo science of S1, I thought the episode "The Transformation" was one of the best MOTWs of that season. (My favorite was "The Dreamscape", which also tied back to John Scott, though that wasn't why I liked it. Just, killer butterflies that were really a hallucination brought on by toad venom was so cool, and even plausible!)I particularly liked the fact that, if they had to go to transmogrification, they at least acknowledged that it would be fatal.

This new context attributes Conrad's transformation virus, the medicinal parasite from "Snakehead" and possibly the hybrid critter from "Unleashed" to Jones' conspiracy. Well, all right, I guess that reduces the number of independent crackpot experimentalists. But Jones must be damned convincing to get people to sign on with him, and I've never seen that.

I'm not sure why they've set up the necessity of Olivia forgetting her Amber life, but I presume there's a reason, and I hope it's better than just driving Lincoln away.

Mariló García said...

1. Cómo pudo comprar regalos Walter?

2. La revista Hump ya salió en el epi 3x4.

3. Beacon Hill puede ser una pista del The Beacon que reaparecerá ¿?

4. Me gusta que Walter tararee la Valquiria justo antes de saber que los puercoespines vuelan.

5. Es la cuarta vez que sale el tipo de la libreria, ¿algún patrón?

6. Ed habla de renacimiento, el glifo del epi 4x3 era Reborn. ¿Alguna conexión?

7. Snakehead ya aparecía en el epi 2x9

8. ¿Algún guiño a Frank Zappa y su disco Titties & Beers?

Anonymous said...

I love lincoln... just an excellent actor and interesting character wasted in this show.. shame on it

Old Darth said...

I love these type of episodes which I refer to as Aftermath episodes. Rarely do TV shows examine the emotional consequences of characters after a major event. Fringe does this on a regular basis.

The cost of Olivia's memories being replaced not just for her but for all those involved deepens the characters and makes them more dimensional.

Yes the cost results is the diminishment of narrative thrust but I think the price is worth it.

Plus tying David Robert Jones back to the S1 episode - The Transformation - and repurposing it for the current arc entertains and I found the execution wonderfully intriguing.

2 big thumbs up from me on this one.

Murtagon said...

Notice the reference to the scifi book Lake of the Longsun by Gene Wolfe when Olivia and Peter visit the bookstore? Many of the themes of this episode were taken from Wolfe's book i.e. the book features genetically and robotically enhanced humans that can fly. The were also other subtle references to the book scattered through the episode. There are 4 books in the Longsun series, a great read.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but I have to agree with the second comment. I didn't mind this episode, but it was certainly one of the weakest. I almost feel like repurposing S1's "The Transformation" instead of creating a brand new episode or brand new FOTW was too easy.

I feel I didn't learn much about DRJ's next move. So he may or may not be creating hybrid zoo animals. But for what? I wished they was more of a lead. I did like the Lincoln focus tho which brings me to believe in the next episode, he may encourage Alt-Lincoln to just go for it! (At least before Fauxlivia starts remembering Peter and baby Henry. Yikes.) Either way, they could have focused the story more on the arc.

Zepp said...

I, for my part, I assume that everything that is happening now is that there is now everything is already mixed, but rather it is a phase of miscegenation, accommodation, yet, what happened and there, with what now exists, with this new context, which became Fringe. The episodes so far this 4th season are somehow explaining or answering questions I had. For example, these porcupines men who now are flying, we now know that stem from an experiment designed for a "human being" with the distinct impression "replace" the human race(!) Before we did not know for sure where, and what, or why the transformation that porcupine man, quie later died at the plane crash! And now we have the knowledge that comes from a ship full of them!. I liked this last episode, it was not one of the most prominent, at least it was plain, while some issues. What I do not like that Olivia is undefined. Olivia before, was more protagonist, more incisive in their actions, had more initiative, with a more direct action. What I see now "after-that-kiss," with Peter, Olivia is one, almost a "wife", that works out, and "husband" Peter, makes dinner for her, waiting for her at the end of another day of work. I did not like it, that "sugared" scene has nothing to do with the Fringe, I know. There's something wrong there. But like Fringe, it has another meaning, I'll wait for it all unfold

But in the other hand, we now have new villains with thorns, which fly up for the worry of the Fringe team. By the way it all: And the Shapeshifters 2.0, where they are now? They are enemies or partners of Porcupines-Men?

Kelly said...

The cult transmogrification in this episode made me happy because it could be a parallel of Olivia altering herself to be with Peter--which I hate! When Peter needed Sept's final say so on "his" Olivia in the last, it reminded me of his favorite book, 'If You Meet Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.' Hypocrite much? What happened to looking inside yourself? Olivia thinks she's changing herself to be better too. But why cast aside all the meaningful relationships of your life (she erased an entire NEPHEW) for one man who you just met? Why not just get to know him again? This is totally twisted. I used to be all for O/P, but now I've done 180 & think it's gross!

constantcoefficient said...

While at first it felt kind of weak, I think this is just the beginning of a major exposition, going back to the origin and meanings of the ZFT. They haven't talked about it this entire season, yet the "cult" seemed to have a lot of similarities, and it always bugged me that the first season and some of the second was so geared on this ZFT and the pattern, but it was just all wiped away as part of the alt-universe war (which seemed to be part of the same fight, but it may not be).

The curious part that has yet to play out, which I feel is completely tied to what happened in this episode, is what happened differently in this timeline which involved William Bell. Whatever happened there clearly affected the timeline/activity of David Robert Jones and the ZFT.

I really look forward to seeing them break down the details of this portion of the show's origins. Honestly, I can't wait. They talked so much about the pattern and mad scientists experimenting on the general public as some crazy facet of this ZFT community, and I'm very interested to see them go back to that (especially as a common enemy to both universes!)


milostanfield said...

The glyphword for "Transformation" was AVIAN, and that was 3 years ago. And now we got a flying porcupine thingy! Nothing like planning ahead.

45 said...

unknown, I suggest you watch a short story of love, the observer said THIS IS HIS OLIVIA and Olivia didn't just meet Peter, she had memories of him and other things that Peter wasn't even part of. So enough of your feminist crap and it's beyond annoying.

Oh And btw, you'd think that Olivia would have already had known that Rachel had a son as well as Ella BEFORE Peter ever showed up so dont even bash Olivia or Peter for that matter.

constantcoefficient said...

I think Olivia's choice is more a reflection of her abused history. Even in the "prime" universe she always felt not good enough, and Peter made her feel loved and valued, which is why marionette struck such a chord, she had real love and family, something worth living for, and she felt Peter chose "a happier Olivia". In the amber verse, she had never had that love and naturally chose what she saw as a "happier Olivia", versus her view of herself as perpetually damaged goods. It's sad, but very understandable, and I think in the end all she did was choose what made her feel at home, even if it means completely abandoning her home. Come to think of it, its an extreme parallel to Peter accepting the blue verse as his home, despite being betrayed (and saved) by Walter, and finding true love as a consequence.


Anonymous said...

In addition, Olivia never "altered" herself. It happened on its own. It wasn't her choice. No one knows why or how.

Now as far as trying to stop it, yes she did make a choice not to stop it, but how can you blame her? I think the main focus of that episode was finding romantic love. She has never felt or found true romantic love until she "merged" or whatever with blueverse Olivia. They always say friends and family will always be there for you no matter what. I don't think she really lost anything by giving in to these changes. If anything she only gained.

Tsp1215 said...

In 3.22 "the Day We Died", when Peter's consciousness was thrown into the future and Olivia murdered by Walternate, Walter told Peter he needed to make a different decision with the machine. Walter also told Peter that Olivia would be their fail safe should something go wrong. Somehow, Walter knew that Olivia would always remember...

Anonymous said...

Best review I have read so far on this episode. I think you nailed it. As much as we thought "The Transformation" was a standalone, non-pivotal saga from season 1, this episode proved otherwise. I hope this episode turns out to be as pivotal in season 6.

I would add - you don't have to shoot the porcu-primate hybrids... just sing "Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty, Little Ball Of Quills..." - - they go right to sleep if you do.

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