In my review of last week’s episode, I had this to say about Peter and his quest to get back to his timeline:
It seems as if rather than going home, Peter has brought his home to him. The show is trying to tell us that home isn’t a place, but rather something you build. It has taken us most of a season and a hell of a lot of confusion to get here, but Fringe is finally making progress towards building that home.
Well, it looks like I was completely wrong. In the final couple of minutes of “The End of All Things,” it seemed as if Fringe was doubling down on the idea that Peter was in the wrong timeline, with him reaffirming his desire to get back to “his” Olivia. But I can’t shake the feeling that Peter’s quest to get back home is just another wild goose chase, that he really is where (when?) he’s supposed to be, and that the next few episodes are going to be a huge waste of time.
I’ve made no secret of my opinion that this season of Fringe has mainly succeeded on an episodic level, but has twisted its overarching story into a convoluted mess of alternate timelines, switched identities, and general what-the-fuck-ery. “The End of All Things” was the perfect embodiment of that opinion, delivering a tense, exciting, emotional hour of television, but amplifying tenfold all my irritations with the season’s mythology.
A surefire way to pump up the excitement is to put out a “rescue mission” episode. Sure, there was no way that the episode was going to end with Olivia still in captivity, and I think everyone who was watching Fringe last night knew that. But the tension came from seeing exactly how our heroes were going to wriggle out of this one. In this case, it was a helpful hint from September, leading Peter to activate Olivia’s Cortexiphan abilities, that allowed Olivia to escape from Jones and Alt-Nina’s clutches. Along the way, we got a (simulated) torture scene, an electrocution, a Nina/Alt-Nina fake out, and a trip inside an Observer’s brain. All pretty exciting stuff, no?
Sure, but we still haven’t made any progress this season, and it’s infuriating. We still don’t know what the hell Jones and Alt-Nina are up to, for one thing. All we’ve learned is that their plans involve Shapeshifters, Cortexiphan, and Amphilicite. And, oh yeah, Jones is apparently immortal now because of all the times he’s crossed over. Didn’t doing so make him horribly ill back in season 1? Way to contradict yourself completely, Fringe. (EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that Jones became ill because he was teleporting, not because he was crossing over. It was William Bell who was brought to the brink of disintegration by repeatedly crossing over. So, there’s still a contradiction in that crossing over should have made Jones weaker, just like Bell, but it’s not as egregious as I believed earlier.)
As far the Observers, we learned a smidgen of information about them – they’re researchers from the future – but we don’t know why they’re researching timelines (or why they have an addiction to hot sauce). Why does September think it’s so important that Peter be reunited with “his” Olivia? Why do the other Observers disagree? We don’t know the answers to these questions yet, and they’ve been floating around for long enough that they should have been answered by now. In fact, most of the scene in September’s head was spent explaining to Peter things that the audience already knew. As such, it felt pointless and anticlimactic.
But the most galling thing about this episode was how it ended, with Peter reaffirming that he wanted to get back to his original timeline. I understand what this means in emotional terms for the characters, with Peter having to let go of a timeline to which he now has some attachment. (And Joshua Jackson sold the hell out of it. Kudos to him.) However, in practical terms, it means that Peter is no closer to getting home than he was at the start of “Novation.” In other words, we’ve spent ten episodes going around in circles. And to what end? To tease pieces of a villainous plot that don’t cohere whatsoever? To get us invested in Amberlivia’s life only to have her transform into the Old Olivia, demonstrating that Amberlivia was just a disposable placeholder character? Does that mean that all the Amber versions of the characters we know and love are equally disposable? What’s the sense in getting invested in any of them if their personalities can change at the drop of a hat? What’s the sense getting invested in any of them if we’re not even in the right timeline?
Of course, I could be asking the wrong questions here, and Peter may indeed be in the correct timeline. In that case, I’m even more annoyed. The show shouldn’t spend an entire season going back and forth on the validity of the new timeline. Either it’s valid or it isn’t. That doesn’t have to invalidate the old one; I can imagine a version of Fringe in which our characters merrily hop between timelines like a bunch of racially diverse, multi-gendered Observers. Sure, it would be confusing as fuck, but it wouldn’t require any timeline to be the “wrong” one, per se. At this stage, it seems like the only option. We’ve spent so much time in this timeline, getting to know the subtle (and unsubtle) ways in which it differs from the old one, that to get rid of it entirely would be inexcusable. On the other hand, Peter’s quest to get back home has provided so much of the emotional backbone of this season that to get rid of the old timeline would be even worse. There has to be a way to make this all fit together, to integrate both timelines into the story satisfyingly. But given how circular and unproductive the past ten episodes have been, I’m not confident that the next eight will bring us any closer to that goal.