Last night's Fringe season premiere showed us the Fringe team through a new pair of eyes — the viewpoint of Lincoln Lee, who's never met them in this reality. And our heroes looked surprisingly unsympathetic. Is it because this is a brand new universe, or because the team has always been kind of callous and heartless?
To be honest, "Neither Here Nor There" didn't entirely knock our socks off. It's a good solid "monster of the week" episode, although the week's monster may turn out to be a recurring threat. Mostly, the episode was concerned with reintroducing us to the Fringe Division via Lincoln, whose partner gets murdered by a man with translucent skin. Lincoln wants answers, and he winds up getting sucked into the Fringe Division's investigation.
And along the way, we learn that many things in this new timeline are the same as ever — Olivia still got involved in this world when her partner was caught up in the skin-melting incident from the show's pilot. And she still sprung Walter Bishop from a mental institution to help catch the bad guy, but was unable to save her partner. And Walter still experimented with crossing between universes, even without the motivation of saving his son — and Walternate still has good reasons to hate Walter.
The most striking thing about the episode isn't the see-thru serial killer — who turns out to be one of a handful of new-fangled shapeshifters that we can only assume were created by Walternate to screw with this truce. Nor is it all the detective work that Olivia and Lincoln go through to find the killer(s) — in which Lincoln turns out to be invaluable, noticing that one witness seems to know more than the rest, suggesting that all the victims may have had an iron deficiency like his partner, and finally suggesting that the killer may be using the Commuter Rail. No, the most striking thing is what a jerk Olivia is.
The episode goes out of its way to make Lincoln sympathetic — and to make Olivia unsympathetic. When we first see Lincoln, he's putting up with his late, slovenly partner, who can't even put on pants without Lincoln's help. And Lincoln is good with kids and stuff! Lincoln is chasing a bad guy who gets the drop on him, and Lincoln still kicks the guy's ass.
Then Lincoln's partner gets munged by the Shapeshifter 2.0, and then he meets Olivia, who wants to take his partner's body away and is so secretive about what she's going to do with him, that she seems kind of insane. And then there's the scene, above, where Walter says he's keeping the killer's victims for experimentation. And Olivia says they can't return the dead bodies to their families, because there would be too many questions. You have to wonder if this was always true, even in the universe with Peter in it, and we just never knew.
Someone who'd never watched Fringe before might think Lincoln is the hero of the show — not only does he come up with all the clever detective stuff during the investigation, but he's also the righteous everyman, who's appalled at the idea of letting families think their loved ones might still be alive.
Of course, Olivia does soften over the course of the episode, and forms more of a bond with Lincoln. And she does let Lincoln's partner's body go back to his family. And eventually she takes him through the crazy rigorous security screens to visit the other universe for the first time ever.
And at the start of the episode, we get our best look at why Olivia is such a jerk, via a tense conversation between Olivia and Fauxlivia over who's more untrustworthy, in this new truce between universes. It seems like in this version of reality, Olivia is very much alone. And instead of stealing Olivia's life and boyfriend, Fauxlivia just stole Olivia's life. I sort of wonder if in this version of reality, Olivia was just locked up "Over There" instead of joining the other Fringe team — since she doesn't show any sign of recognizing Lincoln Prime from having worked with Alt-Lincoln for months.
And towards the end, Olivia says, "I know what it's like to have a hole in my life. It's been there as long as I can remember." So it's like she knows something (or rather someone) is missing, but she can't put her finger on it.
Meanwhile, Walter is also incredibly damaged, thanks to Peter's absence. He's afraid to leave the lab and constantly on the verge of wigging out, but he still gets a few great moments — including bringing a dead bird back to kinda-sorta life, hiding out in the isolation tank and then romping around naked, and eating popcorn while demanding to see the anus of the recently deceased woman.
So even though Peter has been erased from the timeline, traces of him still remain, and he's bleeding through. In particular, he's tormenting his poor crazy father, who keeps freaking out about seeing a man who isn't there. He's sleeping in the back room of his lab, in a horrendous kind of dorm-room setup with an aquarium and television.
The Observer — the Michael Cerveris one, who originally distracted Walternate from finding a cure for Peter's illness, and started the troubles in the first place — gets assigned the task of finally erasing Peter from the timeline. But after painstakingly assembling a machine to flush the remaining bits of Peter from the universe's cache, he seems to have second thoughts, and doesn't actually activate the machine. He looks genuinely conflicted for a moment, before disobeying his instructions — and I wonder just what the consequences of not flushing Peter out of the cache will be. Will the universe itself be at risk because we have a superfluous Peter knocking around?
At any rate, for now the only person who can actually see the phantom Peter is Walter — and given how much crazier he is in this version of reality, we can't really count on him to believe his own senses. For now, anyway.