Dear Lincoln: Olivia will never be your Constant. Love, Fringe

Fringe's shapeshifters have been a catalyst for exploring questions of identity many times in the past — including the time when Peter became a serial killer and wiped a bunch of them out. So it's not surprising that last night's shapeshifter-centric Fringe episode was all about Lincoln Lee's identity, and his paper-thin sense of self. Poor Lincoln.

Spoilers ahead...

So in "Everything In Its Right Place," Lincoln Lee volunteers to visit the Other Side to be Debriefed by Fauxlivia — because he's just realized that "our" Olivia will never, ever Debrief him, since she's already busy Debriefing Peter. And no sooner has Lincoln arrived Over There, than he's pulled into helping to investigate the case of a prototype shapeshifter who's running wild and killing people to take their DNA, so he can stabilize himself a bit longer. The prototype, Canaan, isn't a bad guy, though — he's only killing criminals, like rapists and junkies and probably shoplifters. (For some reason, the normally ruthless David Robert Jones hasn't tidied up this loose end, even though he easily could, since Canaan is expecting Jones to contact him with news of a cure for his condition.)

The two Lincolns and Olivia finally track Canaan down. And after one of Jones' people makes a ham-fisted attempt to kill him, "our" Lincoln convinces Canaan to help them take down Jones — netting them a database of all the shapeshifters on the Other Side, plus Evil Nina, who has never looked so much like a cartoon villain as she does in this episode. Meanwhile, Lincoln comes to terms with the fact that he can't wait for Olivia to give him a sense of identity or selfhood — so instead he gloms onto Fauxlivia, who conveniently has a vacancy becuase alt-Lincoln just died.

It's all a bit tidy, but the good news is, it's fun to watch, thanks to a typically terrific performance from Seth Gabel as both Lincolns. Also great: Anna Torv bringing her usual sparkle-with-hints-of-depth-beneath to Fauxlivia.

Dear Lincoln: Olivia will never be your Constant. Love, Fringe

So basically, Lincoln is a rootless drifter, who doesn't know who he really is — just like Canaan. Neither of them made any real connections with other people, even before they got yanked into the world of shapeshifters and alternate universes. They each carry items that underscore their failed attempts at connection: Lincoln has his Native American talisman thingy that his dead partner gave him, which symbolizes traveling through life's maze and finding home. He tried to give it to Olivia a few months ago, but now she doesn't even remember anything about now that she has a head full of memories from the wrong universe. Meanwhile, Canaan has a photo of the son of a woman he dated, who eventually dumped him. (And he now stalks the kid at soccer practice, using his shapeshifter power.)

I have to admit, I groaned a bit when Lincoln starts giving Canaan therapy and telling him that he has to stop waiting for other people to define him and give him a home. It's one of those "the main character shows he has learned something in this episode" moments that feels a bit forced, when you try to use that moment to resolve the "A" story at the same time. I also was somewhat nonplussed when Lincoln decided to give the shapeshifting serial killer his last precious memento of his dead partner.

As Canaan says at one point, there are people who just move effortlessly through life, and everybody remembers them — but he's not one of those people. Even before he became a man with no face, who has to keep transforming into a new person every day or two.

Dear Lincoln: Olivia will never be your Constant. Love, Fringe

Lincoln, meanwhile, has a foil who actually does get to be someone that everyone remembers and connects to: alt-Lincoln, who's been with Fringe Division for seven years and has the full-on swagger going on. The two Lincolns butt heads a lot during the episode, and then they start trying to puzzle out why they're so different, given that their upbringings and life experiences seem so similar. (It's pretty clear that one key part is that alt-Lincoln has been with his Fringe Division a lot longer, in a world where Fringe agents are public heroes, instead of top-secret. Plus alt-Lincoln has spent a lot more time around his Olivia, and his Olivia is a lot more fun.)

Oh, and along the way, we hear about some fun differences between our world and Over There, for the first time in ages. Instead of Batman, they have Mantis — who may or may not be anything like the short-lived Fox show called M.A.N.T.I.S. Instead of Benjamins, they have Filmores. And apparently the U.S.S.R. still exists, since they have tourist packages for it. Oh, and newspapers have moving images, Harry Potter-style.

Dear Lincoln: Olivia will never be your Constant. Love, Fringe

And we get our first clear indication that the damage to the other universe is healing up, and all the areas that were ambered over the past couple decades are being reclaimed. (No clue whether all of the people trapped in amber are alive and able to return to their lives, like in the episode about the bank robber.) I hadn't been sure if building the bridge between universes automatically fixed the damage, or just allowed the two sides to work together to fix it. More and more, this season of Fringe feels like a coda or epilogue to a story that ended with the end of season three.

Anyway, Lincoln hands Canaan over to Walter, who can't wait to study help him. Walter manages to get a few of the episode's funniest moments, despite barely being in it, including Grazing Day. Canaan will be in good hands with the Bishops, because it's not like Peter put on a sinister hoodie and went on a shapeshifter-killing spree a while ago or anything. And then Lincoln decides that the death of alt-Lincoln leaves a vacancy Over There, so he can get the attention from Fauxlivia that he couldn't get from Olivia. And maybe catch David Robert Jones and avenge his dead partner, too.

(Oh, and what was the ACT UP sticker in alt-Lincoln's locker about? Are the writers trying to tell us something about one of the ways the two Lincolns are different?)

I kind of love that the episode ends with Lincoln apparently having learned nothing after all. Despite his huge speech to Canaan about not waiting around any longer for someone else to define him or give him a home, he's still doing just that. He's just switched Olivias. And judging from the hurt, guarded look behind Fauxlivia's smile when she welcomes him, he's only going to get himself hurt again. There's no universe in which Olivia will be Lincoln's Constant.