Reflecting on FRINGE Season Four: William Bell, Altered Timelines, and Destined Love

On the verge of its 5th and final season, FRINGE has lost no momentum as it races towards its climatic series finale.  The entire 4th season was a carefully-crafted science fiction dream come true.  FRINGE has always dared to dream the impossible and then made it possible.  In fact, it was audacious enough to end its first season by introducing its fans to the alternate universe.  It then upped the stakes by ending its second season with the kidnap of Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) in the alt-verse as her doppelgänger takes her place.  Then, to the horror of fans everywhere, in its third season finale, FRINGE dared to kill its hero Peter Bishop (Josh Jackson) and erase him out of existence.  So began the 4th season of FRINGE as fans wondered how the show could possibly go forward without Peter.

Season 4 was risk-taking at its finest.  It asked the audience to trust that the writers had a plan to reintroduce Peter into the series in a seamless way that only FRINGE could dream up.  Even the best attempts by the Observes to eliminate one of their greatest foes could not stop the miraculous survival of Peter Bishop.  In using The Machine at the end of Season 3 to help restore balance to both universes, Peter sacrificed himself and inadvertently became the “ghost in the machine.”  With residual bits of Peter still in Walter (John Noble) and Olivia’s memories, as well as Peter’s ability to appear on reflective surfaces and in a person’s dreams, Peter himself seemed to be straining to gain a foothold back in our reality again.  Thus, when given the order to finish the eradication of Peter from all existence, the Observer known as September (Michael Cerveris) decided to walked away.  He had intervened enough in Peter’s lifetime and this time he chose to let Peter fight for his existence.  Unfortunately, the kindly Observer would later pay with his life for his sentimentality and fondness for the Bishops. 
 
After Peter having found a way to escape his ghostly existence and back in our universe, he still had the mind-boggling challenge of overcoming the fact that no one remembered him.  His own father Walter Bishop was terrified of him and then considered Peter a wondrous mystery to be solved, but still wary of.  The erasure of Peter from the memories of those he loved was a difficult hurdle to overcome, but as we have seen time and time again, Peter is nothing if not tenacious.  
 
In the meantime, now that Peter had returned, life in Fringe Division continued as it always had, investigating “fringe” events and determining the person culpable for any catastrophe.  The interesting twist was that this time, there was more cooperation and friendliness with the doppelgängers in the alt-verse.  Benefiting from Peter’s erasure from both timelines, the acrimonious relationship with the alt-verse had never developed.  Walternate did not harbor feelings of rage and retribution towards Walter, instead they had both lost a son at a young age.  Fauxlivia had never kidnapped Olivia and taken over her life.  There was no betrayal or rivalry to overcome.  Thus, Peter’s return was a unique event that barely caused a ripple between the two universes.  He was an oddity that arrived out of the blue, unexplained.  Yet Peter seemed to know a lot about both Fringe Divisions and held a number of answers to current “fringe” problems. 
 
 So, as the fourth season played out, it was about the careful reintegration of Peter Bishop into life as we now know it, and we watched with curiosity as Peter began to slowly woo Olivia and breakdown Walter’s barriers.  It was a season of rediscovery and the power of love.  In the end, Peter’s patience was rewarded and he was reunited with his destiny love.
 
It was a powerful and challenging season, and it was not without tragedy and loss.  As Peter reinserted himself back into his rightful place in the lives of Walter and Olivia, as well as Fringe Division, he inadvertently became the catalyst for a life-changing decision by his romantic rival FBI Agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel).  During the time in which Peter was gone and not remembered, there had been tentative signs that Olivia and Lincoln were growing closer both in their professional and personal lives.  But that all came to a screeching halt the second Peter reappeared.  Olivia’s heart belonged to Peter and Peter alone.  So Lincoln’s journey began to parallel Peter’s journey throughout the fourth season in an interesting fashion.  Finding no place for him in our world, Lincoln traveled to the alt-verse to find out how his alternate-self had succeeded in his own life and found love.  It was a curious and humorous journey of discovery.  But just when things started to feel balanced and right in both universes, a bullet stole one of them away, leading to the decision by Lincoln to remain in the alt-verse and take over the vacancy left by his doppelganger – and perhaps find a way to earn Fauxlivia’s love.
 
Also playing a vital role, the mysterious substance known as Cortexiphan became much more prevalent throughout the entire 4th season.  It was key in gaining Peter a more corporeal foothold in our universe, and later it was the means by which William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) tried to destroy both universes in order to create his own utopia.  But Cortexiphan can be used in many different ways, and it also became the method of undoing William Bell’s sinister plan.
 
Uber-villain David Robert Jones (Jared Harris), who had been killed in the first season of FRINGE in our universe was now alive and well thanks to The Machine reset of the timeline, and he came back with a vengeance in the fourth season.  He along with Nina Sharp’s (Blair Brown) evil doppelganger had been dosing Olivia with Cortexiphan in hopes of cultivating her unique supernatural skills to bring about the end of the universe – or rather, both universes.  It had been the diabolical plan of William Bell to create a brand new universe where only those he chose would survive – and only with Olivia’s abilities was that possible.  Mentored and subservient to William Bell, Jones and alt-Nina worked diligently to bring about the end of the world.  It almost worked too, but for the quick thinking of Walter Bishop, who took a huge risk in the fourth season finale and shot Olivia point blank in the head.  Watching with horror as his dastardly plan evaporated before his eyes, William Bell disappeared just as Walter took aim again.  But that is the mystery of Cortexiphan – it can be used to destroy and it can be used to create depending on who wields it.  It saved Olivia’s life just as easily as it could have been the used as the trigger to a doomsday device to destroy everything we know and love.
 
The dangling breadcrumb from the 4th season was the seemingly innocuous episode “Letters of Transit.” It was the story by which we glimpsed the future of FRINGE.  Taking place in the year 2036, the world has changed dramatically with the Observers have taken over the planet, ruling with iron-clad and ruthless disdain over humans.  The lone hope for everyone is a young woman named Etta (Georgina Haig), who demonstrates a unique ability to cloak her thoughts from the Observers and who is inspired to rescue Walter, Peter and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) from their amber-coffins so that the future of mankind can be saved.
 
As the ominous final words of the 4th season, the Observer September appears to Walter to tell him, “We have to warn the others. They are coming.”  It seems that the events foretold in “Letters of Transit” have come to fruition and the time has come to fight the Observers.  So ended the fourth season and opened the door to the fifth season.
 
Season 4 of FRINGE was a wild and crazy ride, but for those who held on tight, it was worth every second.  To relive that fantastic experience or catch up on anything missed, the 4th season will be available on DVD as of Tuesday, September 4th.  With so many memorable story threads carefully woven together and laying the seems to the final 13 episodes of the series, it is time to remember all that we have loved and discovered in both FRINGE universes.

The fifth and final season of FRINGE kicks off on Friday September 28th at 9PM on FOX (CityTV in Canada) and stars Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Jasika Nicole and John Noble. Catch up with past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv

Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to TheTVaddict.com. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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  • Good summary of the season but a correction. Alt Livia did take over Olivia’s life in this timeline as well. Remember she mentions to Olivia early in the season about living in her apartment.