This Friday at 9/8c, Fox’s Fringe resumes its fourth season with our Peter Bishop more determined than ever to return “home” to his timeline, yet not able to avail himself of Walter’s genius-level problem-solving skills. Thus, he resorts to seeking counsel from “Walternate” – but to do so, Olivia and Lincoln will need to sneak our boy across to the other side, where more than a few surprises await. TVLine invited executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman to preview the thrilling winter premiere.
TVLINE | When “Back To Where You’ve Never Been” wound up not being the fall finale, due to the baseball playoffs, were you tempted to tinker with the edit on this episode or the previous one…?
JEFF PINKNER | Actually, no. We know that baseball is mutable – it either goes to six games or it doesn’t – and we’re mindful of that. Given that, we built Episode 7 to function with what we felt was its own pretty awesome cliffhanger, the reveal of Nina and what she’s doing to Olivia. And [Episodes] 8 and 9 were designed as a two-parter which we knew could either frustrate people but hold them over the break, or else play in back-to-back weeks.
J.H. WYMAN | Most of the episodes going forward now have a hooky pull at the end.
TVLINE | Set the stage for this episode. What is Peter’s plan and who all will get involved in it?
PINKNER | Peter has been frustrated. Walter has been refusing to help him get back to his home, his timeline, and he realizes that there’s another person in these universes who’s equally as brilliant — Walternate. Of course, Peter has his own personal attitudes about what a not-nice guy Walternate is, but despite that he’s going to put his own feelings aside to ask for help. He convinces Olivia and Lincoln to take him to the other universe, and upon arriving there he finds out that many of the things he is assuming about this timeline are not, in fact, true.
TVLINE | What is Walternate’s reaction to seeing his son?
WYMAN | It’s interesting, because it’s changed…. Walternate doesn’t have the same bitterness. He’s sort of allowed to feel a little more, so he’s a very different version of what we’ve seen.
TVLINE | One thing I really liked is that Peter gets an assist in this venture from his mother.
PINKNER | One of the things that we’ve always found so fascinating about the alt universe is the relationship that Walternate has with Peter’s mother, and not only is Orla [Brady] a spectacular actress, but we pride ourselves on the fact that our show is a series of strong woman — from Olivia to Astrid to Nina to Elizabeth. And clearly, in the alt universe, as Joel alluded, Elizabeth enabled Walternate to heal after the loss of their child. So yes, she unexpectedly provides Peter with the help that he had been looking for – and hopefully in a way that’s both emotionally satisfying and unexpected.
WYMAN | This ties into our [Season 4] theme just right, the theme of how we impact others. The fact that there was a better relationship between her and her husband impacted [Walternate].
TVLINE | Would you say that this episode is most active we’ve seen our Lincoln Lee?
WYMAN | [Chuckles] He is pretty active here, yeah. There are some entertaining things coming up.
TVLINE | Is this the first time we’ll get wind that someone else might be involved in this season’s big threat?
PINKNER | For sure. The episodes up until now have sort of laid the groundwork for the introduction of our big bad of the season, and we’re incredibly fortunate to work with one of our favorite actors again, someone who has had a presence on the show before. But as with many things this season, we’re presenting a fractal of the world we visited before, so our bad guy is someone we’ve met before but because Peter didn’t exist in this world, we meet him in a different context. He hasn’t gone through the same consequences as when we met him before.
TVLINE | Olivia has a meeting with an Observer in this episode. What do you want to say about the nature of that encounter?
WYMAN | [To Pinkner] Jeff, what can we say…? We don’t want to give anything away…. [Pauses to think] We can say that the meeting between Olivia and the Observer will definitely alter the course of what you’re going to see and what is to come.
TVLINE | There is one recurring knock against this season…. What would you like to say to the fans who feel they have “lost time” with the characters they know and love? That outside of Peter, in this timeline we’re kind of watching a bunch of posers?
WYMAN | Jeff and I are huge fans of television, and the biggest thing that stuns us is that our fans are actually thinking that we would pull the old, “Nothing you knew is true!” We would never do that. There is a very specific reason why we’re doing this story right now, and why we took this turn that we did. Traditionally, what goes on with our show is that fans may have an opinion about something, like, “Oh, why did you do that?!” — but then they realize, “Oh yeah, OK, I get it.” Hopefully they’ll feel the same way now, now that things are starting to come to fruition and things are starting to happen a bit more.
TVLINE | But isn’t Peter the only character going through any development that will stick?
WYMAN | If way back when, you got some scoop that Peter was going to have an affair and be involved in a love triangle, and you didn’t know about Olivia and Fauxlivia, you would never have imagined that there’d be two versions of Olivia. That’s why Fringe is great, because you can take a very traditional thing and do something extraordinary with it. It’s the same with this. Peter’s journey and finding out how he feels, what he’s doing, is really important to us. When we first went over to the other side, don’t forget, a lot of people said, “Oh, I don’t want to know about those characters. They’re not our characters.” And fortunately, people came around to like them and actually feel invested and compelled by them.
PINKNER | And at the same time, I think that the [complaint’s] premise is slightly faulty, the idea that our characters are not going to change. Peter has been in their lives now for three episodes that have aired, and he’s going to be in their life certainly for some amount of time longer, and one of the things that we’re most interested in is how he is affecting them, how he is changing them. Walter’s been refusing to acknowledge him, both out of emotional reasons and also because of Walter’s own mental instability, but that’s not to say that’s not going to change. And Olivia is also dealing with this person who in another timeline is love with her, while she’s somebody who has sort of empty heart when we met her this season.
TVLINE | I loved that early-season scene where she was like, “I meant something to you, didn’t I?”
PINKNER | Exactly. Exactly. So I think that viewers who were concerned that Peter is the only one who will change need not be concerned.
TVLINE | Do you have your season finale in mind yet?
WYMAN | Yep, absolutely. We always start with a good idea of where we want to go, and we have something that we know we love, and we hope the fans will love it, too. It is one of the biggest season finales that we’ve attempted.
TVLINE | Josh Jackson and I recently had some fun with how you guys like to use the word “recontextualize” a lot. Josh did a whole riff on it.
PINKNER | We mainly just recontextualize Josh! We love people to kind of have to work at it – “Ah, now I understand things slightly differently.”
TVLINE | But do you have any ways left to recontextualize this narrative?
WYMAN | Oh yeah. We definitely have a big one coming up. This show has so many doors, an embarrassment of riches, really – “Which door is the most compelling to open?” is often a question Jeff and I ask. We look at each other and say, “Well, we could go left or we could go right….”
TVLINE | Of course, we’d love the ratings to be stronger. When do you need to know if this is in fact the last season? If this is it, do you have a special exit plan?
PINKNER |The answer to that question is the same every year. If, worst case scenario, this is the last aired season of Fringe – and as we’ve said before, there are other outlets where we can continue to tell our stories, be they graphic novels or webisodes, whatever it may be – we know what the end of the season is going to be and it can function as a series finale. As could have last season. Had Peter, who is sort of the lynchpin for the reason the show exists, been the one to sacrifice himself heroically and nobly to save the two universes and the woman he loved, it would have been a very authentic ending.