Fringe The Complete Fourth Season: A New Timeline Brings Both Enjoyment and Disappointment

Just think, there's an alternative universe where the writers did a better job.
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I watched the first four seasons of Fringe on Blu-ray over the course of a few months, so I powered through them as fast as I was able, as opposed to having to wait for when the FOX network made them available.  I was intrigued by the characters and mythology in the first season, grew frustrated when the mythology wasn't dealt with in the second, and was very impressed by the scope and choices made in the third.  As enjoyable as it was to reunite with the characters (except for the ever-boring Astrid played by the equally boring Jasika Nicole) and to see how the story would progress, the fourth season left me ultimately disappointed as it failed to live up to the expectations and quality storytelling of the third. 

Fringe_S4Season four begins soon after the season three finale, which saw Peter (Joshua Jackson) bring the two universes together and create an alternate timeline where he no longer existed because he died as a young child in each of them.  Being in a new timeline from the one viewers have been watching the past three seasons means all presumptions about characters and motives shouldn't be presumed, and the writers play with expectations will be.  The Fringe teams from the Prime and Parallel universes work together but distrust each other.  Walter (John Noble) doesn't leave his lab, so Astrid serves as his eyes with a camera that transmits back to him.  In the first episode, "Neither Here Nor There," Lincoln (Seth Gabel) joins the Prime team after his partner becomes a casualty in a Fringe case involving a new type of shapeshifter. 

Peter reappears to Walter in reflections and as a voice in his mind, which makes Walter thinks he's going mad.  He also appears in Olivia's (Anna Torv) dreams, though she's never met him.  It takes too long, but he finally shows up in the fourth episode, "Subject 9," but no one knows him, not even Walter.  Peter realizes he is now in a different timeline and works to get back to where he belongs.  However, the longer he stays, the more his feelings for the people he has left behind transfer to those in front of him.  This leads to yet another unusual love triangle between Peter and Olivia because Peter doesn't want to make the same mistake he did previously of cheating on his Olivia with the Olivia in front of him.

"And Those We've Left Behind" is one of the better episodes of the season, although it's a familiar theme for the series as a man (Stephen Root) tries to use science for good but causes great ramifications.  In this instance, he goes back in time to be with his wife (his real-life wife Romy Rosemont), but in doing so, causes time anomalies.

Later, we get to jump ahead in episode 19, “Letters of Transit,” where we are told the Observers took control in 2015.  The Fringe team fought them, were defeated, and then regulated to policing the people.  Seemed like it would have made for better television to see it rather than scrolling titles.  The episode is set in 2036, providing a peek at Season Five.

There is a lot to like this season, but similar to the second, I found myself growing frustrated by monster-of-the-week episodes, as I was more interested in the amazing mythology they've created, but then, when the revelation of how Peter got into this season's timeline is revealed, it's so nonsensical I couldn't believe the writers went with it.  Reminiscent of Lost, it was as if they couldn't come up with an idea that made sense, even with fringe science, so they just came up with something sentimental that would appease people that liked the characters.  Also, a season-long story arc finds the Fringe teams working together against a group that is terrorizing both universes; however, when the leader's goal is revealed, it is so insane it's hard to believe anyone else would have gone along with it. 

Repeating the specs from the previous season, the video has been given a good-looking, 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer.  Throughout the season, colors appear bright and blacks are inky.   Shadow delineation is good and textures abound to catch the eye.  Most of the effect work blends well into the live action, but the abundance of it when Peter enters the mind of September the Observer ruins the realism of the scene.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track continues the trend of a very satisfying aural experience.  Dialogue is clear and balances well with the other tracks.  The effects immerse the viewer within scenes and the subwoofer delivers great bass when called upon. 

All the extras are in HD.  The Culture of Fringe (30 min): Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen moderates a discussion with Noble, executive producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner, and professors Nicholas Warner (Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at USC) and Shlomo Sher (Philosophy and Applied Ethics at USC) that deals with the scientific and philosophical issues the series raises.  Much more interesting than what you would see a Comic-Con.  A World Without Peter (12 min): a look at how the show handled the loss of one of its main characters.  The Observers (12 min): These seemingly pandimensional beings get some time in the spotlight before they become a major force next season.  Beyond the Comic Book (4 min): Pinkner, Wyman, and Jackson talk about their three-part "Peter and the Machine" story from the Beyond the Fringe comic series.  Also available is a four-page excerpt.  Have You Seen Walter Lately? (2 min): a very short piece featuring Walter moments, and there's a Gag Reel (2 min).

Although Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season took a step backwards by cutting corners when it came to believability, it still offered a lot to engage viewers, and left many of them eager to learn how the final 13 episodes will play out.  The Blu-ray offered the same high quality presentation as the past seasons and is worth adding to the collection.

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