Some say less is more. Others say bigger is better. In the case of this week's Fringe episode "A Better Human Being" both statements ring true in the best ways possible with small story twists leading to huge possibilities.
Fringe may be many things, but formulaic is not one of them. Just when viewers at home think they have things all figured out (present company included) Fringe takes the audience's preconceptions and bends them until they break. This week's episode was a game changer for the series on multiple levels with really only one disappointment: it had to end after an hour.
"A Better Human Being" picks up right after last week's Olivia and Peter kiss ending, and things just steamroll from there. Olivia isn't just having memory flashes of her other time-line-self (the season 1-3 version), she completely remembers everything as if she was the same woman Peter fell in love with. Peter on the other hand is reluctant in accepting this sudden, and drastic, change in Olivia and gets Walter to give her a full once over in the lab. Since she is feeling better than ever with her new found clarity Olivia dives right into their newest Fringe case while Walter continues to solve her abrupt mantel transformation. A fascinating Fringe case where a patient with schizophrenia hears actual people's voices inside his head not imaginary ones.
If this was one of those episodes where the 'remote free TV' format Fringe and FOX used in their first season it would have made the episode that much better. The 'remote free TV' format, for those who may not be familiar with it, was a test format where show's commercial breaks would last anywhere from 60-90 seconds as opposed to the 3-4 minute norm audiences are use to. The reason I bring this old format up is that there was enough material in this episode to fill the hour long time-slot, or more, without the commercial breaks. That way the smart schizophrenia fringe case would have gotten the added screen time it deserved.
It's never fully explained how exactly Olivia is able to completely recollect memories from a doppelganger one time-line and a universe that isn't supposed to exist over but adding cortexiphan to her system is somehow involved. The unlikely combination of Lincoln and Walter confronting Nina about the cortexiphan was surprisingly fun to watch. Neither of them backed down from Nina and after finding out that the cortexiphan in Massive Dynamic's vault was a fake (possibly along with that Nina as well) so things are bound to heat up in the main universe now they know the truth. The only problem is that is only a fraction of the truth, since the episode's cliff-hanger suggests Nina has been replaced by a shape-shifter for some time now.
Olivia being drugged still doesn't explain her remembering memories that should have never existed without Peter in the time-line. With Peter's main focus being to get back home to his time-line so he can be with the woman he loves (Olivia duh) he is at a crossroads in this episode as she basically appears right in front of him; no effort or universe altering machine required. For the longest time while watching the episode I couldn't figure out why Peter didn't just give in and accept her as his Olivia but when he explains the unintentional affair he had with Bolivia last season it all made sense. That and the fact that it should be impossible for her to know the memories she does. Fringe will obviously explain this new found Olivia sometime in the coming episodes but the hopeless romantic in me wants to think their love transcends alternate universes or time-lines. Cheesy yes I know. What can I say? I'm a sci-fi sentimentalist at heart.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.