There are a lot of aspects of this season so far that have both delighted me and frustrated me. I thought that I would take some time to grade various aspects of season 4 and to give you my thoughts on why I gave it the grade that I did. I'll try not to compare this season to past seasons too much since my memory of past episodes is a bit foggy, but there will occasionally be comparisons with season 3 since the "Olivia arc" is similar in concept to the "Peter arc" of this season. I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on each point and the grades that you would give!
1. Establishing the General Direction of Season 4 B-
There are a couple of points that were highlighted in the first seven episodes that I deem as being important to the rest of the season.
a) The introduction of the Shapeshifters (4.01 and 4.05)
b) The fact that Walter and Olivia had visions of Peter that Peter didn't know about (4.06)
c) Peter feels like he needs to get back to his own timeline (4.06)
d) Peter will use the machine to go back to his own timeline (4.07)
e) Olivia is being dosed with Cortexiphan by Nina (4.07)
f) Walter is struggling with the reappearance of his son (4.05-4.07)
So we have four plot points going on: Peter's journey home, Walter's difficulty in dealing with Peter, the shapeshifters, and Olivia's abuse at the hands of Nina. Although I know how the first two tie together, after seven episodes, I have absolutely no idea how everything else is going to tie together. Consequently, the season feels very disjointed and the actions seems to be going almost too slow. All the action happened in the last three episodes and I can't help but feel like the first four episodes were just filter. They provided some great character development, but I feel like they provided character development that we've seen before (Olivia's coldness and her feelings towards being a test subject as a child; Walter's attachment to Peter and guilt over what he did). The only thing that saved these early episodes were the cases of the week which were extremely interesting and illuminated the plight of our central characters.
In Season 3, the first 7 episodes provided a complete arch, from beginning to end, an arch that feed steamlessly into the next story arch that started with Marionette. We had a clear beginning, middle, and end; outstanding acting (god bless Anna Torv!); and a clear idea of where things were heading. When you look at the first seven episodes of season 3 compared to the first seven episodes of season 4, season 4 comes up a bit short. I think it is largely due to the constraints that are imposed by the story line. In order for the viewers to truly feel the weight of what happened in the season 3 finale, we needed to get a sense of what the world would be like without Peter so that when he did return, we would appreciate him all the more. Having Peter return in the first episode would have cheapened his actions in the finale. I appreciate the writers for doing this. By episode 7 in season 3, the actions of the season 2 finale (the switching of the Olivias) had been resolved and the plot was getting ready to move forward. In season 4, Peter hasn't really made any progress towards getting home and it may be because his dilemma is just a lot less straight forward than Olivia's was. Although it was very difficult for her, Olivia knew what she ultimately needed to do to get home (cross over using Cortexiphan) whereas Peter doesn't have a clue since he's never been in this situation before and he doesn't even know if there's a home for him to go back to.
Conclusion: The first seven episodes of season 4 seem repetitive, disjointed and slow in pacing. They leave you with very little of an idea for how the rest of the season will unfold, raising a lot of questions, but very few (if any) answers.
2. Character Development B-
It was an absolute joy to watch Olivia and Walter be developed more fully, even though we've seen such developments before. Anna Torv and John Noble are both excellent actors and episode 2 and 3 in this season have really allowed them both to shine wonderfully. Anna Torv is always fantastic at playing Olivia as a person who seemingly is fine on the surface, but who deep down, is insecure, incomplete and very unhappy. John Noble was so brilliant in episode 3 as a man who has clearly been traumatized by the fact that he watched his son die twice and who is unhinged as a result of not having Peter in his life to tether him to the world.
Despite such development, I gave this section a B- because such developments are repetitive and have been demonstrated in previous episodes. I feel like I haven't really learned anything NEW about Olivia and Walter which is consistent with my theory that these people in the Amberverse are, at their core, identical to the characters in the Blueverse and thus, further evidence that Peter is right where he belongs. Nina has been deliciously developed, being simultaneously at the center of the plot, yet still in the background. I really, really look forward to learning more about her and seeing more of her. I also gave this section a poor score because the other secondary characters haven't really been developed such as Astrid and Broyles. With the elimination of one of the main characters (Peter), you would think that the show would have more screentime to give to Astrid and Broyles and hence, more development, but instead the extra screen time is given to Lincoln Lee which is unfortunate and, I feel, a mistake.
Perhaps most importantly, Peter hasn't been developed very well since he's gotten back, but then again, he never really has been, has he? I still have a million questions about his situation, how he feels about it, where he was exactly at the beginning of the season, what happened to his time jumps, etc... We got a little bit more emotion and insight from him in episode 6 and then the show abruptly took the spotlight off of him during episode 7 which was a mistake. This could be due to the needs of the plotline which demands that his story be drawn out throughout the season and hence the reason why we are getting information about him slowly. Regardless, the meager amount of development regarding Peter and his situation is the biggest disappointment so far this season.
3. Cases of the Week A-
The cases of the week were perhaps the most wonderful part of the first batch of season 4 episodes. I loved how they all tied back to the characters in the show, illuminating their plight in new and interesting ways. In episode 2, we had an amazing guest star that portrayed a serial killer that stole happy memories as a way to deal with his own pain and a professor that studied the psychology of serial killers. The professor was saved from the former's fate through the kindness of a woman named Majorie who helped him find the light in the darkness and moments of peace that he could hold on to whenever he had his urges to kill. Although, his memories of Majorie were ultimately removed, he still remembered what she taught him about kindness and finding the light. Marjorie was to the professor what Peter was to Walter and Olivia. In episode 3, we had a story about a boy who was all alone and whose only friend was a fungus that, sensing the boys loneliness, reached out to him. Walter's attachment to the boy mirrored his own longing for his Peter and a longing to have an emotional connection to someone and to not be so alone in the world. In episode 4, the case of the week explored the damaging effects that experimentation in early life can have on an adult- you are not special (as the experimenters promised), but you are not normal either (thanks to the drug). It provided wonderful development for Olivia who has to live her life, constantly having her past following her. Peter's absence has compounded this feeling, reducing the Olivia in this timeline to someone who is just the empty shell of the Olivia that we have come to know.
Episode 6 provided the most powerful case of the week yet in the form of a husband who is desperately trying to hold on to the wife that he still loves, refusing to live in the present and leave her behind in the past where she belongs. Raymond and Kate's situation shadowed almost exactly Peter and Olivia's current situation. In episode 7, we meet a man named Eugene whose only desire was to be seen by the person that he loves. This echoes Peter and Olivia's situation since, throughout the entire episode, Olivia did not once mention Peter and he, seemingly, was the farthest thing from her thoughts. Does she truly see him like Lincoln does? After returning from non-existence, does Peter truly exist when the people who he lives for (Walter and Olivia) do not remember or acknowledge him? Will Peter and Olivia's situation end the same way as Eugene's story did where the woman that he loved who was seemingly oblivious to his existence was actually thinking about him all this time? Powerful and ground-breaking stuff.
4. Exploring the Mythology of the Show B+
Some of the themes that were touched on during the initial seven episodes:
a) The concept of having a home. This especially applies to Peter who finds himself, again, in a brave new world.
b) The impact the one person can have on your life. This applies to Peter also who has had a profound impact on Walter and Olivia such that even when he is gone, they still remember him on some level and experience the painful feeling that his absence causes.
c) The past coming back to haunt you. For Peter, it involves having to re-establish a home again and adjusting to a new world again. It also involves him returning to his nomadic life which represented a time in his life where he truly didn't have a home and wandered from place to place. For Walter, it involves his son coming back and in the process, putting buckets of salt on old and painful wounds. For Olivia, it involves the re-initiation of the Cortexiphan experiments with her and bringing to sharp focus the trauma that she endured as a child.
d) What it means to exist. Although Peter is back in a physical sense, he still doesn't quite exist in an emotional sense. This is because, as Eugene said so eloquently, existing goes beyond simply being there; it involves been acknowledged, recognized and validated by those that you love. Without these things, we might as well be invisible.
e) How far will we go for love? What does it mean to love someone? This relates specifically to Olivia and Peter's relationship and what this new situation will mean for their love affair. How far will Peter go to return to her? For her, will he risk undoing the original sacrifice that he made in the first place for her? Like Raymond, will he obsessively pursue a way to return to her (and Walter), even if it costs lives in the process? Or will he redefine what it means to love someone? Will his heart recognize that his Olivia was with him this whole time, in the form of the Olivia in this timeline? Even though she is not quite what she was before, will he learn to "rediscover" her and love her in new ways?
f) We are all interconnected. Although we know with absolute certainty that Walter and Olivia depend heavily on Peter and need him in their lives, we haven't got the same acknowledgement explicitly from Peter. Having been independent for much of his life, perhaps Peter doesn't yet fully appreciate how much he depends on the both of them for love and validation. Will that be his journey this season? Towards that realization?
Only B and to some extent C (for Walter) have been explored in some kind
of depth so far. These are very complex themes and so I certainly
don't expect the show to explore them fully within seven episodes.
Their underdevelopment is what prevented me from giving this section an
A, but the fact that such wonderful themes were mentioned/introduced for
further exploration prevents me from giving this section a C.
5. Peter/Olivia Moments B-
Although we haven't had many Peter and Olivia moments this season, the moments that we have had have been very poignant, taking their relationship is new directions. In NOVATION, we saw how Olivia reacted to Peter with confusion, fear, distrust, and disgust. Her feeling of fear was especially relevant considering how fear and love often go hand in hand- we often don't fear something unless it arouses strong emotions in us and is important to us in some way. In episode 6, we see several different sides to their relationship. In the beginning dream sequence, we see them as husband and wife; they are playful, warm and loving. In the middle of the episode, we see them as partners and from Olivia's perspective, reluctant ones. By the end of the episode, an understanding has passed between the two of them that neither of them are what the other is looking for. Hence, they go their separate ways as shown by the fact that in the next episode, their interests are some other place entirely and their interactions are minimized to a chance meeting when they pass each other in the hallway.
6. Introduction of Lincoln Lee C+
Although I appreciate what Lincoln Lee has brought to the show (he represents the new viewer who is looking at all these strange occurrences for the first time), I continue to be frustrated by how much screen time he is taking away from the other main cast members (Astrid, Broyles and Nina) who are long overdue for their time in the spotlight. In contrast to the Redverse Lincoln who is a very interesting character, this Lincoln is very, very bland in comparison and, in my opinion, doesn't hold up on his own as well as Peter does. I have yet to sympathize with the character and he has yet to add anything substantial to the show. Although his friendship with Peter certainly moves him forward in my eyes, his interest in Olivia pushes him back a few spaces. He functions as a way in which Peter's distance from the team can be sustained plot-wise. He is messing up the old dynamic between Walter, Olivia and Peter, a dynamic that the viewers want so desperately to return to. I think he is a character that is better off served in moderation (aka better off shown in one universe) since I worry that as Peter finds himself re-integrating into this new team dynamic (if my theory is correct), Lincoln might end up being a superfluous addition to the team and there will end up being too many cooks in the kitchen which might impair the quality of the show. Of course, none of this frustration is aimed at the wonderful actor Seth Gabel who, although playing a frustrating character, showcases very strong acting skills in this role.
7. Generating Excitement for the Rest of Season 4 C+
See above. This has much to do with the fact that I know so little about the direction in which the rest of the season will go. Getting so few answers over the course of seven episodes is a little disappointing and frustrating.
8. Favorite Episode
Episode 4.06- AND THOSE WE'VE LEFT BEHIND. You can read my thoughts on this episode HERE, HERE and HERE.
9. Least Favorite Episode
Episode 4.07- WALLFLOWER. You can read my thoughts on this episode HERE, HERE and HERE.
10. Favorite Moment
The dream between Peter and Olivia at the beginning of Episode 6. It provided a sweet moment for those of us who were starving for moments between the pair. But it wasn't just a great moment for fans of the ship. It also provided some great character development (Peter subconsciously admitting that he's a problem) and fantastically set the stage for the rest of the episode, making Peter's conclusions at the end of the episode (that he doesn't belong in this timeline) very logical and not at all random.