The season premiere of Fringe, "Neither Here nor There," is a woven tapestry that put a lot of effort into hiding its intricate parts. By the end of the breathtaking third season, the writers had led the audience — and themselves to a degree — into a corner, so they now have to gently lead us back out to, well, Peter. With this episode, they tried and succeeded in kick-starting that process while making sure newcomers to the series are not put off. They first reminded everyone (including regular viewers) of the realities of the new timeline before delicately setting things up for the new season. The result of those necessary steps is an episode that works as an introduction, but is only a promise of better things.
The previous season's premiere had to deal with Olivia trapped in the other universe, so it was left with very little room for explanations. It quickly used her session with a psychiatrist to bring viewers up to speed before getting right back into business. "Neither Here nor There," on the other hand, opens with the previous story arc all but complete and only has to deal with its consequence: a reset of the series offering a wonderful opportunity to pull in new viewers. The problem is that dealing with said consequence involves trying to bring back a major character from the abyss of erasure from time. This is why it was necessary to let new viewers know how important the character was, just as it was necessary to make sure everyone understood the impact of Peter Bishop's disappearance from the rewritten timeline. The writers achieved that double goal by first bringing in a character to whom things could be explained, then sprinkling comments from the Observers here and there, and finally by using an overabundance of sentences with a double meaning.
Lincoln Lee had to be brought in right away because new viewers needed to quickly understand (like him) what the Fringe Division is all about. He was also necessary in this episode because Olivia needed to share some personal stories to establish the current timeline as well as present her quest for answers — that led her to the division in the first place. Aside from the time spent at home with his partner (which wasn't really necessary) Lincoln's introduction was well done. It was amusing to see how the writers tried to make him relevant while still keeping major characters (Walter and Olivia) in the limelight. Lincoln notices that "One of these things is not like the other," but it is Olivia who gets to talk to the girl. Lincoln mentions his partner's disease and Walter extrapolates on that to find the connection between the victims. Lincoln offers to stay with the wounded, allowing Olivia to face the "trans-lucid freak" alone.
Speaking of Olivia, we obviously had another iteration of the character. There was not a single smile during the hour and she was as tense as she could be. Although she told Lincoln she always knew she would find her answers by joining the Fringe Division, her attitude and her words seemed to indicate that she hasn't yet quite found what she was looking for. The episode starts and ends with her talking to her alternate universe double (Fauxlivia), which means in this timeline the Fringe Division is already aware of The Other Side, so that is not what is missing...
With his son missing from this timeline, Olivia took Walter out of the mental institution and seems to understand him better than the others, being able to calm him down like Peter did. But as she said herself, "[Walter] just never had anything to tether him to the world," which means although she can help a little, he is in a much worse condition than he was in the previous timeline. This can be seen in his fear of leaving the lab, in his interactions with other characters (including the ever sweet Astrid), and in his reactions to Peter "bleeding through" the timeline.
Peter, though nonexistent in this timeline, was much more present in the episode than through his ghostly appearances. The episode was written — and I am making an effort to write this review — to accommodate newcomers to the series, but the hour was oozing with references to him. They are not necessary to follow the story, but regular viewers will pride themselves on understanding them and newcomers will later have epiphanies, suddenly understanding what was meant. Peter was present when, answering Lincoln, Olivia said "There is no one else, there is just me." He was behind Walter's comments on the engagement ring of Nadine Park, one of the victims, "I don't think there's anything sadder, than when two people are meant to be together and then something intervenes." And finally, he was definitely there when Lincoln told Olivia, "Can you imagine what it would be like to have such a hole in your life," and during the following conversation on the subject.
The episode's opening credits were amber, a new color probably used to introduce stories that will take place (on This Side only?) in this timeline. The color was new, but the main story itself seemed at first to be a rehash of the maiden season monster-of-the-week formula. That is, until all the introductory elements were out of the way, and the writers thought they could gradually start introducing Walternate and The Other Side to Lincoln and to the new viewers. We are obviously embarking into the same storytelling technique used during the previous season: Fauxlivia now knows This Side suspects Walternate is up to something and in an upcoming episode we will see how that plays out on The Other Side.
About The Other Side, it is worth mentioning that Peter never lived there beyond childhood, so except for Fauxlivia and Walternate, his absence should not have affected anyone or anything except for the big elephant in the room on both sides: If Peter never existed, then why were the worlds in conflict? There seems to be no evidence so far that the universes are coming apart, but if they are, what started it? Certainly not Walter crossing-over to retrieve a nonexistent Peter? And what is Walter doing (it must be him) resuscitating the dead victim Nadine Park? On a side note, the Observer doesn't seem able to bring himself to stick to protocols, which gives us our stories, so we should definitely be thankful.
The season premiere of Fringe raised several questions and is maintaining a certain amount of mystery for both new and regular viewers. The Other Side, less affected by Peter's nonexistence and probably still having its all powerful Fringe Division (as opposed to the little shop on This Side) is likely to start as strong as it did last season, with most of the groundwork already done by "Neither Here nor There."