The last time the aftermath of a cliffhanger rested on Peter's shoulders was in "Entrada" where he had to confront Fauxlivia, and where I think he was poorly used. In "Novation," however, we couldn't get enough of him. Yes, there were other things happening, things which might turn out to be at the heart of whatever threat the story has in store for us this season. There was even the ever beguiling Olivia Dunham around, but all that mattered was Peter. In just one episode, Fringe has managed to turn the lead that, to me at least, always seemed an accessory into a character I now want to see as often as possible.
For all his brilliance, his involvement in almost every significant scientific project ever mentioned in the first seasons of Fringe, Walter has never been the heart of the series. The first of the three leads we saw in the pilot was Olivia (or "Liaison" as Broyles called her then), and really, Fringe has always been mostly about her. While she was the cornerstone of things happening in the present, the overall backstory was clearly dominated by Walter and his son. That is until "Subject 13" brilliantly turned the Bishop family drama into a story about the already beguiling young Olivia Dunham.
In the current timeline, the characters have been altered in such a way that we might have a more balanced story between our two love birds. Many reviewers — myself included — have repeatedly lauded the creativity of the series' storytellers, but I think they never quite did get the love story right. The relationship between Olivia and Peter was defined by its importance more than by its emotion. It never quite felt in its development like the stuff of legends, as it did in "Subject 13", but merely like one of the many complex plot elements the writers were juggling.
Which brings us back to "Novation" where things are managed, at least so far, with care. Whether Peter stays in this timeline or whether history is ultimately rewritten again is irrelevant. What matters is that Olivia couldn't just fall in love with him because he appeared in her dreams. She's been so far even more harsh and distant with him than she usually is with everyone else, conflicted or rather worried by the implications of the connection between them if what he says is true. She might have a hole in her life, but things cannot be mended without some gradual and necessary steps, something the second season completely skipped when it threw the two at each other. Her conversation with Lincoln was a good place to start, showing as it did that she is flirting with some fundamental questions about her dreams of Peter.
Peter is the lead I want to see now because of what the time spent with him implies for everyone else at this point. To Olivia, it will likely bring about a transformation, and depending on how it is written, we might actually have a convincing relationship this time around. To Walter it might bring some closure, but it will never be comparable to raising a son (even one from another universe) himself, which is sad and may be the only reason why a timeline rewriting might be welcome. Broyles, for his part, is very likely to see him as an asset sooner than later. If I had to choose, I would rather stick with this timeline and find a way to get Walter very close to Peter, but the déjà vu scene involving Olivia and her co-worker might be a hint that the show is going for a rewrite...
Although Peter has managed to alienate everyone — including Walter, who is probably his only chance to solve his timeline issue — his memory of past events clearly makes him an asset. He used it to his advantage with a commanding presence he rarely showed in previous seasons, even when he was supposed to be really central to the story. He proved instrumental in tracking the merciless shapeshifter who seems to prefer the body of Nadine Park (Michelle Krusiec), one of the victims in the season premiere.
This shapeshifter storyline was much better than what we had in the season premiere. The loose connection to William Bell was a classic Fringe move and the story clearly hinted (via the typewriter) that the threat was driven from The Other Side. Reusing the shapeshifters is risky, because they were overused in the previous confrontation (even if it was in a different timeline), so unless I see that storyline developed in a really gripping way, I will remain skeptical.
Olivia's altered backstory was particularly interesting, with Lincoln's presence allowing, as usual, the explanation to occur. His summary had, again as usual, a hint of the good kind of humor: "So the acting CEO of one of the richest companies in the world was ... your nanny?" In addition to the part she played in Olivia's life, Nina Sharp's role into the events at Reiden Lake in this timeline was also nicely explored in a scene where Walter sounded, oddly enough, a bit too balanced. Finally, on the chapter of backstories, the fact that the Fringe division is apparently unaware of the existence of the Observers is a gift to Peter, one he will hopefully use to drive home his version of the story.
Peter is back in a world where every character is slightly different, but is still recognizable. I am starting to think the minds behind the show have given themselves the opportunity to fix details they didn't like in the previous story by revisiting it as much as possible. So far, I like where they are going with all the characters on This Side, particularly Peter and Olivia.