Fringe

[SPOILER ALERT: This story contains key plot details from the new season of Fringe]

Peter Bishop never existed: True. Neither did what happened during the last three seasons of Fringe: False.

But where we last left off had many fans scratching their heads. After Peter (Joshua Jackson) built a bridge between the two universes in order to save billions of lives, he seemingly disappeared into thin air. The Observers noted that Peter had, in fact, never existed at all, a comment that caused just as much confusion as it did outrage among viewers.

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If Peter had never existed, then did anything we watched over the last three years actually happen? Jackson feels your frustration. "Being a fan of shows like this, I am with everybody who goes, 'Don't you dare tell me that I just wasted three years of my life by telling me, 'Oops! It didn't actually happen, we're starting from scratch' So, I get that concern, but the idea is not to erase the history of Fringe," he tells TVGuide.com.   

Aside from the MIA Peter, the fourth season opener won't feel that different from what we've seen. It's a mix of freaky procedural cases with the underlying storyline of saving the two universes. Just less Peter.

"We're not pulling a bait and switch, like man, everything was a dream," executive producer J.H. Wyman says. "The truth is, we know very well that everything did happen the way it happens. It's not as if we're trying to make people think everything you've watched has no value anymore. It's quite the opposite. Everything does have value."

"Yes, he did exist," Wyman continues, albeit not for a long time in the minds of the Fringe Division. The finale scene with the Observers saying he didn't exist "was a slight teaser in the wrong direction because Peter did exist, but Peter died as a child. Both Peters died as [children]," John Noble says.

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Because of this, there will be several big changes. "It just means that Olivia [Anna Torv] got Walter out of the institution because she needed his knowledge. She didn't need Peter, she just had to get this man because he knew so much," Noble says, noting that without Peter to ground him, Walter has become much more of a neurotic madman.

Not unlike the concept in Back to the Future II — Noble actually used this awesome reference to describe it — the timeline of Fringe has changed in different ways because Peter wasn't there to affect it. "A lot of things that he was involved in didn't turn out the way that they did, the way that we're used to," Wyman says. Adds executive producer Jeff Pinkner: "It is totally possible that some of the cases that we've seen will come back and sometimes with different guys and with a different set of circumstances."

Still, that's not to say Peter's presence won't be felt. The question is exactly where is Peter? "Let's just say home is where the heart is," Wyman says. "Imagine if all of a sudden you didn't exist and then maybe in some capacity you could witness the fact that nobody knows you.  I mean what would that be like?"

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The idea of being tied to the ones you love and transcending the constraints of space and time is one of the major themes of the season. "The theme that were really interested in this year is life is valued by the connections that we make," Wyman says. "What impact do you have to the people in your life? If you weren't there what would they be like? And vice versa."

Even when Peter does eventually make it back into reality, he'll be a different person. "Because the guy that we met in the beginning of Fringe had no desire to be there, and slowly but surely got warped into this, as John and I described it, fanboy. In the course of doing that, he kind of went from being the impetuous teenager of the show to kind of sulking in the corner, to actually being a man," Jackson says. "And the guy who would come back to the show after having sacrificed himself for the love of his family is a different man. I think he's grown up a lot. I think a different guy comes back than the guy that left."

Jackson, who's never gotten to play the doppelganger version of himself, is excited for the challenge of playing a new kind of Peter. "We spent so much time talking about that father/son dynamic," he says. "We spent three years building to a place, and now we get to sort of start from scratch, decide what the new rules are, and then build to a new place, and as an actor, that to me is the most fun."

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Elsewhere, the two universes are still at each other's throats, but now they're forced, in many ways, to team up to save both sides. "Both universes are [still] dying," Wyman says. "The two sides are self-charged with healing their two universes and setting aside their differences to do so. The two sides trusting each other and actually trying to figure out what they're all going through is also a large part of the season going forward."

For the Olivias, working together won't be easy. "You can definitely expect an animosity between the two of them because things still happen the way they happened," Wyman says. "Bolivia came over here to do what she needed to do, but Peter wasn't part of that equation. So, what does that look like then?  How did she take over Olivia's life and what are some of the things that we didn't get to see last year that you could sort of include into this year?"

What are you looking forward to this season?

Fringe returns Friday at 9/8c on Fox.