In Momentum Deferred (S2E4), we see a particular shapeshifter becoming very weak and sick. Another shapeshifter comments that this is because he has been using one body for too long. Since this is only a few episodes after we initially see the sick shapeshifter take his current form (S2E1), we can pretty well presume that his time in this form has only been a few weeks of in-universe time. At the most, we might expect a few months.

In the same episode where he begins to show sickness, we also see that he can partially alleviate his symptoms by consuming raw mercury. However, this appears to be little more effective than applying a band-aid to a direct-hit gunshot wound. The effects of the sickness are less pronounced, but still rather noticeably debilitating.

Still in this same episode, we're introduced to another shapeshifter who continues to be a recurring character throughout season 2, and into season 3. However, this character does not change bodies during this time. He also does not exhibit the same sickness suffered by the other shapeshifter, which was attributed to having remained in one body for so long.

In Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep? (S3E4) we are introduced to yet another shapeshifter. Through dialogue, we find out that this shapeshifter has maintained the same body for at least five years. It's even possibly implied that the shapeshifter mentioned earlier - the one introduced in (S2E4) - has been in his body for at least the same duration. Again, the latest shapeshifter does not appear to be suffering any ill effects from his prolonged period in this one body.

In fact, it is a critical part of the latest shapeshifter's character story that he intends to remain in his current form indefinitely.

Is there anything in standard canon, or official commentary or documentation, to state how long a shapeshifter can effortlessly maintain one form? Or, is there anything mentioning how shapeshifters can safely and reliably extend this period?

  • As a general rule, the level of internal inconsistency in Fringe is depressing. I doubt there is a clear answer. – terdon Sep 21 '12 at 0:17
  • 2
    @terdon I'm not quite sure I'd go so far as to call it depressing, but there are indeed a fair number of holes. – Iszi Sep 21 '12 at 0:31
  • @Iszi This bounty is ending soon. do you think you could give an answer? – AncientSwordRage Oct 8 '12 at 12:46
  • @Pureferret I haven't seen/heard anything to establish a canonical answer. Unfortunately, I'm getting the feeling there isn't one. Considering the way Fringe has progressed, and that it's now in its final season, I have a bad feeling there won't ever be one either. – Iszi Oct 8 '12 at 12:52
  • You seem to have a pretty good summary here, and, even though there are no offical answers, do you want to try for the closest you can get? – AncientSwordRage Oct 8 '12 at 13:00

This appears to be one of those cases where there really just is no consistency. Since we've only witnessed this condition as having affected one particular shapeshifter so far, we might speculate:

  • This particular shapeshifter can only maintain a single form for a few weeks, maybe a few months.
  • This time can be extended to some degree by consuming raw mercury, but this appears to be an unreliable last resort.
  • It's also possible that some technology does exist, which was not immediately available to this particular shapeshifter, that can more reliably extend the tolerance of one form.

We might also guess that the condition is caused by:

  • Variation between models/parts/technologies used in various shapeshifters. (Perhaps the ones that constantly have to change bodies are just made cheaper.)
  • Special conditions affecting the one shapeshifter we have seen with this limitation. (Illness, injury, product defect, etc.)

The above might explain why we've only seen one shapeshifter affected by it, while others appear able to spend entire lifetimes in one form.

However, there's currently no known canonical explanation nor any known explanation from an official source. Additionally, with the show progressing to a radically different storyline in the fifth and final season, it's not likely that we ever will see an explanation.

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