I didn't watch the first season of Fringe. I think I remember watching the pilot and then giving up on the show. Part of it was that I had grown tired of Lost, so another JJ Abrams show didn't appeal to me. Another part of it was that it was on Fox, which meant that if it ended up actually being any good, it would have a very short life, and I could just watch the entire run in a year or so.
The summer after that first season — late summer/early fall, I would imagine — my wife and I were delving into a few TV shows we felt like we didn't give a fair shake. One show was Supernatural, which is fantastic, particularly if you're watching a bunch of them at once (at least through season 5). We also gave Fringe another shot.
I'm so glad we did.
The same reason that Fringe failed to find a big audience is the reason I eventually fell in love with it: it was science fiction, pure and simple. Sure, I ultimately became really invested in the Peter/Olivia romance and the Peter/Walter relationship, but Fringe didn't back away from its reason for existing: Fringe science.
The characters were icing on the cake.Those who say John Noble should win an Emmy for his work as Walter aren't wrong. It would have been very easy to play a character like that to the extreme, but Noble brought such variation to all sides of Walter. I don't think we've seen a mentally unstable character portrayed this well on television. This was a man who knew his grip on sanity was tenuous and he acted the part.
I'll admit that I used to watch Dawson's Creek when I was in college (don't judge me), so it was nice to see the return of Joshua Jackson to television. It's impossible not to want to see him succeed after watching his Pacey-Con video (Google it, you'll thank me). I believed that Peter was a genius who had spent his life conning people and mixing it up with less than savory characters. I also believed that he had no purpose until the Fringe Division came to be.
I don't know that we've ever seen a female character on television like Olivia Dunham. The closest I can think of is Veronica Mars. Sure, there have been plenty of "kick ass" women, as they say, but how many of them have gone five seasons without ever having a T&A moment? Even those early episodes of Buffy had questionable high school attire. Anna Torv is never an object on this show. She's always Olivia Dunham, a complex and moving character. I hope to god Torv gets more work after this, because she's proven her acting chops.
I could go on, but this is supposed to be a review of the last two episodes, so I should probably get to it.
I told a friend of mine that the Japanese title of this show should be "Shit Happens When Walter Bishop Takes Boys Through Portals." That has just the right level of creepiness for a Japanese television show.
Credit the writers for clearly knowing where they wanted to end up by the end of the season, not just in how the show ends, but in the specifics of the climax. Fringe existed because Walter Bishop brought Peter over from the other side through a portal. The world is saved because Walter Bishop takes the young observer through a portal. Well played, Fringe.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I spent most of this season hoping to god that they'd go to the other side at some point. After all, the mythology of the show was built around the concept of a parallel reality. I do wish the others could have gone over as well, but it was nice to see Olivia reunited with Lincoln. Not only was she the Olivia that he originally wanted to be with, but she also hadn't aged since he last saw her, which is just messed up on so many levels. I love that Bolivia acknowledges as much, something that her doppelganger would not have done.
I should also mention that I was overjoyed that the boy observer, Michael, gave Walter his memories from the alternate timeline that Peter came from. It bothered me since Olivia got her memories that Walter never got his. I thought the fact that they never addressed this last season was a big oversight, so at least they got around to it before the show ended.
I have just now realized that Peter was not only a man living in an alternate dimension from the one he was born in, but an alternate timeline as well. The sci-fi nerd in me is bouncing off the walls at that.
At the end of "Liberty," the ex-Observer September goes to see December, another of the original 12 Observers who traveled back in time. He asks December for help in finishing the device that would allow the Fringe team to reset time.
This would be as good a place as any to talk about one of the big plot holes that Fringe left unexplained. There are some nerdy plot holes, the types of things that only comic book dorks would glom on to (this happens a lot with time travel). But my wife, who is both intelligent and not a comic book dork, noticed it right away. If the plan to stop the Observers was to prevent their creation, then wouldn't that undo the entire show?
Fringe only exists because Walter crossed over to the other side to save Peter, because Walternate missed the fact that he'd found a cure for Peter's illness. He missed that because he was distracted by September — an Observer. You remove September from that moment and Walternate saves Peter's life and Walter never crosses over, Peter stays on the other side for his entire life.
There's an easy explanation, one that's actually supported by evidence from the final season. Michael wasn't going forward in time to when the Observers were created, he was going forward in time to when the Observers 2.0 were created. The original 12 were infected by the emotions of the past, so when they returned to the future it was decided that the next generation of Observers needed to completely invulnerable to feelings. It was these feeling-less Observers, or the second generation, that invaded the past. The fact the September was no longer an Observer and that December was being kept under constant surveillance supports this idea.
But why oh why didn't they just explain that? If it bothered my non-dorky wife, than it was surely driving millions of others bat shit insane. It would have taken all of thirty seconds to explain away.
And so we come to the final episode of Fringe, and they jump right into the pathos. September asks December to choose between the Observers and the human race; he ultimately chooses neither. September explains exactly how the plan will work. Broyles is found out. And Peter sees the video that Walter left for him, the video that his past self will eventually see, that explains exactly why Walter's suddenly gone away.
We hit on a few of the story touchstones of the show in the last episode, and now we're hitting on the emotional ones. It always seems to come down to fathers and sons, doesn't it? Maybe it's because we're so easily estranged from each other. Maybe it's because the male ego forces such a thing. Or maybe it's because the bulk of human storytelling comes back to this very same theme. There has never been a father/son team on television like Walter and Peter Bishop, and I doubt there will be again.
As with all good finales, each character gets a moment to shine. Astrid figures out a way around the power problem and has a nice, final moment with Walter. Yes, the "beautiful name" bit was heavy handed, but that doesn't mean it rang false.
And then it's go time. They need an "endock stabilizer" aka the cube they used a few episodes back. It also so happens that Broyles has been captured by the Observers. It's time for Olivia and Peter to be the bad ass couple that we always knew they could be, yet saw so rarely. It's time to drop some Walter Bishop style cold stone science lunacy on the Observers and their human helpers. It was, in fact, a beautifully orchestrated ode to the entire series, and it was great to see reminders of episodes gone by (we even got a six fingered hand while we're at it — which probably means we got all the symbols in this final season, since I know we got the sea horse earlier).
Also, "you don't know how lucky you are this room doesn't have ventilation" was the epitome of the Peter/Broyles relationship in one moment.
We move quickly to the climax, to the big firefight as Walter and September open the portal to the future. Windmark shows up and steals the boy away, but can't handle the extra mass of Peter to teleport any further. And, at long last, we see bad ass telekinetic Olivia. It was just about a perfect moment. Then it's back to the plan.
Sure, the suggestion that September would take Michael through the portal was nice and all, but I don't think any of us actually bought it. We knew it would come down to Walter. It had to come down to Walter. And then it happened.
"I love you, dad," says Peter. And there's not a dry eye in the house.
Then we're back in the past (or, technically, the future, but one that's not so far away). We're back to how the season opened, with Olivia, Peter, and Etta at the park. We're back to Peter on his knees, arms outstretched, waiting for his daughter to come to him. And this time she does, safe and sound, no Observers to be seen.
As Peter swings his daughter around, both of them laughing, there's one last shot in the park. It's a close up on Olivia's face. This is a woman who has, for the run of the show, been portrayed as guarded, and slow to embrace happiness. And at the start of this last shot, you see that. You see her as she was. And you watch as she softens, as a smile forms, and you realize just how far she's come.
The final scene of the show is Peter and only Peter, which is appropriate. The show, ultimately, revolved around him. All roads have led to Peter. He opens the letter from his father and finds the white tulip, yet another call back to an episode gone by, and episode about time travel, nonetheless. He looks at it and he's not sure what it means, but he knows it means something. He knows there's more to it than just this drawing of a flower. The final shot is of Peter and you can tell he knows this is yet another mystery. He knows that there is a deeper meaning to everything, that the world is far more complex and wondrous than the rest of us will ever know.
That's what Fringe was: more complex and wondrous than most people ever knew. I'm just thankful I was one of the few who did.
Kyle Garret is the author of I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At, available now from Hellgate Press. His short fiction has been published in the Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Town Hall, Children, Churches, & Daddies and Falling Into Place. He writes comic book reviews here at Comic Bulletin and blogs for PopMatters. He can be found at KyleGarret.com and on Twitter as @kylegarret.