Some major and minor programs in the world of TV will becoming to an end over the next few months, and even though I've celebrated some of them a lot in this column, I think that it is only fair to pay tribute to them one last time. Few choices have granted me as much enjoyment as the one that airs its 100th and final episode tonight, Fringe
Considering how few eyeballs seem to be on it as it comes to it's conclusion, it's ironic to remember that when it debuted, it was one of the biggest boost imaginable my Fox. From J.J. Abrams, the man who had brought us Lost, Fringe debuted with one of the most expensive pilots in TV history. We were quickly brought into the world of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, played with great reserve by newcomer Anna Torv. In a desperate move to save her lover, she turned to the help of a literal mad scientist, Walter Bishop, who had been institutionalized for the past fifteen years, and his estranged son Peter. We then were immersed in a world with cows in a lab and a sensory deprivation tank, all trying to figure out a world that was being commanded unexplainable science. It was considered a successor to The X-Files, so in some ways it's fitting that it eventually settled in it's Friday at 9 time slot (though it was viewed as a death sentence when it happened)
Eventually, the show came to develop a mythology--- there was an alternate universe to a parallel to our own, one in which JFK was never assassinated and the Twin Towers still stood. The two worlds began to fragment when we learned that Walter had torn a hole in the universes when he had tried to save the life of that universe's Peter Bishop. And we learned that everything that happened in both worlds seemed to tie around the Bishop family and Agent Dunham, along with some very capable FBI agents, played by among others Kirk Acevedo, Lance Reddick, and Jakisa Nicole as Astrid, the frail lab assistant to Walter, who in one of the series more endearing running gags, could never remember her first name correctly.
As the show's mythology became more convoluted, the show's audience became progressively smaller, but those who stuck with it --- and there were enough of us out there--- were well rewarded. Every season the show seemed to develop new wrinkles for the characters to play at. We finally stepped into the alternate universe to see how its problems had affected it, as well as the duplicate versions of the fringe division. We saw how both universes were affected when one was destroyed, then saved, as Peter Bishop winked out of existence. And in the shows final season, we went twenty years into the future, as the Fringe team tried to save a dystopic future commanded by the seemingly omnipotent Observers, the quasi-human life form that had been monitored the world since the Pilot.
All of these changes may have seemed immensely complicated to the outside viewer, which no doubt reminded to many people of X-Files and Lost, mythology shows which were regarded as failures by some. (I don't, but I have my own reasons, which I'll get to in a separate column). I, for one, never judged it that way for several reasons. First, there was the fact that for those of us who stuck with the show from beginning to end, have gotten the majority of our questions answered, and in detail. In the series penultimate episode, we finally learned what the Observers were, how they got that way, and where they came from. The X-Files never thought to reveal that much.
Then there is the level of the performances. Enough has been said about John Noble and Anna Tor'sv magnificent work for me to repeat, but the fact that they have not been even nominated for Emmys just goes to show how prejudiced the Academy is against sci-fi based shows. Noble and Torv's work would be fine on its own, but they are also played alternate versions of themselves, with subtle and succinct differences that are the kind of performances that usually get rewarded. I can only hope in the alternate universe these kinds of performances are rewarded.
But one doesn't need to like science-fiction to really enjoy this series, because at it's center Fringe is not about paranormal phenomena or alternate universes --- it was about love. Love between father and son that doesn't die when one is gone. Love between two people transcending the distance between two worlds. Even the conclusion of the series is more romantic than sci-fi. September doesn't want to destroy his fellow observers --- he wants them to embrace the emotions they have so effectively weeded out of their personalities, a feeling he got when he had his own son. Maybe that is what is fundamental about J.J. Abrams' series ---- he's a romantic disguised as a tech geek. His shows aren't really about a kick-ass spy living a double life or what's going on in a strange island in the South Pacific--- they're about the grand unifying force of love. Sometimes it works brilliantly, sometimes we can't accept it. But in the case of Fringe, we know that love is really the thing at the center of the universe. And when it's done well, it reminds us of how good television can be. I only wish more people had been willing to embrace it.