It was a night of goodbyes on FOX tonight for fans and viewers of Fringe with the two-hour season five and overall series finale consisting of two episodes “Liberty” and “An Enemy of Fate”. With the clock ticking and the boy Michael who is also known as Anomaly XB-6783746 (Roman Longworth) captured by Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa), Walter (John Noble), Olivia, (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson), Astrid and Donald aka September (Michael Cerveris) must fight a way to change the past. Can the original Fringe team be successful or are they doomed to fail?
***WARNING: There are HEAVY SPOILERS beyond this point!! ***
Yes and no. When dealing with time travel, paradoxes and the like, happy endings can be met but must be met with sacrifice and loss. While the sacrifice isn’t one that this examiner theorized (via his review on TV King found here) it was still important and furthermore, poignant.
And the final two hours had real treats for all those who were long-time viewers of the show both hardcore fans and eager loyalists.* And what is also great is that the series, despite the cheat of not wiping Peter again from existence, still felt earned and deserved. And in the end, the entire series was really founded on the concept that Walter Bishop lost his son twice, and found a way to move heaven and earth to travel across time parallel universes to find him again. And in that moment, Walter ultimately found a way to recover not only his heart, but his soul.
(*) - I tend to fall into the latter category than the former. I recognize fringe events from previous episodes but I can’t tell you what season, the name of the event, episode title, etc.
There were tons of great cameos and references such as Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel), December (Eugene Lipinski), the worms, the butterflies and even Cortexiphan, but yet, in the end, it came down right to the love of fathers and sons.
Originally we learned in the penultimate episode that Walter would sacrifice himself. As he explained it, the grand master plan that he and Donald devised entailed Michael and Walter going into the future. Once contact was made and the past was rectified, the timelines would fix themselves but in the process, also erasing Walter and Michael from it as well. His explanation was “nature abhors a paradox”.
The entire scene where Peter learns of his father’s masterstroke goodbye ending with them hugging and Walter exclaiming “You are my favorite thing, Peter…. My very favorite thing.” Was just beyond heartbreaking. I won’t lie, man card on the table, I wept. And the line from September later on of “It’s not about fate…it’s about changing fate. It’s about hope. And protecting our children.” Also struck a deep and powerful nerve within me.
But for as mighty and satisfying as the series finale of Fringe was, it was ultimately in comparison to the show as a series overall, a failure.
Last week on “The Boy Must Live” the series rebooted a keen idea of Michael giving Walter his understanding of everything we as viewers have been through. Walter knew of the Walter of the first three seasons, and the new one that followed once Peter ‘was erased from the timeline’. And it gave me hope that no matter what happens that Olivia, Peter, Astrid, everyone we cared about deeply in the first three seasons when Fringe was at it’s best, would suddenly re-appear. While Walter did, and Peter has never really left us, it was still unnerving to realize Olivia and Astrid and Broyles would never remember the original (blue opening credits aka blue) timeline but instead only remembers the yellow one, the one where Peter never existed.
I was sincerely hoping that the finale moments, that Peter looking into the Tulip that Walter sent him would offer some semblance of a renewed sense of everything that happened that the sacrifice play was not one made in vein. While Etta safely returns to Peter’s arms, the footage of memories that we’ve seen lightly spread out and sprinkled here and there through out season five, it ends up being not as powerful as it could be. It begs the question, why not go further? Why not end with a bit more, that Peter remembers or sees everything, but the real key would be Olivia sees everything when she sees the tulip as well? Ending the way it did, we se something in Joshua Jackson’s Peter, a hint of something going on, but never exactly what. And thus, it leaves you feeling a bit cold.
Fringe for all intensive purposes ended wonderfully, and as the show ended, and the fan in me felt at first happy, I am then remembering all the problems Fringe also brought with it. Unanswered storylines, or questions, ones that were the focal point of the show. **
(**) – Such as who was the mysterious man who wrote the guide from the other side? We theorized it was Walter or even William Bell, and it wasn’t the Walter from ‘The Other Side’. It was our Walter. This storyline, which some fans refer to the Mr. X storyline, was dropped after season one, and still, brings up another valid question of if Walter and Michael go back and nature corrects itself, it means that September has no reason to save Michael, he has no reason to then also save Walter and Peter, and thus negates Peter from the timeline. Now, you could argue that nature hates a paradox and Peter created one back at the finale of season three in which nature negated/phased Peter out of existence. But in general, it feels like a glaring hole that needs to be addressed or better explained perhaps.
Does that mean the series finale was horrible? God no; I was emotionally moved by the finale two hours of Fringe. I was moved by Walter’s final real moments with Astrid, Peter and even Donald/September. As storytelling goes, with the story they were trying to tell within the context of Season Four and Season Five, it all seemed to fit. But in context to the beginning of the series with Season One through Three, it felt too mechanical in it’s approach. It knew what beats it had to hit, but seemed so committed to never going back and really embracing what worked within those first few years. Sure you could say that the nods of using the fringe events to storm the Observer stronghold was a nod to those first few years, that the scenes between Walter saying goodbye privately to Astrid, then Peter and then Donald were amazing. But then there is how it all ties into the timeline we are ‘supposed’ to care about, and that is when the finale as a series finale begins to lose a bit of the edge it presented.
In the long-term, despite glimpses of correcting the story problems from Season Four, it instead builds upon that problem and fully commits to it. And that is fine, but it could have been so much more fulfilling than it was, and as someone who was on the side of the show that wanted to embrace this new future-storytelling device, it felt a bit like a letdown. So even though the show tied together that Olivia is the one who kills baddie Captain Windmark with Cortexiphan-based telekinesis, slamming a car into him mid-teleport is one that illicit a cheer, it also feels a bit hollow if you go beyond the surface. And with a show like Fringe steeped in not just mythology but histories of its characters, it can be a bit frustrating.
Overall, Fringe is a rare show. It was a show that, much like Peter Bishop, found a way to exist in a world that it should have no existed in. The show was so commercially a failure for FOX, yet FOX found a way to keep a show it believed in on the air for it’s small legion of fans. The creative team were able to follow their vision from start to finish (or at least that is what we will be told) with no interruptions creatively and in the end, you can’t really argue with that. Fringe was a show that told rich science fiction like stories filled with amazing heart, wit and comedy. It told the story of a father and son. It told the story of a woman who was gifted, not because she was tested on because she was smart and had a great head on her shoulders. And when you get down to it, Fringe was at it’s best during those first three seasons. Does that mean it never worked after that? Not at all. There were glimpses of the same beauty and breathtaking non-stop thrills of Fringe firing on all levels. And in the end, that is what this reviewer will remember about Fringe… and I hope television fans years to come will enjoy the series as a whole including this finale as they remember that too.
Fringe airs on the local FOX affiliate which is WTTE 28 and can be found on channel 8 . For HD channel versions, check your local cable or satellite provider for more information.
But what do YOU think?
You can read Nick’s additional reviews on The TV King.