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Fringe returns for one last, dystopian season

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Fringe season premiere

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Welcome to the final season of Fringe. And now for something completely different. Spoilers ahead…

Last season, the show took a break from its overarching plot to bring us the episode “Letters of Transit,” depicting a dark, dystopian future of 2036, where the Observers have brought the human race under their oppressive rule, and the only hope for the resistance is to track down and revive the old Fringe team encased in amber. The premiere, “Transience Thought Unifier Model-11” picks up that storyline with the intention of running with it to the end of the 13-episode season.

It was an interesting and risky decision to take the show in this direction for its final year. The last season ended with “Brave New World,” which was designed as a potential series finale, tying up all the loose ends and giving Peter and Olivia their happy ending in case the struggling series wasn’t picked up again. “Transit” and “Transience” set up a whole new take on the show, set in the same universe with the same characters but with a whole different format, ditching the mostly procedural sci-fi stories in favor of one long, epic tale all the way to the true finale. (I’m curious on whether “Transit” would have even aired if season 4 had been the last after all, rather than being left as a DVD extra for What Might Have Been.)

“Transit” introduced us to Henrietta (Georgina Haig), Peter and Olivia’s daughter, now grown up and working on reviving the Fringe team for the resistance. “Transience” picks up with Etta, along with the revived Walter, Peter, and Astrid on the run trying to track down Olivia’s amber box and the MacGuffin device she’s carrying that could save the day.

They find Olivia’s amber cube under the care of Edward Markham, who’s using it for a coffee table. Well played, Fringe. There’s no better time for appeal to continuity junkies. I wouldn’t mind if every episode worked in an appearance from some forgotten satellite charcter, like Sam Weiss. Or how about a hallucination of John Scott? That would be quite the coup.

The oddest thing in the episode involved Walter’s brain. In “Transit,” Walter was so addled from his amber-sleep that he could barely function, so they brought out those bits of his brain that Massive Dynamic’s been keeping on ice and restored them, allowing him to stand straight up but making him somewhat more evil. Now a psychic torture session with a vicious Observer has left Walter brain damaged all over again, so he can’t even remember the world-saving secret that Olivia’s MacGuffin was supposed to recover. I can see why they would want to keep the Walter we’ve known for so long at the forefront, but why bother messing with his brain at all? I was actually curious to see what the show would do with Walter like this, but apparently the answer is nothing. If they wanted a character we already know, we’ve already got Olivia, Peter, and Astrid.

The episode was all about getting the team back together, particularly seeing Olivia meet Etta, which was very good acting work from Haig and Torv. The episode also gives us glimpses of the new 2036 little by little, similar to what was done with Earth-2. We learn, for example, that the Observers have been poisoning the air with carbon monoxide so they can breathe better. I’m interested in finding out what made the Observers give up on observing and switch to conquering.

The dystopian future is well-worn territory in sci-fi, so it will be tricky for Fringe to come up with something new. Only the next 12 episodes will tell if this bold new season will be a hit with fans, or if we’ll write it off and declare season 4 the true end of the show after all.

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