After five seasons, Fringe, one of the best science fiction shows on TV, comes to an end. Fans can now breathe a sigh of relief that the show runners were able to conclude the wonderfully twisting saga of the Fringe Division’s Science Team and its investigations into the bizarre and who later became freedom fighters for humanity.
When Fringe first premiered in 2008, it came off as a sophisticated, 21st-century version of The X-Files. Both shows were similar in that they were about government agents investigating freakish phenomena. In Fringe’s case, the main characters FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), consultant Dr. Walter Bishop (brilliantly played by John Noble) and his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) didn’t chase UFOs or ghosts but encountered weird monsters-of-the-week and fringe-level science like teleportation, fast-growing humans and so on as part of their investigations for the Science Team.
But the show soon developed its own mythology. It turned out there was a reason behind all the weirdness going on in the world, which was called The Pattern. Usually they happened in the New York/ New England area as illustrated by bold 3D location titles. Unlike The X-Files, where it became apparent that the producers didn’t know what was going on with its convoluted stories, Fringe methodically explained things and the answers led to more intriguing questions. It made one want to find out what was going on. For instance, in the first season finale “There’s More Than One Of Everything” viewers learned that Peter Bishop was actually dead with an apparent doppelganger of his running around. That led to the revelation of an existing parallel world, which was dramatically shown when Olivia found herself transported inside a very much intact World Trade Center.
Things became stranger and more titillating in latter seasons. That could be one reason why the show wasn’t a ratings hit. While sci-fi fans may have loved the bizarre antics of mad scientist Walter Bishop (like eating licorice during grisly autopsies) or the uncanny plots and macabre premises (such as reanimating a beheaded person when the missing head was reattached to the body) it probably turned off casual viewers. Well what would one expect in this society that loves shallow reality programs? Still, Fringe grew a cult following as people discovered this quirky show that dealt with parallel universes and visiting enigmatic post-humans from the distant future.
But fans fell in love with the equally peculiar characters. There was Peter who was conflicted about his place in the world as seen in the show’s pilot. He was a brilliant but shiftless person with dubious morality and estranged from his father (who was committed at that time to a mental hospital). Olivia was seen as the more stable person yet contended with being thrown suddenly into bizarre cases while remaining a dedicated and resilient agent. Her core was terribly shaken from the events of the late second season/early third season. She traveled to the parallel world in “Over There, Parts I & II” and was captured and brainwashed. Her redheaded double (nicknamed “Fauxlivia”) came to Olivia’s world and took her place. These early third season episodes that shifted between the two worlds were some of the best. After Olivia finally escaped, and had difficulty with her romantic relationship with Peter, it was clear that she was traumatized.
But the standout character was daffy Walter Bishop, who once was malevolent, and it turned out his past actions were largely responsible for The Pattern. Walter is a brilliant scientist who along with his former partner William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) lost their morality at some point in the past. Thinking themselves above normal people, they unethically conducted experiments on people (including children). Their most successful subject was Olivia who as a child developed the ability to travel to the parallel world. But Walter caused unspeakable worldwide havoc when he traveled to the parallel world in the flashback episode “Peter”, which took place in 1985. Walter’s son Peter died of a disease before Walter could cure it. While observing the other world, Walter saw that Peter’s counterpart in that world was also dying. Grief stricken, he risked traveling there and wound up kidnapping the other Peter and raised him as his own. This action had two terrible consequences: one, it created micro black holes in that world which disrupted the fabric of reality and created environmental disasters. His counterpart there (nicknamed “Walternate”) created a substance called Amber 31422 that sealed the rips, leaving behind quarantine zones. But that world and universe was inevitably dying. This prompted the second consequence, where “Walternate” enraged over Walter’s actions began to initiate war on Walter’s world in retribution with the goal of destroying the regular world. By sending over shape-shifting agents and others to the regular world, reality began to be affected. Thus, physical laws started failing, which created many of The Pattern’s unexplainable events that the Fringe Division was investigating. Needless to say, once Walter learned of the enormity of his actions he became guilt ridden and broken as a result. Despite his goofy and affable nature, he is really a saddened man full of regret and self pity. Actually he volunteered to be lobotomized in order to change his morally deficient personality at the cost that he wasn’t as brilliant and has had to struggle to come up with solutions to problems.
The late fourth season episode “Letters Of Transit” jumped ahead to the 2030s and it was shown that the bald, post-human Observers (who have appeared in every single episode — albeit at times peripherally) had taken over the world and that our heroes were trapped in amber. The main character in that episode Henrietta “Etta” Bishop — Peter and Olivia’s daughter (Georgian Haig), while working with the Observers, was part of the human resistance and helped recover the ambered bodies of Walter, Peter, Olivia and Walter’s beleaguered assistant Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole). “Letters Of Transit” was a standalone episode that hinted at what was coming. The final episodes of the fourth season, “Brave New World, Parts I & II”, took place in the present and had to do with the Science Team confronting William Bell, who was trying to destroy the universe and rebuild it in his image.
The show’s premise abruptly and stunningly changed when the fifth season began. Now it took place in the 2030s after our heroes had been freed from amber. Working in the shadows, they struggle to find a way to defeat the Observers. In the meantime, the team has had to face personal issues: Olivia and Peter struggled with the death of their daughter while Walter faced the prospect of his cold personality coming back after his brain was fully healed. This season’s arc is one of Fringe’s most daring plot developments simply because it literally comes out of left field and it works. It was seen at the end of the fourth season that Fringe was trying to wrap up its arcs in the event of cancellation. And the inclusion of “Letters Of Transit” in that season could’ve caused an uproar if the show was cancelled since the episode had no resolution. But it was a brilliant set up to its fifth and final season, which illustrates how the new format still works in the show’s framework. While the final season is chiefly about fighting the Observers, there is still weird stuff to investigate and ponder. Such as the origin of the Observers themselves, which was brilliantly answered in one of the final episodes “The Boy Must Live” featuring the sympathetic Observer called September (Michael Cerveris) and the origin ties in with our heroes plot to stop the Observers.
Trying to make sense of all the complexities and pseudo-science on Fringe can be daunting but it’s very gratifying for devoted viewers. Of course, not all the pieces fit in perfectly. In the third season finale “The Day We Died”, Peter was erased from existence in order to stabilize both universes and prevent an inter-dimensional war, but this plot and its confusing conclusion was derided by fans and ultimately even the show runners. But usually when Fringe aimed for the heavens, the show scored magnificently. Especially with touching stories such as “Wallflower” about an invisible man desperate for human contact or “White Tulip”, which guest starred Peter Weller as a time traveling scientist who horribly maimed his body in a futile effort to save his dead wife. And there were some out-there episodes like “Black Blotter”, “Brown Betty” and “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”, which featured vivid hallucinations, musical numbers and animated scenes!
It is regrettable that Fringe has to end, one gets the feeling that there were more stories to tell. This is a sign that the show ended when it should’ve and did not overstay its welcome. For us fans, it has been one truly memorable show. If anyone wants to see Fringe and all of its edginess it’s easily available on DVD/Blu-ray and can be downloaded. It’s also airing on The Science Channel, which is a perfect home for this sci-fi gem that fantastically pushed the envelope.