Fringe: A Quasi-Retrospective . . .

Today, I mourn the passing of a television show.

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Well. Mourn’s a little strong. I’ll miss watching Fringe, but I’m impressed that it managed to get five seasons at all (even if the last one was shortened), and I’m hopeful that all the people involved move on to do even more interesting projects. But I am sorry to see Fringe go because even when it came up with plots that I despised — the First People, for instance — there were a number of things I loved about it, and I was always interested to see where it was going next.

And so I present to you my quasi-retrospective. Complete with affection, snark, and SPOILERS for all five seasons.

1. Truth is, I actually didn’t like Fringe when I first started watching it. I tuned into the season premiere, and while I found bits of it interesting — the relationship between Walter and Peter, for instance, or the very end where Nina tells her subordinate to “question” the dead body — I wasn’t overly impressed with the show as a whole, and I found Olivia (Anna Torv) to be a particularly bland heroine.

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Although no one was as annoying as Broyles (Lance Reddick). If that man had said, “Attache,” in that tone of voice one more time, I would have jumped in my television and beat him senseless. Thank God he was only that bitchy in the pilot.

I gave Fringe about four or five episodes before I decided I just wasn’t intrigued enough to continue watching it. But later that year, I heard a lot of people talking about how much the show had improved, so I decided to try it out again. By the first season finale, I was hooked and have been ever since.

2. Which isn’t to say that the show is perfect. It’s not. Fringe has an annoying way of dropping plotlines as if they never existed in the first place– like when Olivia says she’s seen the man who’s going to kill her, or that one time where Peter starts murdering shapeshifters for intel. They also came up with a lot of side plots and storylines that I never cared for — the whole idea that the fate of the two universes depended solely on which Olivia Peter fell in love with, for example, or the aforementioned First People.

Firstpeoplebook

(Seriously, I just hated this whole plot. The Big Reveal that all the technology from the supposed First People actually came from the future was kind of crap, but I was so relieved that I no longer had to deal with some prophetic, super-advanced, ancient civilization anymore that I didn’t even care.)

3. Still, despite some of these flaws, Fringe was always coming up with good storylines too, and the relationships between characters were fascinating. Peter and Walter’s relationship, for instance, only became more twisted and sweet and sad as the show went on. Walter’s complicated history with Olivia, as well, was interesting to see unfold. Astrid really never got the full backstory she deserved, but I loved watching her dynamic with Walter too, and watching Olivia’s and Nina’s relationship change from suspicious near-enemies in the first season to a more mother-daughter bond in the fourth was kind of awesome.

And while I was originally 100% against the idea of Peter and Olivia becoming a romantic couple — I love sibling dynamics, godammit — I admit, the show actually pretty quickly won me over in that regard.

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(Also, I should point out that Olivia becomes a lot more interesting as time goes on, especially in the second and third seasons, when Anna Torv really gets to flex her acting muscles.)

As far as plot stuff goes . . . I loved all the Cortexiphan trial stuff. Olivia’s psychic powers were badass — I only wish the show managed a modicum of consistency with them. There were any number of monster-of-the-weeks that I found creepy and awesome. And the introduction of the parallel universe and Peter’s origins were nothing short of brilliant.

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I loved almost everything about the parallel universes . . . our first real glimpse of it with Mr. Spock, Peter’s childhood abduction, the introduction of Walternate, Badass Redhead Olivia, alternate Fringe Division, the airships, etc. It was all really exciting and hugely intriguing stuff. If nothing else, Fringe was a wildly ambitious show and accomplished a lot of really neat things in the five years it was on TV.

4. I don’t think Joshua Jackson got enough credit for how good he was on this show — his performance as Observer-Peter was just awesome — but there’s no question that John Noble and Anna Torv were simply phenomenal, and the fact that neither of them received Emmy nods for their work is just frustrating as hell.

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Seriously, can I petition for this man to get an Emmy?

I mean, technically, they still have one more shot, but who am I kidding? It’s nearly impossible for actors starring in genre work to get recognized for their talent. You basically have to be on HBO to even get the chance. And on a network channel like Fox? Please. That would pretty much require an act of God.

5. Sadly, I did have a lot of problems with the last season of Fringe, and the more I think about the series finale, the more I’m disappointed with it. There was definitely some worthwhile stuff in there, so I’m glad I saw it, but if ever there was a case of failed potential, it was this last season’s inability to fully explore and capitalize on the dystopian future that it had created.

Some examples:

The team using past Fringe events as terrorist attacks on the Observers is a really awesome idea . . . but it was never truly explored thematically, the way I wanted it to be, and they really only did it for two or three episodes anyway. So while it was a nice throwback to earlier seasons, it felt very hastily improvised.

Etta’s death was great because I wasn’t expecting it at all, and Peter turning himself into an Observer as a way to avenge her was fallout that I hadn’t originally anticipated . . . but this felt like it should have been endgame stuff, not a three episode mini-arc with no consequences of any kind. (Of course, this is pretty standard for this show . . . they have something of a track record of introducing Dark Peter, only to retreat quickly, much to my eternal annoyance.)

Bringing back the Child Observer was neat, but the twist that he was always the boy who must live . . . I hated that.

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Plus, why the hell did he step off the train? They brought it up, and then never bothered to explain it . . . I call bullshit right there.

Also, I was extremely gratified to find out that other people besides me were confused as to why Walter would disappear from the timeline at 2015. Admittedly, working out time travel paradoxes has never really been one of my strong suits, but his winking out of existence right at this particular opportune moment doesn’t seem to make any sense to me. If the Observers had never existed, wouldn’t Walternate have been able to cure Peter as a child? And if he did that then, presumably, Walter would never have kidnapped him, and we’d have a very different situation on our hands . . . for instance, Peter wouldn’t be playing in a field with Etta and Olivia because he wouldn’t even be in this damn universe.

Finally, while the whole “time travel restart” is not my favorite way to fix problems and end a series in the first place, I especially am not a big fan of it when the show has already done it before.

At the end of Season Three, Peter goes into the future, sees a bunch of shitty things happen (re: his daddy kills his wife), sends a bunch of things back into the distant past to create his time travel machine in the first place, travels back to the present, fixes the damage between the two universes, and promptly disappears out of the timeline.

fringe_machine

Any machine that looks like this . . . probably not worth testing out.

At the end of Season Five, Walter goes into the future with Michael to show humanity not to go the Way of Observer (which always seemed like a monumentally stupid plan to me — like let’s put all of our eggs in one basket, and why not some toast too) and reboots the universe so that the shitty things that once happened (the Observer invasion, Etta’s death) never actually happen. Then Walter promptly disappears out of the timeline.

It’s not the exact same, but it’s close enough that I find it problematic. I really wish it had worked out, too, because that last shot of Peter with the white tulip is a good final shot for a series — but if this ending had made more sense, then this could have been an amazing end to the show.

CONCLUSIONS:

Clearly, I’m disappointed by the end of this series, but it’s still far from the worst series finale I’ve ever seen. Fringe wasn’t a perfect show, but I think it was an important one, and I’m glad I got the chance to watch it while it was on from beginning to end.

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You were a psychotically imbalanced whirlwind of a show, Fringe. You will be missed.

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5 Responses to Fringe: A Quasi-Retrospective . . .

  1. Teacups says:

    I gave up after Season 3 due to a myriad of problems. They seemed to be toning down Walter’s insanity, which was part of what made him awesome, I really hated the conclusion to the LSD episode, and to an extent the rest of the LSD episode, I really didn’t like Olivia/Peter or the increasing amount of focus they were pulling, Olivia’s role was increasingly becoming to be endangered and rescued instead of being the hero of the show, and my feelings towards Peter finally went from dislike to full-blown hatred. Also, after he’s been erased from the Fringeverse, watching him slowly become a part of the show again in Season 4 sounds exhaustingly annoying.

    Anyway, would you say that the show was better in the last two seasons re: Walter’s weirdness and Olivia’s damselism? That is, if you think there ever was a problem in either of those regards. It’s possible I was just making the Walter one up by accidently conflating him with the more serious Walternate, or something along those lines.

    • Just realized I never responded to this. Whoops. 🙂

      This is a funny thing to say, but it took me a minute to remember which LSD episode you were referring to. I mean, obviously, it’s probably the one actually called Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, but Walter takes LSD enough that it gave me momentary pause. As to that episode — well, I liked parts of it, although I can’t actually remember the conclusion offhand.

      I never really had a problem with Walter’s weirdness — but it might go down a little in the last few seasons? It’s hard to say — he’d have setbacks and steps forward and steps sideways. I never really had a problem with it, though. I think I might even needed him to get a little less weird — not because I was aching for normal characters, but because it felt more like actual development, you know, changes in his mental health. I also never really considered Olivia a damsel either — you’re not the first person I’ve heard to say that, but I never saw it, and I generally liked Peter. So I guess we’re ultimately 0 for 3 on Fringe. 🙂

      • Teacups says:

        Oh, sorry. I should have said “the cartoon episode,” or looked up the title (I couldn’t remember how to spell it at all) instead of being lazy. Anyway, the conclusion, or specifically the part that pissed me off, goes like this – William Bell figures shit out and gives this monologue about how his possession of Olivia only went all fucked because she was scared of everything, and this turned her mind against itself, so the solution was for her to stop being scared of everything. So she stopped, just like that, and was able to tell the InceptionZombies to stop attacking her, and they did, and then she woke up, and this was Bell’s big redemptive moment, ’cause it means he’s dead again.

        Except, I thought his monologue was really victim blamey. Like, “Oh, my untested, self-serving mindrape procedure was correct and totally safe, it only almost killed you because you’re still afraid from that time I experimented on you as a kid, or possibly that time I pulled you into another universe, or maybe me possessing you now… Or all those other times other people have experimented on or almost killed you. What an unexpected development! So just decide to stop being afraid – because that’s how feelings work, I guess – and everything will be cool.”

        Given this was apparently meant to be an empowering moment for Olivia, and it was Bell’s heroic sacrifice, I think he was supposed to be right and we really were meant to take the monologue at face value – it wasn’t meant to be like, Bell’s a gigantic twat trying to shift the blame off of himself, and Olivia repressing her fear is really unhealthy, if necessary. Which was basically how I saw it.

        You’re probably right about Walter’s weirdness – it’s just that it was one of the things that I’d always really enjoyed about his character, I guess.

  2. Macabre says:

    We are the summation of our experiences. If you went back and changed events in my past, you would change who I am today. I thought Fringe understood that concept. After all, look at the monumental changes in character that took place between Walter and Walternate after one loses a son and the other doesn’t. Olivia and the alternate universe’s Olivia are two completely different people because of the different lives they’ve led. In season 4, Peter keeps saying how “this isn’t my Olivia; this isn’t my Walter,” so naturally I assumed that somehow he would find a way to return to those characters we knew and loved. Instead the writers decided to shit all over the first three seasons of the show because they had written themselves into a corner from which they couldn’t escape.

    Our Olivia’s memories are magically transported into another Olivia’s body because of The Power of Love. Our Walter’s memories are finally transported into another Walter’s body near the end of season five due to the magic touch of Little Chemo Patient. Stop and think about how fucked up that is. You wake up tomorrow and find that every memory you’ve accumulated, including times with your family and relationships with friends and every other experience you’ve gone through, is suddenly wiped away and replaced by memories of someone else’s life. You’ve just lost your identity. The Carly that you were is dead. Your body has been hijacked by another. That’s exactly what happens to Olivia in season 4.

    My opinion of Fringe would be much higher if it had ended after season 3. Instead the writers decided to wipe everything from existence in those first three seasons and force us to spend two more seasons with characters we didn’t know or care about. Yet the show tried to have its cake and eat it, too, since it still references and shows flashbacks from those first three seasons even though the characters we’re now watching (with the exception of Peter) didn’t even have those experiences— like the white tulip, for instance. As a fan of the show, those last two seasons were a huge slap in the face.

    • Your body has been hijacked by another. That’s exactly what happens to Olivia in season 4.

      Yes, I had problems with that too. Olivia, in a sense, chose what happened to her — she wanted to gain her memories of the other life, even as the cost of this one — but I found that particularly creepy since she was forgetting everything and everyone she had ever known, rewriting herself, to be the woman that Peter wanted her to be. And if it was really, really well-written and thought-out and discussed, maybe it would have been okay, but I never got the sense that the creators understood what a fucked up thing it was that they just did. They seemed to just look at it as another part of Peter and Olivia’s epic romance, but this was not something I would have called romantic at all. And I’ll admit, this was a pretty big stumbling block for me.

      I didn’t mind the thing with Walter at the end, though, and I actually didn’t mind the idea of rewriting the whole timeline . . . I thought that was kind of ballsy, actually. But I did think the thing with Olivia was a cheat and totally creepy besides. I got past it, and I certainly didn’t find the last two seasons a slap in the face, but there’s definitely stuff I would have rewritten. I do agree that one of Fringe’s biggest problems — and a problem with a lot of fiction in general — is fixing things with The Power of Love. I wouldn’t have ended it with Peter writing himself out of the timeline, though. I always thought that was kind of mishandled too.

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