Today, I mourn the passing of a television show.
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.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.
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You were a psychotically imbalanced whirlwind of a show, Fringe. You will be missed.