Friday’s final Fringe was very middle of the road in terms of finales to beloved series: it didn’t offend with any out-of-left-field direction (“Starbuck’s an angel,” “Jerry and the gang go to prison,” “the whole series took place in a snow globe”), but it didn’t really surprise with any developments either. But for the fans that stuck it out through the time changes and the consistent on-the-bubble hopes for renewals, Fringe delivered a fine finale that blew them a kiss goodbye and left them with the feeling of having just eaten fresh baked cookies. All’s well that ends well. At least that’s how I see it.
SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY, AHEAD.
The two-parter, called “Liberty” and “An Enemy of Fate,” saw our Fringe team of future freedom fighters fraught with danger: they had to save the Observer child Michael from the evil Observers so that they can send him to the late 22nd century where his existence can prove to some well-meaning scientists that genetically separating emotion from intellect doesn’t mean that humanity can’t advance and thus preempt the 27th century future of the Observers and reset time. The only question (other than “What the hell did I just say?”) is what the Fringe team would do with the other hour and 55 minutes of the show.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple, nor was necessarily sitting through this season’s scavenger hunt. The definite weak link of this season 5 was an emotional distance between the stakes and the characters. True, Olivia and Peter’s daughter Etta was killed by an Observer, but the underlining motivation of the Observers themselves was never more than oblique, which was not good for a group of characters who have never been more than background players, yet were strangely and suddenly thrust into the spotlight in this final season. Watching season 5 following season 4, it felt like there was a season missing, the one that set-up the evil Observer plan for world domination beyond “Letters of Transit.” Perhaps if we’d had a longer season 5, and were allowed a more leisurely pace, we would have gotten that detail colored in, but them’s the breaks.
Instead, we got the scavenger hunt, a drawn out search for desperate items that together lead to a rather simple remedy. On the other hand, that simplicity made it easier to get a lot of great character moments out of these final two hours: Olivia and Peter, Peter and Walter, Walter and Astrid, Walter and September, the”Over Here” Fringe team and the “Over There” Fringe team, and so on. All got touched upon in some way, shape or form in the finale, which is why as Fringe leaves the TV world it leaves us with warm feelings inside. It was a Fringe greatest hits package.
First, there was “Liberty’s” impromptu return to the alt-universe. With Michael being held on a Lady-less Liberty Island, the team comes up with a plan to sneak in by taking a detour through the Department of Defense on the Other Side. Fortunately, the alt-universe is Observer free, but Fauxlivia and Lincoln Lee are still there, and it was fun seeing Anna Torv put on the sassy red, if slightly greying, wig of Fauxlivia one last time. It seemed a bit weird though that the last minute was the first time anyone thought of re-powering Olivia via Cortexiphan, but the timing sure was convenient (and vengeful as we learned later).
In other reunion news, we learned the fate of Gene, the fateful cow test subject of Fringe Division. Ambered in the back of the lab, Astrid uncovered Gene as the team prepared for their final strike against the Observers. Walter remembered with fondness how loud Gene would moo before realizing that Astrid had given him a moment, she found the right thing to say or do in order to get him focused and hopeful. He told her that Astrid was a beautiful name, a rare and touching moment in which Walter got her name right without having to be corrected.
Another reunion we get is the return of Agent Broyles, who hasn’t been seen since the game changing “The Bullet That Saved the World,” and although it looked like he has going to follow Nina Sharp out the (last) exit, Broyles return included a great scene with Captain Windmark where the Observer primeval again talked about how he’s being humanized by his hate of the Fringe gang. One of the recurring themes of the evening was the lingering inevitability of humanism, you can try to deny it, program it out of you genetically, or with technology, but it’s always there waiting for the right trigger. Even inside September’s grumpy old cohort December, who reappeared just long enough last night to make his own attempt to help our heroes overthrow Observer oppression.
But the question of the hour, or the two-hours, was whether or not Walter would have to make the supreme sacrifice in order to save the future (and the past). Certainly, this season of Fringe has been playing it that way, and thematically, for the series as a whole, that would make the most sense. Walter confides to Peter that this was always part of the plan, that he would escort Michael to Oslo in 2167 knowing that neither of them could come back. The resulting paradox would mean both would cease to exist from 2015 hence, the start date for the Observers’ never-gonna-happen invasion.
It was a decision that the scientist had made peace with, and had already prepared for with both a note and a tape for Peter in the event of the plan’s success. “The time we had together we stole,” Walter confesses to Peter, “I don’t want to say goodbye, but I will say, ‘I love you, son.’” Peter isn’t angry, but forgiving, appreciative and accepting in a way that Walter never was when he committed the “original sin” of Fringe, spiriting away to an alternative-universe in grief-fueled hubris and stealing a son that wasn’t his. Humanity wins again, both men now understand the necessity of sacrifice, and importance of holding on to the things that make us human at all cost.
But the now human September – Donald- had different ideas. When he and Walter devised the plan years earlier, September lacked the emotional understanding he had now. Like a good father, he would show his own son Michael his love by taking the boy into the future himself. “When I saw what Peter meant to you, then I understood why [my feelings] were important,” September explained. “When I take his hand and I lead him [to 2167], he’ll know that I love him.”
“That’s being a father,” replied Walter.
Of course, there’s a last minute twist. September is shot as the Fringe team attempts to hold off the Observers and their Familiars – sorry, Loyalists – as the wormhole is opened. Walter then steps up, takes the boy’s hand, looks back at his own son one last time – who mouths “I love you, Dad” – before stepping through the wormhole to the year 2167, never to be seen again. And if this didn’t bring the house down, the next scene opened on that day in the park in 2015 and the family Bishop – Peter, Olivia and Etta – enjoying a nice sunny day. Except it didn’t end with an Observer invasion, but a return trip home and a letter in the mail from Walter. When Peter opens it, he finds the sketch of a white tulip, once sent to Walter by Alastair Peck, now passed to Peter with the message to keep hope alive.
So does Peter now remember his father’s sacrifice in a future that never happened? I think that’s implied. One of the messages of Fringe is that nothing is ever really gone whether its a thought, a feeling, an idea, a loved one or even an entire universe. But the end of Fringe was inevitable as it was comforting. What on the surface was a show about amoral scientists doing gruesome and horrible things, turned out to be one of the most blatantly sappy shows on TV as love is proved to conquer all, even cutting edge (and cutthroat) science and technology. The world was saved thrice because a father loved his son, and that’s all there was to it.
Other choice moments from last night’s conclusion were Peter and Olivia’s Easter Eggs of Fringe events past attack on Observer HQ and Olivia zapping all the power in New York City to crunch Windmark with a car telekinetically, but that stuff would have been awesome anytime. Buzzy, gory, sci-fi-y moments were Fringe’s bread and butter from the word go, but what’s amazing is what Fringe became from that rocky first season that many gave up on too quick, and on through to its banner second and third years, and more controversial fourth and fifth years, a rare TV specimen that played to your heart as easily as it played to your head. Rarely has an age old cliche like “love conquers all” been done quite so candidly, or quite so stylishly.
So thanks to co-creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci for being the architects of series where it was easy to imagine the impossibilities. And thanks to Jeff Pinkner, J.H. Wyman and their writing team for taking those plans and bringing them to life in such beautiful, unexpected and sometimes shocking ways. And special big thanks to the cast that breathed life into these wonderful characters these last five years: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Seth Gabel, Kirk Acevedo, Michael Cerveris, Leonard Nimoy, and, especially, John Noble because if we didn’t buy them, the whole show would have never worked.
Now, in the end, let’s remember Fringe in the best way we possibly can: with some prime Walter Bishop hilarity: