On The ‘Fringe’: A Retrospective on Sci-Fi With Emotion
There just isn’t anything like Fringe, it’s an ever uplifting look at the ties that bind family; one that’s gone through science experiments gone wrong, breaking the fabric of universes to save a dying child, erased timelines, doppelgangers and futuristic invaders set to occupy our world. We’ve written about Fringe before, as well as John Noble’s performance as Walter Bishop, but with the series coming to an end sooner than we could prepare ourselves for, we thought to do a retrospective on the series focusing on why the series means so much, as well as reminisce incredible moments that defied the sci-fi genre and its tropes. Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The series may have taken almost an entire season to really find it’s footing and become the sci-fi series we knew it always was, instead of the critic’s annoying description of a slick-up version of The X Files. One of the most brazen things about the series first season was Mark Valley’s John Scott and the character’s death. I guess this J.J. Abrams produced series had the guts to go ahead and kill one of their male leads (very much like the aborted plan for Jack Shepard on LOST), but it’s Olivia Dunham’s bond to him that truly introduced us a woman who could love, but was cutting herself off from the world because that’s all she knew.
We’re then introduced to “The Pattern”, with odd sightings of bald men wearing fedoras who would come to be known as The Observers and a man named September (Michael Cerveris). Not to mention that the nefarious Dr. Jones (Jared Harris) became the season’s villain, which brought just a little bit of twisted humor to the mutated monster-of-the-week.
It wasn’t until Olivia finally met William Bell in the alternate universe in the season finale “there’s More Than One Of Everything”, where the Twin Towers hadn’t fallen on 9/11. We were finally hooked.
Other notable moments: Walter Bishop’s introduction in the “Pilot”. Our first ambering event in “The Ghost Network”. Swarm of razor sharp butterflies, as well as Olivia’s return into the sensory deprivation tank in “The Dreamscape”. A mutation of massive proportions in “The Transformation”. Faceless and sealed orifices in “Ability”.
Coming back from a modestly rated first season, Fringe was seeing events crossing over between parallel universes in places where the fabric had been weakened and would soon find each other at war with one another. The Shapeshifters began making their presence problematic for the Fringe team operating out of a lab at Harvard University, where Gene the Cow still made his oft-requested appearances.
Fringe developed its flair for complicated and relatable human problems. In “Peter”, Walter tells Peter that he’s from another universe, which Walter’s Peter had died from a genetic disease. Learning that you’d been kidnapped by your alt-father wasn’t bad enough, but that upon their return to our world, the ice beneath them at Reiden Lake had cracked. Destined to die, September interfered with destiny (or what have you) and reached in to save Walter and the boy. And so we learned that Walter was at the center of all the problems that would come to plague their world and begin the war in the two-hour universe crossing plan to retrieve Peter in “Over There: Part 1 and 2”
Other notable moments: Olivia’s windshield shattering propulsion back into our world in “A New Day in the Old Town”. We learn more cryptic clues as to the Observers role in our universe with “August”. The dark and inhuman history of how Olivia knew Walter a long time ago in “Jacksonville”. Peter Weller’s turn as Alistair Peck was a heart-breaking moment for Walter and fans alike in “White Tulip”. “Brown Betty”, because the candy man can.
One of the main concerns with Season 3 was the split-narrative of the two universes. While Peter professed his love to who he thought was Olivia he indeed began sharing a bed with Fauxlivia, while our Olivia was being brainwashed by the Secretary of State Walter Bishop (or as fans have shrewdly named him, Walternate) a man bent on destroying our world with the Doomsday device. I mean, what father wouldn’t want to take vengeance on his alternate-self for having stolen his only son from him? Walternate would go on to declare: “You destroyed my universe son, now I’m going to destroy yours — but not all at once.”
Peter fathered a child, to which Walternate accelerated the pregnancy in order to activate the machine, but it’s Peter’s sacrifice that truly changes the world(s). Peter enters the machine and bridges the two rooms in order to help heal Walternate’s decaying universe. And with that, Peter’s destiny (as to September’s allusion) had completed his purpose and was erased from both universes in “The Day We Died”. The time-travelling Observers were aware of all possible futures as they stand witness to the changes of time and space.
Surely, the series jumped into full-force science fiction, but it always kept the drama focused on our human characters (adversaries or not), making us care and sympathize with the alt-universe.
Other notable moments: Olivia meets her mother (Amy Madigan) in the alt-universe in “Olivia”. Walter is given the keys to Massive Dynamic in “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?” after William Bell’s Season 2 finale, cue this little ditty from Peter: “With a basement lab in Harvard, Walter was able to open a wormhole into another dimension that basically shredded all the laws of science. I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of doing with a multi-billion dollar corporation.” Broyles is delivered the corpse of his murdered alt-universe self in “Entrada”. We’re introduced to a prophetic book titled “The First People” that Walter and Nina Sharp are curious to decipher in “Reciprocity”, as well as the mysterious Sam Weiss. Olivia and Peter try to repair their relationship in “6B” where grieving widows try to communicate with their better half through universes. “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”, the one in which William Bell’s soul inhabits Olivia Dunham and Anna Torv should’ve won an Emmy or two.
In this timeline, September fails to save a young Peter at Reiden Lake, changing the histories of those he had affected, but Peter is soon pulled back into this new timeline, because (as the series goes on to reinforce) love conquers all. Peter is then dedicated to returning to his timeline, until a wounded September appears saying that this timeline was indeed Peter’s home. While the butterfly effect takes place, tweaking events and people to confusing results (erasing Peter’s son Henry from Season 3), it never really became a glaring problem. My love for the series was always for our human counterparts first as the mysteries of the universe came later.
In what was the season’s ultimate endgame, David Robert Jones resurfaces (having died in the old timeline, nullified due to it being an action caused by Peter back in Season 1) and is working with the alternate universe’s Nina Sharp in order to collapse them both together, a taste of the apocalyptic results in “Welcome To Westfield” were harrowing, destroying them and giving way to a third universe where William Bell began to play God.
Forced to close off the bridge between universes in “World’s Apart”, because David Robert Jones (under the William Bell’s master plan) was allowing them easier access to destroy the two universes, it was Lincoln’s devastating choice to permanently go live in the alt-universe. He was in love with Olivia, but Peter’s return changed things, and Lincoln then began to kindle a relationship with Fauxlivia after his alt-self died heroically in battle.
As Olivia’s new timeline memories began to fade, being replaced by her old memories, Olivia’s Cortexiphan powers were the key to Bell’s plan and Walter made the hard choice to shoot her in the head. Of course, the season wouldn’t end with the death of our leading lady and thanks to the Cortexiphan, Olivia’s body was able to regenerate itself and bring her back to life. To top It off, the reveal that Olivia is pregnant with Peter’s child was then tamed by Walter visit from September, warning that “they are coming.” Cryptic indeed.
Other notable moments: “And Those We Left Behind” showcases the true perils of time-travel where Raymond (Stephen Root) keeps looping back, hoping that his then healthy wife would find a permanent solution to time-travel. Peter revisits his mother in the alt-universe, who instantly recognizes him and is able to share a few moments of mother-son bonding in “Back To Where You’ve Never Been”. The two Astrid’s (Jasika Nicole) finally meet each other after a death in the family in “Making Angels”. The events of “The Purge” are felt on the Fringe team (minus Olivia), brought to the future of 2036 in “Letters of Transit”. William Bell brings Walter on a tour through his creature-populated, and human-less Earth, in “Brave New World: Part 1 and 2”.
While the season hasn’t completed just yet, the series finale is coming up quickly and we want the series to deliver all those important character moments, above resolving mysteries (which it’s doing very well). As with every season since its inception, Fringe has always “rebooted” itself, changing the status quo during the shortened fifth and final season by jettisoning Olivia, Peter, Walter and Astrid into the future (where they had ambered themselves so that the invading Observers couldn’t get to them) to fight back the invading Observer’s and their leader, Windmark, the most dangerous villain of the Fringe-verse.
What’s wonderful is the events of “Letters of Transit” brought us Henrietta, Peter and Olivia’s grown-up child, whose part of the Resistance against The Invaders. Walter is also put on a journey to piece together the plan he and September had constructed in order to defeat the Observers, after restoring the piece of his brain that was having it tortured into the deep recesses of his mind by Windmark. Taking a trippy journey into a labyrinth-esque universe, the Fringe team finds Michael, an Observer child, who’s essential to Walter’s plan. When Windmark kills Henrietta in “The Bullet That Saved The World”, becoming a martyr for the Resistance with posters plastered all over the Observer-controlled city, it sends Peter on a destructive journey of revenge (similar to Walternate’s) by inserting Observer tech into his brain giving him precognitive abilities. And this is where my beloved Fringe returns with its human involvement, Olivia witnesses these physical changes, but the pain and anguish of losing their daughter for a second (and more permanent, so far) time has to be devastating on the soul. While Walter’s re-inserted piece of brain begins to return his more callous and God-like complex, trying to subvert it, he tries to remain the same knowing that his old self was a man of destruction. It seems that Peter is indeed commiting the “sins of the father”, as the Bishop men have had more in common because of their similar journeys. The question is, will the end result be worth it all?
Other notable moments: Walter plays a CD in the apocalyptic future and weeps for humanity in “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”. The Fringe team goes through an Inception-like universe in “Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There”. Peter’s Observer tech-enhanced fight with Windmark in “The Human Kind”. Walter’s acid-trip in “Black Blotter” was wonderfully inspired by Monty Python. Nina Sharp defiantly committing suicide in “Anomaly XB-673746” was a heroic means to end, saving Michael and preventing Windmark from gathering any information on the Resistance or Walter’s plan.
I’d also want to mention those wonderfully constructed online teaser trailers from Ari Margolis (@Jonxproductions) that showcased the inventive marketing needs of Fringe, as well as those that aired on TV by @Hogscald. You can view some them here. You can follow any updates for Fringe on Twitter.
The final three hours, two-part series finale of Fringe begins January 11, 2013.