With the final episode of the final season come and gone, I’m going to put down a few thoughts about Fringe. Did I see every episode? No. But I’ve been watching regularly for the last three years, and I’ve caught up on most of the first two seasons as well…
The show was always well acted (I’m looking at you, John Noble) and always well written, well shot. The dialogue was solid. The characters compelling. It was creepy and exciting and romantic all at once. I appreciated their ability to keep coming up with out-there science fiction ideas and make them just believable enough (at least in the Fringiverse) to work.
As the final season (and the final episode) came to a close, there were some nice symmetries that revealed themselves. The concept of self-sacrifice for a common goal, even if it’s not always a good idea: Peter installing Observer tech in his head, Olivia getting that last shot of Cortexiphan, Walter cutting open his brain several times. Even more interesting was the idea of each of the three principles disappearing for no clear reason: Olivia slipped into the alternate universe at the end of season 1. Peter winked himself out of existence at the end of season 3. And Walter shuttled himself off the grid through a time travel paradox at the end of season 5.
So, all in all, a far better series run than the show Fringe was a clear homage to, The X-Files, which just got worse and worse until the end.
That said, the run of the series took two crazy turns that left me cold. The first was how they resolved Peter’s elimination from the timeline… They kind of didn’t. I guess September did something to keep an echo of his essence around, and then somehow (even less clearly explained) the Olivia in the Peter-free timeline somehow got all her memories replaced with those of the original-recipe Olivia. They had to do something like that to keep the romance between the two characters alive, but it didn’t feel right. It was a cheat. I appreciate their desire to not simply reset the fourth season (ala Bobby Ewing), but they needed a better explanation for how the romance could continue.
The second left turn was the jump forward two decades in the fifth season, the introduction of a daughter for Olivia and Peter, and the Observer invasion. The jump in time was okay, I guess. A little cheesy. Etta was a huge mistake, at least for me. I was expected to feel deeply about this character who was kind of shoved down my throat. And then I was expected to mourn her death as much as her parents. I didn’t. I found her distracting and little more than a plot device to allow the show to shift decades in time and not have to put the leads in makeup. (Oh, poor Lance Reddick. I feel your pain.)
So, even if I accept all of that as dramatic license, I can’t accept a basic problem with the time travel story in the final episode. A quick rundown if anyone hasn’t seen it: September (the nice Observer) has spirited his genetically anomalous son from the 27th Century back to the 21st Century, so that they can then transport him forward to the 22nd Century to show him to the scientists in Oslo who were the ones who took humanity down the path that made them all into heartless, bald a-holes.
Interesting. Not a bad idea. Crazy, the way Fringe is, but I can follow it. And it’s pretty cool. But then, there’s all this blather about Walter being the one to take Michael (the kid) into the future, and the whole time I’m thinking, “Uh, September’s his dad, right? He should go.” But they don’t address that… until the very end, where there’s this “dramatic” turn as September takes the responsibility from Walter. Snore. Why didn’t you just do that up front? Well, I know why they didn’t. They had to have time for the tearful farewell between Walter and Peter, because in the climactic scene, when September is shot and Walter does have to go to the future, they wouldn’t have had time for the Walter/Peter scene. So, yes, I get the structure. It just wasn’t very good. Bounced me out.
Now some technical problems. First. We’re watching the show in a particular timeline, one in which Observers have taken over the planet and are slowly killing all the regular people. Is there any reason to believe that in the next century there will be a meeting in Oslo to decide the fate of humanity’s future? Won’t that meeting never happen? So if Walter and Michael go through a portal into the future, they’re going to the future of this timeline, and they’ll fail. If there was any discussion of this portal not only being into the future, but being into an alternate future, I missed it. Annoying.
More annoying is the explanation that by taking this trip, Walter will alter the past at precisely the moment of the invasion. What? Why that moment? Wouldn’t elimination of the Observers as a class of beings change history much further back? At first I thought that elimination of September from the timeline would mean he wouldn’t save Walter and Peter from drowning in Raiden Lake… but, of course, this is the Amber timeline, and he didn’t. I refuse to believe that was done to set up this particular season-ending moment, but at least it’s not technically inconsistent. Still, I believe the Observers did something in the Amber timeline prior to the invasion, so that would mean Walter would have to disappear then, wouldn’t it?
It was bothersome that I couldn’t fully enjoy what was otherwise a clever and exciting conclusion to the series.