By Stefanie Lee on 2/01/2013
Four years ago, my boss at the time assigned me the task of watching the second-season premiere of Fringe. I had never heard of the show, nor was I interested in another science fiction or crime drama series, so I sort of rolled my eyes and prepared to grin and bear it. The episode, “A New Day in the Old Town,” confused the hell out of me. A blonde lady was flying through the windshield of a car, the Artist Formerly Known As Pacey Witter was wearing awesome jackets, the Artist Formerly Known As Cedric Daniels was touring around town in a huge SUV, and some other dude was plugging what looked like an electrical socket into the roof of his mouth in order to shape-shift. I had no idea what was going on.
And yet! I was intrigued. I had never found myself intrigued by science fiction on TV before (no, I haven’t seen BSG yet, shut up), so this was a completely foreign feeling. The mythology of the Fringe world, which I’d later learn from actual sci-fi nerds was completely illogical, made sense to me. I didn’t feel stupid watching it. The Easter eggs were rewarding. The characters all possessed this stoic bravery, this undying curiosity, that made me love them almost instantly. I kept watching the show, less and less for the “assignment” purpose of it (I had to write recaps) and more for the sake of getting to know these characters and their uniquely perilous situation. That blonde lady was Olivia Dunham, played by the elegant Anna Torv, an FBI Special Agent with an instinct for solving and personal connection to these fringe science cases that had been recently popping up along the Eastern seaboard. Dawson’s Creek‘s Pacey, or should I say Joshua Jackson, grew up a bit and became Peter Bishop, hacker extraordinaire, consultant to the Fringe team, and Olivia’s eventual love interest. The Wire‘s Daniels, played by my favorite Lance Reddick, transformed into Philip Broyles, gruff head of the Fringe division and generally cool guy. As for that shapeshifter, I don’t remember what happened to him, but I’m sure he was destroyed.
I can’t forget about the show’s most important character, though, Walter Bishop. Peter’s father, a former Harvard researcher and professor, then a mental hospital patient for 17 years. Without getting too much into the Lost-iness of this show (J.J. Abrams is a producer, so it makes sense that there are all these ridiculous nooks and crannies that I’d rather not explore with the uninitiated), I’ll just say that John Noble, the man behind Walter, was given the immense task of playing an extremely layered, complicated, inconsistent character, and he did it absolutely perfectly. Each year when the Emmy nominations came out, I was always disappointed not to find his name on the list. He did extraordinary work on this show, taking us through Walter’s warped mind, through his memories, through his destructive tendencies, through his old experiements that led to all the strange fringe events, then the alternate universe, then the time-jump. Both on and off hallucinogenic drugs, I might add.
Fringe never quite knew what it was doing, either, but I cherished this. The first season, which I went back and rewatched as I was watching the second season, was essentially CSI with freaky paranormal shit. A new case every week, a new monster to hunt down. But with the second season came a new outlook. The show inched away from this cookie-cutter-crime-drama formula and started to explore the aforementioned complex mythology. Why were these events happening? What experiments did Walter run back in the day? How is it possible to access the alternate universe? Who is working against the team? Fox gave the show a surprising amount of creative space; there was an animated episode, a musical episode, a flashback here and there, and a bevy of well-disguised but recognizable guest stars to keep pop culture nerds like me satisfied.
This fifth and final season felt rushed, with the addition of this time-jump-into-the-apocalypse storyline. It just seemed as though the producers had more story to tell but had to sacrifice some of it because they ran out of episodes. I have no doubt that’s one of the many conversations they had as they were trying to compose a fitting ending to this onion of a show. I’m happy to report, however, that the January 18th finale was more than fitting. It was actually quite beautiful, incorporating the alternate universe characters and biomedical disasters that were their enemies in prior seasons; bringing back important regulars like Reddick, Michael Cerveris, and Seth Gabel, who had been important in earlier seasons but disappeared in this last one; and ending on an ambiguous note. That last element is crucial to a good series finale. If it’s too definitive, too tied up, you forget about the world you inhabited for several seasons. But Fringe‘s finale, like so many of the really great ones, will stay with me for awhile. If Fringe taught me anything, it’s that uncertainty can be comforting. And that wormholes are really cool. Δ