[Review] - Fringe, Season 5

The gang's all here. Courtesy of FOX   
Back when Fringe began in 2007, it was in the middle of something of a sci-fi renaissance on American television. LOST was still on, and everyone was clamouring to repeat it's success. Battlestar was one of the most critically lauded shows on any network. Sarah Conner Chronicles brought the Terminator franchise to the small screen, Stargate Atlantis was only midway through it's run, Eureka had just begun, and Heroes lingered still. Yet to come were the lifeless Flashforward and the doomed Alcatraz, heralding the end of the late decade resurgence of the genre. Now, with the removal of Fringe, the field is empty, save for Warehouse 13 and Breaking Bad (which I think qualifies as a premier example of hard science fiction). Fringe was the last of the crop, now replaced with fantasies like Game of Thrones, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, and all those horrible vampire shows meant for the prepubescents.

I'm sad to see it go. It was a shelter in the storm, this show. A refuge one could escape to, and know that what you were to see was probably not going to make a lot of sense, but it was going to be a lot of fun. So it was disappointing when the final 13 episode run turned out so blasé, and the finale itself so tepid and predictable. It wasn't their best effort, and took the show out with more of a whimper then a bang. Which is a damned shame, cause when this show was firing on all cylinders, it packed a hell of a bang.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers for the finale, the final season, and the series as a whole. In this universe, at least.

The final 13 episodes brought the series up to 100 even, long held as the magic number for syndication in the US, and long proclaimed as a sign of success: if your show can make it to 100, then you've done something right. In practise though, this season, for how it was structured, should have been six, max. And I can tell you which six. The first two, introducing the characters to the future setting, a combination of episodes six and nine, which had Walter enter the pocket universe and eventually retrieve the Observer child, episodes ten and eleven which explained the child, and the finale which concluded the story. The rest of this season was bloat.

Or rather, they kept piling storylines up, and took them nowhere. The biggest missteps in this final year were the sheer number of plot lines that they introduced, with no time to see them all through to fruition, so they all ended up getting cut off prematurely. It was a conveyor belt of ideas, with each falling of the belt before they reached their destination. Etta's character was strong and fascinating, and instantly likable, so of course they killed her off, ostensibly to give Fringe Division a persona reason to continue to the fight. Except they didn't need it, they were already fighting for the lives of every person on the planet. Removing Etta, if anything, removed their connection to the new era, leaving them adrift. It was a shameless, empty plot device, and a sign of worse things to come.

The Peter-turns-himself-into-an-Observer storyline would have been an interesting bit of character development to see play out over the entire season, maybe leading to Peter being the finale's Big Bad. But no, it was dealt with in three episodes, and had no lasting consequence, other then being the worst way to grieve, ever. Similarly, you had the looming threat of the reemergence of  Dark Walter, causing hallucinations and personality shifts, which as a viewer was entertaining and interesting. And was all resolved with a literal hand of god moment, as empty and lazy a plot device as there is. A closer look at the Observers was another lost opportunity, the show failing to spend any significant time within their society, learning why any that stay in the past become "infected" with emotion, and learning why exactly they were invading the past at all. Even the "lets Fringe event them" focus that all the pre-season promos had was nothing more then a two episode move of desperation, rather then a focused resistance tactic.

The only plot point that lasted the entire season was The Plan. Unfortunately, The Plan was over drawn and tedious, and an obvious excuse for contrived coincidence (which plagued the final two episodes worst of all). The last minute involvement of September also came up as a loss, as it gave us relatively little time to actually get to know a character who has been with the show since the very start. Every week it was such a labour to watch, as the characters are forced to run from place to place because of Walter's frustratingly vague series of tapes, always needing one more thing, a seemingly never ending "your princess is in another castle" syndrome.

The cast was, as ever, top notch, and if the series ending leaves any sort of hole in your life, let it be the hole left by John Noble and Joshua Jackson. No matter the quality of writing, their performances were always the best part of the show, and will be sorely missed. The show understood what they had, and despite beginning life focused on Olivia, after season two it was never really her show anymore. The Bishop Boys were the meat and potatoes of this narrative stew. That is not to say Anna Torv wasn't her usual reliable self, it's just that Olivia grew more and more annoying as the series progressed, and Torv was always more fun to watch as Altivia anyway (who got in one final appearance, having taken fashion tips from Nina Sharpe). Georgina Haig was an excellent addition to the cast, playing Etta for as long as she did. Her performance was a simmering balance between Jackson's angry interior, and Torv's stoic facade. It's just a shame she didn't last longer. Sorely missed were Lance Reddick and Blair Brown as the aged versions of their characters, and they managed to be the highlights of what few episodes they appeared in, Reddick especially. Seth Gabel also put in a welcome, if largely pointless, guest spot as Lincoln in the penultimate episode. And top marks go to the the team's Watson, Jasika Nicole as Astrid. I think I'll miss her most of all, though I don't know why.

Now to the finale itself, which I had no expectations for, having been burned on LOST and Battlestar's lacklustre departures. And I'm glad, because for a show that prided itself in constant reinvention and never playing towards the expected or the cliche, the finale was so very by the numbers. From frame one, I guessed where it would go and what would happen. They chose to reset time, which is not a new or clever idea, thus erasing the horrible future they've been fighting for. It also wipes out any emotional investment the viewer might have, or had, in anything they've done to this point. Who cares if someone dies in a firefight, once they erase time, they'll never have died. Who cares if they manage to kill Windmark, once they reset time he'll never have been born. By alerting the audience to their motives, it removes the dramatic tension, as none of their actions have consequences beyond success. And while a couple season ago I might have thought the writers would go left when we're looking right, and not have them succeed, this season it was a given.

The finale, and The Plan, also hinge entirely on a gross misunderstanding of how the effects of their time-tampering would work. Setting aside the cringe inducing technobabble "inoculation against time travel" (which, why would September need to take it, he's travelled in time before?), Bishop's explanation of the effects of the paradox don't hold water. His logic is, once the paradox takes hold, the boy and himself would be removed from 2015. Why? If anything, because the current version of Walter and the boy now no longer exists, they'd be erased from 2167 instead, and the original Walter would continue as normal (like Marty erasing himself from time in Back to the Future). The alternative would be, to maintain the paradox, both the 2015 and 2167 versions of Walter would exist, as they are from two separate timelines (as in John Conner from T2). If anything, the 2015 Walter is the most secure of them all.

But that isn't the biggest issue. No, that prize goes to the bigger effect of their meddling. By travelling to 2167, they erased the Observers from history altogether. They didn't prevent the invasion, they erased the whole species. So, yes, the 2015 invasion never happened. But so didn't anything else the Observers took part in. September never existed, so he never distracted Walter in his lab in 1985. Peter-Prime dies, and Walter wallows in grief, but Peternate survives, and Walternate never becomes a more hardened, vengeful man. More importantly, Walter never crosses universes, causing the destabilisation that causes the Fringe events. The entire body of the series never occurs. Olivia never has a reason to encounter Dr. Bishop, and Peter never exists. By wiping out the Observes, they actually create an entirely different timeline where Olivia marries John Scott and is presumably happy, and not infected in cortexiphan.

But that is not what the show presented us. They showed us a 2015 where everything is happy, but as expected. But based on their actions, it can't be. So what happened? Considering that the Observers invaded the past, and that event apparently didn't destabilise the future, I'm thinking it follows a "what happened happened" logic. They didn't prevent the Observers from existing, or invading, they merely delayed it. That tulip now exists in at least three different timelines. Rather then a sign from God, it is more a harbinger, that things cannot be changed. Which means all their work was for nought. And that lends back the dramatic tension that was erased earlier. No matter what they do, they are doomed. Or, maybe the writers just didn't give it that much thought. Could go either way.

I will say this, I appreciated the writer's ending the narrative universe the way it began: with a man taking a boy's hand and leading him somewhere new. There wasn't really any other way for it to end.

Goodbye, Walter Bishop.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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