Fringe: Season 5 - Review
Quite wonderful. That’s how you can describe the finale to Fringe season five, the series as a whole and the show itself from start to finish. Everything makes sense and ended how it should have ended. The showrunners and stars gave us the correct ending, the one which made sense based on what had gone before, the character’s arcs and the show thematically when looking at the big picture of all its one hundred episodes. As one of the actors, Joshua Jackson, said before it screened - “Correct. It’s correct. It’s just what it’s supposed to be.” It’s strange to think that one of the most intense science-fiction shows on mainstream television (alternate universes, time travel and new world creation for example) should not only deliver fantastic fare right up until its end but do so as a secondary notion, coming behind the emotional centre of the show. Fringe is as good as it is because of the emotions running through it, the love between father and son, mother and daughter, friends and more. As a drama, as a character piece and as a science-fiction, Fringe is one of the finest - second to none to those who’ve watched everything unfold.
The two-part finale itself concluded the endgame. This had begun back in season four when we were catapulted forwards twenty-one years into the future and were exposed to the full on invasion by the Observers - or baldies - and the war being fought by the resistance. When we wrote about season four we talked about this future being the wrong one; the future the Observers didn’t want. We had been misled a little. It was the future that September - who we now know as Donald - didn’t want. The rest of the Observers, however, did want this. This invasion, the war - they needed it as they had made their world an untenable landscape. The endgame was simple then in the end. Defeat the Observers; save the world.
That wasn’t really the point of the final series though. The point of it all was summed up perfectly by Donald when he said to Walter:
“It's not about fate, Walter, yours or mine. It's about changing fate, and protecting our children.”
Donald by then was thinking of his own son, anomaly XB-6783746 (who we knew as Michael this season, but we had also met him on a previous Fringe event), who he knew could be the saviour of the world: if he could travel forwards in time to 2167 to meet the scientist who started the evolutionary development which led to the Observers, a different path would be taken - one where emotion was retained whilst still developing intellect. Michael was proof this was possible. That would change the course of future history and reset the timeline to pre-invasion as there would never be anyone to invade. Of course Olivia and Peter’s fight was fuelled by their daughter, just as Donald’s was by his son. They wanted to do right by their Etta’’s sacrifice but more so they wanted to see her again, to have her back and to get that third chance; the third time lucky. To be with her. For that to happen fate needed to be changed, and by doing so their child would be protected. Walter went through the wormhole with Michael for the same reason. To change the fate of Peter, to protect him, and the life he wanted.
Here’s where you need to take an even bigger step back though. Right from the start we have seen that Walter has changed the fate of Peter, his son, all in order to protect him. That’s where everything began. That’s why Walter crossed over into the alternate dimension, setting in motion the destruction and ultimate salvation of the alterniverse. He was only able to really do so because Donald saved Peter in the lake. In a little piece of ret-conning we learnt that ‘the boy who must live’ wasn’t Peter but was actually Michael and at once we knew that Walter would need to repay the debt to Donald he had owed all those years. Ultimately, when Donald was unable to do so, Walter changed the fate of Michael - and the world no less - to ensure that the boy lived. A neat little closure of the loop. Walter and Donald; each saving the other’s son to protect them and also save the world. A debt repaid in full.
The nod to the fans in the season ending double-header was fantastic, also. We got to revisit the alterniverse after twenty-one years to see an elder Fauxlivia, married to Lincoln - parents themselves - in a world that was not degrading anymore. They were both fantastically happy and Olivia told them how happy she was for them, whilst also not regretting her own choices in life one little bit. We also saw the resistance utilise things retained from previous Fringe events in the final attack on the Observers to get the tech they needed to stabilise the wormhole - there was no random introduction of things here, more an organic use of what’s gone before. It was similar in the use of the window onto the alternative universe. The series had already created such a rich history and selection of devices, creations and creatures that there was no need to do anything else. A lovely nod to the series as a whole for those who’ve been there since the start.
Fringe has been fantastic science-fiction but as mentioned above the show is an incredibly powerful emotional drama. It’s got a small selection of fantastically well-drawn characters who we’ve come to know very well over the years. There are a number of other characters we know pretty well but aren’t part of the core group of four. This never got old or boring, in part helped by the fact that for a while we had twice as many characters but only because they were alternate versions of the ones we already knew. The main reason though was the fantastic acting and the coming to life of each relationship, all borne from the emotional ties each was based on. Peter and Walter’s father and son relationship was there for all to see. The friendship between Astrid and Walter - her real care for him - was fabulous and the romantic affair between Olivia and Peter rang so true. The writers didn’t fear going down this route and it paid off. Their relationship was one of the most sincere and deep felt in all of the current shows on television. It helped massively in this final season where we saw them go through the grief of losing their child and how hard it was for them, what it made each of them do - and ultimately how it enabled them to get right back together as Olivia persuaded Peter to remove the Observer tech and the two focussed then on the endgame - fighting for their daughter’s life and then when learning of the plan, fighting to get her back. The loss of a child must be full of unimaginable horror and any show would struggle to portray such things but here, in a sci-fi, Olivia and Peter made us believe. The whole show has had an emotional resonance which was brought to the fore here, to make the journey to the end that much more true.
To the end then. We learnt with a few episodes to go that Walter would need to sacrifice himself to ensure the time reset did occur. We were all set up for that by the end, as was Walter himself. He’d told Peter in another wonderful dialogue between them, right up there in quality with the conversation just after Walter had been touched by the empathic Michael. Their relationship on screen had always been a wonderful one and when it came to the end the moments between them hit home very hard. He also had a lovely moment with Astrid where he - for only the second time ever - got her name right. He even got to see Gene again! Every single moment with Walter when he was preparing himself for his travel through time to 2167 was exquisite. John Noble is a fine actor and his Walter and Walternate over the course of Fringe has been fantastic to watch.
Of course, after all this preparation for Walter and for the audience Donald takes his sacrifice away from him for completely and utterly sound reasons. He wanted to take his son Michael forwards in time, protecting his son the way Walter has his son. Ok, writers, you’ve taken this away from us just as we got used to the idea but it all makes sense. That’s fine. But then Donald dies and Walter needs to take Michael in the end anyway. Peter mouths “I love you Dad” and Walter smiles, tells him he loves him and walks through the wormhole. Cue blubbing in every household watching the show. The perfect end to the perfect show? Nearly. Walter had started everything off. It was only fitting that he should end it all. There was a little bit more to go though.
Time was reset. Walter, given nature abhors a paradox, would be deleted from 2015 because he exists in 2167. We knew that Walter had sent Peter a letter though - he’d explained this on the betamax tape Peter found. Peter, Olivia and Etta were all safe in 2015 and there was no Observer invasion. Everything had worked. Walter had protected Peter. Walter had repaid the debt he owed to Donald and by doing so Donald’s son had been protected. Etta was alive and Olivia and Peter had that third chance at a life with her. Everyone’s fate had been changed. The children had been protected. Peter received the letter he’d been promised from Walter and he opened it. Inside there was but one piece of card, the white tulip. Peter looked up and then - blackness. Expertly and purposefully done by the writers. This final scene will ensure much discussion. We have seen the white tulip before. It’s Walter’s sign from God that he’s forgiven for what he did when he took Peter from the alterniverse. Here its meaning could be similar. It could be a final assurance that Walter knows now he will be forgiven for everything as he saved the world for good. It more likely is Walter’s way of telling Peter that he still exists and wasn’t just deleted - he is somewhere. Does Peter understand this? I like to think Peter understands. Peter has the memories of his own deletion after all. It seems Fringe may well be my very favourite thing.