Looking Back at Fringe's Five Seasons: The Top 20 Episodes

By Cory Barker

Jan 18, 2013

After a truly miraculous run, Fringe will say goodbye tonight with a two-hour finale that also marks the series' 100th episode. But as we near the end, I thought it'd be fun to look back—especially since the series has changed so many times throughout its five years on the air. And how better to do so than by compiling a list of the show's top 20 episodes?! The following rankings reflect my personal Fringe tastes; despite the series' very enjoyable mythology, I've also always liked its ability to tell complex emotional stories within the procedural framework. But whether or not your favorite episodes match mine, I look forward to hearing about them in the comments! (Readers from the future, this list was compiled before the two-part series finale.)

The Runners-up: “Pilot” (S01E01), “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide" (S03E19), “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones” (S01E07), “A New Day in an Old Town” (S02E01), and “Worlds Apart” (S04E20).

20. “The Bullet That Saved The World” (S05E04)

Fringe’s final season has had its hits and misses, but Etta’s death was both gut-wrenching in the moment and important for the season’s larger narrative interests.

19. "Subject 13" (S03E15)

A good chunk of the fanbase loves this episode more than I do. I can understand that: “Subject 13” is the spiritual successor to “Peter” and features a number of powerful moments. It’s very good. Yet, it always bothered me just how connected Peter and Olivia were from the beginning. That’s why this one is lower than you might expect.

18. "Momentum Deferred" (S02E4)

The show really moved to another level with this episode, in which Olivia discovered Charlie’s death and remembered her conversation with William Bell on the other side and Nina described the coming universe storm. Every one of Zack Stenz and Ashley Edward Miller’s episodes has been tremendous.

17. "A Short Story About Love" (S04E15)

I admire that Fringe has never been afraid of coming up with intimate, emotionally based—and sometimes very hokey—resolutions for its grand plots. Whatever you think about the choices the writers made in Season 4, it’s hard to deny the emotional wallop this episode delivered.

16. “The Plateau” (S03E03)

While my inclusion of this episode may surprise you, it managed—like so many of the episodes from the first half of the third season—to move the mythology arc forward while telling a very compelling procedural story. Anna Torv did really good work here.

15. "Grey Matter" (S02E10)

This was the quasi-sequel to “Momentum Deferred” in that it refocused on Newton and the shapeshifters (and was written by Stentz and Miller), but the episode also provided great material for John Noble’s Walter. "Grey Matter" is where we really started to get an idea of the lengths Walter would take to protect the world from himself.

14. "An Origin Story" (S05E05)

Season 5’s stand-out episode to this point. Etta wasn’t around enough for my liking, but the show put in a fine effort to make us realize how important she was after the fact, by showing the different ways her parents grieved.

13. "Ability" (S01E14)

The quality of Fringe’s first season is definitely up for debate, and while there were episodes before “Ability” that I recall fondly (“Bound” and “Safe” make a nice double feature), this one signaled to the audience that even when the show wanted to open up the mythology, those moves were always going to be character-based.

12. "Jacksonville" (S02E14)

And this was an even-better follow-up to “Ability.” For the most part, Fringe filled in its characters’ histories without trouble and "Jacksonville" is one of the better examples of that.

11. "Olivia" (S03E01)

The show’s best season premiere, from its best overall season. “Olivia” set the tone for a masterful stretch of about a dozen episodes that stack up against any show of this ilk.

10. "One Night in October" (S04E02)

The best part of Fringe’s multiverse hasn't been all the random differences in pop culture or technology, it’s been all the tiny differences in the personalities of people. The show regularly explored how that manifested in the lead characters, but this early Season 4 episode smartly used that device within the procedural framework, resulting in a curious examination of parenting and nurturing.

9. "Everything in Its Right Place" (S04E17)

Like “One Night in October,” this episode was interested in those incremental distinctions in personality—only here, Lincoln was the focus. I have my issues with Season 4 overall, but the development of Lincoln, in all versions, often paid great dividends for the show.

8. "The Firefly" (S03E10)

Fringe never shied away from piling on Walter for his decision to bring Peter over from the other side, but “The Firefly” moved that usually broad focus to a more minute level. Christopher Lloyd was one of the show’s better guest-stars, and Noble was expectedly great as Walter realized he needed to learn to let Peter go.

7. "There is More Than One of Everything" (S01E20)

The conclusion to David Robert Jones’ crusade to get to the other side was a tiny bit anticlimactic, but that resolution lulled us into a false sense of security just so the final 8-10 minutes of the episode could blow us away. To me, the reveal of Olivia’s location in the World Trade Center stands as one of the most truly shocking moments in recent television history.

6. "And Those We’ve Left Behind" (S04E06)

I think—or at least I hope—that Fringe will be remembered not for its grand mythology or alternate timelines, but for how consistently it was able to use “high-concept” and sometimes-convoluted storytelling devices to tell stirringly personal tales about people just trying to hold on to the people they love. That idea has powered the whole series and was on full display here, with real-life married couple Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont playing a married couple trying to keep their relationship alive.

5. "Over There" (S02E21/22)

This action-packed two-hour finale literally doubled the show’s universe and introduced a new set of characters, but also made sure to explain the motivations of those new characters (and in certain cases, make them completely sympathetic), something the third season would only further.

4. "Entrada" (S03E08)

The masterful climax to the early part of Season 3, and probably many fans’ pick to top this list. And while I have it in this spot, there’s nothing negative to say about “Entrada”; it was thrilling and poignant all at once.

3. "White Tulip" (S02E18)

The show’s best standalone episode and the best version of the kind of story we saw in “And Those We Left Behind.” Great work from Noble, Peter Weller, and Joshua Jackson.

2. "Peter" (S02E15)

What an episode. “Peter” blew the door open on the show’s mythology, never let the flashbacks slip into expositional overload, and fully placed both the main characters and the primary themes of family, history and loss at the center of the story. There were great episodes of Fringe before this one, but this is where the show became great.

1. "Marionette" (S03E09)

I know this might be a controversial choice. Most fans seem to celebrate “Entrada” as the apex of Season 3’s first arc, and while there’s nothing wrong with that school of thought, it was the next episode, “Marionette” where Fringe succeeded most. After all the twists and turns of those first eight episodes, the show simply refused to let anything—or anyone—off the hook for their actions. The scene with Olivia realizing that her home was no longer hers or somewhere she could feel comfortable is the absolute best scene in Fringe history and Torv’s best work as well. That scene is Fringe in a nutshell: Amid all the mind-binding, universe-crossing stories, this is a story about the deep, but flawed, connections between three people.

Going into tonight's series finale, which Fringe episodes would make YOUR list?

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  • VinnYVP May 05, 2013

    #1. Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11 (S05E01)

    A despondent Walter tries to sleep but is distracted by reflections from outside, which he traces to a makeshift sculpture made of broken CDs. In a bag nearby he finds an undamaged CD and plays it on a car's stereo; he cries as it plays Yazoo's "Only You", the first music he's heard since awaking in 2036. As he mulls emotionally, he spies a single dandelion, growing from the rubble, and cries to himself.

    greatest. scene. ever.

  • betoozorato Apr 11, 2013

    Seriously? No Brown Betty?

  • bostonbeliever Jan 20, 2013

    "White Tulip" has always been my favorite episode, I think, but I do not disagree with putting "Peter" and "Marionette" above it.
    When I get a lot of free time, I think I will go back and re-watch the series from the beginning. It was such a wonderful, fun, emotional ride and I am happy that Fringe could end on its own terms.

  • emma5000 Jan 20, 2013

    "Marionette" is a great choice for No. 1.

  • CoryBarker1 Jan 19, 2013

    So, would people put the finale on this list? I'm not sure I would.

  • raygun_05 Jan 20, 2013

    i'd put in in there instead of alot of these episodes. id rate it higher than Firefly, Marionette, The Plateau, An Origin Story, One night In October, And Those we've left behind and Everything in its right place....Personally none of these would make my top 20.

  • CharmedOneP391 Apr 03, 2013

    Agreed. Definitely within my top 10 though. It made so many callbacks to the previous seasons and had so much emotional depth, it'd be an injustice to not be top 20. I'd say better than Marionette, The Plateau and Everything in it's Right Place.

  • MrPukestick Jan 19, 2013

    This was a cool finale and a heart warming farewell. Cool because of all the fringe events put to use when attacking observer central. Cool for Olivia using her Cortexifan induced powers on Windmark (if that's his name.) Heartwarming with Peter and Walter and Walter and Astrid and September and his sprog and the final reuniting with Etta. But here's the thing. I think the better enemy was William Bell. The fact that the very first fringe event and near enough every other one after was concocted by Bell and his protege, that ginger fella. To dismiss an adversary like Bell, who BTW would shit down an observers exploded head was where they went wrong. To suddenly make the Observers the enemy just threw seasons 1 to 4 out the window. The season four finale should have seen bell succeed in making a world of Dr Moreau and have season five start from there. It's not that this season was bad it's that it should have been the best. It's like wearing a really expensive suit with a pair of Reeboks like chavs wear. Sorry for the rant. Oddly enough my favorite episode or scene was from season 5 episode 1 the at the end of Transilence Thought Unifier Model-11 when Walter walks out in his boxers and plays his trip mix 6 CD in that abandoned taxi, sees a single flower growing out of the asphalt and spills a tear seeing in it a sign of hope. Brilliant!

  • ElisabethMuld Oct 09, 2013

    I wanted to rewatch some Fringe episodes today and ended up wanting to start with just one from S1, so I watched Ability cause it is on the list there. In this episode Walter reads from a manuscript that David Robert Jones (that ginger fella) lives by (coincidently Walter wrote that manuscript. The part that Walter reads is this:

    "We think we understand reality, but our universe is only one of many. The unknown truth is that the way to travel between them has already been discovered. By beings, much like us, but whose history is slightly ahead of our own. The negative aspects of such visitations will be irreversable, both to our world and to theirs. It will begin with a series of unnatural occurances. Difficult to notice at first, but growing, not unlike a cancer, until a simple fact becomes undeniable. Only one world will survive. It will either be us, or them."

    Now tell me again that the Observers weren't always meant to be the great big enemies of this show...

  • Benlovestv Jan 19, 2013

    White Tulip was always one of my favourites and Season 3 was the strongest season IMO so hard to argue. Still buzzing from the finale and think especially the last episode would rank quite highly for me too.

  • Writerpatrick Jan 19, 2013

    I remember only one of the episodes (and that's one I'd rather forget). It might have helped to have a summary for each episode, especially since it's been years since many of these aired.

    Marionette was not what I'd consider the best episode. It's just hard to forget it because it was so gross.

  • HansCastorp1 Jan 19, 2013

    great to see Marionette in the top spot, it is my choice as well! Amazing ep. I also agree with places 2, 3 ,4. all in all, this top matches mine

  • TeddyBearZA Jan 19, 2013

    I think S1E01 should be on the list, meeting Olivia, Peter and Walter for the first time. Who could forget that crazy looking Walter in the mad house? Fringe made the characters interesting from the word go, a lot of series just mess up the first time you get to meet a new character, I think it can make or break a show.
    On a more soppy side, I wish we had got to see more of Peter and Olivia's lives as a married couple, or with their little baby, like a flashback to the wedding or in the hospital with the baby would of been nice imo. I think a lot of people were always rooting for them to fall in love and then they finally did but we didn't get to see much of it. Like I said, soppy :)

  • CoryBarker1 Jan 19, 2013

    It's #25!

  • TeddyBearZA Jan 20, 2013

    Oh no, I meant it should be on the top 20 list, not runner up, just imo :)

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