Fringe S04E22: "Brave New World: Part Two"
So I tuned into the Season 4 finale of Fringe, when all of a sudden a mediocre summer blockbuster disaster movie broke out! It's a shame, too, because the show's fourth season had some fantastic moments in the face of an uncertain future. But that uncertain future might have been what transformed the tone of the show in "Brave New World: Part Two." Before you all Google my address, gather up some paper bags and matches, and feed your dog Ex-Lax, let me make one thing clear. I love Fringe. I just wasn't a huge fan of the two-part finale.
Because Fox didn't give Fringe an early renewal for Season 5 (btw, thank you, Fox, for renewing Fringe for Season 5!!!), "Brave New World" could just as easily have been a series finale, and creators J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkman played it that way, a lot more so than they have in the past, particularly with the show's Season 2 and Season 3 finales. This was an open-and-shut chapter of the series that avoided risk, exploited clichés (ugh, so sad about that), and generally ignored much of what has made the Fringe so great in the past.
One of those things is the show's ability to live just beyond our understanding of the universe. It's called Fringe for a reason, and not Super Way Out There Science Fair. With the late introduction of David Robert Jones and the even later introduction of William Bell, Fringe began entering the territory of super-science a lot more than it had in the past. It's true that elements such as Cortexiphan have been a huge part of the series since it started, but those have always been the elements that felt a little too far out there for me. I love the multiple universes because they're theoretical and allow me to crack open a nice, cold can of philosophy with you guys. The concept is a ton of fun to explore and compare notes on. But Cortexiphan may as well be Adamantium or Unobtanium, and Bell's perfect-universe Porcu-people may as well be Sharktopus or Megagator. It's fun to watch Fringe and wonder if there might actually be another universe out there; it's a lot less fun to wonder what I need to do to control someone on a nearby rooftop as if they're in an Xbox Kinect game. Fringe grabs my brain and takes it on a wild ride when it deals with concepts of identity, existence, and the fabric of the universe. But when it regenerates brains and lemon cakes or jump-starts dead people to push the story in a certain direction, it's just not that Fringe I love.
I know, I suck.
But this was a season finale, and potentially a series finale, so there were important things to do like tie up loose ends. And "Brave New World" accomplished that. William Bell returned with a God complex that was too big for both universes, so he came up with the idea to create his own new universe. I could've sworn that Bell was showing Walter old episodes of Terra Nova, but it was actually a simulation of the universe he was planning to create. Bell's motivation to build such an idyllic porcupine paradise actually came from the full-brained Walter of the past, before he had the portion of his brain that held that thought removed. (You can do that?) But Bell thought Walter was onto something, and was so convinced that he was meant to fulfill Walter's idea of playing God by creating a perfect universe that he was willing to destroy two universes in order to do so, even though the guy who convinced him of the idea in the first place (Walter) decided it was a stupid idea after all and told him to stop it. William Bell, as it turned out, was a giant asshole with incredibly flawed logic.
But in order to create his third universe full of blue skies, lush lawns, and monster-ish creatures, he had to go back 85 million years into the past. Ack! Sorry, that's Terra Nova again. In order to create New Bellville, he needed a power source, and that power source was Olivia and her Cortexiphanized super body. After last week's episode, we realized that Olivia was going to be the important piece of this season's puzzle, just as Peter was in Season 3, and that was absolutely spot-on. Peter and Olivia headed to Bell's tanker as it made its way toward the Westfield of the sea—the only safe spot that would survive when the universes collapsed. One Dumbo "you had the power in you all along" speech later from Nina, Olivia used her powers and hopped universes, landing where the S.S. Bell, which had already shimmered away into the other universe, had "disappeared" to with Peter.
Now we all knew that Olivia was prophesied to die thanks to September, but I don't think any of us predicted how she would be killed. Walter, faced with the possibility that both universes would implode on each other and that he and William Bell would be stuck in a third universe with no licorice, made the call. And it was the right call. He calmly shot Olivia right in the center of the forehead with the precision of an Army sniper like a f***ing champ. Just BAM perfectly centered in Olivia's brain! Remember how Bell's henchmen couldn't shoot Walter and Astrid from six feet away with a sub-machine gun in the last episode? Walter's plan worked, the universes stopped imploding, and Peter got really sad. But when it's one person's life vs. all the lives of two universes, it's a no brainer. I'd shoot my cat if that was the choice. Sorry, Muffy, don't take it personally!
Knowing that his dream universe died with Olivia, Bell said, "I'm out!" and was beamed out of there to whatever Holodeck he hides on. But guess what? There was still the Olivia-is-dead problem! Good old Walter, he always has a plan. Olivia's brain was swimming in Cortexiphan, and as we conveniently saw last week, Cortexiphan can regenerate lemon cakes and probably brains. So Walter poked a few holes in her head and popped the bullet out, and the Cortexiphan did its thing and brought Olivia back to life (Cortexiphan doesn't just regenerate; it can reanimate, too, and it's also spectacular at getting red wine stains out of clothing). And that's how this show got away with having September tell the truth about Olivia dying while still giving us the sappy ending where Olivia told Peter she's pregnant. Fifty bucks says it's a girl.
Also conveniently, Olivia burned off most of her Cortexiphan due to "the intense energy utilization," so she's pretty much back to normal now. Fringe, if you're going to go there, then go all the way. Turn her into a frickin' superhero, don't just give it to us for one episode because it's convenient for your finale. But Walter left the door open for more Olivia heroics when he said there may be trace amounts of Cortexiphan left in her. I hate it when shows do that.
I did like most of the aftermath of saving the day, though. Broyles got promoted, Fringe Division got more funding for a real science department, and Nina got a job as the head of said science department. Did anyone have flashes of The Wire when Broyles (a.k.a. Cedric Daniels) walked off arm-in-arm with redhead Nina (a stand-in for Rhonda Pearlman)? Oh, that was just me?
Anyway, we should also talk about THAT scene. You know what I'm talking about: when Jessica (guest-star Rebecca Mader) was killed but then brought back to sorta-life to be interrogated about William Bell's whereabouts. It was totally creepy to see her eyes dance about in opposite directions like the lead singer from Men at Work. And then she started calling out for mommy and talking about her old blue bike and how it got left out in the rain! I was hoping she would say, "I'm not allowed to have chocolate before dinner," because that would have blown everyone's mind! And if you don't get that reference then ask someone in the comments section and hopefully they'll tell you.
And there's one last thing. I was disappointed that September and the Observers and the Other Universe didn't really factor into the finale at all, but at least September came back to set up Season 5. "We have to warn the others. They're coming," he told Walter. Who? The other Observers? The Porcu-people? Fox executives? The good news is that we only have four months to wait before we find out, hopefully. And you know when that is? SEPTEMBER! Don't forget to pick up your brain matter, dudes, because your minds just got 'sploded.
I wish both parts of "Brave New World" had been better, and I wish the end of the season hadn't gone in the direction it did. But that doesn't take too much away from what I actually thought was a great season of Fringe. In the end, plot became more important than themes and thinking, the two foundations of what makes Fringe one of my favorite shows. Thank goodness this wasn't the series forever end!
– Did anyone not see Jessica being a double-crosser from a long, long, long, way away?
– Stasis runes that kept September from moving? When did this show turn into Supernatural? Seriously, what is this? And why is it so easy to break the runes if they're technologically advanced? You can just scrape 'em off.
– I really wish Wyman and Pinkner hadn't said the story of "Letters of Transit" had been important and that the series would be revisiting that period again. It spoiled several moments from this finale, like Olivia's pregnancy and Astrid surviving the gunshot. I'm not sure why they felt compelled to confirm its importance. I much preferred thinking it was a possible scenario rather than an inevitable scenario.
– I really did enjoy September catching those bullets. But the special gun that William Bell made just seemed like more hooey science.
– Oh yeah, Astrid survived. Yay! Predictable? Absolutely. But yay anyway!