Fringe Series Finale Review: A Fond Farewell

Fringe S05E12/S05E13: "Liberty"/"An Enemy of Fate"

Guys, I don't know about you, but I'm super stoked that my Fridays are finally free so I can go see that local band that sucks or cram into a crowded bar of jerks and pay lots of money to be ignored by women! Oh, I'm kidding. Hey, I'm just trying to lighten the mood because I'm basically writing an obituary here.

There will be no more Fringe. The show that defied so many odds, that was saved by a network with a track record of "shoot first," and that delighted us for half a decade ended its five-season run tonight with back-to-back episodes. And even to this grumpy stickler, it was a satisfying close to a wonderful run.

But let's not go crazy and call this one of the best series finales of all time or anything. Fringe didn't need to blow us away or try to do too much, it just needed to stick the landing without falling on its face, and it did that with ease. In fact, most of "Liberty" and "An Enemy of Fate" played a rather conservative game, which was probably a good choice given the way other series have flamed out. But "An Enemy of Fate" stayed true to what Fringe was really about: not the intestinal slugs or the doomsday devices or the LSD (okay it was kind of about the LSD), but family.

Before we get to the REAL finale we should spend at least a little time talking about the penultimate hour, "Liberty." This was essentially an episode that didn't need to happen, but I'm glad it did because HELLLLLLO MILFy Oldlivia! Really, "Liberty" set out to undo the ending of "The Boy Must Live" when Michael stepped off the train and into the grip of Windmark and his other sharp-dressed tools. The plan was relatively simple for Fringe: Olivia would take the Cortexiphan Express over to the alternate universe, have her old friends escort her into the Department of Defense on Liberty Island, zap back into our universe (because the boy was conveniently being held in the same space in the alternate universe), grab the boy, zip back to the other universe where it's safe, get off Liberty Island, and zing on back to our universe with the boy. Kinda like some Paper Mario level.

In terms of being a penultimate episode of a beloved series, it was really just an errand that Olivia had to run and that was dragged out for an hour. But here's why I don't care about that: ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. God how I've missed the alternate universe! I don't care if Olivia went over there just to do some grocery shopping—as long as she was over there count me in. Ahhhh the memories... they're flooding back in! So many happy thoughts came back, and that was the point and that's (partially) why this super-sized series finale was so satisfying for those of us who have been along for the whole ride (yes, even through "Brown Betty"). I think the producers specifically put Michael into the hands of Windmark not because it served the story (like I said, the majority of it felt like a task and not the setup of a finale), but because it allowed them to come up with a cool way to go to the alternate universe because they knew that's what WE would want. I'm thoroughly convinced that they didn't have to do this, but they WANTED to. Fringe, you know me too well!

And the final hour served the fan base even more, carrying out a plan to have something to do while the real meat of the episode was in three emotional conversations: Walter and Peter, Walter and Astrid, and Walter and Donald. For my money, the one that had the most oomph was Walter's goodbye to Astrid. And it wasn't just that he got her name right and said it was beautiful, it was the outstanding chemistry between John Noble and Jasika Nicole and the way they both conveyed a deep understanding and comfort with each other. Well, that and an appearance by Gene the cow. And for God's sake, Jasika's teary eyes! Good lord woman, you brought the house down!

Second would be Walter and Peter's chat, which was played more conventionally but had the deepest impact. This wasn't just two characters saying goodbye, it was two human beings who have worked with each other in sound stages in Vancouver and New York for the last five years showing how much they'll miss each other. Powerful stuff.

And finally, Donald and Walter's chat delivered the message that Fringe wants you to take home: Fate is not rigid, it can be bent, and though the world may conspire against you, it's your loved ones who give you strength. It's the kind of sappy mantra that can be etched on the inside of a Hallmark card, but it's also what Fringe has always been about.

Which makes the end rather interesting, because it goes against what Donald said about fate not dictating our lives. Donald made the decision that it would be him who would escort Michael into the future, where he'd be prodded by doctors until they realized that creating the Observers was a bad idea, letting Walter off the hook and seemingly resulting in a happy ending for everyone. It made sense! Walter would stay with his son, Donald would be with his, and everyone could go for ice cream afterward. But as Donald sprinted toward the wormhole hand-in-hand with Michael while the enemy was still shooting all over the place, he took a bullet and croaked, forcing Walter to shepherd Michael across to the other side and leave Peter forever, because all of a sudden NOW the world is picky about time paradoxes and Walter in 2015 would cease to exist. So now it becomes fate rearing its ugly head again, and Walter's destiny to be fulfilled.

Or maybe it's just stuff happens. You can argue that fate won and killed Donald to force Walter through. Or you can say that the Loyalists FINALLY hit their target and Walter made the choice to go through. Fate vs. free will is a question that Fringe set out to ask, but, like a wise old man or Yoda, chose not to answer, allowing its students (us) to come up with our own answer. Fringe never wanted to solve the mysteries of the universe for us; it just wanted us to ponder them. What's more likely is that Walter set out to atone for his sin of stealing Peter from the alternate universe, to make up for the stolen time he had with his son by giving Peter back the time he deserved with the daughter who was stolen from him. Go ahead and argue that Peter never would have met Olivia if it wasn't for Walter bringing him over, but I'm going to stick my fingers in my ears and loudly mutter, "LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU." Those two were meant to be together and they would have found a way somehow. (Yes, at this point you can pick and choose what works for you to fit your Fringe theories.)

But there was one final moment Fringe decided to leave for us. After Walter and Michael stepped through the wormhole and into the future, we found out the plan did work. Back in 2015, Peter, Olivia, and Etta were in the park where Season 5 started, but this time, the Observers didn't show. Michael and Walter presumably made sure the future scientists didn't create the hairless freaks and therefore didn't tear apart Peter, Olivia, and Etta with their invasion. At home, Peter found the letter Walter was talking about in 2036, and in it was a drawing of a white tulip—which, to Walter, represented forgiveness from God for the atrocities he'd committed. But it's Peter's reaction that should have the Fringe fandom gabbing for weeks. Walter's plan worked and time was reset, effectively meaning the events after the Observer invasion never happened. Season 5 didn't really happen to this Peter and Olivia. But Peter picked up his head as though memories came flooding back to him. Did he just realize that his father had done something grave? Did he actually remember his dad's sacrifice from the time that supposedly was erased? Or did Peter just think, "WTF a white tulip?" Again, ambiguity—sweet, beautiful ambiguity—rules, and it's up to you to think it out for yourself and choose the ending that works best for you.

Me, I don't have an answer, even for myself because I'm not sure that final moment needed to happen at all. Tonally, I don't think it really helped the series. It was an interesting bit to add to tease our brains with a parting puzzle, but with the (almost) final scene in the park showing a family reunited, the mood was at such a triumphant high point. The finale could have ended there, and all would have been great. But in showing Peter discovering the letter and leaving us with that stare, the all-important closure for a series on the way out was slightly interrupted.

But that doesn't ruin what was a complete, satisfying, and bittersweet series finale. I wouldn't place either of these hours in my own Top 20 episodes, but given how this season was going and how Season 4 ended, the finale exceeded my expectations. It didn't have to be amazing to be successful, it just had to show respect to the fans. And hey, the way things ended, Fringe could conceivably come back for a Season 6. Right?


– "Special guest appearance: Seth Gabel." WAY TO BE A SPOILER, OPENING CREDITS. God I hate opening credits.

– Stupid observation: What was the deal with that loyalist woman in the red coat with the loyalist dog who was on the waterfront while the gang was trying to look through the window into the other universe? They pointed her out, she went away, and things continued. She must be related to someone who works on the show and was included as a personal Easter Egg for the crew.

– Ummmm... is crossing over to the other universe IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET really a good idea, Olivia? How about bringing that window to the other universe to make sure you don't end up in the middle of a busy road or a brick wall or a hot dog cart?

– Chelsea Clinton is a presidential candidate in 2036 on the Other Side. I guess the universe where the Observers invaded is safer. Ha I kid, I have no political interests at all and I'm sure Chelsea would make a fantastic puppet president.

– Oldlivia might be the hottest Olivia, wowza! A little Cortexiphan does wonders for slowing down aging.

– You know, for someone who was supposed to be more emotional and smarter than everyone else, Michael sure was boring and dumb. Although at times I felt like he was just waiting for everyone else to figure out what he already knew, like when you're watching someone else try to get through a level of a video game you've already beaten.

– When Olivia was flickering between universes, what did the people in the universes see? Did they see her flickering in and out? Is it like when you're playing online multiplayer on Xbox Live and you have crappy lag?

– Where can I get some Balloon bullets?

– I absolutely LOVED all the Fringe-y things attacking the Loyalists and Observers. It was definitely a scene for the fans and was almost like a clip show. So cool.

– Just a little shout out to Michael Kopsa, who has really been amazing in this second half of the season as Captain Windmark. He did the best of anyone this season not named John Noble.

– I'm planning on doing another write-up on the series as a whole. Look for it next week.

– At least Fringe's finale was better than the finale of Lost. YEAH I SAID IT BRING IT ON!

– Thank you, Fox, for believing in the show and understanding that art lasts forever, but advertising dollars are blown funding something stupid like Stars in Danger: The High Dive.

– It's been a real joy writing about Fringe these past several years and I want to thank all of you for reading my ridiculous words about philosophical implications, romanticized theories of transuniversal love, and which Olivia was the hottest. Some of my Fringe pieces have been the most fun I've had in this job, and you all were game to take the journey with me. It saddens me that both Alphas and Fringe left television this week and that broadcast science fiction is in such dire straits at the moment, but something else will take their places (something always does). It might be fate or it might be free will, but we will see each other again.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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