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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.