It’s a funny thing that of all the stages of the creation of a TV show the ending is probably the most important. Getting a show on the air is difficult enough (how many hundreds of pilots have never made it beyond the recording stage?), then finding an audience and getting another season is another hard journey, but finding a way to finish it in a satisfying way is probably the hardest step, not least of all when you consider how often shows are cancelled before its writers and creators have the chance to decide for themselves that the time has come to write the final chapter.
But Fringe got that chance, in the form of a shortened fifth and final season, which allowed it to go out on its own terms. I have to admit, that even as someone who had been hooked on the show from episode one and enjoyed every leap that the show took, I had lost a bit of faith in the show as it neared its conclusion. This season felt like it was dragging its heels as it approached the end, with the episodes leading up to the final two mostly being side-missions to help the Fringe team get themselves ready for the final showdown with the Observers, as they collected various elements of the plan and various people (Donald/September and Michael) while always facing, but managing to ultimately avoid, the threat of the Observers catching and stopping them.
There were casualties along the way (Etta and Nina) and Peter was almost lost after inserting the chip that makes the Observers the Observers into his own head (the way that he just decided to remove it again is something that still bothers me a little), but it still felt the show was in a holding pattern, leaving the really big stuff for the very end.
So I did start watching the shows 99th episode, ‘Liberty’, with concerns about what was going to happen over the next couple of hours. The show’s writers had to find an ending, but would it be one that would make sense and leave long term viewers (like me) happy with where the lives of Olivia, Peter, Walter and Astrid (and maybe Etta) were left? In a lot of ways, ‘Liberty’ has exactly the same problems as most of the other episodes in season five. Before they can implement the plan, the team needs to rescue Michael, who gave himself up to the Observes in the previous episode to allow the team to escape them. Broyles helps the team pinpoint where the Observers are holding Michael (on a heavily fortified and significantly Statue of Liberty-less Liberty Island), but it is seemingly impossible for them to get in, so Olivia offers to use her ability to cross between dimensions and leap between both to rescue Michael.
She needs to be dosed up with large amounts of Cortexiphan in order to do this, something that worries Peter, as the side effects could be fatal. But Olivia is made of stern stuff, and after receiving several injections (straight into the brainstem, naturally) she is able to cross over to the other universe, where she is met by Fauxlivia and Lincoln Lee, who agree to help her. She is able to successfully retrieve Michael and get him to safety, although two Observers follow her to the alternate universe, forcing Fauxlivia and Lincoln to take them out. With this being the end, it’s nice to see that Fauxlivia and Lincoln have a happy life together, married with a child, and that’s a recurring theme through both episodes, with the main characters all having moments together to express what they mean to one another.
Before Michael has been rescued though, we get a glimpse of the kind of power he possesses. Windmark tries to question him, wanting to know why he is important, but he suffers the kind of ailments he normally inflicts on the people he is interrogating, with his nose bleeding and blood vessels bursting in his eye. And September is busy too, as he arrives at the empty lab to begin work on assembling the device that he hopes will send Michael and Walter into the future to prevent the Observers assault from ever happening.
That leaves episode 100 (An Enemy Of Fate) to propel the series to a satisfying finale, and it was a huge relief to me that the show did indeed manage to do this. It’s an episode with a lot of nice call backs to previous Fringe cases and strong character moments.
Fringe has always been a show with a lot of heart and a lot of affection for its characters. There have been many ‘I’ve got something in my eye’ moments throughout its 100 episodes, and there are plenty of those in ‘An Enemy Of Fate’. As the final episode, it has no choice but to march forward with a purpose and it has more momentum than the rest of the season, pushing the characters to their destiny with an intensity and drive that had previously been missing.
Another piece of equipment is needed for the device that will allow the team to send Michael into the future, and Peter looks for it in the remaining amber in the lab. While searching for it, he finds another tape, and it contains a message from Walter, which explains that they may never see each other again if it is successful. This is because Walter and Michael would become a paradox if they remained in the reset timeline, so after 2015, he will no longer exist if the plan is successful. It’s one of those ‘I’ve got something in my eye’ moments as Walter explains this to Peter, although September will later tell Peter, and then Walter, that he will take Walter’s place, because he now understands what it means to be a father and have love for a child.
Broyles has been taken for an interrogation from Windmark after they discovered that he was ‘The Dove’ (although he told a loyalist that he was ‘more of a raven’), but Broyles knows how to at least stall the Observers from reading him, making it difficult for Windmark to make progress on the location of the team. But Broyles will be rescued before Windmark gets the answers he wants; as Olivia and Peter raid the Observers base to secure a control cube that will allow them to activate a shipping lane to transport Michael to the future. This raid allows the show to revisit some of the previous Fringe cases, as Observers and loyalists are bumped off with the help of various weapons from those cases. It’s a surprisingly gruesome section of the show, with a focus on many of the deaths to remind you which cases they come from, and when they rescue Broyles, they tell him he should be thankful that he was being held in a room without ventilation.
There is a lot of action in the episode, making it much more exciting than many of the season five episodes, and it continues as the team go straight from rescuing Broyles and acquiring the cube to attempting to send Michael forward in time. The Observers and loyalists are soon swarming upon them as they set up the device, while Windmark attempts to capture Michael. Peter attempts to fight Windmark, but without the Observer tech, he is unable to gain any advantage, and when Olivia tries to help, Windmark takes her down with ease too.
But Olivia still has Cortexiphan coursing through her, and under such emotional stress, she’s able to focus all her energy (and that of her surroundings) to smash Windmark between two vehicles. He tries to teleport away, but it seems that he suffers at least some of the impact, as a large blood splatter appears on the car behind him. It’s something of a Matrix moment for Olivia, but it feels right that she is in some ways fulfilling her destiny at the most important time. With Windmark gone, it seems like September will be able to take Michael to 2036, but he is shot and killed, forcing Walter to fulfil his own destiny and take Michael himself.
This is how Fringe ends, and it seems like the right way to do it. Walter moving through dimensions to try and rescue Peter was one of the things that triggered the timeline that currently exists, and his sacrifice to reset the timeline to before the Observers assault ties the show up nicely. After his sacrifice, the timeline does reset itself, and we see Olivia and Peter happy in the park with Etta, moments before the Observer assault originally began. The final shot of the series sees Peter receiving the white tulip drawing in a letter from Walter, and it feels like the perfect end to the show.
I’ve loved Fringe from the beginning, and although I didn’t really like the journey to the end in season five, the way the final episode ended tied up the show in a way that left me satisfied. When it’s so hard for a TV series to be able to go out on its own terms, Fringe was able to do just that, and it leaves 100 episodes of a show that was unique and often quite brilliant. Walter Bishop will be remembered as one of the best TV characters ever, and Fringe will be looked back on fondly in the future. I’ll miss it, but I’m glad I’ve watched it.