Top 10 Fringe episodes
Now that Fringe has finally left the building, Juliette salutes its ten best episodes. See if your favourite made the cut...
For five years, Fringe kept us glued to our screens with alternate universes, alternate timelines, alternate futures and a weekly dose of stories it would be unwise to watch while eating a meal. Ultimately a show about family and the things we do, right or wrong, for the people we love, whether it was doing The X-Files with extra red vines, Sliders with more people getting chopped in half or Dark City with more countryside. These are ten of its finest hours.
10. An Origin Story (Season Five)
Season five tells one continuous story across its thirteen episodes, which means that, like other shorter and heavy serialised shows (Game of Thrones, True Blood, Spartacus) it’s harder to identify individual episodes that really stand out, though the season as a whole is an intense and satisfying watch. An Origin Story does stick in the mind though, partly on its own merits and partly because it kicks off one of the season’s more interesting mini-arcs. Following Etta’s death Peter, a character who has always had an underlying darkness that tended to get skimmed over as he gradually opened up more and more to the people around him, interrogates an Observer. Finding this to be ultimately ineffective, he kills him and inserts his Observer-chip into his own spine just as Olivia manages to achieve an emotional breakthrough. The episode itself is tense and compelling, and it sets up a three-episode mini-arc in which we see Peter become more and more Observer-like until he is eventually persuaded to remove the chip by Olivia. We’ve seen all the other regulars play other versions of themselves in the alternate universe and at least two timelines before, but since Peter died in both the alternate universe and the amber universe timeline, this is the only time we get to see the writers and Joshua Jackson play around a bit with the character and find new angles to him, and it’s refreshing to see.
Best bit: Peter stares at himself in the mirror as the Observer chip worms its way into the back of his neck.
Quotable: ‘I can feel you banging around inside there. But it doesn't matter what you find out, 'cause you and I both know, you're never walking out of here.’ (Peter)
9. Brown Betty (Season Two)
In the middle of the meat of season two’s story arc, the culmination of a plot that has been building since the pilot episode, just as everything is about to fall apart for our heroes with Peter AWOL and Walter losing what little sanity he has left – we stop for a fairytale told by Walter (on drugs) to Ella. Olivia becomes a Chandler-esque detective living in a world where the fashions stopped around 1935 but technology kept going, and everyone sings. It shouldn’t work, and yet it does, because although technically nothing happens, the episode shows us just how deep Walter has sunk into a metaphorical pit of despair and guilt, making himself the villain in his own story and despairing of ever being forgiven. It also gives the audience a refreshing break from some of the high level angst of the end of the season, allowing Peter and Olivia to act out a properly romantic storyline while their characters in the ‘real’ world have been torn apart. Also, there are singing corpses in it. Only on Fringe.
Best bit: Call us soppy, but we like Peter and Olivia’s dance in Ella’s happier ending to the story.
Quotable: ‘Must be nice to know who you are, to know your place in the world.’ (Peter)
8. The Plateau (Season Three)
The best thing about spending time in the alternate universe in season three was that we got the chance to see Lincoln Lee, Scarlie and Olivia in action, and this is the best of a good crop of episodes. The nature of the villain Milo, who can predict future events with uncanny accuracy simply by working out the probabilities, would have significant echoes later in the series, and fits in neatly with the alternate universe considering Alt-Astrid’s job at Fringe Division. The climax is even neater, as only Olivia’s unknown nature as an outsider to this universe saves her, since her lack of an instinctive reaction to an alternate universe health warning was the one factor Milo couldn’t predict. It also alerts brainwashed Olivia to the fact that she may not be in the right place…
Best bit: Olivia ignores the warning sign and just keeps on running.
Quotable: ‘You do remember me, right?’ (Scarlie)
‘Yeah, you're that tightwad who owes me $70.’ (Olivia)
7. Worlds Apart (Season Four)
Worlds Apart is the conclusion to the alternate universe story arc that had been powering Fringe throughout seasons two, three and four, and as such it has a lot to live up to. Luckily it manages this with aplomb. Sure, there had to be a bit of narrative wrangling in this episode and the earlier Everything In Its Right Place to bring about the pairing of the spares, Clark Kent Lincoln Lee and Fauxlivia, and it’s perhaps a little rushed, but overall this is a satisfying conclusion to a number of major plot threads. Airing directly after Letters of Transit, the closing off of a number of dangling stories and characters in this episode allowed the remaining two episodes of season four and all of season five to deal with matters closer to home, and tie up the show’s most important remaining mystery, the Observers.
Best bit: Walter and Walternate’s conversation, as the two finally reach some kind of peace with each other (held together by John Noble’s consistently brilliant, nuanced performance).
Quotable: ‘I haven't seen a rainbow in over twenty years… I began to imagine the people from my side would begin to see them again. You know, something so beautiful, so perfect. I still find myself looking up after it rains.’ (Fauxlivia)
6. Making Angels (Season Four)
Poor Astrid was always the most under-served of the Fringe team, but she takes her one and only day in the limelight and makes it work very well. The case of the week (concerning a man who insists on ‘mercy-killing’ people based on predictions of their futures) is almost incidental to the more important story, in which Alt-Astrid, unable to deal with the death of her father, sneaks over into our universe to seek help from herself. We’ve seen Astrid be warm and understanding in the face of emotional difficulty many times over the years, but the opportunity to see her interact in that way with someone other than Walter is still welcome, and Jasika Nicole’s performance as Alt-Astrid is note-perfect. Also, this episode introduces the subtle running gag that hints that whatever went on between Walter and Fauxlivia in this Peter-less timeline was… interesting.
Best bit: Astrid tells Alt-Astrid that she struggled to get on with her father too, to make her feel better; when she returns home, we see that this is far from true.
Quotable: ‘Mata Hari! Deceived and betrayed anyone yet today? It is almost lunchtime, after all.’ (Walter to Fauxlivia)
5. There’s More Than One of Everything (Season One)
Season one produced several very good episodes, including The Arrival, Bound, Bad Dreams and Inner Child. But it was the season finale that really showed what Fringe could do and kicked the series into another gear, at the same time as properly delving into the alternate universe for the first time. The episode as a whole is built relatively slowly with a focus on emotion, particularly between Walter and Peter, and then it explodes into that climactic triple whammy – Jones sliced in half by a dimensional portal, the reveal of Peter’s gravestone and the emotional gut-punch that is the sight of the Twin Towers still standing in an alternate universe. Oh yes, and Leonard Nimoy. What more could a sci-fi geek want?
Best bit: It’s very hard to choose between those three stand-out moments. Peter’s gravestone is a seminal moment for our understanding of the characters and of Peter and Walter’s relationship, while the use of the Twin Towers plays on the airdate being just long enough after 9/11 that they can get away with it, but just near enough that the emotional impact of the image is huge. And who doesn’t like seeing a bad guy cut in half by a dimensional portal?
Quotable: ‘What else aren’t you telling me, Walter?’ (Peter)
4. And Those We’ve Left Behind (Season Four)
The essential premise of And Those We’ve Left Behind isn’t especially new – not only have similar plotlines appeared in shows like Stargate SG-1, it’s not a million miles removed from Fringe’s own White Tulip (hey, if it ain’t broke…). But this episode offers a slight spin on the usual doomed attempt to recover a lost loved one, as Kate Green is not dead, but suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. The fact that she is physically still present only emphasises what Raymond has lost, and what Kate herself has voluntarily given up, knowing it’s for the greater good. More importantly, this story is simply very well done. Raymond and Kate’s loving relationship in the past and Kate’s distance in the present highlights Peter’s increasing isolation among the shadows of people who used to be his loved ones, and Raymond’s desperation indicates what Peter must be feeling by this point.
Best bit: All the scenes between Kate and Raymond are beautifully played, and the final reveal is both touching and heart-breaking.
Quotable: ‘I know what a Faraday cage is! A baboon would!’ (Walter)
3. Marionette (Season Three)
Marionette might be the most purely depressing episode in all of Fringe’s five-year run – which does not stop it from also being very good indeed. Olivia has made it back from the alternate universe, but must deal with the emotional fallout from Fauxlivia having lived her life – and stolen her not-quite-boyfriend – while dealing with a case of the week that is one of the creepiest and emotionally strangest yet encountered. The marriage of the arc plot and the criminal of the week makes the episode hang together brilliantly, as the deeply unsettling nature of Roland’s story keeps the tone of the whole episode intensely uncomfortable, while also playing in to Olivia’s torment at the climax. While Olivia is, quite rightly, the focus of the story, the other characters are not ignored or passed over either; Peter’s helpless ‘I’m sorry’ to Olivia’s empty chair might just be the most heart-breaking moment of the episode (though Olivia breaking down on finding his T-shirt in her laundry is a close second).
Best bit: The unbelievably creepy sequence in which weirdo of the week Roland manipulates young Amanda’s corpse to dance for him. Ballet is creepy enough at the best of times, but this takes it up to eleven.
Quotable: ‘Do you think possibly they replaced her with a robot?’ (Walter on Olivia)
2. White Tulip (Season Two)
White Tulip walks a fine line, balancing a story that equally could be interpreted as spiritual or could be interpreted as a validation of science over spirituality, depending on the viewer’s preference, without putting a foot wrong. As Walter struggles with his guilt and his decision to come clean to Peter, he receives the near-impossible sign from God he was looking for, a sign of hope that he may still be forgiven, either because God guided Walter and Alistair Peck and prompted Peck to send it to him, or because Peck took pity on a broken man (depending on your point of view). Paired with this story is Peck’s desperation to get back to his late fiancée, succeeding not in saving her, but in reconciling with her after their final fight – he too receives the forgiveness he desperately craves. (Meanwhile, poor Peter spends most of the episode wondering why everyone seems so unsually stressed, which is mildly amusing and quite frustrating all at the same time).
Best bit: Walter receives the white tulip drawing and looks upwards with joy.
Quotable: ‘I happen to know someone who is fluent in gobbledegook.’ (Olivia)
1. Peter (Season Two)
Quite simply one of the most satisfying story arc reveals of recent years. For fans of the show, Walter’s big secret about what happened to Peter as a child had become increasingly clear following There’s More Than One of Everything and here, two thirds of the way into the season built around this story, the whys and the wherefores are revealed. The story ties together the whole mythology of Fringe up to that point beautifully, but more importantly, it’s very moving, thanks largely to John Noble’s tour de force performance as the grief-stricken (but sane, more or less) Walter. It’s also the first time we get to spend any extended time with Walter pre-brain damage, after the all-too-brief glimpse of the colder man he used to be in Grey Matters. As the icing on the cake, the 1980s setting also provides a few fun touches, most notably the fantastic ‘80s-style opening credits sequence. Ironically, the only thing really lacking from the episode that bears his character’s name is Joshua Jackson.
Best bit: The whole episode is so well put together it’s hard to single out one moment, but Walter promising Alt-Elizabeth that he’ll bring Peter back is poignant verging on tragic, while the opening credits and our first proper glimpse of the other side (where Back to the Future is showing, starring Eric Stoltz) are great examples of the show’s quirky humour.
Quotable: ‘It was the first hole, Olivia. The first breach. The first crack in the pattern of cracks. Spaces between the worlds. And it's my fault. You can't imagine what it's like to lose a child.’ (Walter)
Bubbling under: The Firefly, Letters of Transit, Grey Matters, Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?, Stowaway, Inner Child, Over There Parts 1 and 2, August, Black Blotter, The Arrival
Juliette is a part-time lecturer and full-time Trekkie. Her thoughts on what the Greeks and Romans have done for us can be found here.
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