This review contains spoilers.
5.12 Liberty & 5.13 An Enemy Of Fate
It’s always sad when a good show ends because it’s like waving goodbye to a person you know you’ll never see again. But as important as how Fringe has been for the past five seasons, it was critical that it went out in some style, especially as Fox had been uncharacteristically magnanimous in giving it the fifth half-season to put its house well and truly in order.
I wasn’t expecting it to be Shakespeare, or even the best TV ever, but the two final stories of the Fringe era were certainly designed to be a love-letter to those who have watched from the outset. Where other end-chapters have a single returning character, or some other acknowledgement, both Liberty and The Enemy of Fate were fully-loaded with all manner of references, nods and reappearances.
The reunion party started with Liberty, the entire story of which was Olivia going to get Michael from Windmark’s clutches by way of the alternate universe. Fringe was probably at its best in the Alternate world, and it was great for her to take one more trip to the parallel dimension. I can’t say I really liked Altivia’s older look, but it was great to see Agent Lincoln Lee, even if Walternate was too ancient in that dimension to make even a brief appearance. This was also the point where we were shown Windmark’s world start to unravel as he tries to interrogate Michael. It was predictable, but fun. All the signs are that Michael can precisely predict what will happen, so none of this is a surprise to him it seems.
The continuation into the thirteenth episode sees all manner of nasty ways to die that Fringe has previously brought us, unleashed on Loyalists and Observers alike. All to save Broyles in what appeared to be a creative salute to the Morpheus interrogation scene in the Matrix. The Pandora’s box of deadly intent sequence was pure entertainment, though I was more than slightly relieved that the flying Porcupine people didn’t make an reappearance too. Phew!
There were so many clever and obtuse references to previous Fringe stories salted through both final episodes that it’s easier to mention what they didn’t put in here. William Bell never did come back sadly, and none of the previously defined as dead did either.
Where things started to slightly go wrong plot-wise in The Enemy of Fate, and where the events didn’t stand much scrutiny, was the portal plan. It was clearly outlined that they were to create a portal to a specific date when scientists start the path that leads to the Observers, and by sending Michael there it will redirect that research and alter the future. The problem I have, as pedantic as it might seem, is that if the Observers didn’t exist, then Walter would have never travelled to the alternate universe, and Peter would never have come to ours. The general hint, but it’s never implicitly said, is that they were destined to be together and the universe(s) would have found a way. Really?
Given how convoluted Fringe has been on occasion to get things to join up, to ask at this stage for faith that this all works out seems odd if not contradictory. Because of that, I found the final scene slightly annoying, mostly because we’d already seen what it contained a number of times before. The significance of the white tulip is a nice element, but I can’t reasonably see how Peter could understand it without remembering the timeline that no longer exists. I’d have preferred if it had ended with Walter bringing the boy to the scientists and then declaring he’d really like a fresh milkshake.
But then the show often did wear its heart on its sleeve, and for many fans the highlight of the final stories would have been the affection shown between the main characters. In each of these tender moments, it was easy to believe that some grain of real emotion was coming through from actors who have worked together for five years. Or, rather I’d prefer to think that than these are entirely professional performers who in reality can’t abide each other. The scene where Walter comments on the beauty of Astrid’s name was very touching, given his amazing scope to call her anything but that name over the seasons.
So what’s the Fringe legacy? This show had very high and some more occasionally low points, but it certainly shrugged off the label of X-Files-lite, and created something entirely unique and engaging.
But what I’ll forever recall is the marvellous characters the show introduced us to, specifically Walter, Peter, Olivia and Astrid. I can only commend those who assembled the acting team, because all these characters required brilliant acting skills to realise them. I must especially talk about the amazing John Noble, who I’d only previously noticed as the insane Denethor in The Lord of the Rings. The show became something of a showcase for him and his fellow performers, and anyone wanting to cast a character with emotional depth need look no further than this bunch.
Along with the key characters, Fringe also gave us some special moments, probably too numerous to mention them all. But the ones that I’ll always remember are: the Twin Towers finale to season one, Olivia coming through the windscreen in season two, the Brown Betty singing episode, the animated Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, Doctor Jones being cut in half, Astrid meeting her alternate self, Altivia’s adventures with Peter, the cow, numerous gruesome autopsies, Peter’s amazing back story, the mercurial Sam Weiss, milkshakes, Nina’s robot arm, Broyles’ cold stare, shapeshifters, the wonders of cortexiphan, inter-dimensional typewriters, and a million other wonderful things.
Fringe has been a narrative rollercoaster that I’ve enjoyed, and one that can’t be accused of outstaying its welcome. It will be missed.
Read Billy’s review of the previous episode, The Boy Must Live, here.
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