Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fringe: Season Five

This review is very long overdue, so here are the links to the story so far:

Season One
Season Two
Season Three
Season Four

Warning: here be spoilers.


Season 4 of Fringe almost ended on the perfect note for a series finale, with the world saved, Olivia brought back to life, and the Bishop family tighter than ever, with a baby on the way. Happily ever after… but for the glimpse we had in a late episode of a very bad future indeed. It is this future we are plunged into from the start of season five, following straight on from that oddball future-episode, and the backstory unfolds gradually. We learn that Peter and Olivia married and had a baby daughter, called Henrietta, or Etta. But when Etta was only a few years old, the Observers came from the future, and at some point in the chaos, Etta went missing. Not long after this, the main team of the Fringe series: Walter and Peter Bishop, Olivia Dunham and Astrid Farnsworth, have been frozen in Amber for twenty years, allowing their story to carry on as if no time has passed, but in a terrifyingly changed world around them.

Once again, I had to applaud Anna Torv’s portrayal of Olivia. Although only a few years have passed in-universe, and she does not appear to have been aged-up, she plays a much older, sadder, wiser version of the character, one who has loved and lost and had her heart broken. The scene in which she is reunited with Etta and shows simultaneous joy to see her daughter again, and horror that she has missed twenty years of her growing up, are utterly heartbreaking. Similarly, Peter is no longer the carefree man-boy of the early seasons, but a responsible adult. Their relationship is strained to breaking-point by the loss of their daughter, the guilt and the relentless search.

The format of Fringe has evolved far away from its original weirdness-of-the-week episodes, and now that our heroes are fugitives, wanted by the Observers, there are no more official investigations into “fringe” events. Now this is war, a dirty war, and Walter and the team are driven to desperate measures in order to survive. This is not their world any more, but Etta’s, and they must play by Etta’s rules.

The first few episodes did not feel like the old Fringe again – although it’s difficult to say which version was the definitive Fringe, as it has changed so many times over the five seasons. And then, a shocking event happens, and just a few episodes after her introduction, Etta was killed. This seemed very unsatisfying, rushed, perhaps because of season 5’s shorter length, and Peter and Olivia deserved better. It felt as though Etta existed only to establish a personal link between the 2010s Fringe team and the dark 2030s world, and afterwards she had no place, so the writers gave her a heroic sacrifice, taking a few Observers with her.

That being said, I’m sorry to say it, but I think after Etta’s death, Fringe returned to its former quality, with the original team dynamics, although those regular characters who took the slow path to the future – Colonel Broyles and Nina Sharp – were relegated to playing multiple characters. The female characters take more of a back seat in the later episodes of this final season. The attention shifts more onto Peter for a significant fascinating (but rather too quickly solved) plotline, instead of former protagonist Olivia, and poor beloved Astrid is almost forgotten. Season four saw the closure of the bridge between worlds, and this shorter season just focuses on the original universe, original cast, but of course we get one more hop across the divide for the finale, getting to see how the second world has fared in the missing twenty one years.

Fringe is a demanding show for its actors, each playing many different versions of the same character. John Noble takes this to an extreme when Walter starts being recognisable as two different versions in the same man, as he struggles not to return to the same cold, ruthless scientist who got them into the mess in the first place, while trying to decipher his own, forgotten, coded messages (recorded on Betamax tapes and frozen in the amber).  By the time the plan is revealed, it did not come as a surprise that, despite the amount of time set in this bad future, there is once more a reset button, and that the future can be rewritten. Again, this is one possible future of many. For once, this trope did not feel like too much of a cop-out.

This season was all about parental love and sacrifice, and much as I longed for an easier happy ending, it was always going to be Walter’s sacrifice that saved the world, as he was ultimately responsible for nearly everything in the series (although, unless I missed something, he had nothing to do with the Observers’ invasion.)


Fringe has morphed and evolved significantly since I started watching it as a weird X-Files type show with science even I could see was nonsense. I’ve come a long way with its characters. It is a show that will stick with me a long time, one that I am very glad to have invested in the box sets, although it would be impossible to go straight back to the start after finishing the series, as it’s become almost unrecognisable. I did not expect to love it as much as I did.

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