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