Fringe series finale recap: The Paradox That Saved The World

Walter Bishop and company say goodbye in a moving, frustrating, ultimately rewarding series finale   
Ep. 12 | Aired Jan 18, 2013

I can't write this caption. It's just going to make me cry.

The end of Fringe didn’t begin for me until Walter Bishop said farewell to his son, and by extension, all of us, as well. I do not mean the final minutes of “Enemy of Fate,” when Peter said, “I love you, Dad,” and Walter, moved by words he had longed to hear but couldn’t over the roar of a raging wormhole, responded with that teary-eyed, resolute nod before taking The Observer Child into the future and changing history with intentional, targeted paradox  – a mirror moment to the big bang of the Fringeverse, when Walter navigated another portal with another extraordinary lad, a misguided act of heroism that accidentally shredded the fabric of reality and produced tragic consequences across multiple worlds and timelines. And yes, that last sentence was not just stupid long but incomprehensible-crazy. But that's why you recap Fringe. "Because it's cool!"

No, I refer to The Tape. It was a video goodbye letter, produced around 2015 or so, when the elder Bishop thought his master plan to rid the world of The Observers would go differently. What followed our viewing of the tape was overwhelmingly powerful, and exactly the kind of thing you want from a series finale. More, the scene produced language that framed this swan song season in a way that helps me to appreciate it for what it was, not what I wanted it to be. This hasn't been Fringe’s greatest year, and the last two installments (which aired back to back on Friday night) fell short of the show’s finest hours. Looking back, I now think – and certainly feel – that the Fringe saga officially ended with the last episode of the fourth season. The fifth season was “stolen time,” to use Walter’s words, a generously bestowed bonus period that gave us 13 more hours with a “favorite thing,” to use Walter’s slightly awkward if rather apt term of affection for his son. Their embrace was an implied group hug that included all of us who have stuck with the show through parallel universe thick and Rebootlandia thin. It was a sweet, sentimental, sincere gesture, in a season that was basically one giant sweet, sentimental, sincere gesture, for better and worse. Yes, I wished it was more than that… although given the limitations of time and budget, I’m not sure how much more Fringe 5.0 could have been. So I’m grateful for this “stolen time,” for this lingering goodbye hug, for this humble, lonely flower – a white tulip – of deep feeling and remembrance. And now we let go.

The Fringe finale experience was defined by paradoxes, intellectually and emotional. Case in point: Me. As you read this recap, you will encounter a Fringe fan who was alternately pleased and pissed, elated and exasperated by what he saw on screen. The fact that I had such dissonance at all leaves me disappointed with the finale – I wanted to be lost in the story; I wanted a clean, unqualified win. But to be clear: That dissonance is personal, and irrelevant to the question of the quality of the episodes (I think), and more, my feelings continue to change the more I reflect. This recap isn't really a recap of the last two episodes -- it's wrestling match with my own conflicted feelings and still-in-flux thoughts. You're going to read stuff that sounds like critical judgment, positive and negative. But if I could, I'd be rewriting this recap over and over for days, maybe weeks. Consider this a rough draft of my final thoughts of the show -- just as one might view these five seasons of Fringe as a rough draft of the history that was produced with its climactic through-the-wormhole reboot/reset/whatever.

So yeah: Up until the Walter-Peter waterworks, I wasn’t loving the double feature denouement of “Liberty” and “Enemy of Fate.” I wasn't hating it, not by a long shot. I just wasn't loving it. And I wanted to love it. The whole thing got off on the wrong foot with me. As I looked forward with intense anticipation to spending my remaining minutes with Fringe, I certainly wasn’t thinking: “Man, I can't WAIT to watch long scenes of hairy September building wormhole-making machines and stirring beakers of rocky road time travel rocket sauce!” But there he was, hairy and machine making and rocket saucing. Snoozers. The time given to that busywork – and to Captain Windmark’s failed, bloody-nosed backfiring interrogation with The Observer Child and his briefings with The Commander – could have been better spent on expanding “Liberty’s” best stuff: Olivia’s excursion into the “over there” world. #ChelseaClinton2036! #IStillBelieveInAPlaceCalledHope(BecauseIt’sFrozenInAmber)

I loved the idea of giving Olivia a showcase episode, even if it came at the expense of other characters, and even though it should have come much sooner. There can be no denying it: Olivia got lost this season, and while I don’t completely agree with those who believe she’s actually been marginalized for quite some time, I certainly understand the complaint. Ever since late season 3, this strong, complex individual has been largely defined by her romance to Peter (or lack thereof). Hear me: The show has nothing to apologize for when it comes to this 'ship. I loved how Fringe used their soulful, deeply loved loved (if not always passionate) love to express the great human truth that all of us need connection, need to be intimately known by Another. Still, there’s always been more to Olivia than the man in her life. Check that: The show worked hard – mighty hard – to make Olivia more than that, following all of that John Scott/Can’t-get-my-dead-boyfriend-out-of-my-head nonsense of the first season. But as Fringe moved into the tricky, fitfully successful business of mining the Rebootlandia premise for compelling drama, Olivia’s glittering facets seemed to dull and smooth. By activating Olivia anew with proactivity and power (and with four mega doses of Cortexiphan, no less!), “Liberty” allowed us to witness and enjoy for the last time the dynamic, multi-dimensional (and cross-dimensional!) action hero of “Bound,” “Brown Betty,” "Entrada" and more. [Tangents within tangents: I'd enjoy a reading Feminist interpretation of the finale, from some who could do it better than I. Lots of female empowerment (Olivia Becomes Electric! Astrid with the game-saving "Eureka!"), in a story that had the flawed, fallen patriarchal male of the Fringeverse taking himself out of history to save the future of humanity.]

I was captivated by the idea of using the parallel universe as a backdoor into the “over here” prison camp facility on Liberty Island to save Michael from The Observers, who were going to chop up this super-powered empath/alleged genetic anomaly for scientific study. And it was cool to connect the rescue drama with Olivia’s own past as abused weird science guinea pig. In the process, Olivia got catharsis for her own inner child, and she got to actively participate in the finale’s stated theme, a certifiable great commission to all of us: “Protect the children.”

And of course, I loved seeing Bolivia and Lincoln Lee again. They had aged well. We learned they had built a life and family together. We got one last chance to witness Anna Torv smile Bolivia’s signature winky-krinkly smile and rock a gray-streaked red-brown do. (Our Ken Tucker saw Susan Sontag. Perhaps influenced by recent Parks and Recreation, I saw Lucy Lawless.) I loved Bolivia busting Lee’s chops for ogling her frozen-in-time doppelganger: “You can stop checking out my young ass.” And of course, I loved that Chelsea Clinton was running for president.

NEXT: The Ridiculous Good Fortune Of Inexplicably Ventilated Buildings

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