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.

Olivia’s “over there” adventure to retrieve The Observer Child had great significance to the endgame, which brings us to this: Why did Michael step off the subway and allow himself to be captured last episode? It was interesting how the show resisted a direct explanation and wanted us to figure it out for ourselves. My theory: Michael allowed himself to be taken because he calculated with his quantum brain (or knew via omniscient knowledge) that such an action would set in motion a chain of events that would give Olivia the power she needed to overcome what had become the biggest obstacle for accomplishing Operation: Reboot, a hateful superman who wanted to exterminate humanity.  When you consider that Michael also effectively brokered some eye-for-an-eye vengeance-justice for Etta’s murder, that magical little kid suddenly becomes downright creepy. (More on him later.)

Despite the small pleasures and recognizable-in-retrospect endgame benefit of the “over there” sequence, the storyline, in the moment, felt a little meager. The world was too under-produced (really felt the pinch of the slashed budget season here), the story too hurried for a truly satisfying stop on Fringe’s “Favorite Things” world(s) tour. And it was jarring to see The Observers teleport between universes as they chased after Olivia to reclaim the kid. I seem to recall this was possible, but I think it was a mistake to play this card, anyway, and for the first time this season, no less, because it begged questions that the show didn’t – and couldn’t – answer. What was The Observers’ relationship to the “over there” world? Did they ever consider it a threat? Is there only one group of Observers in the Fringe multiverse, i.e. the population that’s indigenous to the “over here” timeline? Why didn’t Peter think of going “over there” and asking for help earlier in the season when he was Observer-powered? And why oh why didn’t The Observers send more than just two agents after Olivia? They should have sent dozens!

I’m not looking for nits to pick. But I saw those nits nonetheless. And they bugged. Maybe I would have forgiven them more easily if we weren’t dealing with the heightened, high-expectation business of a series finale. I know perfection is impossible. But I was hoping to be swept away. Alas, some of the clunky mechanics were distracting, and they diminished the entertainment experience. Just being honest about my experience.

Another example: Phillip Broyles. Hat's off to Lance Reddick for rocking the few moments he's had this season. I've missed him. And Reddick's performance in those brief encounters made me miss him. But I really disliked the way the storytelling yanked his character around just to create tension. Getting exposed as The Dove, Windmark letting him go Broyles could lead the bad guys to Walter, Broyles knowing that was exactly what Windmark wanted him to do and subverting that desire, Windmark recapturing Broyles after a long chase that could have been shorter and doing what he should have done in the first place, i.e. use his psychic powers to extract the information he needed, although by then, it was too late, and so none of this was really necessary at all, except to give us that time with another "Favorite Fringe Thing"… Ugh. Sweet, but Ugh. Worse, Team Windmark's botched handling of "The Dove" subverted their almighty menace with stupidity. This has been a problem all season. When you have villains that are much more intelligent and much more powerful than your heroes, you have to deal fairly with their strengths by allowing them to actually be that intelligent and that powerful. If you cheat them of their strength, you cheapen the drama.

Did you think Broyles was going to die? The story sure seemed to be walking us up to it. When Broyles hung up on Olivia with a terse “Just get it done” as he launched into operation: misdirection/maddening series finale time-kill, I thought Fringe had dealt him a perfect last line, befitting his crisp, commanding character. A glorious death could have followed. Instead, Olivia and Peter rescued him, in another moment that felt like a narrative cheat. The team had to infiltrate a building teeming with Observers and Loyalists to steal one last element for the wormhole-making machine. To neutralize the baldies, Peter and Olivia flooded the structure with Fringe Gas – a veritable Greatest Hits package of Fringe Bio-Terror. The invisible butterflies. The skin-grow virus. The head-‘sploding Scanners thingies. It was one more example of the finale’s “Favorite Fringe Things” approach to producing meaningful bits, and this, I liked...

Right up until the point when Peter and Olivia (who wore gas masks during this sequence) found Broyles. He was woozy and bloodied from Windmark’s abuse, but utterly unaffected by the toxin. How? Tell ‘em, Peter: “You don’t know how lucky you are this room has no ventilation.” Seriously. And the funny thing is this: I was so enjoying this sequence, I don’t think I would have noticed that plot hole if Peter hadn’t called it out.* Sigh. But hey: Broyles! Whoo-hoo!

*Update at 9:48 AM: Went for a walk after posting. Had an epiphany. In light of my theory about Michael that's coming up in a few hundred words... is it possible that The Observer Child -- my "enemy of fate"; imbued with knowledge of things to come -- helped save Broyles from his fate by planting the idea in Windmark's brain to put him in a room with no ventilation?

Moving on...

The problem Fringe faced with killing characters in the finale is that if they were subsequently revived by a reboot/reset, the show would have made mockery of our grief. Of course, others fans and several critics have been harping on this for weeks, as well as on another hazard of the reboot/reset master plan since it was revealed in full last week: Making our heads explode from a pox of paradoxes that would nullify Fringe mythology and cheapen the primary benefit, Etta’s resurrection. (Reboot is cheating! It's the blood doping of storytelling! DON'T MAKE US SICK OPRAH ON YOU, FRINGE! Live strong and creatively!) I discussed this idea to some degree in last week’s recap, and if you participated in the message boards, you’ll know that I went on record as saying that I thought the idea of Let’s-magically-solve-our-problems-by-obliterating-history! (i.e., The Jughead Solution) was so profoundly wrong, I just didn’t believe that Fringe would go through with it.

But it did…

… and to my total surprise, I’m okay with it.

NEXT: Grandpa Paradox Explains It All

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