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 spectacle of the final battle was a little disappointing. Despite all the sound and fury, quick cutting and gimmicky window dressing (see: the allegedly “Because it’s cool!” thing of anti-gravity bullets that sent dead Observers ascending into the heavens), Fringe couldn't quote disguise the limitations of its reduced season resources. It was a budget Ragnarok.

We also had to wait out the bogus suspense of September trying to take Walter’s place as a sacrifice to the gods of paradox. I loved and understood the reason we got for why this wasn’t the plan all along: Even though September has technically sired The Observer Child from his genetic material, he was biologically unequipped to emotionally reciprocate Michael’s love and emotionally nurture him. In other words: He couldn’t be the father that the boy needed. But that was 21 years ago. He was Donald now. A rehumanized Observer. More, the example of Walter’s love for Peter and his relationship with Peter had inspired him and helped change him. Donald wanted to be the one who took Michael into the future. He wanted to be his father. He wanted the boy to know that he loved him and could love him. Walter conceded the role…

But I never believed Walter wouldn't be the one to cross the threshold with Michael. Walter’s need to atone for past sins was the narrative backbone of this series. It was, in many ways, the only story the series had an obligation to satisfy. “Enemy of Fate” tried to tell us that Walter no longer needed to feel this way -- you proved yourself a long time ago, my friend -- and I think that’s correct. Regardless, I think the triumph of Walter’s salvation is that it made him into a man who was committed to the ongoing, never-ending work of redeeming the world, regardless of his complicity. This all to say: Walter was going to be The Sacrifice, it was obvious the story was going to make that happen, and so Donald’s death was telegraphed. I didn't like the way he went down. Shot in the back while making a break for the wormhole portal? I wished for more heroism. Nonetheless: We felt it. The Observer Child took a moment to hold vigil for his fallen father by taking the “Greensleeves”/”What Child Is This?” music box and playing September’s soul out. Touching.

We rode this wave of emotion into the inevitable last act, in which a redeemed mad man and an extraordinary little boy trekked into the future to save us from mechanical animal dehumanization. As Walter took the child by the hand, as he looked back at Olivia, as he received Peter’s love, and as he and Michael disappeared into Tomorrowland, the inspiring meaning of it all radiated through the crazy. “Destiny can be changed. But you have the will to change it, even if it requires sacrifice.” “It’s about changing fate. It’s about hope. Protecting our children.”

That sounds lovely.

The last moments of Fringe took us to back to the day in the park in 2015 when Peter and Olivia were enjoying a lazy sunshiney day with their daughter Etta In another timeline, this bright moment came to a dark end when The Observers invaded and Etta was taken from then. But this was a new timeline and different day, and so instead of losing their daughter, Peter and Olivia scooped her up and took her home. At long last, the girl would get that bath!

When they got home, Peter checked the mail. We saw one envelope topped with the line: “Thanks for your support!” (Hey, Fringe: You’re welcome.) We saw another envelope, addressed to Peter. We saw it was from Walter. We saw Peter’s brow wrinkle with confusion as he removed a folded piece of paper. We saw the drawing of white tulip, a complex Fringe symbol for hope, forgiveness, remembrance, and the permanence of the soul. This drawing – this piece of art, drawn by a time traveler – had been given to Walter, who no longer remembered the man due to his mad meddling with the timeline, and it arrived at a moment in his life when he needed it the most, when he thought he had lost his son forever. Now, Walter was giving it to his son, in advance of the grief Peter and Olivia and Etta were about to experience from learning that they had lost their father and grandfather forever, for reasons they would not understand, for reasons that would strike them as inexplicable.

But there is always a reason.

Peter looked at the white tulip. Confusion left his eyes. Something that looked like enlightenment dawned and locked into place. Did Peter remember? I think he did. But we’ll be debating the significance for a long time to come. One thing is for certain: I won't forget the last five years of Fringe. I’ve enjoyed covering the creative journey of this remarkable show since the beginning, and I am grateful for the honor of recapping it these past two seasons. Thank you for your readership, and your grace for my crazy. (And my typos!) It’s no easy thing following in the footsteps of Ken Tucker, who recapped Fringe during its first three seasons, who believed in the promise of Fringe even as it struggled to find its voice, who then articulated the artistic beauty of Fringe and its deep, valuable meanings more clearly than anyone I know. If you're feeling nostalgic, revisit his recapped work at this site, and definitely check out his last review of the series.

For one last time: The message board is yours.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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