September 29, 2012



FRINGE:  Friday 9PM on FOX

WHERE WE WERE:  The present, or at least a version of it where our Earth exists in multiple parallel near-duplicate dimensions, and “Observers” from the future make sure everything stays on track.  Our FBI team of agents and scientists, headed by Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and troubled genius Walter Bishop (John Noble), with Bishop’s sort-of (it’s complicated) son Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) hold back the insanity and regularly save the world.  Also, after a saga that literally spanned universes, time-space continuums and multi-dimensional facsimiles, Olivia and Peter are a couple.

WHERE WE ARE:  The year 2036, a disagreeable future already glimpsed in an episode last season.  The Observers have become mankind’s dictators, able to read and manipulate minds, and pumping carbon dioxide into the air because they can’t breathe clean oxygen.  Olivia and Peter’s daughter Etta (Georgina Haig) is a Fringe agent, but since Fringe Division now exists under the control of the Observers, she’s also a member of the rebellion.  In last year’s flash-forward episode, she freed Walter, Peter and Astrid from the amber in which they’d encased themselves, and in tonight’s season premiere, Olivia was found and brought back to life as well.  Back in the past, Walter and the only good-guy Observer, September (Michael Cerveris) had hatched a plan to defeat the evil Observers, but because of the Observers’ mind control abilities, the pieces of the plan were scattered in Walter’s brain, able to become coherent only with the help of the device Olivia had just retrieved when she had to amber herself.  It would be too easy if finding Olivia had simply allowed the plan to be reconstructed and set into motion, so Walter was captured by the Observers and had his mind partly wiped, keeping the plan at arm’s length for at least a while longer.

The Observers storyline is considerably more familiar and straightforward than the mythologies that have driven earlier seasons, especially the twin Earth where there was sometimes a genuine question as to which versions of the main characters were preferable.  The story goes that Fringe was only able to buy itself a 5th and final season by pitching this plotline, and it may be that the price was sacrificing some of the moral ambiguity and complications that have characterized the show in the past.  So far, the Observers are pure evil (when one of them identified Etta as the person helping Walter, he might as well have let out a “heh-heh-heh”), and our heroes have to stop them–that’s all there is.  It feels more like typical TV sci-fi than the show has been in the past.

This isn’t to say that Fringe isn’t still high-quality.  Tonight’s season premiere, written by Executive Producer J.H. Wyman and directed by Jeanot Szwarc and Miguel Sapochnik, had the depth of characterization we associate with the series .  This was the first time Olivia and Peter had been reunited with their daughter since she was 3 years old, and the oddness of these parents, visibly not much older than their daughter, dealing with her as an adult while still seeing her as a child, was well realized.  In addition, John Noble had a virtuoso episode, being brutally interrogated by an Observer, then agonizing about the fact that his crucial memories had been removed.

Unless this season’s Nielsen ratings are beamed in from a far more appreciative alternate Earth, these 13 weeks will be the end of Fringe,   Even in a diminished state (apart from the narrowed thematic focus, the budget limitations are capably dealt with, but still visible), it remains an intelligent, well-told work, superior to the other action fantasies on broadcast TV.  One hopes, though, that before it concludes, it will have a chance to show its best stuff one more time.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."