January 19, 2013



The most paranormal thing about FRINGE, in the end, was that it actually survived 5 seasons on the air, as very possibly the lowest-rated series to be regularly renewed in the history of network television.  (Made possible by budget restrictions and Warner Bros Television’s willingness to accept sharply lowered license fees because of the show’s ancillary value.)  Tonight, though, the show finally came to its end with a fitting mixture of high-tech, fantasy and sentiment.

In truth, although each year’s renewal felt like a victory for all that could be right and good on network TV, Fringe probably lingered a bit too long.  This final season was its weakest since the initial year, which tripped all over itself for months–remember when Olivia (Anna Torv) wandered through her semi-dead partner/lover’s consciousness, and Peter (Joshua Jackson) was a roguish Indiana Jones-type international adventurer?–before finding its identity and tone.  The Observers, who were a fascinating fixture of the show in the early years, were rather dull, familiar villains, with their all-brain, emotionless cold logic and bald heads–even though they technically weren’t aliens, being evolved humans from Earth’s future, they felt like all too many Cold War-era visitors from other planets.  Fringe peaked with its alternate universe years, a concept as beautifully worked out as it was playful, and this season’s dogged 13-hour self-contained saga couldn’t compare.

The 2-hour series conclusion (first hour written by Co-Executive Producer Alison Schapker and directed by P.J. Pesce; the final hour written and directed by showrunner J.H. Wyman) tried to compensate for some of that.  The way to defeat the Observers, as it turned out, wasn’t all that complicated, after we’d all spent many episode hours dithering about and following pieces of a plan that was revealed in contrived piecemeal fashion through individually unearthed VHS tapes.  The little boy Observer known as Michael (Roman Longworth), mute but empathic, combined super-intelligence with deep emotion, and if he could just be time-traveled to the point where the Observers weren’t yet evil, he would instantly become the template for the future of civilization, hence the Observers would never abandon their feelings and wouldn’t ruthlessly invade the past.  So the focus of the plot became the creation (not for the first time) of a time-travel mechanism.  In the first hour of the finale, that happily required a quick visit to Alternate Earth, with cameos by Fauxlivia and Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel), 20 years further (since they weren’t preserved in amber) into their contentment together, as well as the return of Olivia’s cortexiphan-fueled superpowers. The final hour also included a fan-favorite shout-out to Walter’s beloved cow, and to his eternal inability to recall Astrid’s (Jasika Nicole) name.

The plot’s final twist more or less brought the series full circle, as Walter (John Noble), who had started everything by stepping across dimensions to steal a child who wasn’t his, left his real (well, sort-of real) son to accompany Michael into the future, rubbing himself out of the newly-restored timeline and saving his family.  It was a characteristically emotional climax for a show that always tried to combine sci-fi with personal stories.

Like Walter, Fringe sacrificed a lot along the way to save itself.  By this final season, one could almost see the budget lines that had been crossed out and reduced, as the cast was relentlessly streamlined (Lance Reddick’s Agent Broyles did manage to appear in the final 2 hours), and the visual scope of the show was clearly cut back, making for a lot of scenes of people standing in rooms talking to one another.  More damaging, though, was the fact that the show’s writers couldn’t come up with anything new to say about their characters, and the Olivia, Walter and Peter of the final season had nothing to tell us about themselves that we didn’t already know.  (Anna Torv was particularly shortchanged compared to the seasons where she’d gotten to play Olivia, Fauxlivia and even–most enjoyably–Leonard Nimoy’s William Bell.)  Disappointingly, the showdown between “good” Walter and “bad” Walter, caused by what we were told would be his increasing lack of humanity as his intellect took over (a transformation mirrored by the Observers’ turn from brilliant to vicious), never really happened in the final season–if anything, Walter only became a more sentimental figure as the season went on.

Nevertheless, Fringe was to the end unshakably heartfelt and imaginative, with a commitment to its ideas and mythology unmatched by any other fantasy on TV, and it will be missed.  It’ll be particularly sad to live in a dimension where Walter Bishop is no longer a regular TV presence, and there are no zeppelins flying over Manhattan.  Better to imagine that another timeline exists, just a special glass or cortexiphan dose away, where Fringe isn’t just continuing on the air, but is a thriving hit, alongside Friday Night LightsFreaks and Geeks, and–soon enough–Community.  The only downside:  it’s a universe where one DVR just isn’t enough.


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."