Episode Title: "Liberty"
Writer: Alison Schapker
Director: P. J. Pesce
Episode Title: "An Enemy of Fate"
Writer: J. H. Wyman
Director: J. H. Wyman
Previously on "Fringe":
In TV, endings rarely manage to satisfy an entire audience. Unlike a movie, television viewers can spend months or years following a story; which gives them more than enough time to formulate their own preferred ending.
I suspect that the ending of “Fringe” may be one of those conclusions that divides the fanbase, although the early response hasn’t produced the outrage that “Lost” apparently inspired with its final episode.
Before we get to the end of all things “Fringe,” here’s one final spoiler warning: Major plot points and character moments definitely figure into this review, so if you’re not caught up make sure that Walter gives you four cortexiphan injections in the back of your neck.
The first hour of the finale, "Liberty," finds the Fringe team scrambling to rescue Michael (Roman Longworth), the childlike Observer who is the key to the plan to save humanity. An early scene in which Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) attempts to interrogate Michael was darkly amusing as the nosebleeds and broken blood vessels normally inflicted upon others was reflected back on him.
Eventually, the Fringe team gets tipped by Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) that Michael is being held on Liberty Island; which is formerly the home of the Statue of Liberty. To break in, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) suggests going back to the alternate universe to sneak in and snatch Michael before the Observers even realize that there’s been a security breach.
It’s a good plan and it was gratifying to once again revisit the parallel world where “Fringe” mined so many stories in seasons 3 and 4. Seth Gabel even came back as an older Lincoln Lee (now sporting a look much closer to his dead counterpart) while Fauxlivia was middle-aged as well. As we all suspected, Lincoln and Fauxlivia got married in the decades since they were last seen and the show briefly acknowledged that Lincoln had romantic feelings for our Olivia at one point.
But the bond between the two Olivias was more sisterly now, and she even joked with Lincoln about checking out her young ass. I’ve missed those two characters and it’s a shame Kirk Acevedo didn’t also come back for one more appearance as Charlie.
Once the rescue plan is put into action, “Liberty” created some great tension as Olivia’s perception kept shifting between the two universes. For the most part, the warnings about the withdrawal effects of the drugs never became important, but the hallucinations were effective and disorienting. Olivia’s mission initially goes sideways when she has to stop Michael’s dissection before a few Observers follow her back to the alternate universe. And Olivia’s break-in blows Broyles’ cover as the mole within the Observers’ organization.
While “Liberty” was mostly a setup episode, "An Enemy of Fate" paid off everything beautifully with some great character moments that have been a long time coming. The bond between Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Walter Bishop (John Noble) has been the key to the series since the very beginning of “Fringe.” And when Peter and Walter have their final goodbye, it was very moving. Noble was at the top of his game, as always. But the reactions on Jackson’s face felt very natural and believable.
Walter even got one last moment with Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) in which he finally got her name right (I think for the second time in the entire series). That should have tipped Astrid off that something was wrong, but it was one of the minor touches that made the episode so enjoyable. Astrid didn’t really have a lot to do this season beyond minding the lab; which was kind of a waste of Nicole’s talents.
To help make up for that, Astrid had a few big contributions in the last two episodes, including her suggestion to use the alternate universe window and to usurp the Observers’ wormhole shipping lanes when the plan was on the verge of failing. And for a second there, I thought that Astrid was going to get a critical kill before Olivia did the honors herself.
Which brings us back to September (Michael Ceveris), or Donald as he’s called now. It’s unfortunate that Donald’s return was held for so late in the season because his character seemed like he needed more time to flesh out his human incarnation. It was interesting to see Donald approach his old colleague, December (Eugene Lipinski) if only to learn that September and August weren’t the only members of the 12 original Observer science team to develop some affection and emotions towards humanity. It also validated the earlier portrayal of the science team by outright stating that they weren’t aware of the plans to invade.
I never fully bought into the reasoning that Walter had to accompany Michael to the future, or that this would somehow erase Walter’s presence in 2015 after time reset itself. It seemed to be a condition that was created just to give Walter a heroic sacrifice that would redeem his abduction of Peter; which was the original sin of “Fringe” that broke the alternate universe. Within the context of the show, Walter wanted to go for that very reason.
However, Donald stole a little bit of Walter’s thunder when he declared his intent to go instead of Walter because of his love for Michael. It did make for a good bonding session between Walter and Donald over their mutual feelings for their respective sons… but did anyone really think it would be that easy? Because it couldn’t be. “Fringe” could never have ended that way. A relatively minor character can’t be the one to make the ultimate sacrifice that saves the day. For maximum dramatic impact, it could only have been Walter.
Sure enough, in the final battle, Donald is killed and Walter quickly takes his place before sharing one last silent farewell with Peter. It was almost a parallel to their goodbye scene in the third season finale, but no less compelling.
Backtracking a bit, did anyone else notice that the chemical attack on the Observers’ compound seemed to deliberately invoke the show’s first opening credit sequence with the six fingered bloody handprint and the hallucination of the butterflies? Peter and Olivia unleashed nearly every pathogen the team had ever encountered on the unsuspecting Observers and their human flunkies. They also narrowly avoided murdering Broyles, who had been ruthlessly interrogated by Captain Windmark.
Like Astrid and Nina, Broyles was poorly served in the fifth season of “Fringe.” But the finale brought Broyles back to the forefront and it gave Reddick a few good scenes opposite Kopsa. Because this was the final episode, I was kind of surprised that Broyles didn’t die after refusing Olivia’s offer to rescue him. That would have been a heroic way to go out, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping Broyles alive for the last battle. It’s where he should have been all along.
The fifth season was also a little light on Olivia centric stories, leaving her as more of supporting player to Peter and Walter’s character arcs. However, Olivia had the bulk of the heroic moments in these last two episodes. Olivia never seemed more like a superheroine than when she turned out the lights of the entire city and permanently dealt with Windmark or when she literally jumped across universes to save Michael. Now that’s the Olivia that we know and love.
“Fringe” leaves us on an ambiguous and hopeful note by bringing us back to Peter and Olivia in the park with their daughter, Etta. There’s no Observer invasion in 2015; which suggests that Walter and Michael successfully changed the future. But we never learn if Walter disappeared from the present as he predicted. Instead, his coveted White Tulip message is delivered to Peter by mail.
I can’t recall if Walter ever explained the meaning of that White Tulip to Peter onscreen, but the last three episodes kept reminding us about its existence so it was obviously going to show up. It’s funny how the White Tulip has taken on so much significance in this series after its appearance in a stand alone episode. But to Walter it meant that hope and forgiveness was possible and he took it as a sign from God.
We don’t know how Peter took the White Tulip… and we don’t have to know. The ending we have is already satisfying even if we never see these characters again. There may be a few loose ends still out there (what was up with the Zeppelin guy whom Olivia predicted would kill her?), but all of the major threads were closed off pretty effectively here.
“Fringe” was initially a procedural show that had sci-fi elements. But eventually it grew a heart and it gave us some amazing stories over the course of five seasons. If nothing else, we should all be grateful for the experience.