Friday, February 21, 2014

If This Is What It Was All Leading Toward . . . Fringe Season Five!

The Good: Good story, Good character work, Decent acting, Intriguing plot direction
The Bad: Video tapes?!
The Basics: With only thirteen episodes, Fringe comes to a powerful conclusion that makes it (almost) all worth it.

For all my complaints about Fringe when the show first began, Fringe actually developed extraordinarily well over the course of its five seasons. Unlike the staff of The X-Files (reviewed here!), who clearly had no cohesive idea of what the mythology of the show was when they began it, the writers of Fringe managed to tie most of the disparate pieces of the series together. In the fifth season of Fringe, the series took an immense leap forward and in the process, made the series – which wandered occasionally – come together in a way that was quite impressive.

Foreshadowed in a single episode from the fourth season of Fringe (reviewed here!), the fifth season of Fringe takes place in the year 2036. It is virtually impossible to discuss the final season of Fringe without revealing elements from the later episodes of the fourth season (so, read that as a spoiler alert!). The final season of Fringe has an oppressive opening credits sequence and it follows directly the events of the fourth season episode “Letters Of Transit.” In that episode, which was something of a non-sequitor in the fourth season, a young woman in 2036 was part of a team that released Walter Bishop, Astrid Farnsworth, and Peter Bishop from amber in a world where the Observers had taken over and oppressed all of humanity. Following the resolution of the alternate universe plot, Peter and Olivia get together and have a daughter, Henrietta. Etta was seen in “Letters Of Transit” and she was reunited with the former Fringe team members.

The fifth season of Fringe opens with Walter and Peter trying to figure out how to save the world from the oppressive reign of the Observers. They make a trip to recover Olivia, who they discovered was ambered while on an assignment from Walter. Back in 2015, shortly after the Observers seized power, Walter developed a way to stop them. Because the Observers can read minds, Walter scrambled the information in his mind and hid clues on video tapes in the lab and elsewhere in the country. Olivia was sent to get the device that would put Walter’s thoughts back in order when she was lost. While assembling pieces of the device that will save the world, Etta sacrifices herself for the team.

With Etta lost, Peter takes extreme measures to thwart the Observers. Realizing that the Observers have less of a biological advantage and more of a technological one, Peter removes the tech from one of the captured Observers and implants it within himself. He uses the tech to begin a hunt for the leader of the Obervers, Captain Windmark. Manipulating Windmark’s timeline puts Peter on a path to personal destruction as the Oberver’s technology begins to make him as emotionally disconnected as the enemy. With Olivia devastated over the loss of Etta and fearing that she is losing Peter and Walter terrified that he will become the unprincipled man who would lose Peter, the rebels against the Observers move to save mankind by traversing dangerous occupied territories, a pocket universe, and even the alternate universe.

From a continuity perspective, one of the most impressive aspects of the fifth season of Fringe is the return of Michael, the child found abandoned in a building in the first season episode “Inner Child.” “Inner Child” was one of the incongruent episodes that did not appear to gel with the rest of the series, but it turns out to be an exceptionally important episode when the subject of the episode pops back up and his true nature is finally realized.

The fifth season focuses heavily on Peter and Walter. Peter has a genuine arc as he reacts to the loss of Etta with a realistic sense of grief that drives him to transform himself. As Peter becomes able to manipulate time and space the way the Observers do, he loses his sense of attachment to Olivia, Walter, and humanity itself. He rationally understands how his brain is being altered and when he is forced to make a decision on how to proceed, it is one of the two big catharsis’s of the season. Walter’s arc, by contrast, is a bit more repetitive. Walter’s brain has been restored in order to allow him to think on a level needed to defeat the Observers. As a consequence of being able to process information again with the full potential of his genius and imagination, Walter begins to fear that he will become again the man who ruthlessly pursued science before in such a way that he simply uses people without regard to their inherent humanity. While the arc is performed well, the notion is repeated frequently, with little genuine development.

To better understand what is going on in the final season of Fringe, it helps to know who the characters are in this darkened future. In the fifth season, the principle characters are:

Walter Bishop – The most wanted fugitive of the Observers, he has a plan to defeat the enslavers of humanity. To that end, he begins watching videos he made of himself that explain the plan he had to save the world before he froze himself and his friends in amber to keep them from the Observers. Walter fears who he will become when his brain is restored and he begins to treat people differently than he had for the prior few years. He recovers powerful rocks, Michael, and other artifacts before finding the one other person on Earth who can help him assemble the device that will help liberate humanity,,

Olivia Dunham – No longer poisoned (or empowered, depending on one’s perspective) by Cortexiphan, she is estranged from Peter following the loss of Etta before they were all ambered. She aids Walter and clings to the memory of Etta after her daughter is lost. She becomes integral in rescuing Michael when he is captured by the Observers,

Astrid – Much more active than in prior seasons, she fires her gun quite a bit. While the rest of the team goes off in search of artifacts, she stays back in the lab more often than not and burns away the amber surrounding the tapes and other needed devices in the lab,

Nina – Head of the Science Division, she works around the Observers, but knows how to resist them. She only aids the team once or twice and when she goes head to head with Windmark, she protects Michael and shows the Observers just what humans are made of,

Broyles – Still in charge of the Fringe Division, he is not a Loyalist (a human ally of the Observers) and it is only now that he reveals to Etta how hard he has looked out for her over the years. He is forced to keep his distance from the Bishops in order to protect them,

Anil – A human resistance leader who works with Etta, he works with Peter and Olivia after Etta is killed. He provides Peter with a captured Observer, as well as weapons and other resources for the Resistance,

Captain Windmark – The Observer leader, he begins to feel uncharacteristic vengeance toward Peter and the humans he is surrounded by,

and Peter Bishop – A protective father, he is devastated by losing Etta so soon after he is reunited with her. He begins to neglect Walter when Walter needs him the most when he inserts Observer technology into himself. He slowly rekindles his relationship with Olivia, despite the distance his use of Observer tech causes between them.

In the final season of Fringe, the acting is wonderful. Lance Riddick, who barely appears in the season, plays Broyles as aged and tired with an expert variation of his physical presence from prior seasons. Blair Brown makes her infrequent appearances count as the wheelchair-bound Nina. Even Anna Torv makes Dunham interesting once again. Joshua Jackson illustrates some good range playing Peter as far less emotional when Peter uses the Observer technology. Playing the gradual increase in intelligence and decrease of emotion provides an interesting acting challenge and Jackson rises to the occasion well.

John Noble finishes the series with another exceptional performance. In the final season Noble gets to play both super-intelligent and emotionally vulnerable. Almost entirely absent in the final season are moments when Walter is crazy and spouting random, funny, lines. Noble reinvents the character well and makes the viewer care once again in the tragic hero of the series.

On DVD and Blu-Ray, the final season of Fringe looks great. The bonus features augment already wonderful primary programming and help give those going through Fringe withdrawal a little something extra to enjoy after the show ends. Finally the people who work with J.J. Abrams finish a show well!

For other final seasons of J.J.Abrams or science fiction shows, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Lost - Season 6
Alias - Season 5
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 7
Angel - Season 5
The X-Files - Season 9


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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