I’m not exactly sure how to describe season 4 of Fringe. Season 1 was pretty good, although the early episodes were bland and directionless. Seasons 2 and 3 were totally awesome as they focused on the war between two parallel universes. The third season ended with a powerful episode and a massive cliffhanger. Given that Fringe had been firing on all cylinders for two full years, it was probably an impossible task to keep up that level of writing for a third consecutive year. The writing is still good, the acting top-notch, and the ideas interesting, but it just doesn’t live up to the quality of the material that came before it. Season 4 could have continued to expand upon the series mythology, but instead it was bloated with a lot of needless filler. I suppose if I was hard pressed to use a word to describe this season, that word would be: squandered.
I can’t fault the writers for trying something new. Each season they refocus the series, and manage to bring something unexpected to the viewing audience. In the second season it was the realization of the parallel universe. In the third season, it was the alternation between the blue universe and the red universe. In the fourth, it was that the entire timeline had been rewritten as if Peter Bishop never existed. It was certainly a daring idea, and a lot of fans hated it. I wasn’t all that fond of it, but I didn’t hate it either. In fact, I have to give the writers props for making such a ballsy move.
The rewritten timeline concept was hated because it essentially negated everything that had occurred up to this point. Meaning, seasons 1-3 never happened because Peter never existed (actually, both versions of Peter died at a very young age). The viewers felt like all their time, their investment in the series, was thrown in the trash by the writers. In essence they were starting over again, from the beginning, with characters who looked familiar but acted different.
On the scale of cool concepts, this is certainly near the top. However, it would probably work better in a movie or a book than in a TV series. It was frustrating because all the build-up, all the time it took to reach this point, was wiped away. The writers should have used this concept through a mini-arc in the first, say, 5 or 6 episodes, and then moved beyond it. Beginning with episode 7 they should have had the team back together and doing something new. Why bother to retread old material? It seems like wasted time. I’d rather just watch a rerun.
Unfortunately, the writers spent the entire 22-episode run subjecting the audience to a season-long storyline of shit we’ve already seen before. In fact, one such episode titled “Nothing As It Seems” goes so far as to repeat a Monster of the Week case from the first season. Not only was that a stupid episode the first time around, it became doubly idiotic to see it return. The writers were taking this timeline-repeat thing way too literally.
The rewritten timeline concept allowed for fan-favorite villain David Robert Jones to come back to life and be up to no good once more. It made natural sense as Peter hadn’t been around to kill him as he did in the original timeline. The role is played brilliantly by Jared Harris, who can simultaneously be a menacing villain and so charismatic you want to join him in his quest for world-destruction. Once again, though, the writers fucked up his storyline by having him be a lackey to the ultimate series villain. His eventual death seemed more like an afterthought than anything else. It was incredibly anti-climactic and somewhat bizarre, considering they spent so much time building him up as the season bad guy.
Not all was lost, though. Since this is Fringe, it had its fair share of really fucking awesome episodes. “Back To Where You’ve Never Been”, “Enemy Of My Enemy”, “Welcome to Westfield”, “The End of All Things”,“The Consultant”, “Letters of Transit”, and “Worlds Apart” were all phenomenal. With most TV shows I can’t name even a single episode that is worth anyone’s time. Season 4 of Fringe, has several good episodes, and 7 astounding ones.
And it’s not like the writers completely dropped the ball. The season was not a total retread of previously covered ground. Eventually, they did get the team back up and running at its old strength, it just took too damn long for it to happen. Overarching series questions, such as the mystery of the Observers, were addressed. We got to know more about the alternate universe characters. Some of the stories involved an interesting “bridge” (literal and figurative) between the blue and red universes. Plus, we got an exciting picture of what the future will look like.
I understand why the writers ultimately chose to take the season in this direction. Fringe had been moved by the network into the Friday night death-slot. Only by a miracle was it renewed for a fourth season. As one of the best written and most imaginative shows on TV, it has the worst ratings. Go figure. The writers knew that they couldn’t keep going with the mythology-heavy episodes if they wanted to survive on network TV. Shows that have intricate depth and rewarding, challenging storylines are never popular. But you know what is popular? Bullshit police procedurals. All the fucking CSI’s and NCIS’s and Law & Order’s and Bones’s and Castle’s are the derivative shit that the retarded American masses watch. The Fringe writers decided they had to skew more toward the retard demographic if they wanted to improve the ratings. That is why they diverted away from mythology-heavy and toward Case of the Week stories with hints of mythology sprinkled in. Sadly, the ratings never got better, and the die-hard fans were left with a middling season.
positive shocking side, Fringe was renewed for a fifth and final season of 13 episodes. This will be good for the series for two reasons. First, knowing this is the final season will allow the writers to focus on the mythology of the series and write a natural ending without having to worry about ratings. Second, Fringe has always worked better with mini-arcs of 4-6 episodes at a time. Some of its best episodes have come out of these mini-arcs, such as the storyline where Fauxlivia (from the red universe) infiltrates the blue universe, posing as Olivia. So, with only 13 episodes left, they can do two or three excellent mini-arcs to wrap up the entire series.
I suppose I’m being too hard on the fourth season of Fringe. It really wasn’t bad television. It felt like a squandered opportunity, something that could have been great but just wasn’t. As I said before, the acting, writing, and ideas were all good. John Noble (who plays Walter Bishop) is a truly amazing actor, and deserves numerous awards and sexual favors for his fine work. However, he hasn’t been nominated (or fellated) for anything, because awards are nothing more than a shitty popularity contest.
Compared to bullshit procedurals, this series is god-tier television. It’s just that it had been SO FUCKING GOOD before this season, anything that wasn’t MIND BLOWINGLY AMAZING was going to be a let-down. Overall, I continue to love Fringe. It remains one of the most imaginative TV shows I have ever seen. Certainly one of the best sci-fi shows of all time. And even though it has to compete with the likes of Justified, Boardwalk Empire, and Damages, I still think Fringe is the one of the best shows on TV.
I look forward to the ultimate finale.