Fringe – Season 4

Fringe title screen.

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.

Fringe cast, including Walternate, Fauxlivia, and September.

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.

The bridge between two worlds.

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.

On the 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.

Verdict: Good

lol Walter gets all the good lines.

19 Responses to “Fringe – Season 4”

  1. May 20, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Dude! Harsh! Though… harsh but fair. This season has been a bit all over the place, but like you said, it’s still far better than 90% of the trash on TV these days. Fringe has some of the most compelling characters – Walter’s just perfect! And boy did I feel that slap he gave Peter to knock some sense into him into getting Olivia back from the dead. They did some good work with Jasika Nicole’s Astrid, finally. So season 4 definitely had some pluses.

    I loved having Jared Harris back. Having him on Mad Men and here… he has some brilliant characters under his belt! It is a shame that ultimately he was the lackey, but he had some good moments.

    I’m looking forward to the fifth and final season. I think Fringe has, for the past couple of seasons at least, always started a new season not knowing if it’d be the last one or how many episodes they were getting in that season. That must make the writers job harder. So hopefully, knowing going in that this will be the final season and there’s only 13 episodes to wrap everything up – they’ll make those 13 episodes count.

    • 2 Fringe4seasons
      May 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Walter Bishop is disgusting: simply beause John Noble wants to be loved, nothing is done with Walter experimenting on children, abusing them.

      The Olivia Dunham story arc was to start in 4.14 but even the episodes 4.20,21 and 22 went to John Noble, again whining Walter about st Clairs.

      Where it should have been Olivia Dunham about her abuse, finally and Olivia confronting Walter and Bell.
      Instead Olivia gets slaughtered liken animal by superhero Walter, who is just the same as Bell, namely the one who injected Olivia with the red stuff as a child.

      In 4.20 it should have been around the victims of Walter, but once again it is poooooooooooor Walter.

      Anna Torv has been sacrificed for Josh Jackson one trick pacey acting and John Noble was so busy Look at me Acting, and on top of that he got all the writing, backstories, attentionseeking scenes and together with Jackson all the tearjerker scenes.
      I do not like it at all if an actor like Noble does not give Anna Torv at least the Olivia Dunham episodes that clearly deal with her abuse, but even that he had to have, even after Anna was not in 4.19.

      Despite getting no decent writing, lousy lines, and no active storylines,
      Anna Torv was by far the outstanding actor this season, brilliant in every second on screen, the ungrateful AmberOlivia to Blue Olivia arc, and thankfully there still was some AltLivia as well.

      Pinkner said at beginning of Season 4 that this season would be a loveletter to all seasons Fringe , what he proved:

      season 4 was Pinkners Loveletter to Walter and Peter Bishop.

      season4 was Pinkners HATE letter to Olivia Dunham.

      Jeff Pinkner really hates Olivia Dunham as a character, never did anthing with her backstory, and this season version 1 had to chnage into version 2 via Cortexiphan for Peters sake (and the super Etta baby) and with another dose of Cortexiphan she was Activated by Bell ( strongest Olivia just meant able to deal with the most cortexiphan) an Walter killed her like an animal .

      I saw Olivia the hero, fighter, survivor , strong Independent woman in the pilot, thanks to Pinkner she is turned in
      Olivia the Object, Girl, Victim.

      Once abused , always Abused.

      The viewers they lost are the Olivia Dunham fans, after this finale, I doubt Olivia fans can deal with another round of Olivia abuse by the Bishops and Bell.


      Walter Bishop is a copy of Walter Lewin.

      Walter Lewin is on the internet, lecturer in Physics from M.I.T., 72 years old.

      Nothing original on Walter, not even the first name.

      watch Walter Lewin.

      • May 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

        @ Fringe4Seasons: I guess it’s safe to say you aren’t a fan of Walter, huh? The thing with Walter is that they do need to spend some time to focus on him. Without his sorrow, and his attempts to fix his mistakes, there would be no show at all!

        I think that all the seasons have given the characters a chance to shine. Season 1 had a lot of Olivia. Season 2 focused a lot on Walter. Season 3 was back to Olivia again. And now Season 4 was really Peter’s story. I’m not sure what we’ll see in Season 5, but I imagine everyone will get their moments in the sun.

        Why would I watch Walter Lewin? Did he discover an alternate universe along with a doorway to cross over to the other side? If he has, then maybe I’ll check him out. If not, I’ll probably just stick with the fictional Walter Bishop.

    • May 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      @ Jaina: I do love all the characters. They are one of the reasons I tune in week after week. Certainly, the writers haven’t had an easy job for the last two years as each season could have been the last. Lets hope they knock it out of the park for the series finale.

  2. May 23, 2012 at 7:08 am

    I have yet to watch Episodes 4.20-4.22, so I was a little bit afraid you might spoil those but I’m glad you see you handled this article without giving too much away. I’m surprised you consider Letters of Transit a great episode; sure it was a good episode but I feel it was forced in that there hasn’t been much in the continuing observer-subplot to suggest that invasion/control/etc was their goal.

    As I skimmed over Fringe4seasons’s awkwardly paragraphed response, I was reminded of the superb development of Olivia’s character in season 2 and season 3, specifically in the season 3 episode “Subject 13”. It is one of my favourite episodes, if not the favourite, and ever since I’ve been yearning for a continuation of the 1980s backstory/arc – but as of Peter’s erasure for season 4 I have known we will probably never get to see it.

    I also agree with you on the point that, around about episode 7-9, we should have had a restoration (of sorts) of the season 1-3 timeline – but as you highlighted, I’d rather keep everything so far because of episodes such as “Back To Where You’ve Never Been”, “Forced Perspective” and “The End of All Things” than worry about what might/could have been.

    I’ll get back to you when I finish the season.

    • May 23, 2012 at 8:08 am

      I wouldn’t mind another 1980s episode, or even a 1990s episode. With the final season only being 13 episodes in length, I seriously doubt we’ll get any interesting detours like that.

      I think “Letters of Transit” will play heavily into the final season. It would probably work better if you were to watch all of Season 4 except skip this episode and save it for last, i.e. watch it after episode 4.22.

      I hope you will share your final thoughts on the season after you watch the last two episodes.

      • May 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm

        I watched S4E21 on Monday and S4E22 yesterday. They were both good. However…
        Overnight, I gave some thought to all of the things that I felt weren’t right about the season. I’ll offer a couple of examples – 1) how Olivia ‘suddenly’ got memories from the original timeline, 2) how the Alt. Fringe team found the database on the shapeshifters but then we didn’t find out what they did with it, 3) the writing decision change the role of the observers in the series (I do like the new ‘invasion’ storyline but I do miss the time when Observers …observed) 4) the new timeline shunted the sense of scale of our universe / alt universe ideas, 5) Olivia having to ‘die’ rendered flat by the fact that she comes back to life – sure it was cool, but once we knew it was going to happen it felt like the Bell-arc was rather unnecessary.
        I also thought about other things that I missed from earlier seasons. Olivia’s sister Rachel and niece Emma, they were good characters who added some much needed grounding to Olivia’s otherwise unrelatable life. I recall that it was said that Rachel was ‘married’ or something, if so it could be the writers realised they needed a reason not to include the two.
        To continue on from my examples, I don’t think this season was particularly good at following up on plot points it introduced. Early in the season, new-Olivia said that she had killed her father/step-father – we know that this was not the case in the original timeline, which suggests that her experience at Jacksonville was much different without Peter (remember: ‘Subject 9’). It also carried on some of the gaps from season three, in particular, both Peter and Olivia ‘not remembering’ Peter being at Jacksonville – it still hasn’t been explained, and I hope they remember to do something with it in season five. That, and the person from the animated episode with the man who is ‘supposed to kill’ Olivia or some such.

        Sorry if this wall of text isn’t quite what you were expecting, but I kept myself awake in the early hours of this morning thinking about this sort of stuff… I enjoyed season four, but in reflection I admit it has disappointed me in parts. Oh: I don’t suppose you’re here for a sandwich?

  3. June 2, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I agree with you that this season hasn’t been the best of the series, but allow me to play Devil’s advocate.

    1) Olivia did not “suddenly” get her memories back. She received them over the course of several episodes, and this was explained as a side effect of William Bell dosing her with so much Cortexiphan.

    2) Yes, the Shapeshifter 2.0 subplot was inexplicably dropped, and that was unfortunate.

    3) The “Observers” are the science team, each of them named after a month, September, August, etc. The “Occupiers” (for lack of a better word) are the people who have taken over the future Earth. They have different names, Windmark, etc. For all we know, the “Observers” were only there to observe whatever was necessary to allow for the “Occupiers” to eventually take over. Clearly, not everything in Fringe was planned ahead from the very beginning, but I get the sense that this actually was.

    4) The new timeline wasn’t popular, but it was a bold move and certainly changed the dynamic of the show in an interesting way. It also allowed the two universes to heal. Honestly, I don’t know how much longer they could have carried on the two warring universes storyline.

    5) Obviously, she was going to come back to life as she is the female lead of the show. ;p

    6) Olivia’s killing of her stepfather probably wasn’t mean to be a plot point for further exploration. I think it was thrown in there to show the audience that Peter’s absence has affected the lives of the characters in many ways.

    7) The animated guy who is supposed to kill Olivia, Mr. X, is William Bell. The producers revealed that after the season finale aired. It wasn’t that Bell directly killed Olivia, but he sent events into motion to led to her death. So, don’t expect any more on that front in the final season.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I’m always glad to hear from fans of the show!

    • June 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm

      Cheers for the for reply! I suppose I’m not as caught up with it all as I would like to be – I do remember Olivia’s memories being explained as a side effect of the Cortexiphan, but to me it didn’t really cut it. Kind of like Peter creating bridge somehow leading to / causing September to be absent from the 1980s event at Raiden Lake.
      I feel you are right about the Observers/Occupiers point, as I suppose I should start thinking of the Observers as being ‘the science team’… I do agree that the new timeline changed the dynamic of the show in an interesting way (to borrow your words), in particular the little things that gave away the changes in the characters, such as Olivia’s killing of her stepfather… which, now that you’ve said it too, leads me to think that it was one of the ‘little things’ along with Olivia not having heard of Raiden Lake…
      Having said that, the final two episodes of this season really were about the changes in the characters as a result of Peter’s absence – Walter asking Bell to hve pieces of his brain removed, rather than Bell removing them to protect him; Bell using Olivia for his interests rather than guiding her to help who she cares about; Jones helping Bell rather than aiming to confront him (am I remembering season 1 right?).

      If I have to pick one more thing to mention, it’d be the symbol that trapped September. How did britishaccentwoman (can’t remember her name) – and by association, William Bell – learn of the symbol? Have they had contact with another member of the science team? Or the ‘Occupiers’? Or… have they been to the future? Fascinating stuff.

      Cheers again for the response, it’s certainly brightened my anticipation for season five.

      • June 2, 2012 at 9:52 pm

        I don’t think how Bell knows about the “stasis rune” has been revealed yet. Who knows?

        I’m glad I made you feel more confident about the upcoming final season. The thing I love about Fringe is that they do give answers to our questions, but they aren’t spoonfed to us. Often times, going back for a rewatch is when the answers can be picked up.

  4. June 25, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I whole heartedly agree with the article after 2 seasons of amazing writing especially the first 16 episodes of season 3 I was fairly disappointed with fringe season 4. It is fringe, so it had some amazing episodes but the where is peter bishop? story line took way to long to solve and I hate that most of the things are void from the previous seasons because we don’t know if it happened or not. I also didn’t like all off the filler episodes and attention on peter and olivia I dont like how one olivia was written over and our bad ass female lead let herself get written over for a guy. Don’t get me wrong I still love fringe and am excited for season 5 but I was disappointed in season 4 not because it wasn’t good but because it wasn’t mind blowing.

  5. 12 Casey
    August 13, 2012 at 6:57 am

    I hated season 4. It seemed corny, sappy, over dramatic and slow in dialogue at times where in other seasons The same dialogue would’ve been edgy, quick, and just better. I understand these are different universes but damn, I really hated season 4. Both my husband and I hated it and it was the first time in the shows running that we didn’t make a point to watch it until there was already 5 unwatched new episodes in our dvr. I hope season 5 has the feel and writing of the earlier seasons

    • August 13, 2012 at 9:07 am

      It really was a let down. Honestly, though, it is probably unrealistic to think they could have continued to keep up the insane level of quality they had going non-stop for the two previous years. And hopefully, yes, season 5 will be more focused and provide a great ending. They may be able to pull it off with a leaner 13 episode season.

  6. 14 Nuncle
    September 6, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Season 4 was awful. But so was season 3. As soon as they got into alternate universe doppelgangers and alternate timelines, they drove the thing into a wall. There is something to be said for mythology, but the mythology of fringe was always shit – the usual J.J.Abrams time travel and alternate universes crap that doesn’t make sense if you actually invest even a tiny amount of thought in it.

    • September 7, 2013 at 8:54 am

      To be fair, alternate universes don’t ever make any sense regardless of which TV show or movie you watch. Every small decision we make can lead to drastically different outcomes. So, an alternate universe would be extremely different, with totally different people and technology. There would never be dopplegangers of us. However, for TV/movies, it’s a lot more interesting, and compelling stories can be told, to have dopplegangers, just to get a sense of “what if?”. I think your assessment isn’t fair. You need to suspend your disbelief somewhere, otherwise you won’t ever be able to enjoy any sci-fi. And even though J.J. Abrams helped write (I think) 6 episodes of Fringe, that was really the limit to his involvement.

  7. 16 SM
    January 8, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    I am halfway through season 4 right now, and I must say I actually liked season 1 much better. The Pattern, the random Observers, the fringe events that were at least still close to the actual fringe. After the first season this show went completely off the rails with the parallel universes and the random crossing from side to side, and all that nonsense about special snowflake Olivia. I feel completely detached from this show’s premise right now, the only reason I am still watching it is because I need to finish what I start and the actors are all fantastic.

    • January 11, 2017 at 10:36 am

      I’m sorry you don’t like the direction the show took. You aren’t going to like it more, because it just gets more serialized from this point forward. I thought the first season was the worst, because they were trying too hard to be The X-Files. Plus, a lot of those early episodes were cringe-worthy with how badly they were written. It’s only when they set up the parallel universe idea that they blossomed into their own unique entity.

      Some of the episodes from season 2 and 3 were incredible. Look at “The Plateau” from Season 3. It’s a standalone fringe event, but intricately and shockingly well-conceived and executed. How about “Peter” from Season 2? It formed the heart and soul of the series, and it remains as emotionally moving on rewatches as it was the first time around. Fringe does nothing but improve from the point that Season 1 ended.

      At least we can agree on one thing: the actors are fantastic.

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May 2012


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