Fringe Executive Producer and Showrunner J.H. Wyman said this about Season 5, “My biggest concern was telling an authentic, honest story that I could stand behind, and that I would feel I was giving the fans the love letter that I think they deserve.”
Well, if the final season was a love letter to the fans, then the final episode was a gigantic fuck you.
After watching the final moments of the show, a show I have invested years in, I couldn’t help but be furious. I wanted to smash something. Seriously. Wyman took a damn good season, a damn good series, and crushed it in a few confusing, contradictory final moments. He did two things: 1) he fucked up because he insisted on using time travel while failing to understand its logistics, and 2) he fucked up because he doesn’t give a shit.
Season 5 was never meant to happen. Fringe had been getting shitty rating for years, was moved into the Friday night death-slot, was threatened twice to be cancelled, and somehow managed to persevere. Fans of the series, myself included, rejoiced when we learned our favorite sci-fi TV show was getting renewed for a final 13-episode run in order to bring the story to a conclusion. If I had known where it was going to end, I would have been happy with how Season 4 ended instead.
Let me go ahead and say that for the most part, Season 5 was great. The two universes story, which comprised the bulk of Fringe, was resolved at the end of Season 4. The only big thing left to deal with was the Observers. 13 episodes seemed like it would make for a compact season, but would afford enough time to finish everything. In fact, I was glad it was only going to be 13 episodes. In my Season 4 review I wrote, “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… So, with only 13 episodes left, they can do two or three excellent mini-arcs to wrap up the entire series.”
And that’s exactly what they did, three mini-arcs. First, was the Etta Arc where the team gets reassembled, and they begin working on a plan to fight the Observers. Second, was the Peterserver Arc where Peter goes crazy, and uses Observer technology in order to exact vengeance. Third, was The Bitter End Arc where the team discovers the lynchpin in their plan, and execute it, bringing the fight to a close.
The Etta Arc featured two of Fringe’s all-time best episodes, Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11 and The Bullet that Saved the World. Unfortunately, sandwiched between these two great episodes were two dull, pointless episodes. I also throw Season 4 episode Letters of Transit (another great episode) into this arc, as it featured our first look at what the future would hold.
The Peterserver Arc was the best of them all. Each episode brought cool revelations, exciting action, and dynamic character interactions. This four-episode span was by far the highlight of the season. My personal favorite episode from this arc was Five-Twenty-Ten. The best part was that, in the span of a few brief episodes, they managed to believably bring Peter back from the brink, and begin to heal the emotional wounds he and Olivia shared.
The Bitter End Arc slowed things down. As we were getting into the home stretch, the final five episodes, if anything, I wanted shit to get revved up. Each episode should have been fraught with revelations, action, drama, and a few twists. Unfortunately, we got slow pacing and a lot of exposition. The only amazing episode from this arc was Black Blotter, Walter’s weird acid trip that brought comedy and showed us what happened to his old lab assistant, Carla Warren.
It’s really sad to think that the final five episodes of Fringe were disappointing. They are definitely a slow burn. It seemed narratively strange to go from action-packed to dialogue-stuffed so suddenly. This shift was jarring and put a damper on what could have been so much more. But that’s not to say it was all bad. We discovered what happened to September, we learned about the nature of the Observers, and we even got a brief glimpse at the Red Universe.
I think there were a lot of missed opportunities in Season 5. In Absentia and The Recordist were both disposable episodes. Anomaly XB-6783746 and The Boy Must Live were slow and talky, and could have been combined in a single episode. With those changes, that would have freed up three additional episodes that could have concentrated on several other, more important things. For example, resolving William Bell’s storyline. He was important, and his fate was only mentioned in passing. Such a crucial character deserved more. They could have also brought Donald into the story earlier. He was a fascinating character, and with us since the beginning of Fringe, so he should have been allotted more time at the end. There are countless other characters or themes that could have been fleshed out more instead of devoting time to exposition and tedious assholes with bark growing on their faces.
The crossing over to the Red Universe was so short, it was truly a shame. Even though the two universes story had been concluded, glossing over it seemed like another missed opportunity. Four seasons revolved around their conflict with the Blue Universe. The majority of the episode should have taken place “Over There.” It would have been interesting from a thematic point of view and it would have been cool for the fans.
We also learned that the Observers began to have feelings, simply by interacting with humans. This was thrown in rather last minute, and should have progressed more naturally over the course of the season. At least we got a little of it. It certainly helped make the bad guys a bit more three-dimensional, especially with Windmark’s hatred of the Fringe Team.
There were good performances all around. Some things were handled very well, such as Peter and Olivia reconciling, and the emotional moments between Peter and Walter. Those were particularly well written and well acted. John Noble continued to be the acting highlight of the entire season, all the way through to the end. There were plenty of action scenes, which I welcomed, and they were typically exciting and well directed. The call-backs, using the old fringe cases as weapons against the Observers, were fun, too.
Despite all its problems, I was still totally hooked on Season 5. It was riveting TV. Far better than most of the dreck that passes for “entertainment” these days. The most egregious of all the problems come from the final episode, written and directed by J.H. Wyman.
We spent an entire season on a prolonged scavenger hunt to procure pieces to a device (a time machine) that would defeat the Observers. And then, the device doesn’t work. So what do they do? They steal an Observer device and use one of their time travel shipping lanes, which was seen previously on the show. The problem is that all those earlier episodes were rendered fucking pointless. The shitty episode with the red crystals? Pointless. Finding the schematics? Pointless. The only things that were really needed at this point were the Beacons and Michael. That’s it. Two fucking things. All that other shit was pointless. It was like Wyman was saying, “That other shit you watched? You wasted your time. The characters wasted their time. This whole season is a waste of time.”
But that’s not even the worst part. Apparently, someone needs to take Michael into the future in order to stop the Observers. Walter volunteers, knowing this is the only way he can redeem himself from his past sins. But then Donald steps in and tells him it’s his duty as Michael’s father. Sure, that makes sense, and stays true to the father/son dynamic that has been a current throughout the entirety of Fringe. But then what happens at the end? Donald dies, and Walter ends up taking Michael into the future anyway. So, that whole little diversion was fucking pointless, too. GODDAMMIT! WHAT THE FUCK?!
And here’s the worst of it all: the final minute of the entire series. Time is reset, and we go back to 2015. Peter, Olivia, and Etta play in the park and the Observer invasion never happens. They return home, Peter gets a letter from Walter, the drawing of the White Tulip. He looks perplexed, and — immediately cut to nothing. The end. That’s fucking it. We don’t even get a fade to black. It ends like a cliffhanger episode that will never get resolved.
The abruptness of the ending is off-putting. You are watching it one second, and then it’s over the next. There isn’t a slow fade to prepare you for the credits. Nope, it’s just suddenly fucking over. It’s ripped away without a goddamn warning.
A lot of fans hated Season 4 because the timeline was reset. That meant the events of Seasons 1-3 didn’t happen, which fans interpreted as their three-year investment in the show was meaningless. Apparently, Wyman learned nothing from this, and did another fucking timeline reset. The Observer War never happened, and everyone lived happily ever after because Walter and Michael went into the future to stop it.
But Wyman’s a fucking idiot, because no matter how you look at it, this makes no fucking sense.
According to Fringe, in the original timeline, Timeline A, in the year 2167, a scientist in Oslo, Norway creates a new human that will eventually evolve to become the Observers of 2609. They destroy their environment, and the Earth becomes uninhabitable. So, they go back to 2015 to occupy the Blue Universe of the past to shape it to whatever their needs are.
Well, as soon as the Observers go back to 2015, they create Timeline B. In Timeline A they didn’t exist in 2015, but in Timeline B they do. They took over the entire world. Presumably, every event from then on will unfold differently than it did in Timeline A. So, it is a big fucking stretch to think the same scientist from Timeline A will still be experimenting on humans and creating the progenitor Observer. Walter’s plan was to take Michael to that scientist to show him what will happen, and convince him not to do it, causing the Observers to cease to exist. The problem is there is no way this scientist would not have been affected by the Observers. His life would be completely different. He might not even be a scientist any longer. Even if he was, he would be aware of the Observers, and it is doubtful he would go forward on a path that would lead to doom for humanity.
It’s similar to Back to the Future II. Old Biff gets the alamanac in 2015, and gives it to his 1955 self, who then becomes rich and powerful by the year 1985, creating a new timeline. When Doc Brown and Marty return from 2015 to 1985, everything is different. Marty suggests going back to 2015 to prevent Old Biff from getting the alamanac. Doc Brown tells him they can’t, because they would be going to 2015 of this new timeline. All the events from here on out would be different. The only solution they have is to go back to 1955, which would still be the same.
That’s the same shit here. In Timeline A, the scientist created the Observers. When the Observers invade, they shift off into Timeline B. Going into the future of Timeline B won’t stop the Observers from being created. Everything from 2015 onward is different now. They would have to go to the year 2167 in Timeline A. You see, this is a fundamental flaw in the logic of the plan. And it rests with the incompetence of the writers, namely Wyman.
Now, for arguments sake, let’s say this isn’t a problem. Perhaps the Observers realized the scientist wouldn’t create them after they invaded, so they sent someone to 2167 specifically to force the scientist to create them. Well, the problem then stems from deleting the Observers. If Walter and Michael convince the scientist not to create the Observers, then the entire series suddenly becomes a paradox.
If there are no Observers, then Red Universe Peter is saved by Walternate. Walter presumably would never cross over to abduct him. If that were the case, as stated by Fringe itself, Peter would marry Fauxlivia, and they would have a son named Henry. The Blue Universe, on the other hand, would continue on whatever trajectory it had been on. Perhaps William Bell and David Robert Jones would have escalated the war between the universes, but we can’t be sure.
Based on what I just stated in the above paragaraph, if there were no Observers, then Red Universe Peter and Blue Universe Olivia would never have met, married, or had a daughter named Etta. If, Walter’s Season 5 plan had been successful, then the final scene could never have happened.
Taking it a step further, Michael comes from the Observers. His presence in 2167 deletes the Observers. With the Observers deleted, Michael is never created. With Michael not existing, he does not prevent their deletion, and the Observers arise. With the Observers now existing, Michael is created. As you can see, this causes an endless paradox loop. None of which is addressed in the show. However, if they had gone this route with the ending, it would have been a pretty ballsy move, and, honestly, would have been a lot cooler.
So clearly, based on those problems, Wyman has no fucking clue how time travel works. Of course, time travel isn’t real, and nobody can say for certain how it works. But if you have half a brain, and think about it for more than a minute, you’ll realize that the final scene just isn’t possible, no matter how you look at it. For a science-fiction show to fail so badly at the science part is a definite problem.
A simple solution to all of this would have been one additional scene. It would show the future, either humans or Michael-based Observers, or perhaps both. They would agree to send someone back in time to somehow get Peter and Walter together, which would allow Peter and Olivia to meet (and have Etta), and lead to the eventual creation of Michael. A scene in less than 5 minutes could have explained all of that. But Wyman didn’t do it, because he was too dense to realize the mistakes he was making. Didn’t anybody else realize this? Are all the writers that fucking dense?
I don’t think so. Wyman has stated for years he always knew how Fringe would end. Presumably, with the image of the White Tulip. I’d bet that someone told him his ending didn’t work, but he didn’t care. He was resolute in his desire to crow-bar that final image in one way or another. He’d rather have an emotional ending than a logical one. You can have both. It can be logical and emotional. But he couldn’t see that, and gave the fans a bullshit ending.
The White Tulip itself doesn’t work either. In 2012, September approached Walter and warned him about the invasion to come. They began to work on a plan together to prevent it from happening. In doing so, Walter created a farewell video tape to Peter and mailed him the White Tulip in 2015. However, with the Observers gone, September would never approach Walter, he would never make the video tape, and he would never mail Peter the White Tulip.
And what about Peter’s final, perplexed look? Someone on a forum posited a great notion. In Season 4, none of the events of Seasons 1-3 came to pass. Neverthless, Olivia and Walter eventually came to remember those events, specifically, remembering Peter. Those events were a palimpsest, meaning the timeline was rewritten, but events from before are there under the surface and bled through. So, this brilliant person stated that when Peter receives the White Tulip, he has an “A-ha!” moment. The palimpsest of the rewritten 2036 time-period (their adventures against the Observers) bled through, and Peter remembered everything.
I suppose that’s a nice enough way for the show to go out, with Peter remembering the rewritten timeline. I have a feeling that Wyman didn’t write it that way. He proved he’s too fucking dense for something as elegant as that. But there’s nothing to contradict it, so I’ll choose to believe it.
One final, infuriating aspect about the finale was how nobody ever stopped to think about the consequences of their actions. Throughout Fringe, there has been a theme of cause-and-effect. How far will you go to achieve your goals, and what will be the fallout? The entire reason the events of the series happen is because Walter thought he could play god, and defied the natural order of the universe, bringing on terrible, unforeseen consequences.
In Season 5, the plan is to delete the Observers and write a new future for humanity. Sure, the Fringe Team would be happy, but what about the rest of the planet’s population? Will Timeline B get erased? How will the people of the Red Universe be affected? Will Peter end up dead again? Do we have the right to alter these events just because we don’t like them?
Obviously, for the show to be interesting, they have to go forward with their plan. However, I would have liked someone to at least bring up the idea that this plan would have consequences. That was the whole point of Fringe from the beginning. But it was completely overlooked. Again, Wyman was saying “Fuck you” to the themes of the show, and the fans who paid attention to them.
On a more positive note, Season 5 was good. It was kind of like a prolonged Epilogue to the story of Seasons 1-4. Without Season 5, the mystery of the Observers would be left hanging. I like where they went this season, addressing these characters, and doing so in an imaginative way. Although, I can’t shake the feeling that the ending of the season felt like the conclusion of Season 5, rather than the resolution of the entire series. Despite all this, I must say, that the final image of Walter was poignant. Watching him walk into the gateway with Michael in tow, much like had done with Peter decades earlier, created a thoughtful bookend and completion to Walter’s character arc.
Overall, I loved Fringe. I came to the show a little bit late, but I was there to watch it when I did, always looking forward to each new episode. I stuck by the show for three years, and got really emotionally invested in it. The length of this post should tell you that much. As a fan, I am mostly satisfied with what took place in Season 5. But, as a fan, I feel somewhat betrayed by the ultimate ending. The writers dropped the ball, and left us with an emotional but completely illogical, completely impossible ending. That is what I find so frustrating about it.
I will revisit the series in the future, and perhaps I won’t hate the ending quite as much. We’ll see.
The Season – Good
The Ending – Shitty