Fringe Rewatch

You didn’t think I was done posting about Fringe, did you? I recently got the blu-ray set, and I decided a rewatch was in order.
Season 1
I actually enjoyed Season 1 more the second time around. Although, my initial complaints about it still hold true. It does get off to a slow start, and there are several clunky episodes that don’t work. The first half feels disconnected from the rest of the series. It still seems like a X-Files rip-off for about 10 episodes until the meat of the main storyline starts to take effect. On the positive side, the seeds for what is to come were planted early on. There are many subtle hints about the future of the series that are so subtle you couldn’t have realized what they were talking about until you’d already seen the series at least once. For example, in one episode, Walter is distressed and laments that he doesn’t “have access” to all of his memories. The first time you see this, you just assume that it’s because he’s crazy and spent 17 years locked in a mental hospital. The second time you see this, you realize it’s a hint to the fact (later revealed in Season 2) that Walter had parts of his brain removed. There are other subtle hints about the two universes and the truth about Peter early on. It seems the writers had put more thought and planning into the early days of the show than I had originally given them credit for. On this rewatch, I can appreciate these things more. Of course, I know that the story is going to get a lot better, so watching the early clunky episodes is kind of a drag. I just wanted to skip them. The other complaint I had was the villain of the season, David Robert Jones, is squandered. He shows up a few times, does some cool and evil things, but is defeated far too easily. They should have done much more with him. The season still works in terms of character dynamics. The acting is fantastic, and the actors bring these wonderfully written characters to life. They interact in believable ways, and Peter’s lessening estrangement from Walter is handled in a realistic manner. Overall, though, Season 1 is Olivia’s story. She is a cipher for the audience, being pulled into the world of Fringe, and slowly learning about all the crazy things this world has to offer. She’s a strong, uncliched female character, and a great anchor for the series.
Verdict: Good

Season 2
Season 2 is when Fringe really comes into its own. From the first episode to the last, it is an incredibly strong season of television. The X-Files trappings of the early days are gone. The mythology is fleshed out, and the larger story is given room to breathe. An appropriate amount of hints are dropped, just enough to keep you informed and wanting more, but not too much to overload you or give away all the secrets too soon. The fringe events are more inventive, and the investigations are more streamlined. Part of this is the fact that we are comfortable with the characters now, and their familiar interactions keep each episode moving quickly and enjoyably. The season isn’t perfect, there are a couple of stumbling blocks. There are a few absolutely terrible episodes (one so bad they didn’t even air it on TV) that slow down the momentum of the overall storyline. The good news, though, is that these are easily skippable. The characters, again, are quite strong in how they are written. Olivia’s looming presence gives way to Walter. Season 2 is Walter’s story. We learn his background, his reasons for doing what he did, and the emotional pain he has been dealing with for the better part of two decades. John Noble is a tremendous actor, showing a huge range as he takes Walter on an emotional rollercoaster. Season 2 has a stronger villain than Season 1, although he probably could have used more screen time. Fringe doesn’t spend a lot of time on villains, it is more interested in the dynamics of the core group of Peter, Walter, and Olivia. And that’s fine by me. The second half ratchets the action way up, and it has an incredible finale.
Verdict: Awesome
Season 3
This is without a doubt the best season of Fringe. There are a ton of mythology episodes, the standalone episodes are ingenius, and the character dynamics even more robust. There was not a bad episode in the entire 22 episode run. This was the year that Fringe fired on all cylinders. Season 3 focuses on the trio of Walter, Olivia, and Peter as they grow closer to one another, and attempt to overcome an unforeseeable adversity (i.e. Fauxlivia’s infiltration). The trio operates as a family unit, and the underlying theme is about what each is willing to sacrifice for the greater good. The mythology is pretty mind-bending with The First People and The Vaccuum, and the final episode “The Day We Died.” The best part about this season is that we have alternating episodes from the Blue Universe and Red Universe. We are able to see both sides, realize that nobody is really evil but just different. “The Plateau,” a Red Universe story, is a standalone episode, but probably the best standalone episode of the entire series, and an incredibly inventive story. The vast majority of the Red Universe stories aren’t important to the overall mythology of Fringe (those almost come exclusively in the Blue Universe episodes), but they help us develop a greater understand of the series as a whole. The only stumbling block is near the end of the season, during the “Soul Magnets” arc. Sure, it was only 2 episodes, but it was pretty stupid. Nevertheless, the episode “LSD” was a part of this arc, and was absolutely fantastic in how it took risks and created a rather unique episode of television. Fringe has never hewed to the expected, and that episode highlights it better than others. For me, this season is when Fringe hit the apex of quality. It was doing things that no other TV show was doing, and it was doing them extremely well. The acting remains fantastic. Everyone turns in great performances, and once again John Noble outshines everyone else on TV. It’s a shame he never won any awards for his tremendous work on Fringe. He has to play so many different version of the same character, and they are all believable as different people. How is it he never got recognized for his work? At least Fringe fans appreciate him.
Verdict: Awesome
Season 4
Season 4 was divisive among fans of the series. Some people thought it was great, and others absolutely hated it. The first time I watched it, I fell somewhere in the middle. I thought the concept was fantastic, but the execution left something to be desired. So how did it hold up the second time around? Surprisingly, it was much better. When the episodes are watched back to back (instead of weekly as they aired), it becomes apparent that they are tightly plotted and have a clear narrative trajectory. Once Peter returns, there is a great sense of urgency for him to defeat the shapeshifters and find a way home. It is really well written. Unfortunately, the second half of the season slows down and starts to unravel around the edges. The shapeshifter plotline is completely forgotten, the William Bell stuff is half-assed, and the focus is thrust on the return of David Robert Jones. This storyline is also compelling, but since they already did it before, it did seem like the writers were spinning their wheels. So, the first half was great, and the second half was fair. The fourth season continues to bring fantastic stories, and incredible acting from the now familiar cast. Season 4 does have other problems, though. One problem is that Peter is missing from the first 4 episodes. You keep waiting and waiting for him to return, and it seems like a big tease. They should have brought him back by the end of episode 2. Stretching it out was pointless. The timeline rewrite was problematic because everything that happened before was undone, essentially erasing all the character growth from the first three years, and infuriating fans to no end. This was a mistake. The team does eventually get back to its old ways, and the viewers can once again settle into the old comfortable rhythm, but this does not happen until episode 12, which is far too deep into the season. Fringe always worked best in mini-arcs of 4-6 episodes. They should have gotten the team back up to strength by episode 6 or so, and moved on from there. On the positive side, the overarching storyline of the war between two universes was finally resolved, and it was concluded in a very satisfying manner. The show had been building to that moment for 4 years, and the resolution did not disappoint. Season 4 of Fringe belongs to Peter. He looms large throughout the season, even in the episodes where he does not appear. This season is his story of finding his place in the universe and recapturing the family he lost. Season 4 made a lot of bold moves. A lot of it paid off, some of it didn’t, but mostly it was a good season.
Verdict: Good
Season 5
Season 4 brought the series proper to a closure. They wrapped up the two universe storyline, and the majority of the lingering questions were answered. The only thing left unresolved was the mystery of the Observers. Season 5 brings them front and center. The story takes place 21 years in the future, with the Observers having successfully conquered Earth, and the Fringe team trying to fight back to save humanity. I found this season much better the second time around. At first it’s hard to get into it. The comfortable rhythm of 1) weird thing happens, 2) team investigates, 3) team saves the day is gone. It’s replaced with a season-long continuing storyline that doesn’t resolve until the final episode. I’d say it’s a bit jarring, but after a few episodes, I was able to get into it. I like what Fringe did, bringing yet another change to the storytelling. The characters are still every bit as awesome as they ever have been. The fact that Walter gets his memories of the original timeline back was a major chance to celebrate. There is a lot of action, this is probably the most action-packed of all the seasons, which is something I certainly liked. I’d say the best part of the season was how the Fringe team used the old cases as weapons against the Observers. It served a dual purpose: 1) only things this strange could defeat the all-powerful Observers, and 2) each time they were used, it was an easter egg for the fans. The season, of course, isn’t perfect. As I said in my lengthy Season 5 review, episode 3 was terrible, and episode 10 and 11 could have been combined into a single episode. With those changes, two episodes would have been available to spend an entire episode in the Red Universe and to let us see visually what happened to William Bell (perhaps in a 2015 flashback). Just being told what happened to Bell wasn’t good enough considering how important a character he was. It also would have been cool if Sam Weiss has been protecting Michael for the last 21 years instead of the team just finding his skeleton. Anyway, these are minor gripes. The bulk of the season was pretty good. We had a great villain in Windmark. If every season focused on a different aspect of the “family,” this season, much like Season 3, focused on the Bishop family trio. And it shouldn’t have been any other way. Even though the thrust of the main plot was a trumped-up scavenger hunt, we got to see the team back in action once more, and that was definitely worthwhile. Fantastic performances from everyone helped to bring our characters to life once more. The final episode was an emotional one, and one that was well-deserved and not in any way forced. I’m still not a huge fan of the final time-rewrite conclusion, but I accepted it much better the second time around. If you were put off by it too, give this season a second chance. Overall, it was a lot of fun. It was a good sendoff for our favorite sci-fi series.
Verdict: Good

6 Responses to “Fringe Rewatch”

  1. July 18, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    A good test of how much I really like a show is if I can rewatch it. Now that Fringe is up on Netflix its gives me a chance to revisit it. Yeah, John Noble is amazing, would have liked if he got more recognition outside of the Fringe fan base.

  2. 3 lokifire
    July 21, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve been playing Fringe at the comic book store on the weekends, and we’re almost through with Season 5. Then I get to start over!

  3. July 28, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    This decides it. After I’m done with The Shield, Fringe is getting a rewatch.

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July 2015


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