Fringe went out with its heart on its sleeve and the theme of sacrifice hanging heavy over its final two hours. We said goodbye to Walter, who exited a hero and a beloved father, and we watched as Peter finally got to hold baby Etta once again, his family reunited and his house in order, save for one flatulent, licorice chewing mad scientist whom he called “Dad.”
I was happy to see these final two episodes didn’t feel too rushed and the endgame didn’t feel forced or overly sentimental. But I was surprised to see so much time devoted to busywork, like hatching a plan to save Michael, building a time machine that didn’t work, and solving the whole time travel problem. Still, even though both of these episodes seemed to drag in the first act, they also delivered some genuine suspense, badass moments and powerful emotional scenes. The finale was uneven, and it lacked the big mind-bending surprises I was hoping for, but it delivered on an emotional level, which was satisfying enough for me.
The first hour, “Liberty,” picked up only moments after last week’s intense final act left off: Fringe Division was scrambling to locate Michael, and The Observers were plotting to “disassemble” the tiny baldy. It was exciting to see Michael get underneath the Observer’s skin here. He bruised Windmark’s eye and made him bleed, but the real blow came when Windmark admitted that Michael represented a unique and potent blend of intelligence and emotion the Observers were “unable to comprehend.” Later in the second and final episode, “An Enemy of Fate,” Windmark admitted to Broyles – who turned out to be “The Dove,” even though he fancied himself “more of a Raven” – that living in the human-occupied era had infected him with emotion, namely “hate” for Fringe Division and their rebel friends. “The feeling is mutual,” Broyles quickly responded, in a cool scene that had me wishing Broyles had been a larger part of this final season.
We learned a lot more about The Observers here. The original Observer surveillance team, which consisted of September, December and ten others, started to develop feelings for humans as a result of spending time in the past. That’s why September was compelled to help the Bishops and that’s also why December, who made a surprise appearance in these episodes, agreed to help fix the failing component of the time machine. Sadly, December died and the Loyalist stole the component before the team could retrieve it and make the time machine work.
But before all that, the team had to retrieve Michael, who was being held on Liberty Island (of course!). The plan to save Michael involved dosing Olivia with gobs of Cortexiphan, which played out in a genuinely suspenseful and grisly scene with Walter injecting Olivia in the back of the neck four times, with each injection pushing her mind and body closer to the breaking point. This was classic Fringe, and it was incredibly cool, but not as cool as finally seeing Olivia cross over to Earth 2 to meet up with Fortysomething Lincoln Lee and hot mom Fauxlivia. Our time on Earth 2 was brief, but it was great to see Lincoln and Fauxlivia again. They got married, had a kid, and they were starting to grow old together since last we saw them. It was sweet, and while it was a little disappointing that the showrunners decided not to incorporate Earth 2 into the final season in a major way, I’m glad we at least got to check in on Lincoln and the Alternates before the series wrapped.
Michael’s jailbreak was fun and suspenseful, with much of the nail-biting coming from Olivia’s constant shifting/blurring in and out of the two universes. It was satisfying seeing Olivia go on one final solo mission, especially one that was so risky and taxing. The stakes were high, and Olivia pulled through with a little help from her Earth 2 friends. Anna Torv was great here, fully committing to the craziness and intensity of the situation.
Olivia’s Cortexipowers came into play again at the tail end of “An Enemy of Fate.” She shut down half of Manhattan’s power, which was a great visual, and slammed a truck against Windmark’s face. I was hoping Peter would somehow be able to best Windmark in a fist-to-fist, but the truck smashing was unexpected and satisfying. It was great to see Olivia take on such an important role in the final hours – taking a huge risk to rescue Michael and dispatching the big bad, Windmark.
All of our heroes got a chance to shine here, even Astrid, who was fixing problems left and right and had a touching scene with Walter and an ambered Gene. Astrid’s scene with Walter and his favorite cow was short, moving and appropriately low on sap. And the same can be said for the most moving scenes of the night, which, of course, belonged to the Bishop boys.
Early in the second episode, Peter discovered a tape in the amber that featured Walter saying goodbye to his son. As we learned last week, Walter had long ago decided that he would be the one to escort Michael into the future to meet the scientists who created the Observers. Making this Walter’s mission made sense – who better to stop a bunch of pretentious scientists from destroying humanity than the man who broke two universes? But Walter had forgotten he had made this commitment thanks to a memory wipe, and so he was reluctantly preparing himself to say goodbye to his boy. The scene with the tape played out like other similar emotional scenes between Peter and Walter; strengthening their bond and reminding us that watching the Bishop boys show their love and appreciation for each other never really gets old. But this scene was much more powerful and it had a deeper resonance, since Walter was essentially telling Peter that, if the plan was successful, he would never see him again. Peter’s life would be reset in 2015, and Walter would disappear starting on the day the Observers invaded.
Much of the time travel/paradox stuff here didn’t make much sense, and it’s tempting to go down the rabbit hole and point out all the potential flaws in Walter’s plan. But I won’t begrudge Fringe for fudging the science and going for an emotional, character-based story about love and good intentions to end its great run. Hearing Walter call Peter his “favorite thing” and seeing father and son embrace with more meaning than ever mostly made up for all the wonky science stuff that didn’t quite make sense.
And here’s another thing that made up for all the science stuff that didn’t make much sense: The awesome Fringe Science attack on Observer HQ. It was pure pleasure seeing Peter and Olivia don gas masks and unleash an eviscerating torrent of Fringe case nastiness on the bad baldies. I counted at least five different classic episodes/cases referenced during the attack. I was glad to see the cold slug and the anti-gravity bullets return (“It’s cool!”), but sadly, there wasn’t room for the return of my beloved Porcupine Man.
The raid and the tense warzone scene at the end were badass, but what I’ll remember most about this finale is the heart. In the end, Walter took Michael’s hand – replacing September, who so wanted to lead his son into the future, but was shot down before he could – and walked into the wormhole, leaving everything he loved behind so that the world could live and thrive again. Peter looked on and mouthed the words, “I love you, Dad,” and time was reset.
Walter’s plan worked, and the world was restored. Peter finally got to end that day in the park with his family on a happy note. Well, let’s call it a bittersweet note. When he got home, Walter’s White Tulip was waiting for him. The White Tulip was a symbol, telling Peter that Walter was gone, but his father’s love and journey to find redemption is what made his happy life with Etta and Olivia possible. This was powerful stuff, and I was left with the feeling that Peter, true to character, would one day find a way to see Walter again.
Earlier in the finale, Walter referred to the time he spent with Peter as stolen time. This stolen time was precious to Walter, and that’s how I feel about this final season of Fringe. It was a gift. I didn’t expect it to happen, but I’ll always look back on it fondly. It wasn’t perfect, and it was too damn short, but I’m glad the series got to go out on its own terms - telling one last story about man’s slippery grip on science and technology and the power of love between a father and a son.