TV Review: FRINGE 4.22 “Brave New World, Part 2”

Join Mike as he discusses the Season 4 finale of FRINGE!

The Fringe Season 4 finale had no shortage of striking images (The unsettling googly eyes of a dead redhead brought back to life, the show's leading lady taking a bullet right in the thinker), but none was more striking than the image of Walter Bishop with blood on his hands.

Walter, like a certain chair-flipping Avenger, has gobs of red on his ledger. It's gushing red. The shot of his bloody hands near the end of this episode served as a piercing reminder that the terrible things we were watching unfold were all his fault. Walter's single-minded scientific pursuits have caused much of the chaos and deadly events we've seen play out on the show over the years. Walter has worked hard to wipe the red off his ledger, but someone or something terrible always seems to show up to punish him and to remind him of his inescapable sins. This time, it was the mad, egomaniacal version of William Bell who appeared to remind Walter of his destructive days as a cold, irresponsible scientist.

As Bell revealed early on in the episode, it was Walter who first dreamed up a way to create a new third universe by destroying God’s two universes. Bell was only finishing what Walter started years ago (before Walter made the decision to surgically remove chunks of his dangerous brain for the good of all mankind). Walter stopped himself from playing God, but Bell ran with the idea after he “grew older, grew cynical … grew cancer.” Faced with the fact that he couldn’t control his own fate, Bell rebelled and decided to strike back against God by destroying His natural creations and replacing them with a universe made in his own image (which apparently features blue trees, dinosaur-mutant things and flying porcupine men).

It was more than a little unsettling to see Bell morph into a nutty, megalomaniacal murderer with a God complex here, but Leonard Nimoy made it believable. His solid performance – all controlled enthusiasm, fierce determination and relaxed arrogance – made me believe that Bell thought he had earned the right to become a god.

Seeing Walter and Belly together made one thing clear: Walter is a good man. Unlike Bell, Walter feels regret and pain; he appreciates the cracked world he lives in and the people he shares it with, and he finds joy and inspiration around every corner. The elder Bishop now puts the well-being of others, especially his friends and family, above the need for personal gain and scientific exploits. He may have done the opposite in the past, but he’s changed – and it was his decision to change. Walter may have started the snowball that almost destroyed the worlds (again), but after watching this season finale, I'm convinced that Walter is closer to redemption than ever. The red on his ledger is finally starting to wash away for good. (And thanks to a surprise renewal from Fox, we'll get to see Walter continue his journey, and hopefully finish atoning for his sins, in the show's fifth and final season.)

Walter’s pain was palpable as Bell revealed that he was manipulating Olivia (and using her Cortexiphan abilities) to power his world-ending engine. Nimoy was good here, but he was nowhere near as good as John Noble, who possesses the ability to make you feel his character’s many layers of pain with only a subtle expression. Walter’s burden only grew heavier as the episode progressed and he was tasked with saving the universes, which unfortunately meant he had to shoot Olivia in the head.

It feels like Fringe has been alluding to Olivia’s death all season. Ever since the bleeding Observer appeared to her months ago and warned her about her impending death, it has sometimes felt like a ticking clock was hanging over Olivia’s head. The Observer’s prophecy came true here (as far as we know), when Walter shot Olivia down, saving the world and ending Bell’s tenure as God.

Olivia's death and bloody resurrection were harrowing. I was glad to see her survive, as I really wasn’t in the mood to watch another season end with her and Peter separated. Olivia’s arc was quite compelling in this finale, and I liked seeing her and Peter using their specialness and working together to find and raid Bell’s boat (it helps to have a superhuman and a universe-hopping genius on your team). It’s rewarding to see these two finally blossom into a healthy, world-saving romantic couple. The scene in which Peter reminded Olivia that she’s no longer alone felt real and right – no matter who tries to spin her about, Olivia will always have Peter as her anchor. And she’ll always have Walter and Astrid (who survived her gunshot wound and woke up with a serious case of the munchies! Hooray!)

I was on edge during that scene near the end with Olivia and Peter in the hospital. For a moment, I was convinced that Olivia was gonna bail on Peter and his plans to move into a nice, new house in Brookline. (And I would have shot the TV if that had happened. Stupid deceptive dramatic music). So, yeah, I pretty much lost it when Olivia revealed she was pregnant. I saw it coming a few seconds before she opened her mouth, but I still had to reach for the Kleenex when she and Peter embraced (I’m not heartless, ya know). And then there was more Kleenex when Walter and Astrid showed up to hear the happy news.

And speaking of happy news, it looks like the ol’ U.S. government has finally decided to give the Fringies a little more funding. As the series nears its end, it feels good to see people telling (General!) Broyles things like, “Thanks for keeping us all safe at night,” and acknowledging that Fringe Division is basically their real-life version of the Enterprise crew – they’ve saved the world from strange, unexplainable threats many times over. I’m looking forward to seeing Nina Sharp officially join Fringe Division next season as Olivia and the Bishop boys prepare for the next big threat.

So let’s hear your predictions for next season in the comments. I think we’re all pretty sure that a big chunk of Season 5 will feature Fringe Division trying to stop The Observers from taking over the planet. In the final scene, September appeared to Walter with a warning: “They’re coming.” Walter had no idea who September was talking about, but for those of us who saw episode 4.19, “Letters of Transit,” it’s obvious that he was referring to The Observers. I’m not going to speculate on whether or not a Fringe Division vs. The Observers showdown is a good idea. I’m reserving judgment until I see the arc start to play out. It could be great, and it could be not so great. But this is Fringe, the show about dual universes, alternate timelines, time-traveling scientists and flying porcupine people. If the final season isn’t great, it’ll at least be bold and crazy and definitely worth watching.

Other thoughts:

- The original timeline was not reset. That was pretty surprising. I wonder if the timeline will be addressed/fixed next season? Does it matter? Do you guys care about restoring the original timeline, or are Olivia's restored memories good enough for you?

- There were a lot of sharp things going in and out of people’s heads in this episode. I squirmed a lot, especially when Walter shoved the bloody bullet out of Olivia’s brain. Gah!

- Lost alum Rebecca Mader returned as Jessica Holt, who turned out to be one of Bell’s insane acolytes. Fringe put Mader’s striking eyes and face to good use here – first turning her into a real threat and then turning her into a creepy undead horror show. Her spinning eyeballs will haunt my dreams.

- Peter called Olivia’s powers a “Jedi mind trick.” The nerd.

- Olivia’s Cortexi-powers have been reduced, but Walter says they could reappear. Like, maybe when the evil bald guys from the future start invading the planet?

- September T. Observer is concerned with Olivia’s life. We know Olivia and Peter’s child will be able to resist The Observer’s mind-reading abilities, but what does the future really hold for baby Henrietta and her parents? Why would September be so concerned with this family that he seems to follow anyone who threatens them?

- The team now knows of a way to bind The Observers, as September was bound to the floor with the cryptic symbol burned into it. That’ll probably come in handy down the line.

- Nina tells Olivia, “You’ve had the power all along,” before Olivia wills herself into another world. And later Olivia is sacrificed to save the worlds and is resurrected. So I guess that means she’s Dorothy and Jesus?

- Bell’s mutant monsters are now the property of the U.S. government. Yeah, that’s a good idea.