As expected, Fringe's third season finale offered the chance of reinvention for the show, going forward, while also working surprisingly well as a potential series finale if Fox hadn't renewed it. Although the conclusion would have required fans to assume a positive outcome regarding the ultimate fate of both dimensions, with Peter (Joshua Jackson) as a forgotten instrument of peace. It was, of course, a very entertaining and exciting finale, once again having fun with a premise that allowed the cast to play slightly different versions of themselves, although there were a few gaps in logic that didn't snap together very tightly.
Continuing from last week's excellent cliffhanger, Peter entered the Doomsday Machine and found himself transported to the riotous streets of New York, beneath the One World Trade Center of 2026 A.D. Intriguingly, Peter was unaware his consciousness has jumped forward in time (shades of Lost), so we instead settled into a regular storyline revealing the worst case scenario for Fringe's present-day characters: a world where Peter's activation of the Doomsday Machine triggered the unavoidable destruction of the alternate-Earth, with Walternate (John Noble) trapped in the victorious dimension while traversing the dimension as a peace envoy. Unfortunately, it became obvious that the annihilation of one universe has turned its counterpart into a ticking time-bomb, as tears in the fabric of reality grow worse and the prime-Earth faces a slow, agonizing Armageddon. A situation exacerbated by a doomsday cult called the "End Of Dayers", led by an extremist called Moreau (Brad Dourif), whose group are funded by Walternate and given destructive canisters to place at various "soft spots" to accelerate the universe's destruction.
In terms of the performances, only John Noble was really given the opportunity to stretch his character anywhere interesting. His future-Walter was a broken man, paying penance for being the catalyst of a disaster beyond imagination. Even when his thick beard was shaved, you could sense the crushing weight on Walter's conscience through Noble's eyes. The fact his lips were clenched half the time had me consider Walter has perhaps suffered a stroke at some point while in prison, although that affliction seemed to ease off as the story progressed. Everyone else wasn't too far removed from the people we know, and it was a shame the story didn't really have the time to explore the character of Ella to any great extent. Considering the fact season 3's finale has been delivered in three parts, it's frustrating this episode itself wasn't twice as long. The majority of the previous two episodes was nothing but preamble, when the time could have been used to really sell these future-people.
It's also an unfortunate by-product of episodes like this that death itself doesn't mean very much, as you know everything's easily reversed. Consequently, the shock assassination of Olivia and her funeral (hot-on-the-heels of Doctor Who, what is it with Viking funerals lately?) just didn't connect emotionally, and there was very little sense of jeopardy because we were waiting for the inevitable reset button to be pressed.
Overall, "The Day We Died" was one of those episodes where you can't deny the pleasure of watching everything unspool, and how it provokes crazy theories when the credits roll – mostly about how the writers are going to handle the fallout next year. But it was also deserving of more screentime to do everything greater justice, as it was essentially an hour of fan-fiction-y suppositions. Plus, as I'll explore in greater detail in the "Asides" below, quite a few of its explanations don't make much sense. Or, with the deletion of Peter from reality, could potentially cause major headaches for the writers unless they've properly thought out the repercussions... or have another reset button their finger's poised to press. It also totally wasted guest-star Brad Dourif, which is almost a criminal act in my eyes.
- Do we accept this finale's explanation that the First People were members of the Fringe team from 2026, who sent the Doomsday Machine back in time? If that's true, they seriously went around the world burying it in different locations and then wrote an elaborate code in a book about a fictional civilization? Or, at the very least, inspired those stories? Sorry, I don't buy it. Sam Weiss is going to be very annoyed when he hears about all this, too.
- Additionally, the situation with the Doomsday Machine remains a huge paradox, because nobody actually built that thing. It just exists, stuck in an endless time-loop? I think it's safe to say Fringe's writers introduced the Doomsday Machine without understanding its history themselves, and this finale's rush to answer everything (perhaps out of fear they'd be cancelled) didn't give them time to think up something that makes actual sense.
- I guess we'll have to wait until season 4 to see any development regarding the strange man aboard the Zeppelin from a few episodes ago, who Olivia was convinced is a man destined to kill her... but hasn't mentioned him since. It now seems ridiculous the writers bothered to include that unnecessary revelation, if they don't have time to answer it.
- If Peter's been erased from existence, having served his "purpose" for The Observers, it stands to reason that the entirety of Fringe's history now has to be altered from the audience's perspective. For instance, Olivia can never have arranged for Walter to be released from a mental asylum with Peter's permission, if Peter never existed. But if Walternate never had a son for Walter to kidnap in 1985, why are they still in this mess with both realities collapsing? I predict we'll see the emergence of a different timeline in season 4, kind of like the situation with the "sideways universe" of Lost's sixth season.
- I take it this event was the loss of Peter that Walter was being prepared for by The Observer? But if so, why was any preparation necessary if nobody will even remember Peter as part of the process? You can't grieve for someone you don't know existed.
- The One Word Trade Center? To signify it's the only one in existence now? Stupid. There's an actual Freedom Tower being built on that site, so why not just show that?
- The character of Moreau must surely be a clue to something, as it's an obvious reference to The Island Of Dr Moreau, which was all about genetic engineering.