Sunday, 13 May 2012

FRINGE, 4.22 – "Brave New World: Part 2"

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Last week I mentioned how hard it is reviewing the individual halves of two-part episodes, and unfair in many ways. Would you review a novel after only reading half the book? "Brave World: Part 2" was a strong conclusion to last week's setup and the fourth season in general; containing some inventive sequences and blessed with a confident sweep of enjoyable action and drama. It made sense of a few long-standing issues, or at least made you accept the "mad science" behind them, and like all good finales it ended on a note that left you desperate for more.

It's interesting to dissect "Brave New World: Part 2" as a series finale, which it so very nearly became until Fox renewed the show for a final season. I mean, would this have been a satisfying end to Fringe as a whole? I think the answer's yes, but with caveats. I would have been disappointed to have never properly explored The Observers, and to have been knowingly teased with future adventures via "Letters Of Transit" that were never to be, but most of the show's core issues were explained or resolved.

In particular, Walter (John Noble) got to witness science abused at its highest level by erstwhile friend William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), who wanted to collapse two universes to create a Utopian third of his own design, before saving the day and closing the book on many of series' recurring ideas. Bell might return because the door's left open for Nimoy's fickle retirement plans, but you sense that much of Walter's issues have been resolved as a character now (his son accepts and loves him, his counterpart from the alternate-universe has forgiven his sins, he even remembered Astrid's name for once...)

In this season finale, Bell underscored his God Complex and Noah's Ark-style masterplan with a container ship of chimeras, literally floating between universes in open water, while explaining why Walter had demanded parts of his brain be surgically removed once. It was all because Walter had the same megalomaniacal idea Bell's belatedly come to accept himself, because he's dying of cancer and, I guess, creating an entire universe is the ultimate expression of immortality. Well, in crazy Bell's head simply fathering a child isn't enough. But who's going to remember a mortal God; the squid creature or the caged thing-y with the tentacle?

Olivia's (Anna Torv) super-powers flourished, even exceeding that of The Observer (Michael Cerveris) in one standout sequence where she caught "hyper-speed bullets" designed to elude September's lightning fast reflexes. I even enjoyed the twist that last week's "innocent bystander" Jessica (Rebecca Mader) was actually a henchman of Bell's, planted as part of a ruse to capture September and further "activate" Olivia's Cortexiphan-dosed mind. Then again, this is Hollywood: Mader's English, ergo a villain.

Did it all get quite silly? Of course it did, but that's half the fun of pop sci-fi like Fringe. Setting Olivia and Peter (Joshua Jackson) setup as the Adam and Eve of Bell's new universe was pulp nonsense. Just how do two people breed a new human race? Is Bell a quasi-Creationist now? But I was constantly entertained by everything going on, as Fringe is often at its best when it's delivering big ideas and dealing with crazy things.

And while last week's threat to kill Astrid (Jasika Nicole) wasn't carried through, for a second it genuinely looked like Walter had killed Olivia with a bullet to the head in order to shutdown Bell's operation and save the worlds. The manner in which she was revived, referring back to Part 1's lemon cake experiment, also made enough sense for Olivia's Lazarus moment to feel earned. And speaking of resurrections, it's worth mentioning the fantastic scene where Jessica was brought back to life to be interrogated, which employed a simple but effective visual trick of having her eyes blink and roll independently of each other in their sockets. Beautifully unnerving stuff.

Looking ahead to season 5's climactic half-season, what can we expect? I'm not sure if we'll return to alt-Earth again, now the Bridge is closed and Olivia's lost her dimension-hopping powers, but it would be a shame not to revisit those doppelgangers and check-in on Agent Lee. But it seems likely the final season will concern a threat from The Observers, tying into the future seen in "Letters Of Transit" where they've taken over the world and Fringe division were forced to "amber" themselves for murky reasons. That sneak peek episode becoming something of a target for season 5 to work towards. But maybe the two universes will have to work together to stop The Observers, if it's not just one dimension they're interested in conquering?

Interestingly, September's warning to Walter in the denouement that "they're coming" hints that the world-conquering Observers may be a rogue faction of his people. Perhaps a cult who've grown tired of observing history without interfering, that now want to use their superior technology for world domination? And Olivia's announcement of her pregnancy suggests her daughter Henrietta will be the "Etta" we saw as an adult in "Letters Of Transit", which clears up some confusion that Etta was assumed to be Fauxlivia's baby—named after Henry, a male taxi driver. I'm glad that confusion's been neatly cleared up, and it's a fun distinction if the two Olivia's have children of different genders: Henry and Henrietta.

Overall, there was lots to digest and speculate on here. Fringe is great at producing entertaining finales, and I'm glad the writers reinvigorated my passion in recent weeks. Season 4 wasn't great when viewed as a whole, mainly because the half-season notion of Peter existing in an "alternate timeline" undermined the characters and their relationships in unexpected ways. But I've made peace with that problem now. Once Fringe got back to presenting the team with crazy geniuses plotting to destroy entire universes, it felt like a relief. I'm glad the year ended on a high-note, too, with the potential to explore even more exciting issues next season. Don't you agree?


  • I've never found a suitable place to ask this question all season, so I'll insert it here: why have we never seen female Observers? If they're just humans from 600 years in our future, have we somehow evolved past gender in a half-millennia? (More likely they were never conceived as being future-humans to begin with, but this was settled on quite recently and they've yet to explain the lack of female Observers in a plausible way. Maybe the women don't get to time-travel, meaning the future's still very sexist. Or they just don't look good in trilby hats.)
  • Where did Bell get the technology to root The Observer to the ground? Is this a hint that he's in league with people from the future? Perhaps the same people The Observer warned Walter about in the denouement?
written by Jeff Pinkner, J.H Wyman & Akiva Goldsman / directed by Joe Chappelle / 11 May 2012 / Fox