Saturday, 19 January 2013

FRINGE, 5.12 & 5.13 – 'Liberty' & 'The Enemy of Fate'

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Enemy of Fate
If you think season finales are hard to pull off, try series finales. The weight of expectation's almost crushing, particularly for science fiction shows that have passionate and demanding audiences who'll nit-pick something to death. It's almost impossible to please everyone, but ones hopes the majority of fans will be emotionally satisfied as the story concludes. After five seasons, Fringe reached its end with two-part story "Liberty" and "Enemy of the State"—although it felt strange to me, in that it felt more like the conclusion of season 5 than the overall end of things. I guess that's because this final season's felt more like a diversion, as it was the fourth season's finale that closed the curtain on Fringe mainstays like the alternate-Earth and William Bell.

Let's be clear: I did enjoy these two episodes and there were a few scenes that definitely brought a lump to my throat. I also enjoyed the way it referenced some of the show's history, and found a way to involve the alternate-Earth characters of Fauxlivia (Ann Torv) and Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) for a brief period. But it was still largely a predictable run-around, with Walter (John Noble), Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Astrid (Jasiko Nicole) trying to rescue the kidnapped Observer child, while September (Michael Cerveris) put the finishing touched to the time-travel machine they've spend the season collecting the component for. There just weren't many surprises here, which was a big problem for me. The actual plan felt woolly (travel into the future to show some Norwegian scientists an alternate way to evolve the human species that won't lead to them becoming time-hopping bald fascists), and I don't think there was any doubt Walter would be leaving Peter behind in order to alter the timeline and bring his granddaughter Etta back to life in the process.

But while it felt oddly predictable, it was nevertheless very enjoyable for the most part. I particularly liked seeing Olivia being dosed with Cortexiphan again to allow her to cross dimensions and, in one cathartic moment, soak up half the city's electrical power to crush Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) with a car. Other great scenes includes the aforementioned Windmark being unable to psychically interrogate the Observer boy without giving himself nose bleeds, and the standout moment when Walter revealed his plan to Peter ("you are my favourite thing, Peter"). It goes without saying that these episodes would have been half as engaging without the likes of John Noble around to give everything that added sense of importance and weight.

Did I expect more? Of course. I think it was obvious that Fringe should have ended last season, when the majority of its on-going concerns were resolved (William Bell, the Cortexiphan, David Robert Jones, the alternate-Earth). This final season's been enjoyable and occasionally brilliant, but could never escape the feeling it was a largely unnecessary addendum. It actually felt like a miniseries revival that should have aired several years after Fringe ended at times. It wasn't a waste of time, but it just didn't compare to what came before.

Still, it ended quite nicely—with Walter, once the world's most inhumane scientist, changing future-history to protect humanity—and Peter receiving a drawing of a white tulip, which has become the show's sign that something extraordinary has happened that nobody will ever remember. I'm a little disappointed the show ended by effectively erasing the events of this fifth season entirely, as I thought they'd find a way to at least have Peter and Olivia remember the expunged timeline because, otherwise, where's the sense of victory? This gave Fringe something of a flat ending to me; stealing the climax of "White Tulip" and hoping it'll work as effectively a second time. I don't think it did. And I'm still a little confused about where Walter's gone in the altered timeline, but I'm also fully aware that any attempt to apply faultless logic to this storyline will just expose too many paradoxes.

Overall, the more I think about it the less happy I am about the finale, but it didn't do anything to upset me. It just came to a decent end in a very enjoyable and fast-paced way, but I imagine it will slip from my memory quicker than I'd have imagined a few seasons ago. Considering the pre-finale hype from writer-director J.H Wyman about how massive the scale is of these last few episodes, that didn't really come across. It obviously wasn't a small and intimate piece, but I think the show's felt a lot grander before now—and certainly a great deal smarter.

But there you have it: some mixed emotions, but I'm not angry with how it all resolved and I had a lot of fun watching. As a whole, Fringe certainly became one of the most notable sci-fi shows every made. It started as a clear descendant of The X Files with increased pulp sensibilities, but really came into its own the more it embraced its mythology about alternate-dimensions. Anna Torv was a concern to me for a few seasons, but the moment they introduced the "Fauxlivia" character it seemed to really inspire her to great things, and John Noble's been marvellous from start to finish. I even grew to like Joshua Jackson in his role, although it was a shame the character of Peter Bishop was so ill-defined until the show settled on pushing the Epic Love Story relationship with Olivia and giving him more father-son scenes with Walter.

As I mentioned when Merlin came to an end recently, it's always a particularly sad time when a show you've been reviewing from the start leaves the airwaves. There's a gap that won't be filled in quite the same way again, although I hope JJ Abrams' Bad Robot production company decide to make another sci-fi drama in the near-future, and that these actors find good projects to associate themselves to. If John Noble winds up clawing for guest starring roles in the likes of Criminal Minds, I'll scream.

written by Alison Shapker (5.12) & J.H Wyman (5.13) / directed by P.J Pesce (5.12) & J.H Wyman (5.13) / 18 January 2012 / Fox & Sky1