Fringe came roaring back tonight with an episode that may – or may not – signal the start of the endgame for its very last season. Given the twists, turns, and surprising returns we saw in this hour (particularly the final few minutes), I certainly hope not… But if the final minute revelation is to be believed, its also possible we’re heading to a truly definitive ending for the series at the end of this season, whether we want one or not.
Now, before I get into any sort of recap – and I will, don’t worry – there’s a key phrase that Joshua Jackson’s character Peter Bishop says about three-quarters of the way through the episode. It’s a phrase that indicates why Fringe, when its really firing up the serialization, works so well for fans, and is a huge barrier for anyone interested in casually watching the show. That phrase is, “It’s complicated.”
The reason I hooked into this, in particular, beyond the obvious is the circumstances that lead Peter to say the phrase. He’s in a parallel universe, talking to his mother, who thought he died when he was ten, and has just found out that he’s, in fact, alive. At the time, he’s been stuck in the universe parallel to that one, which he thinks is an entirely different universe that he considers his home. So he’s trying to explain to his mother that he’s Peter Bishop, yes, but not the Peter Bishop she thinks is her son.
Except, and here’s the corker: he is. Because Peter is wrong in thinking that he’s in the wrong universes. Both “Over Here” and “Over There” are the same as they ever were, they just had their timelines changed so that Peter died in both universes when he was ten. Before that, though, what Peter doesn’t know (or is choosing to forget), is that he was kidnapped as a boy from the universe “Over There,” the same one with the Mrs. Bishop he’s currently talking to, which has only changed to deal with Peter’s absence.
Point being: in order to understand why the phrase “It’s complicated,” in this context is both factually accurate, and a bit of a joke, you have to have a complete and total understanding of the multiple universes and timelines that have played out over Fringe’s four seasons, as well as the continuity and familial ties of all the characters.
Good luck, new viewers!
That all said, that’s what makes a viewing experience like Fringe so rewarding. If you DO know all that info, and can keep it all straight, a simple two word phrase carries an intense amount of meaning. It’s good writing, and particularly good acting on Jackson’s part – he’s really been the MVP of the cast this season, particularly as everything has revolved around him. There’s so much that’s going on behind Jackson’s eyes know, as he reacts, and thinks, and plans… It’s taken four seasons, but he’s finally coming into his own as Peter Bishop, and its impressive.
All that is prelude, of course, to what actually happened this week on Fringe. Peter, after a particularly portentous dream, realizes he has to get back home to the people who love him. The only way he knows how to do that is to approach Walter about helping him rebuild “The Machine” from last season, but Walter flatly refuses. So Peter heads after the next best thing: Walternate, the evil Walter from “Over There.” He enlists the help of Olivia and Lincoln Lee to head over to Earth 2, break into the Department of Defense, and convince Walternate to help him out.
There’s a couple of roadblocks to that, not least of which is that both Universes are being invaded by biological shapeshifters. Jumping ahead to the end of the episode, we – and everybody in the Fringe Universe – think they’re being controlled by Walternate, which makes Peter’s trip to see him basically a suicide mission. Turns out, even Walternate is being attacked, as his number two was replaced by a Bio-SS months ago. During a tense scene where Walternate assembles a horrifying needle gun, then uses it on support science guy I forget the name of, we learn all this, and that Walternate needs Peter’s help. Cut back to Earth 2 Olivia and Lincoln Lee, who are investigating the source of the shifters, also suspecting that Walternate is behind them. They tell Broyles they’re heading off, and he checks in with their actual creator: David Robert Jones.
And here, we get the beauty of a rebooted timeline, as one of the best, unfortunately killed villains in the shows history, played by Jared Harris, is now back alive and wrecking havoc on two universes. What his plan is, and where it goes we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a great twist that gets us supremely excited for the rest of the season.
Also exciting? The Observer – who in the new timeline, our Fringers have never met – shows up to tell Olivia she’s going to die, while he himself dies from a gunshot wound.
So there you go: the rest of the season is, barring any more twists, two universes versus the biological shapeshifters, with Peter caught in the middle; and the death of Olivia Dunham. Will any of it play to new viewers at all? Probably not. Will it pay off massively for long time viewers, and build to an emotional climax? We hope so. The show hasn’t let us down yet, in any possible universe. Even if this is the end, it looks like the show will be going out with a bang.