At the end of last week’s episode of FRINGE – as normally happens – there was a teaser for this week’s episode, “The End of All Things.” The growly announcer voice showed scenes of our favorite Observer – September – standing in a weird room with Peter, their minds merged, and promised that after years of wondering, we’d finally find out who the Observers were. Watching that teaser with my wife, we both turned to each other and said, “Yeah, right.”
Because that’s not how these mystery shows work, right? Since LOST perfected the formula on the first time out, any reveals teased in promos are always half reveals at best. And anything that ties into a central mystery of a show like LOST, or Fringe, or to a certain extent Alcatraz always only raises more questions than it answers. So would we find out more about the Observers this week? Sure, probably. Would we know everything about them, who they are, and how they work by the end of the hour? Heck no, no way that was going to happen.
Well, paint me gobsmacked, because they actually did it: in the most elegant, plain-spoken way possible, we now know exactly who the Observers are, and why they do what they do. And unlike the oft maligned “midichlorian” explanation, this doesn’t make them any less strange or fantastic… Instead, it ties in perfectly with everything that Frineg is about. Because – and now we’re getting into spoiler territory – they’re mad scientists.
Specifically, the Observers are a science team from several generations down the human evolution scale, in one of many possible futures. They’ve perfected time travel, and go back in time to key points in history to try and figure out where they come from, and more about humanity works. But in the best Fringe tradition, their scientific curiosity has led to the near destruction of all timelines.
We get all this after September appears to Peter and Walter, shot in the gut, presumably after leaving Olivia in the opera house several episodes back. He’s unconscious, but Peter is convinced September knows where Olivia is being held – she was kidnapped at the end of last episode of course – so he suggests merging his brain with September’s. This leads to the weird room we saw in the promo, and September pretty plainly laying out exactly what’s been going on the whole series:
– He showed up to watch Walternate develop a cure for Peter’s disease. Because he did, Walternate missed developing the cure.
– Because of this, every time September has tried to correct the timeline – saving Peter’s life from drowning, etc – he’s only made things worse.
– This all led to the “war between the two universes,” and more importantly, the birth of Fauxlivia and Peter’s son Henry.
– In fact, this has been what September has been trying to set straight… Peter SHOULD have had Henry with Olivia, not Fauxlivia, and now everything is broken.
At the end of this little speech, September gets taken by the other Observers, Peter finds out he literally has to go home to his house to find Olivia, and we move on with the rest of this episode. Whew. That’s a lot of info, plus we get to see The Big Bang, so that’s pretty nice.
There’s logical problems with this, of course: if Walternate was meant to find the cure, he would have then cured Peter. That means Walter would have never kidnapped Peter to his universe to cure him, which means he would have never met Olivia… So how exactly were they supposed to fall in love and have a baby?
I’m guessing, given the Fringe team usually has answers for these sorts of things, that we’ll find out; but in the context of the episode, it seems to more be a way of getting Peter to reaffirm his search for “his” Olivia at the expense of his relationship with Amberlivia, who is, of course, actually Olivia though he doesn’t know that. OW MY HEAD HURTS.
Anyway, the crazier thing is, the whole sequence with September is a minor part of the episode. The major crux is actually Olivia, tied to a chair in an abandoned hospital with Nina, while David Robert Jones tortures/interrogates both of them. DRJ’s goal is to get an emotional response from Olivia, so that she’ll make that box of lights from the first season turn on with her mind. It’s the same gambit he used back then, though that time she had the added pressure of a bomb that would destroy a whole building. And it’s also a fascinating bid of Fringe to return to, because it was really the light-box episode that started to tip the show from case-of-the-week into something much more serial and fascinating.
Not that that particular episode was a classic, but I remember very clearly going, “Holy crap, Olivia has superpowers?” when that happened, and it was left ambiguous. Now? Not so ambiguous. Olivia can’t get the proper emotional response watching Nina being tortured, because she now has her memories back. She can’t get an emotional connection she doesn’t have, so she tries to coax it out by asking Nina to talk about how they met. She does, but still nothing, so she says the only person who got her to activate her powers before was Peter Bishop. Nina starts doubling over in pain, gets dragged out of the cell, and then pops up, totally fine at the water cooler to tell DRJ they need to get Peter.
Turns out, the Nina back at Fringe HQ who the entire team thinks is a traitor is actually the real Nina, and the Nina with Olivia is the shapeshifter. Oops. That I could see the twist coming a mile away didn’t make it any less effective or well structured; and the best part is that it gave Blair Brown some wonderful, complex emotional beats to play. Watching her try to emotionally connect with Olivia, while knowing she’s lying the whole time was a master class is acting two emotions at the same time, and for those fans who didn’t pick up on the twist, demands a second viewing.
Anywho, Peter heads home, gets conked out, and dragged to the abandoned hospital. There, Olivia watches as DRJ puts a knife to his neck… And in the most bad-ass Olivia Dunham moment of all time, she goes full on Firestarter, turning the lights in the box on, popping the light bulbs, and frying DRJ’s main henchman to a crisp. Not only that, but she reveals she knew Nina was a shapeshifter, and only told her about Peter so she could activate her full powers.
DRJ and fake Nina (really have to come up with a name for her now, right? Maybe Notna?) escape through a portal to Earth-2, but not before Olivia shoots DRJ through the neck… Which doesn’t even close to kill him. Turns out, not only can he jump through universes, he’s also possibly indestructible. Yipes.
If nothing else comes out of this season (and I would argue against the split fan opinion that this has been one of the most complex and mesmerizing seasons of television for any show, not just Fringe), switching up the timeline so Jared Harris could come back to play an amped up DRJ has made it all worth it. He was clearly killed too soon in season one, and having him back now, and badder than ever is all the sweeter.
Then there’s that moment at the end of the show, which again was full of complex emotions brilliantly played by the actors. Peter dumps Olivia, saying he has to get back home, and can’t keep forcing her to be his Olivia. Meanwhile, Olivia, totally confused, insists that she IS his Olivia. Is she right? Is he? I’m pretty convinced that Peter has been home the whole time, and will only realize that at the very end of the things. But what if he is right? What happens then?
For Fringe fans, this was a big, huge episode with some incredible set pieces and huge pay-offs we’ve been waiting the whole season for. And with the creators saying that the next episode was meant to be the one before the break, it makes the over month long wait all the more agonizing. We’ll see you back here on March 23rd.