I have a few theories – appropriate enough for an episode of FRINGE – as to why this year’s Season Finale didn’t quite work. Yes, there were plenty of great moments and payoffs, including at least one shocking death, and the creepiest sequence the show has ever done. But overall, this was a bit unsatisfying, and I’m even more glad than I was before that the show has another thirteen episodes to go.
Theory #1: This Was The SERIES Finale
Not too far out there, as the Producers have said as much, but this was clearly a series finale hastily rejiggered to be a season finale. Other than the final scene, with September approaching Walter Bishop to deliver the portentous “They are coming,” line, which clearly sets up next season’s Observer Apocalypse storyline, this wrapped everything up with a bow.
Almost too much, in a way: Olivia is generally Cortexiphan free; Walter calls Astrid by her real name; Peter buys a house; Olivia is pregnant; Nina joins FRINGE Division; and even Broyles gets an upgrade to General and an unlimited budget. It’s like the opposite of The X-Files, where finally everybody in the government recognizes our heroes are the good guys. All it needed was a scene of everyone jumping on Olivia’s hospital bed, and we would have been in full on “End of Lord of the Rings” mode.
The reason I think this is a detriment ties into a lot of my problems with this episode… It tied up quite a bit of the series but, I don’t think, the actual season of the show. We started with Peter trying to get home – and I get the symmetry of him finding the perfect house at the end of the episode while Walter and Astrid happily look on, he’s found his home and family. But this scene seems to be less about Peter than Olivia. Which is fine, I guess, but she wasn’t really the focus of the season. The series? Yes. The season? No.
The other big focus of the season was the changing of the timeline. I guess the conclusion is something like, “Home is where the heart is,” and in a sense, everyone made their choices three episodes back where their home truly was. But that the end of the episode had literally nothing to do with the changed timeline, the Observers, or anything we started with created a lack of symmetry that was ultimately damaging to the structure of Season Four.
There’s also a reason for this, and that feeds into my next Theory:
Theory #2: William Bell Wasn’t The Big Bad
I mean, he was, of course, but given Leonard Nimoy’s admission that he wasn’t even coming back to the show until two or three months ago, I’d guess that the back half of the season was hastily rejiggered to accommodate the returning star. That would certainly explain why David Robert Jones – before presented as a maniacal, evil genius – went out like a punk. It would also explain why the focus of this episode abruptly changed to Walter Bishop, over Peter.
For most of Season Four, Walter has been sitting by the sidelines, slowly coming out of his shell and reentering the world. Granted, that feeds nicely into the place he reaches in this particular episode, but he was a supporting character at best this year, not the focus. As I’ve read other places, there has – of course – also been a large focus on mad scientists doing everything for their families. And here, we get to see William Bell trying to destroy the world for his own ego. Walter, then, makes a choice that is the opposite of ego: he shoots his son’s girlfriend (heck, his surrogate daughter, if we’re being honest) in the head, and kills her.
Naturally, she’s not really dead, but it still is an abrupt turnaround from the lost, scared Walter in episode one. And I don’t have a problem with that, it works as an arc for the character; it just wasn’t the backbone of the season.
…But as soon as they got Nimoy back, it had to be. The show has always been about Bell versus Bishop, and if they were getting cancelled, they wanted to wrap that up (well, except for the Bell-portation of course) with a bow. That wasn’t the season, it was the show.
Oh, and not that it wasn’t a thrill to have him back. Nimoy made a great, nutbags hero, and played it to the hilt. I’m looking forward to seeing him back in Season Five.
Theory #3: Where We’re Going Next
Okay, not a theory on what went wrong, but given that there’s only thirteen episodes left, what’s going to happen next? Clearly we’re heading into the Observer-pocalypse of “Letters Of Transit,” though the question is whether we’re going to skip right there, lead up to it, or skip back and forth. My guess is the latter, as that allows frequent jaunts to the future, without blowing out the whole budget.
The other big question I have is, are we really done with Earth-2? I have to imagine not, as the war between the two universes has been so integral to FRINGE over the years; how could that not play into where we’re going? And if we aren’t done, how do they tie into our new, dark, gritty future?
Last thing: I want a better wrap-up that’s more deserving of this show. Bell’s plan in these last two episodes boiled down to, “Do a bunch of crazy s**t until Olivia goes full Dark Phoenix and destroys the world(s),” which, let’s be honest, isn’t much of a plan. It didn’t leave much room for true emotional moments between the characters – heck, they spent more time on the phone commercial last episode (“That’s just how people pay for things now,” says Astrid-tisement Bot 3000). FRINGE needs to be epic, full of huge sacrifices and gigantic, crazy set pieces.
And more than anything, we need to go back to Raiden Lake. That’s where this all started. That’s where everything went wrong. Not in the middle of the ocean in a boat full of Manimals. This show needs to bring it back to the beginning if we’re going to head towards the end. Fingers crossed that at the end of next season’s thirteen episodes, this wasn’t just some mad, crazy experiment.
– Okay, I realize this wasn’t much of a recap, but the episode boiled down to: Olivia and Peter fight Charlotte from LOST; find boat in the middle of the ocean; Olivia dies; Olivia comes back to life; everybody is happy. There, now you’re up to speed.
– That creepy moment I mentioned earlier was the gang’s interrogation of Charlotte, one of the most disturbing things I think I’ve ever seen on TV – in a good way. I also love that the sequence was proceeded by, “She’s dead!” “Doesn’t mean we can’t interrogate her.”
– Also loved Broyles’, “Get the choppers.” That guy deserves to be the grouchy boss in every action movie, ever.
– Did NOT love Nina’s Wizard of Oz speech. A show like FRINGE is above a wince-worthy line like, “You’ve had the power the whole time.” I actually got uncomfortable even typing that. Yipes.
– I missed the first ten minutes of the episode due to DVR snafu, but I gather I only missed Charlotte Devil’s Trapping The Observer, and Bell showing off a holodeck simulation of Jurassic Park? Anything important that would have turned around my opinion of the episode?