TV Review: “Fringe” – No Longer on the Fringe of Greatness

Written by Spencer Sterritt January 10, 2013

Fringe 4

“Fringe” didn’t exactly have an easy going when it first debuted. It constantly lived in the shadow of “Lost,” due to being the brainchild of J.J. Abrams, and also had to toil away in the shadow of “The X-Files,” due to it’s monster-of-the-week structure. But now, as “Fringe” heads into the penultimate episode of the series after five seasons, it has come out of the shadow of both shows and stands as one of the best sci-fi shows of this generation.

“What a miserable future.”

Following the FBI’s “Fringe Division,” comprised of agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), ex-con and wonder boy Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), and his LSD addled mad scientist father Walter Bishop (John Noble), “Fringe” has, in this final season, changed dramatically, jumping forward to the year 2038 as “Fringe Division” tries to save the world from a futuristic invading force. It’s a lot to take in, but the show has covered so much ground over the previous seasons that the jump in time seems totally natural.

I will admit, the time travel is a little problematic. “Fringe” is really good at world building in the small details, but it has never succeeding at quickly establishing a new world. In season four everything happened in an alternate timeline and it wasn’t until halfway through the season that viewers could start to piece the world together. In this season there have been a few too many gaps in the history and the world, which is problematic because this season is only thirteen episodes. There isn’t a minute to spare, but unfortunately the writers spend too much time reiterating what we already know instead of pushing forward and filling us in.

The strength of the tale “Fringe” is telling more than makes up for any structural problems though. The main villains, called Observers (who fit the mold of overseers in black coats), have enough malice and strange quirks to make worthwhile villains. Earth has already been overtaken and “Fringe Division” has to take it back, which makes for some weird stakes, but the show plays these stakes well, pitching it as a classic tale of good versus evil with a world hanging in the balance. It is very compelling stuff, and it highlights all that is great about “Fringe.”

“There was a time when we solved fringe cases. Now I think it’s time we created a few of our own.”

The best thing about this season so far is that the characters are at the forefront of the show once again. This was sort of lost in season four as the show dealt with re-introducing everyone in an alternate reality, but now that the show and the team has a clear end goal, it can really focus on the humans driving the story. At the beginning of the season Anna Torv wasn’t greatly utilized, but after some early deaths and plot twists she has returned as the lead, which is great because Anna Torv is doing great work on “Fringe.” In fact, one of the best joys of the whole show is seeing how she has grown into the role of Olivia Dunham and has grown as an actress.

The team together

The team together

The saga of Peter and Walter Bishop, the heart of “Fringe” is still the main focus, which is great because their relationship is one of the most complex and touching relationships of television, for my money. There is just too much damn history between the two to get into in one review, but needless to say this season has served as a fitting end to their plot. And from what I’ve heard from J.J. Abrams, the series finale is going to be an emotional wallop, so I can only assume that the Peter & Walter plot is going to make me cry.

“You’re not one of them, you’re one of us.”

At it’s core “Fringe” is a show about what makes us human, and by pitching “Fringe Divisions” last stand against the Observers (who have lost all sense of humanity), it is getting to the core of what makes us us. All of the father v. son, boss v. subordinate, resistance v. authority drama over the last five seasons has illustrated that it is the desire to fight for something that makes us human, and the rebellion against the Observers this season has been a great illustrative metaphor on this point.

The Observers are just unhuman enough to break the mold of the menacing people in black trench coats.

The Observers are just unhuman enough to break the mold of the menacing people in black trench coats.

It would be a lie to say that “Fringe” doesn’t have some problems, but every show does, and the strength of the characterization and storytelling more than makes up for any structural flaws. For a show that has covered porcupine monsters, an ancient machine that can destroy worlds, and time travel, it is amazing how “Fringe” has managed to keep a hold on its human qualities, and build a final season that is less concerned with giving complex answers to mysteries, and more about how Olivia, Peter and Walter reach their emotional conclusion.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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