Hey Fringe: You’re Bumming Everybody Out

Fringe Season 5 Episode 7 Five-Twenty-Ten

When the fifth and final season of Fringe began, the show immediately triggered a marked shift in direction. Gone into thin air was the science fiction series where love and perseverance always won the day, and the bad guys were always defeated. Suddenly, we were transported into a time where the bad guys had won, and the love that had kept the world afloat for so long was cast asunder (in amber). Instead of solving Fringe cases, Peter, Walter, Olivia, and Astrid worked to cause Fringe cases in their quest to defeat the Observers. Meanwhile, they crashed in abandoned apartments, tunneled their way into restricted areas, and didn’t have any access to cable. By all accounts it appears as though our heroes are leading a dreadful existence.

As a reviewer, I was thrilled to see it. How often does a show do a 180 like Fringe? Sure, plenty of shows get reset at the outset of new seasons, but few shows go from uplifting to dark in record time. Whether it was good or not really didn’t matter to me, I was just interested to see what the show had planned. Watching a show so use to being upbeat descend into darkness was like watching basketball players try hockey. Sure, they’re probably agile enough to figure out, but it’s going to look pretty awkward. I didn’t expect everyone to like the different direction the show went in, but I thought they would respect the desire to try a little something different in their final season.

I was dead wrong. Here is a common refrain from the comment section of my Fringe reviews:

I really love this show, but tonight I realized how much I miss the old premise they launched it with. A group of people finding “fringe” weird things and dealing with that, and then it became a time and multiple worlds thing and now this final season is so depressing. No humor at all here. That exciting snappy pace is not there. I also realize now each season was almost like a book in a set, like the Narnia chronicles. I am a faithful fan, but for the first time I am getting why this show has only 1.4 viewers. I hope some good stuff happens in the next 5 episodes. I am hoping they defeat the Obsevers and we somehow find them back in a different timeline with all the old gang and Etta. I know that is kinda a “happy ending” wish. But this season is starting to be too dreary for me.

I am a little bummed out.

Apparently, the hearts and roses with a science fiction bent was far more popular than I ever imagined. Here’s the thing: People are probably far more likely to tolerate a dark turn in their favorite show if its done in a competent way that is methodically paced. Unfortunately, thanks to the demands of only getting 13 episodes to tie everything up in a neat little bow, Fringe has become one of those shows that burns things so quickly that it’s hard to make anybody care about anything. A more methodically paced show does a better job of building the relationship between Etta and her parents so the effects are truly devastating for the viewers (there is difference between devastating and shocking). A more methodically paced show allows characters in far away scavenger hunt outposts time to breathe and to gain traction with the audience. And a more methodically paced show doesn’t make a man hell-bent on revenge change his entire modus operandi because of a 2 minute conversation someone has with them. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Fringe writers had a grand scheme in place for their final season, but were taken aback when they were only granted 13 episodes with which to operate. Instead of trying to cut some things out of their fun story, they basically left everything in… except for the reasons or importance for doing half of those things. It will be interesting to watch if the show can win back the viewers that it has so progressively bummed out over the course of their final season.

While the show’s redemption of Peter was certainly less than perfect, it did offer a glimpse of a possible return to the show’s rosier past as the series winds down its final five episodes. Those that have come seeking a “happy ending” should take solace in the show’s decision to bring Peter back from the dark side instantaneously. (Who knew Olivia was more persuasive than Obi Wan Kanobe?) The show may not end with the perfect family unit reunited in whole, but it certainly won’t end in misery either. After all, if the gang has taught us anything over the years, it’s that the Fringe team will always persevere. It’s just hard not to wonder what that even means anymore.