Fringe Season 5 Review “The Boy Must Live”

Back when Lost turned the internet into THE INTERNET from a TV discussion standpoint, there was a seemingly constant debate over the complex and dense mythology that surrounded the show. Message boards were overrun with different theories, quibbles or other minutiae related to the series. As the show progressed, viewers began to get increasingly antsy about answers. Everyone wanted answers. When they finally received answers (some of them), the way in which they were revealed was reviled by many. A lot of those people still take to Twitter to yell at Damon Lindelof on occasion.

The ending to the show had many issues, but the biggest issue was the need to explain. They had to have Christian Shepherd explain 6 years of television to his son/the audience. If you feel compelled to explain all of the mythology surrounding your television program, then character action is probably the preferred option. Instead, we got a three minute conversation. Lost set a gold standard of a lot of mythology-based millennial shows. Ever since, we’ve seen shows go heavy on mythology, but take great pains to make sure they were answering their audiences questions. What resulted was several shows that got so wrapped up in their own mythology that they forgot that compelling characters remain the basis of any quality television series. People didn’t watch Lost because we wanted to know how the island was special. We were curious, but we weren’t going to hang around for 6 years to find out the answers. What kept viewers around was the work of one of the most compelling and diverse casts of all time. It’s the thing these shows that try to mimic Lost can never replicate. It’s hard to imagine a show doing better than that cast of characters for that specific show.

I mention Lost not because Fringe is trying to ape it, but because of the obvious similarities at play. Both shows have a larger mythology fans really get fired up about, but both are really built around exceedingly compelling characters that seem like just the right fit for the show. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how the group takes down the Observers, why the Observers are here, or what the magic hybrid kid is supposed to do. What really matters (as it should) is that Peter and Olivia’s love once again conquers all, and that Walter can find his peace and a positive balance in his life. Everything about the Observer story line is secondary. That being said, much like Lost, the entire Observer storyline boiled down to a 10 minute conversation. Also like Lost, it couldn’t have made for a more anticlimactic reveal.

After weeks of running from the Observers, finding magic rocks, getting magnets, and watching people closest to them die, the entire mission of our Fringe team boils down to sitting on a man’s couch while he tells us a story. The obvious excuse is that the show only had 13 episodes to tell this gigantic story, so character action couldn’t reveal the answers in a methodical way. That excuse isn’t completely without merit, but it loses a lot of its bite when you consider all of the seemingly pointless excursions to different outposts of dystopian 2036. Plenty of people would argue that it’s hard for character action to convey the information given by Donald/September, but cutaways of our heroes listening intently isn’t exactly fantastic television either.

The episode wasn’t without its stronger moments. The scenes between Peter and Walter continue to pop off the screen, Walter in particular. The opening sequence where he is looking as his son is wonderfully done. Any threat of Walter “transforming” back into the old Walter is gone. All that remains is a brilliant man who loves his son. In addition, it’s nice to see all of the callbacks to the early years. It’s a move that can seem pretty trite sometimes, but the Fringe audience is so connected with the show, the callbacks are nice trips down memory lane. A show with a larger but less passionate constituency couldn’t pull it off with the same effectiveness as a show like Fringe.

The one encouraging possibility from this episode is its timing. By crossing these things off the to-do list, J. H. Wyman and company can make the final two hours of the series heart-stoppingly intense. Right now, every article being published about the series finale discusses it in the most glowing terms. Granted, you wouldn’t expect much different from the people involved with the show, but it’s nice to know they are willing to put their seal of approval on it. Though people put a lot of stock in series finales, Fringe‘s legacy is not at stake in its final two hours. However, given the build up to the show’s final act, it’s safe to assume that the people behind Fringe plan to give the people what they want.