Fringe Season 5 Review “Liberty/An Enemy of Fate” Series Finale

Whenever a show comes to an expected close, people start talking about the show’s legacy. With the rise of fan sites, show podcasts, television forums, and all other forms of community discussion about a show, television series can be discussed long after they exit our timeline. Given the devoted fan following of a show like Fringe, it’s hard to imagine fans not gathering here (hopefully!) and other places around the interwebs to talk about what it all means, to pay respects, or to troll people about the love wizard (copyright: Ryan McGee, hitfix.com) that returned Peter to our reality. Here’s the thing, though: Fringe‘s legacy has long been secured.

Throughout 100 episodes of shifting timelines, shifting alliances, and shifting people, the show has continued to revolve around a few important elements: Family, humanity, and, of course, love. While certainly prone to fits and starts, the show’s meditation on these topics has been pretty wonderful. These three elements are at the heart of a finale that mirrored most of what we have seen from the show in its 100 episodes: Some fits and starts, but an overall impressive body of work. With the legacy secure, all that was left for J.H. Wyman and company to do was provide a thoughtful, but satisfying conclusion to their series. To quote Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds-version): “We’ve come too far to stop now. For Olivia, for Peter… for Walter. Let’s do it!”

If you accept the parameters that all the finale needed to do was provide resolution for the characters, than the series finale of Fringe delivered on every level you could have asked of it. More importantly, there were moments throughout the finale that made you realize how far the show has come. The finale featured standout scenes with all of the major characters. Peter and his father, Peter and Olivia, Walter and Olivia, and Walter and Astrid all had wonderful moments in the finale. You can’t have the moments those people shared in the episode without earning it. No moment designed to tug at our emotions seemed cheap or hollow. We’ve watched these people go through a lot over the past 28 years (most in amber, but still…), and it made all of the moments seem genuine as a result. In a show that prides itself on the importance of its interpersonal relationships between the characters, nothing could be more important. In this regard, the finale of Fringe was incredible.

While the interpersonal stuff was outstanding, the show also dropped in a little fan service with the team’s assault on the Observer stronghold. I don’t think we’re supposed to ask how the team mixed a cocktail featuring some of our favorite microbiological Fringe cases, and I don’t mind not wondering about it. As Peter and Olivia stalked the hallways, it was as if they were taking the audience on one final tour of some of the strange things the show accomplished. Sadly, there wasn’t a final appearance by a porcupine man. Olivia’s cortexiphan during the first hour caper was a slightly new twist on the old favorite. We hadn’t seen Olivia fade in and out like that during her previous trips between universes. Furthermore, it gave us one final look at the other side. It was wholly unnecessary, but it was definitely fun to be there again. That being said, I’m pretty sure there is a right-wing blogger somewhere that will gripe about President Chelsea Clinton (at least it wasn’t Malia Obama).

There were lots of big moments and fun performances throughout the two hours, but you can’t discuss the Fringe finale without discussing the performance of John Noble. I don’t beat the “John Noble for Emmy” drum as loud as others, but he was unbelievable throughout the two hours. The expansiveness of the finale allowed Noble to put on a showcase performance. He was determined, emotional, humorous, and weathered. He was all of these things while fitting comfortably within the context of the episode. He’s been the catalyst and the grounding influence throughout the series. It’s what made Donald/September’s attempt to take Michael to 2176 kind of dumb. Walter Bishop’s original sin is the original thrust of the show. To have Donald/September heal the broken world would have been ultimately meaningless. With Walter leading the child through the portal, we can rest comfortably knowing the Walter is finally fully at peace.

With Walter resetting time, there were several questions about what exactly would happen when time was reset. We return to field where Peter and Olivia are watching Etta play in the sunshine. It appears as if Peter and Olivia have no recollection of what happened. Though Walter sending the white tulip (via the love wizard?) seems to trigger something in Peter, we are left to wonder exactly how much of the final season do the Bishops remember. It’s an unfortunate final touch that didn’t need to happen. If the Bishops forget everything that occurred (or only remember bits and pieces), then it degrades the meaning of the various sacrifices that littered the final season. Time and again, people stepped in to give their lives for the mission to reset time. The ambiguous ending retroactively hurts those moments. Though it’s only a slight damper on an otherwise excellent episode, it was something that didn’t need to happen.

Fringe had its head-scratching moments throughout its 100 episodes, but the series, like the finale, always delivered at a high level. It’s storytelling highs are some of the best ever done in the science fiction genre. It continually delivered to its devoted fans. There was virtually no chance of a disappointing ending. The finale had plenty of eye-catching, fancy trappings, but what made the episode such a beautiful sendoff was its core devotion to the elements that made the show memorable: Family. Humanity. Love.

Thanks for everything, Fringe.