Fringe: Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11

Posted on September 29, 2012

Let’s do a little thought experiment, which seems more than appropriate given the subject matter. Pretend that Lost never really got the kind of ratings the network wanted, and after a handful of struggling seasons, the show was given a final truncated season to wrap up the story the way the creators intended. Pretend that the previous season ended with the bomb drop of Jack telling Kate “WE HAVE TO GO BACK!” Now pretend that the next season opens exactly as the final season of Lost did; with all the players in a seeming alternate reality with no memory of the previous one. You’d have a lot of questions; right? You’d feel confused and wonder if somehow the show got beyond your capability to understand it. You’d wonder if you missed a couple of episodes along the way that somehow aired without you knowing about it. You might even feel a little stupid.

That’s kind of how it felt watching last night’s Fringe premiere.

To be fair, we’d probably have been confused no matter what. In the interests of full disclosure, here’s our relationship with Fringe in a nutshell: Jumped on board with the first season, found it to be a post-millenial X-Files redux which failed to capture our attention, let it slip from our viewing schedule. Heard good things about how the show improved, came back for season 2 and once again, lost interest in a story that didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be from moment to moment. Occasionally dropped by for a visit and found ourselves slowly getting sucked in, due mostly to the performances of two of its leads, the incredible John Noble as tortured genius Walter Bishop and the highly under-rated Anna Torv, who never seemed to bat an eye, no matter what the writing asked of her, even if it asked her to do a reasonably good Leonard Nimoy impersonation for a couple of episodes. Based entirely on those two Emmy-worthy performances, we found ourselves going from intrigued to fully immersed, even if the quality and direction of the show seemed to vary from week to week. Unlike X-Files (and we fully admit the comparison isn’t fair because they’re wildly different shows despite the initial surface similarities) Fringe was capable of wringing heart-wrenching emotional moments out of coldly horror-tinged science fiction stories. We’ve been fully immersed ever since.

Last season’s jump 24 years into a dystopian future was thrilling and bold and we ended the season excited about the possibility of something radically new for the show, since the endless explorations of alternate realities had gotten a little stale and left some viewers feeling that the characters they’d been following for several seasons weren’t the same characters anymore. Tom’s a big ol’ comic book nerd, so things like parallel earths and time travel are practically intuitive to him, but even he had trouble explaining to Lorenzo what the hell was going on anymore. The show was in danger of  collapsing under the weight of its own mythology so the creators bravely decided to up-end the entire playing board.

For the first half-hour or so of last night’s premiere, we were holding our breath. It was thrilling and confusing, but we couldn’t deny how exciting it all was and how the show felt super-charged with its new direction. We’re not saying the second half-hour was inferior somehow; just that, once Olivia got de-ambered and the entire Bishop clan (+ Astrid) was reunited, the reality of the new status quo set in. No more Earth 2, no more monster-of-the-week cases, no more Lincoln Lee, Fauxlivia, or Walternate. Everything that had kept us engaged was gone forever and we started mourning its loss, even though we had been prepared for it.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe this dystopia is meant to make us mourn what once was. It’s a brave move on the part of the creators, to deliberately NOT give the show’s fans what they’ve always loved about the show. From a critical analysis point of view, we really don’t have any complaints. Things were tense, emotions were wrung out of relationships, and John Noble got to give yet another in a long string of jaw-dropping performances. Even better, the story is now working on several levels and using themes and motifs to signal them. The world of 2036 has had hope ripped away from it (much as the world of Fringe has had its status quo ripped away from its fans), but to Walter, Olivia and Peter, hope still lives and it’s embodied by the youngest and newest member of the Bishop clan, Olivia and Peter’s now-grown daughter Henrietta. And while there’s no real reason to believe that anyone involved can actually save the earth, the final shot of the episode zeroed in on a dandelion stubbornly growing through cracks of cement, calling back to the dandelion seeds Etta herself was seen scattering to the winds just at the moment the Observers attacked. And as the ravaged face of Walter smiled at the sight, we marveled at the soundtrack choice, the synth-pop classic “Only You,” by the late, lamented Yaz (an old school T Lo fave). A perfectly thematic ending to the beginning of Fringe‘s new chapter: wringing deep emotion out of the coldly scientific sounds of synthesizer.

We don’t know what’s going to happen (and given the science on this show, we’re not ruling out a reset button that brings us back to the present), but that one moment told us that the creators know what they’re doing and even if it’s not giving us what we want, it’s giving us something pretty wonderful. We don’t know what the hell’s going on, but we’re on board to the end, and we hope it’s not a bitter one.


[Photo Credit: Fox]

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  • I desperately need to catch up on the second half of last season! I know some of the basics, but I realize that I will be even more lost if I don’t watch those before this season. I can’t believe I let so much time go without watching. Failtastic, but I’m so glad it’s back. 

  • Ohh guys, I loved you already, but knowing that you are Yaz/Yazoo faves simple make me ADORE you. I don’t watch Fringe (yet I read your comments, go figure), so imagine my surprise today when all the social networks were full of references to Only You.

  • Vanja

    I’m glad you two will be reviewing this show, been a fan of it since the first episode. As an 80’s child and synthpop fan I also loved the use of Yazoo’s ‘Only Love’.

  • I’m so glad you’re blogging Fringe. Hooray! It took me a while to warm up to this show, but I have been hooked for the past few seasons. I’m not sure that a half season wrap-up is the worst thing forthe show, but then I was no great fan of Lost, which was a 3 season show (at most) dragged out over 7 years.

  • stoprobbers

    “just that, once Olivia got de-ambered and the entire Bishop clan (+ Astrid) was reunited, the reality of the new status quo set in. No more Earth 2, no more monster-of-the-week cases, no more Lincoln Lee, Fauxlivia, or Walternate.”

    Boys: NEVER ASSUME. EVER. I’m not saying the show dropped hints that any of those things will return. I’m not saying that we haven’t left the old Fringe behind for good and that the entirety of the half (HALF!!! ARGH!!!!) season Fringe has been given to wrap up its story won’t be set 100% in the future with the Evil!Observers and Etta, but NEVER EVER EVER ASSUME. If Fringe has taught you nothing else, it should have taught you that it will do whatever it damn well pleases in service of the story. And Fauxlivia, Walternate, Earth-2, and (most importantly) William Bell could and might ALL be part of it.

    For me, I thought this episode was great (I am always impressed by how such a science fiction-y, nerd-driven show manages to hit emotional notes that so many of its contemporaries can’t even touch… including Moffat’s Who), and I am already mourning the loss of what I think is clearly the greatest science fiction show on television in a long time. (Fringe has, in fact, surpassed LOST for me, as much as I loved, and still adore, the original JJ Abrams WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING show.)

    •  Re-read the first sentence of the last paragraph, especially the parenthetical.

      • stoprobbers

        But I’m not expecting a reset button; I don’t think the writers and showrunners are interested in bringing us back to our present (as you pointed out: this episode is a pretty definitive mission statement saying that the show will be dealing with this dystopian future from now on, and perhaps “solving” it). I think there’s a chance — and maybe it’s an outside chance, but it’s a chance I’ll never rule out — that Earth-2 and its defenders, Lincoln Lee included, may be on track to team up with our Fringe Division to save everyone from the Observers. If the Observers invaded a world with a bridge to Earth-2, as they did, then it’s not only our universe in peril. (Or, as it stands, taken over. Perhaps Fauxlivia, Walternate, and Lincoln Lee have preserved themselves in Amber as well?) And that’s not the same as what the first sentence of that last paragraph, parenthetical included, says, open-mind overlap excluded.

        • You’re missing the point. We’re not assuming that this is the only status quo and that it’s unchanging.

  • “Unlike X-Files (…) Fringe was capable of wringing heart-wrenching emotional moments out of coldly horror-tinged science fiction stories.”

    you guys, are you sure you remember x-files properly? that show was capable of some staright-up, heartbreaking pathos. “clyde bruckmans final reposte”, “never again”, “beyond the sea”, “quagmire”…

    btw fringe rocks my world, and particularly anna torv. cant wait to catch up with this episode!

    •  ”

      you guys, are you sure you remember x-files properly?”

      Yes. We just never found it to be as emotionally engaging as Fringe.

      • Dhammadina

        I am so glad you two are writing about Fringe. I take your point, in general. 

        But I also remember some threads that were  very poignant with the X-Files,especially some involving mothers and daughters in ways that evoke what Fringe does with Olivia and her various mother figures, and now possibly with Olivia and her own daughter. And I remember one episode in particular written and directed by Gillian Anderson in the 7th season that was really wonderful: “All Things,” which she also directed (the only woman to direct an x-files episode). 

        • MilaXX

           I kind of agree with TLo, not that X-files didn’t have some emotional moment, because they did have some. I think especially when they dealt with Mulder and his sister Samantha. However for me Fringe dealt more with family. We had Walter/Peter’s estrangement at the onset, and the fact that Walter grieved so much for his son’s death that he stole Peter from earth2. We had Olivia and her sister. I may not be explaining things well, but all those family estrangements always carried more of an emotional impact for me than X-files, which had as a basis governmental conspiracies.

  • spititout

    I am so happy and I love you guys even more than ever! This summer I found the pilot of Fringe in a video store, and I have been trying to catch up bit by bit.  I am only in the middle of the second season, but I cheated and saw a couple season four episodes.  So last night, the first episode of the final season was way beyond my comprehension.  I just decided to sit back and enjoy the ride anyway.  Please continue to blog Fringe, so I can muddle through, thank you so much. John Noble and Anna Torv are amazing. 

    • CozyCat

      Season 2 is where the series really starts taking off.  In a way I envy you–there is some really great new television ahead of you.

      ps.  at one point netfix was streaming Fringe, but they change their streaming menu so often, who knows anymore…

  • M_E_S

    So thrilled that y’all are reviewing this now!  I just caught up on the whole show this summer after attending the heart-wringing Comic-Con panel, so I’m sooooo excited to be able to watch this last season live.  I always worry about shows ending and the creators being unprepared and unsure of how they want the story to develop.  I don’t have those fears here at all.  I trust that we’ll be given a true and satisfactory ending.  Hopefully with Lincoln.

  • Markatha

    I tried to get into this show at the beginning but only made it through about 5 episodes before I said so long.  I found the Actors/Characters more annoying than entertaining.  The Anna character (& actress) never appealed to me.  And I really hated the John Noble role.  The whole crazy/genius thing got on my nerves.  Ofcourse that’s how I felt after just the first 5 eps.  I know the series has changed a lot since then and it’s probably better (especially since you guys say so), but I’ll sit this one out.

  • kittenwithaquip

    Watching last night’s ep my husband felt like he’d missed some episodes from last season: “wait, what’s going on? When did they have a child?” plus several other such comments. My response was vague: “Well they’ve alluded to meeting their grown daughter, right? Remember? Or something. Just shut up and watch the show!” I love this show, and I never followed “Lost”, or even “Heroes” past the first season. But “Fringe”? I found it at some point into it’s 3rd season and became obsessed. My husband and I would catch up during marathons of Netflix discs into the wee hours of the morning.

    I’ll be so sad to see it go! I do want more Lincoln Lee and I hope he gets brought back into the plot. I love that you two are blogging about this show. I also agree about the use of Yaz during the close of the episode. I was immediately transported back to being a teenager/young adult (I was born in 1970) and hanging out with the drama club kids. *sigh*

  • So happy to see you guys talking about Fringe. I was liking the episode but the last scene with John Noble really sold it for me. I like this new shift and I have faith in the storytelling. I think the biggest challenge for this season is adjusting from what was somewhat a detective show with weekly investigations, to a season long save the world drama.

  • cheesepuff74

    I completely agree about John Noble deserving an Emmy. I sat in awe of him through the entire premiere. I’m pretty excited for observergeddon this season, but I will really miss Fauxlivia and Lincoln Lee 🙁

    • CozyCat

      Agree that Noble is fantastic.  But I also appreciate that TLO recognise Anna Torv.  She, like Noble, has shown the emotional growth of her main character, while simultaneously showing how the same person would have been completely different with a different past thru Fauxlivia.  But she has fewer big scenery chewing scene, and for much of the series her main character was guarded and emotionally distant, so her performance is more subtle and easier to overlook.

  • Markatha

    What happened to my post?  Hope there wasn’t something wrong with it.  Whatever.

  • h2olovngrl

    Of course you guys loved Yaz.  Of course.  I didn’t think it was possible to love you more.

    • i know, right? ‘only you’ is just perfect for both fringe and TLO.

      • h2olovngrl

        I guess
        i need to start watching Fringe!

  • h2olovngrl

    Just went trough a huge X-files rewatch.  I still love that show.  So many great things about it.

  • “…that one moment told us that the creators know what they’re doing and even if it’s not giving us what we want, it’s giving us something pretty wonderful”  Word.
    Exactly! these writers always know what they’re doing, I haven’t been disappointed with the show yet! Anyways, I’m so happy youre guys sending fringe off this season!!  Even if I found the plot half as interesting I’d still be watching because of Noble and Trov.  I’m just glad that the stories been right up my alley with all the parallel universe and now dystopian plot line.  (Brave New World and 1984 are some of my favorite books) 

  • the usual way to resolve dystopian future plots in science fiction is to do some time travelling and intervene where things went wrong. of course, fringe can be very UNusual… but i think the show is more unusual in the details, and often surprisingly old school when it comes to its overarching plots. so yeah, i expect to be back in the ‘green universe’ by the end of the show. and who knows, maybe well meet the ‘red universe’ guys again before all this is over?

    i liked this episode, but i hope they dont fully abandon the ‘case of the week’-structure, and the weirdness that comes with it. 13 episodes of high adventure  is not necessarily what i want out of this show.

    btw, have we established what nina sharp is doing in the ‘grey universe’? shes so fabulous.

    random thought: since fringe is all about alternate universes, what if they fail to save their own universe, but they manage to ‘spark’ a parallel universe, where things go better?

    • BerlinerNYC

      Nina was in last season’s “Letters of Transit,” the sneak preview of the dystopian future. She’s still alive and kicking and fierce. Looking forward to her being incorporated into this season’s plot.

  • That Yazoo song was also used in the finale of the UK version of “The Office” to great effect.

  • Lindsey Patten

    You are blogging Fringe? I’m so excited! I stopped watching in Season One and then got caught up during the summer. Season Three is still my favourite (Peter why you kissing Fauxlivia?!) but I’m looking forward to what they are going to do with season five. I’m glad we have these episodes to have it end in a good way. And yes, John Noble is too damned amazing.

  • pookiesmom

    How’s that weekend off working out for you guys? Hehe.

  • Jennifer Coleman

    Okay. Right now going to run in circles around my den, screaming “TLo’s recapping Fringe!!” over and over and and then fall into a faint. Christmas has come early.

  • KathKo

    Let me tell you a little story : I almost missed Fringe. It was 4 seasons ago, the show was going to start in France a week from were I stood and the TV channel where it was going to air did a good job in teasing it that I was exctatic. And then, The Paris-Rio plane crashed in the middle of the ocean and the pilot was canceled. I couldn’t start watching a show without having seen the fisrt episode, could I.
    So I let it go.
    Then It got available on replay so I gave it it’s chance and since then I never missed an episode.
    I got bitten, because the show was kind of referencing X Files but in sort of a fan way. It was like “well, remember that episode when Mulder and Scully discover this ? What if that went another way instead ?”
    And I sometimes wondered where the writers were going and I got annoyed with seemingly filler’s episodes. Well, Season 4 made a tremendous good job at showing that almost nothing in the show was done thoughtlessly.
    We’re with Lost’s creators, here. Nothing is left to chance and even if it is, they do a great job to right it and make it seemed like it was destined from the very beginning to end that way. Almost every time we had loose ends, they were resolved in further episodes.
    But I’m still waiting to learn that the bald and mute child from season one is, indeed, September. Well I certainly hope he’s not November.

    Having said that, that episode left me confused. Something doesn’t seem right and I can’t seem to get my finger on it.
    I’m guessing next episode will be a “drop back in time” one, but I might be wrong. 

  • I too am glad that you guys love Yaz; one of my favorites. That was a great last scene. So glad this show is back; it’s never gotten the attention and ratings that it deserves.

  • Glammie

    Ah Fringe–sometimes fascinating, sometimes insanely tedious.  I have all of last season taking up my Tivo queue.  Your coverage might be enough to finally make me watch them instead of zapping them.  

  • YoungSally

    I watched on Friday but only to remind myself how confused I am.  My cousin tried to explain it all to me last season…..but honestly, I thought there were only two realities and somehow it’s like there are some logarithmic function of that.  Do love myself some Walter, though.

  • The dandelion moment had me crying because the Observers truly believe nothing can grow out of scorched earth, but because hope its always there, we see this lone flower, so now there is hope of a spark inside Walter’s memory as well.  Loved it!

  • Meelah

    Didn’t know you guys were Fringe fans.  I’ve loved this show from the beginning.  

  • Loved your commentary. I’m having the same kind of reservations this final season, but saw that beautiful last sequence as some kind of reassurance. Hopefully this will be the season where John Noble finally gets some recognition with regard to some awards hardware.

  • MilaXX

    I was leery that I wasn’t going to like  this season of Fringe. It just felt like too much all at once. I was worried for nothing. I loved every minute of it.
    Also LOVED hearing them use Only You as a song of hope. I love that song and every variation of it. It’s another one of those songs I liked the minute I heard it that gets used a lot in movies.

  • BazoDee

    Ohh you guys are making me wish I kept with it -I quit midway in season 2. 

  • kimmeister

    Yaz!  I couldn’t come up with that name when I was watching it.  I just remembered that it was the same guy from Erasure.
    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one feeling confused.  I thought, “Obviously I should have rewatched last season’s finale again right before starting the premiere, because I am so confused.”
    I’m intrigued to know what has happened with Fringe division, how they came to be working with/for the Observers, etc.

  • Bree The Vole

    I gave up on Fringe after it became too much of a Peter show to me, but man it feels good to see Anna Torv get the recognition she deserves. I still remember people going on and on about how she was such a horrible actress because she didn’t have as many facial expressions as John Noble. Not that I don’t love JN, but his brand of acting isn’t the only kind of good acting ever.

  • Deeply in love with this show, I know it’s going to break my heart, and that’s okay, I’ll still love it more.

  • Kadija Cumberland


    Fringe is a great show but honestly I’ve been losing
    interest in the show over the last two seasons. It just seems like sometimes
    the show is going one direction and then other times it’s going in some
    completely different direction. I’ve still been recording the show on my Hopper
    so that when I am in the mood to watch Fringe it’s there. You did point out
    that sometimes it makes you feel stupid or you feel like you missed something. You’re
    definitely not the only one and maybe this is why my interest has been waning. My
    DISH co-workers assure me that this is the season to watch because it’s the
    final season but I’m already feeling a disconnect. While the story they are
    telling of the Observers is a good one, details aren’t adding up.