Fringe was never what you’d call a light-hearted romp, but this final season seems determined to bring its fans to the lowest state of depression possible while still keeping them engaged with the story. We think the creators are succeeding on that front, but we have to be honest here: it’s turning into a bit of a slog for us.
But here’s the thing: it’s meant to be a slog. It’s meant to be difficult for us to sit through some of this. The creators removed almost all of the elements that made the show engrossing in previous seasons and used that to illustrate the depression and hopelessness the characters are feeling in the new dystopia. There’s no way to make this story uplifting, at least not at the moment. We can’t imagine the series is going to end on a down note, so we’re all going to have to suffer through depressing episodes because we’re meant to feel what the characters are feeling. It’s a bold and smart choice on the part of the creators because really, the only people who are going to sit through such a depressing season are the hardcore fans of the show. No casual viewer is going to become invested in this storyline. So what we have is a story tailor-made for the superfans that refuses to give the superfans any of the elements that made them fans in the first place. That’s pretty ballsy.
In last week’s episode, Walter revealed to the Fringe team his own personal museum of Fringe case artifacts, a bittersweet moment that reminded us all of what these people have lost, just before the story dealt Peter and Olivia their biggest loss of all: the death of their daughter. We could feel a death coming, but we have to admit, we were surprised that it was Etta. We kinda figured the recently returned (and very much welcome, although his aging makeup was horrible) Broyles or the criminally under-utilized (especially this season) Astrid would be the first one to bite it. We’re glad neither of those characters were killed off (yet), because it would have been a cliche to kill off a black character so the white heroes can have a reason to fight on. And besides, no death would have had the emotional impact (for the characters, if not the audience) that Etta’s provided.
But even in darkness, there are sublime moments. Broyles’ clipped, but emotional “Agent Dunham,” and her surprisingly warm response of “Phillip” got us a bit choked up, we admit. We wish we could say the same about Etta’s death. They did a fairly good job of defining the character in a short period of time, but we can’t say we felt much when she sacrificed herself, and curiously, the rest of the Fringe team’s reactions seemed underplayed somehow, at least at first.
If it’s not clear by now, our reaction to these past two episodes are uneven and disjointed, much like the story itself.
Anyway, with this week’s episode, we got more of a sense of grief from the remaining characters. Olivia seems exhausted by hers and Peter is reminding us a bit too much of the crazed Walter who broke the universe out of grief over a lost child. This is engrossing stuff; especially because it once again doesn’t present the Olivia/Peter relationship as a perfect one. They both have demons and those demons have driven them apart more than kept them together. We know there was some sort of disagreement over Etta’s disappearance and abduction years ago, and now we’re seeing them deal with her death in very different ways.
We also got more of a sense of anger this episode, at least from Peter. That’s something the story sorely needed. Sure, Peter’s plan failed and he wound up doing something very stupid at the end of the episode, but his righteous fury was a welcome sight, even if it is a little disturbing.
As for Olivia, her arc this season seems to be about finding some for of peace for herself. The shot of her reacting to the “RESIST” posters featuring her daughter’s face was beautifully done. But we fear what’s going to happen to her and Peter down the line. Then again, isn’t that the whole point of telling a story like this? To get the audience to worry about the fate of the characters?
The upshot of this very disjointed review is this: It’s a depressing story, but it remains an engrossing one. It seems almost impossible, from where we are right now, that this story is going to end happily for everyone involved. Certainly, there’s a possibility that some or all of what’s going on right now can be reversed, but that would negate the growth these characters – especially Peter and Olivia – have experienced.
But boy, it sure would be nice if our heroes could accomplish one “Fuck yeah!” moment soon, if only to lift the heavy veil of sadness covering everything.