A farewell to Fringe: The sci-fi series finale promises a fantastic finish

Describing Fringe to someone unfamiliar with the show is about as futile as playing tag with an Observer. The science fiction show that started out as the hunt for the monster of the week has, in the last five years, given viewers so much to ponder that no brief summary quite does it justice.

Interrogating the dead may been Fringe’s first foray into the hard-to-explain, but this phenomenon has since become one of the show’s most reasonable plotlines. Once viewers were welcomed into an alternate universe from where a child was stolen to replace his dead counterpart in our universe, all bets were off.

Fringe: The Series Finale

For fans that have followed the five seasons with unwavering dedication, the unpredictability of Fringe has delighted them at every turn. But as the show reaches its grand finale on January 18, it would appear that ending this journey on an equally astonishing and emotionally satisfying note is an insurmountable task — unless, of course, one is given an entire season to conclude the epic storyline.

“When we got 13 episodes, I decided that I was going to tell the last season as one saga, like 13 little pieces of a feature film,” executive producer Joel Wyman says from Vancouver, where he is in the middle of directing the series finale. “I wasn’t going to pull tricks out. No, ‘Oh, there’s another universe.’ It became very clear to me that I definitely had enough drama to tell three very distinct odysseys for Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Walter (John Noble).”

With so much invested in these three characters, Noble admits even he was apprehensive when he received the first half of the final script. “You think, ‘Will he realize all the things that I want to have happen from a personal point of view? Will it tie up all the loose ends? Can it possibly do that?’”

Thankfully for Noble, the script did that and more. “I read the first half, because Joel didn’t release the final half for a little while. And I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is actually brilliant. I can’t wait to read the last bit because I know it’s not going to satisfy me.’ But indeed, it was better than I expected.”

How Will Fringe End?

Expectations, after an emotionally draining buildup, run high. After being awakened in a dystopian future, Peter and Olivia were miraculously reunited with the daughter they lost as a toddler, only to see her killed as part of their quest to save the world from the Observer invasion.

And as if their marriage hadn’t gone through enough trials and tribulations — “they’ve had everything and the kitchen sink thrown at them,” quips Jackson — their relationship came under duress again as Peter tried to fight the enemy by becoming one of them. Hell, it’s been all doom and gloom lately for the duo, but Wyman wishes to remind fans that there’s no payoff without pain.

“If you and I have a very heavy situation that we both endured together, it’s going to bring us closer together, ultimately,” he assures us. “We’re going to have things in the bank. And every time I see you, we’re both going to remember how we really went through this incredible thing together, and look — we came out of the other side. I wanted the audience to go through this at ground level with Peter, Olivia and Walter.”

Fringe: Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv and John Noble

As insane as the plot of Fringe can get, the heart of the show has always been its three stars (Image: Fox)

Where it Started: Looking Back at Fringe

With all of humanity now on the line, it’s hard to remember Fringe when it started in 2008, and how when we first met Olivia Dunham she was all smiles, in bed with her colleague, with no sense of what was to come.

“I remember shooting the pilot and I feel like it was a funny one, particularly for Olivia’s character, because people always forget who she was before Fringe took over her life. She was glowing and happy. She didn’t know. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?” says Torv, with a smile.

Olivia’s life didn’t remain blissful for long. She’d barely professed her love for Agent John Scott (Mark Valley) when an explosion turned him and his dissolving flesh into the very first Fringe case that led Olivia to seek out Peter and Walter Bishop.

“All of a sudden, things started to chip away at her, chip away at her, chip away at her. That’s why the woman you meet today is a very, very different woman to the woman who started the show,” she says, suddenly looking wistful. “I would have liked to have maintained that early Olivia for a little bit longer.”

As those few happy days came to an end, Olivia soon discovered that her connection to Walter Bishop wasn’t coincidental, and that she had been one of his test subjects when she was a child. Her series-long journey became one of finding happiness and peace in the chaos that now was the norm.

“Olivia was a young child who was vulnerable and abused, and literally put into a world where authorities could not be trusted,” says Wyman. “She had a tremendously hard time trusting people and finding strength in that vulnerability, and I think that that’s a lesson that everybody in this world needs to learn — that sometimes if you give yourself, you’re going to get hurt, but you can’t stop giving yourself. And the metaphor for the Cortexiphan was that no matter what’s happened to you, you have the tools inside of you to get through to them.”

Father and Son: The Relationship of Walter and Peter Bishop

Peter’s odyssey was set into motion by the realization that the real Peter Bishop died as a child and he was the replacement Walter brought over from the other universe — causing the two worlds to become unstable. But after condemning his father for committing this heinous act, he found himself embarking on his own morally ambiguous journey in season five when he inserted Observer technology inside his brain to avenge the death of his daughter, even at the risk of losing his family.

“Peter essentially committed the exact same sin his father did,” says Jackson. “What was always so dynamic about the thing that Walter did wrong is that just about any person can understand why. He had lost his child and was given an opportunity to have his child back. You would have to be Jesus to say, ‘No, that’s wrong.’ And Peter, I think, in much the same fashion, wasn’t capable of processing that loss.”

For Walter, the scientist who spent 17 years in a psychiatric institution and whose own work was often at the centre of these world-threatening storms, his journey has focused on atoning the mistakes from his past.

Fringe Walter and Peter Bishop

Walter Bishop (John Noble) has become one of television's most interesting characters (Image: Fox)

“In a way, Fringe is Walter’s journey because he starts off as this troubled genius who’s done something that’s basically defied the laws of nature and created havoc,” says Noble. “When we meet him, he’s an absolutely ruined man.”

In regards to his character’s trajectory, Noble finds that the finale really brings it all together and into perspective.

“There’s this moral victory, because you can’t go around breaking things and not expect that they have to be repaired,” says Noble. “So in a most elegant way, what Joel Wyman has done is found a way to complete the journey, to repair the damage. I don’t want to give away exactly what happens, but it’s incredibly elegant and satisfying to all characters and, I’m sure, to the audience.”

Saying Goodbye to Fringe

With the kind of rabid and loyal fans that have been able to keep the show on the air despite fairly mediocre ratings, the actor anticipates that every viewer will have an opinion about the two-hour finale.

“Of course, everyone’s going to say, ‘I wish that had happened,’ or ‘I wish that happened.’ That’s just human nature. But really, I do believe that what Joel’s done is a perfect finale in the sense that it’s going to be incredibly moving and fulfilling and thrilling. I think the fans will be very proud of it, actually.”

Because of what is at stake, Wyman, who has been a part of the show since midway through the first season, felt that directing the final episode himself was not just a luxury but a necessity.

“I just really believed that nobody could get exactly what I was trying to get better than I could because emotionally I’ve been living with these people for five years,” he says. “There were certain things that I needed, performance-wise, that I really believed that we could get, and I thought I was better suited to get those things. Like, John Noble just pulled off a scene the other day that I was just like, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?’”

It was also a way for the exec producer who hates goodbyes to bid a subtler adieu to his cast and crew in Vancouver. “We have such a great family,” says Wyman. “From cast to crew to everybody, it’s such a pleasure to work there.”

It’s a sentiment echoed throughout the cast. “I think everybody realizes that we were given a gift here,” says Jackson. “We had the opportunity to finish out the show from a storytelling standpoint. But also, from a personal standpoint, we have a chance to finish the experience on whatever footing we want. It has clarified a lot of the reasons why we’re all here together.”

Just don’t ask any of them about saying goodbye. “We all know that we’re going, but I think, the sadness will hit after,” says Torv. “We’ll wrap, and for a couple of months, you’ll be like, ‘It’s so great to have your life back,’ and then, I think, you’re like, ‘Whoa. I’m never going back there.’ I should probably be dealing with it a little bit, now that I think about it.”

Or, like Wyman, she can live with the perception that her five-year family is there whenever she needs to call on it. “As a person, I hate to say goodbye,” admits Wyman.

“So I wanted it to feel like when the fans are alone after the finale, they could think, ‘It’s over, but I can completely feel at peace because I think I understand where everybody is.’ Then there’s really no finality to it. It’s sort of them drifting around in your consciousness.”

Or perhaps in a parallel universe.

The two-hour series finale of Fringe airs Friday January 18, 2012 at 8 pm on Fox.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.