If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.
Olivia comes up with the idea to rescue Michael by using the Other Side. She is dosed with high-levels of Cortexiphan, crosses over, and with the help of Fauxlivia and Lincoln Lee, she makes it into Liberty Island where Michael is being held. She crosses back and forth, eventually getting him out and back to the lab. The team joins September, who reveals that a piece of his machine to open a wormhole is no longer functional; Astrid comes up with the idea to use the Observer’s shipping line as a way to open the portal. Meanwhile, Peter stumbles upon a tape from Walter detailing how he will escort Michael into the future, and to prevent a paradox, will be wiped from the reset 2015. September, who now understands his father-son connection with Michael, wants to go in his place to stay with his son. Windmark also catches on to Broyles, who has been helping the team, and has him captured. Peter and Olivia storm Observer HQ in preperation for the machine by using past Fringe events, and rescue Broyles along the way. Windmark tries one last ditch effort to steal Michael, but Olivia uses the remaining Cortexiphan in her system to kill him by slamming a car into him. The wormhole is opened, but before September can escort Michael into the future, he is shot. Walter knows what he has to do, and he takes Michael into the future. Time is reset, and Peter and Olivia are enjoying the perfect day with Etta in 2015 without the Observers invading. Peter goes home and opens a letter from Walter, containing only a drawing of a white tulip.
There’s almost nothing wrong with this finale. It’s strange to say that, especially for a series with so much stacked up against it that it could easily have collapsed in the eleventh hour. But “Liberty” and “Enemy of Fate” both might have been about as close to perfect as they could get, especially considering how they had been set-up. Part of that might be coming from a screaming fan perspective, for sure—because this episode definitely packs in all the references and emotional gut-punches you could ever ask for and lives up to the hype—but also, it simply sticks the landing. There’s no sneaky last minute twist, per se; we get what we’re promised. Maybe not exactly how we were promised, but nothing feels like a cheat, and there’s still enough surprise to keep it engaging.
In the reviews of “Five-Twenty-Ten” and “Anomaly XB-6783746” there was discussion regarding Fringe using predictability in its favor this season. The same idea goes for the finale, in terms of the plot; the plans to rescue Michael in “Liberty” and beat the Observers in “Enemy of Fate” are all spelled out for us, and they’re executed with as many hiccups as we’d expect, but nothing wildly different from what we’re promised. And we know there’s going to be certain character interactions that are necessary to close the story (Peter and Walter will have a father-son moment, Peter and Olivia will remember Etta, etc.) We got the broad strokes, so all we needed was the color—and it all played out impeccably well. J.H. Wyman has gotten plenty of grief for having too much focus on lovey-dubby sap and not enough on grounded drama in the past couple of years, but he strikes a good balance this time around. “Love” doesn’t save the day like it did in season 4, it’s still fringe science. But with that science comes sacrifice, which ties into the emotional resonance that makes this all so darn good.
The finale-y references were handled adeptly; there was enough to be satisfying, but not enough to make the episode feel oversaturated. The window to the other universe and the white tulip had been teased earlier in the season, and the one hallway packed in some of the most popular Fringe events that hadn’t been revisited. More notable is the fact that we didn’t get shoehorned-in guest appearances (Broyles had already been integrated into the story, so he doesn’t count.) Getting loads of guest stars was one of the best parts of Smallville‘s much less satisfying finale, but it also had a longer history and way more open ends. Like I mentioned in “Anomaly XB-6783746”, Fringe had pretty much closed off all its storylines already, so the final appearance of Blair Brown as Nina in that episode functioned as, well, a final appearance. She didn’t need to be in the final episode, and neither did Georgia Haig, or early cast members like Mark Valley or Kirk Acevedo, or even Leonard Nimoy (which might have been cool, but there wasn’t really a place in the story for him at this point.)
The closest we got was one last visit to the alternate universe in “Liberty”, but it was brief and served only to settle all the worry that Lincoln, Fauxlivia and the gang might be in danger too. As fun as it was to see Seth Gabel and Anna Torv’s alternate character back, we didn’t need to see them more than we did, considering their story already had a happy, satisfying conclusion. We even got a brief moment of regret from Lincoln for not being on the Earth with Observers, which was small, but organic and insightful. Torv’s work as Fauxlivia is also worth mentioning, as she leveled down the energy a bit, as would happen over 20 years, but still retained the spunk and mannerisms that made her different. Also, that Rouge-esque gray streak was a nice touch. Lincoln and Fauxlivia both aged really, really well.
Walter, as the scientist who got all this stuff going back in 1985, is unsurprisingly in the center of this finale. This last season has very much been his swan song above all others (though everyone gets their moment this time around, which I’ll get to.) Singing the praises of John Noble is unnecessary at this point, but suffice to say, pretty much any time Walter was onscreen was a time for teary eyes. He got a few comedic moments too, of course; his contribution of the “cool” Osmium-powered anti-gravity bullets was the best example of the kind of quirky comedy Fringe would pull out even in the most dreary of times. Overall, though, we finally got to see Walter make amends for about the billionth time, but this time it was for keeps. The imagery as he walked Michael into the portal is, of course, a direct parallel to the iconic shot in “Peter”, but a parallel that’s certainly not wasted. It’s extremely fulfilling, in fact. And while I can’t help but agree that the concept behind Walter disappearing in 2015 to prevent a paradox and such doesn’t really make sense, it clicks thematically and gets the reaction that’s needed. The show is vague enough about it that we could play around with the idea and rationalize how that all might work after it’s over. It’s not perfect, but I prefer that to heavy exposition.
Joshua Jackson didn’t get as much to do in this finale as he had in previous weeks (he’s been in the forefront for a big chunk of this season, though, so that’s okay) but Peter’s scenes were all solid. The biggest stand-out, of course, was Peter’s discovery of the tape and the plan. Jackson and Noble’s big, unrelenting hug was beautiful and gutwrenching, and that scene alone was one of the big reasons for the episode’s success. Peter and Walter’s relationship has been a staple of the show since day one, and rose to become the most important part of it overall, so it’s fitting for the finale to emphasize that. And lest we forget Peter calling Walter “Dad.”
One of the biggest surprises was the extent of Olivia’s Cortexiphan abilities here. While Walter gets to be the more mythical hero with his sacrifice, Olivia gets to be the big bad action hero of the finale. It seemed like “Liberty” might be her last spotlight, with the surprising enough exploding light move, but she managed to get a substantial amount of badass moments in “Enemy of Fate.” Powering off the city and finally taking out Windmark (despite the show teasing multiple times that he would be Peter’s revenge-filled kill) was a cheer-worthy moment for Olivia, and a fun way to show her finally in full control of the abilities that have plagued her life for so long. Anna Torv was still far too sidelined in this final season, but she was well-utilized in these last two outings. Revisiting her abilities and letting her use them on her accord to fight back was a terrific way to close out a character who struggled with being vulnerable and used all her life. Revisiting Etta’s bullet to give her that final push was a nice way to bring the season‘s story full circle, too.
Lance Reddick’s only other appearance this season was subpar, but he gets tons of great moments in the final outing. Even in his old age, Broyles gets in on the action, and comes out one of the strongest of the group when in the line of fire. Even Astrid finally gets her due, pretty much solving the final piece of the puzzle for the plan. And she got to participate in two gunfights! And, of course, Jasika Nicole nailed her goodbye scene with Walter in the lab (and Gene the cow!) as expected. Walter finally calling her by her real name, while certainly tailored and expected, is still one of the finest (and most tearful) moments of the episode. Having him note the beauty of the name was just the icing. (Also: Ashcan.)
So, now that time has been reset: does it all matter? Well, Walter saving the world certainly did happen; the letter got sent, somehow, and he presumably blinked out of existence. So they did save the world, even if Walter’s disappearance is the only pseudo-proof of that. The time reset to 2015 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (though I pose a theory in the Odds & Ends section) but thematically, it works to get us the the happy endings. More importantly, season 5 wasn’t so much about character growth as it was giving us, as viewers, a last adventure with the people we loved. As I’ve said all season, we really haven’t learned anything new about our heroes this year. They might have been hardened by their experiences, but by the end they were essentially the same people as they were at “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”. It’s weird to say that, because normally that would mean the season was a failure, but the way it was paid off made it so we didn’t really lose anything, character-wise.
With the exception of Walter, where the characters were at the end of season 4 is where they needed to be, and that’s where they still end thanks to the reset. Walter still had to make amends with himself; he had to traverse time and space with a little boy again, but this time to fix things for everyone else. As obvious as that parallel may have been, it was a beautiful image, and the entire concept of the reset functioning as a plot device without sacrificing any growth is ingenious. The downside is that much of the season was lacking at times because of that lack of growth, the payoff makes it worth it.
Because I have to: there’s still a couple of minor gripes. It seemed like Walter was channeling his darker side during his injections of Olivia in “Liberty”, but nothing really came of it. After all the teasing of him succumbing to his pre-brain removal state, it’s unclear if he became better after Michael touched him last week, or if he was still battling his dark side as “Liberty” would suggest. It doesn’t matter in the end, but it’s frustrating that the story point was never fully paid off. Also, why did Michael step off of the subway, and why exactly was he telling Olivia to be quiet so many times? You could say that the former was a Batman Gambit to get Cortexiphan back into Olivia’s system so she could beat Windmark, which is fair, I guess. But it seemed to play out more like he was just trying to be weird and mess with everyone rather than him actually being all-knowing. But these details could feasibly be explained away.
Every main character gets something to do and has more than a few moments in the forefront. The plot is swift and the tension never fades, the effects and action are strong, everything is focused, and everyone brings their A-game. This is Fringe firing on all cylinders. While the beautifully shot final moment of Peter seeing the white tulip might not have satisfied everyone, it’s bound to be significantly less divisive than most controversial finales of the past few years. And in spite of that, the two-hour event is easily two of Fringe‘s best episodes ever. For a series that changed its plot and style so often and unexpectedly, it’s still always felt like the same off-beat, sometimes-sappy but always emotionally strong sci-fi TV staple. And in that same vein, we get a finale we never would have expected during season one, yet feels like an absolutely fitting way to end that very same series. Good job, Fringe—you pulled out what may be the best series finale in years, and proved yourself to be one of the best shows on TV.
Odds & Ends
- The white tulip here is a symbol, not just for Peter or Walter, but for the show itself and the fans; faith is what kept this show alive and on the air, as well as creatively. It serves as a representation of Walter’s and Peter’s faith that these strange things happened for a reason, as much as it is a thank you to the people who tuned in. That’s quite special.
- I haven’t really mentioned him enough before, so I wanted to point out now that Michael Kopsa has been a fun Big Bad as Windmark this year. He’s inherently not as fun as David Robert Jones and the like, but he was always chilling and intimidating, and portrayed Windmark’s hate-filled arc adeptly.
- I was really hoping we’d get one more novelty title sequence. The opening for “Liberty” could have been alternate universe red, to harken back to the alternating red/blue openings of seasons 2-3.
- Why didn’t September decide to go with Michael in the first place? I mean, Walter wanted to make amends, but even before September had emotions, him going instead of Walter just would have been more logical, right?
- I like to assume that the young maybe-Hispanic alternate Fringe agent we briefly saw was Alt-Charlie’s son.
- Seeing Eugene Lipinski return as December was very cool, as was the mention of August.
- The Hallway of Gruesome Death features Fringe events from: season 1’s ”Pilot” (translucent skin), “Bound” (giant cold virus), and ”The Dreamscape” (invisible killer butterflies); season 2’s “Snakehead” (stomach-bursting squid parasite); and season 3’s ”The Cure” (exploding head from a piece of the Machine.) Also, the Osmium bullets are derived from season 3’s “Os.”
- “You have no idea how lucky you are that this room has no ventilation.” Okay, that was a little too much of a coincidence, as was the third gas mask, but…at least it got Broyles in on the action one last time!
- Though there’s some open-endedness here, I hope we don’t end up getting a Fringe Season 6 comic or something. As much as I’ve enjoyed Smallville‘s continuation, Fringe‘s finale just clicks. There’s going to be some prequel novels coming out soon, but aside from that, we should be good.
- My stupid irrelevant speculation about the reset: A big point season 4 tried to get across was that even with small details changed, we would still turn out as essentially the same people we were destined to be. So perhaps this new new timeline created by the erasure of the Observers, something different happened that distracted Walternate from his cure in 1985, so the events of “Peter” still occurred as they did via the season 4 reboot (with both Peters dying, since September can’t rescue alt-Peter.) Peter still mysteriously pops into existence with memories of a timeline where he survived, thanks to that cosmic power of love bringing him together with Olivia in not two, but three different timelines this time, and the events of season 4 still take place without September, just…slightly different, but with the same outcome. No, none of this really makes sense, and neither does the paradox of September preventing himself from existing in the future, but hey. It’s fun to get a headache about, right? It’s vague enough that it at least leaves that open for us to rationalize and theorize about for the rest of our lives.
- Everyone, please go out and tell someone you love that they are your “favorite thing.”