Fringe, Ep. 4.20, “Worlds Apart”: Bittersweet ep bids fond farewell to groundbreaking chapter

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Fringe
Review, Season 4, Episode 20: “Worlds Apart”
Written by Matt Pitts and Nicole Phillips (Teleplay) and Graham Roland (Story)
Directed by Charles Beeson
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX

This week, on Fringe: Walter and Walternate finally talk, Lincoln didn’t like coffee that much anyways, and Fauxlivia misses rainbows

When Fringe introduced the Other Side, they broke new ground for genre fiction. Plenty of films and TV shows have toyed with the idea of alternate universes, but none have used the trope to do such in-depth character analysis or exploration of identity. Besides giving the cast fantastic opportunities to stretch themselves and demonstrate their range, the Other Side has given the series any number of intriguing storylines, not to mention doubling the character count without doubling the budget.

Great science fiction, aside from telling interesting stories, explores the human condition by distancing its audience from themselves with technology, aliens, far off settings, allowing the writer to examine current socio-political issues without the audience’s preconceptions getting in the way. Fringe has used the Other Universe to do just this, and on a fairly regular basis. While there is still plenty of opportunity for the series to do so without Fauxlivia, Walternate, and the rest of that world, it’s a shame the PtB at Fringe have decided to shut themselves off from this particular area of their creative sandbox.

The fantastic news this past week that Fringe has been renewed for a fifth, and final, season, despite its terrible ratings, can’t help but affect one’s reading of the motivations for this decision. The only way for this show to have come back is with a significant reduction of cost and shooting episodes with doppelgangers can’t be cheap. We also lose Seth Gabel with Lincoln’s decision to stay on the Other Side, which will undoubtedly help keep costs down. Though the sudden loss of so many characters is jarring, it’s well handled and the series wisely devotes much of this episode to goodbyes.

There’s a strong air of melancholy to the proceedings- one gets the sense that everyone involved wishes they could hold on to the Other Side, from the producers and writers down to the cast. It’s cathartic for the audience- usually when characters leave a series, it’s because someone wants them to, be it the writer, the actor, or even the fans (*cough* Nikki and Paolo *cough*). Separated from the business side of things, it’s a strange narrative choice and acknowledging this is smart. As a rule, genre series don’t introduce massive plot twists and then take them away. Imagine The X-Files cutting off the conspiracy with a season to go. Or Alias dropping Rambaldi partway through. Setting aside an entire episode as transition gives this event the significance it deserves.

It also gives certain characters the impetus to sit down and talk. Walter and Walternate have shared very little screen time and their scene is lovely. As with Olivia and Fauxlivia’s scenes, there’s an underlying acknowledgement of the impact these people have had on each other’s lives, the pain that they’ve caused, but also understanding and acceptance, if not quite forgiveness. Watching the actors play such intense and complicated scenes and emotions has been a treat and moments like these will certainly be missed.

Bringing everything back, once again, to David Robert Jones and season one’s looming war between universes gives the episode and arc a nice feeling of symmetry. Should the Pattern somehow tie in, pretty much all of the major boxes from season one will have been ticked in these final season four episodes. It’s somewhat surprising Olivia’s cortexiphan-fueled abilities aren’t even mentioned, particularly considering Jones’ interest in them fairly recently, but perhaps that would have distracted from the larger focus of the episode. Some fans, including commenters at SoS, will be pleased to hear their guess at the purpose of Jones’ Big Boat o’ Monsters verified, and tying this in with “Welcome to Westfield” is satisfactorily logical and gives a much-needed through-line to Jones’ seemingly disjointed schemes over the course of the season.

Next week the two-part finale begins, with the return of Jones and theoretically the September-prophesied death of Olivia (though Anna Torv is undoubtedly not going anywhere). Between this and Walter’s ominous mention of William Bell’s involvement in Olivia’s fate, there should be plenty of story to make up for the loss of the Other Side. We’ll see what the writers and producers’ve cooked up – this has been a strong final string of episodes and, by all looks, it’s going to be one hell of a finale.

What did you think of this episode? Which Other Sider will you miss the most? How does Foeyles still have his job after working, however unwillingly, for Jones? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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