Fringe, Ep. 4.22, “Brave New World (Part 2)”: Finale makes most of troublesome setup
Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 22: “Brave New World (Part 2)”
Written by Jeff Pinkner, J. H. Wyman, and Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Joe Chappelle
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
This week, on Fringe: Bell monologues, Walter shoots, and Olivia smiles
It’s been a mixed season for Fringe. After last year’s shocking cliffhanger, much of the beginning of season four dealt with the fallout of Peter’s deletion. 22 episodes later, we’re in much the same place as we were then. Peter and Olivia are together and happy, Walter is comparatively well-adjusted, thanks to Peter’s influence, and mad scientists keep insisting on cropping up to make trouble. David Robert Jones filled this role well, but he’s already been dealt with, so we’re back to Belly as the mysterious villain. Perhaps the most significant change this season was the addition of Lincoln Lee as a permanent fixture in both Universes. However, with Their Lincoln dead and Our Lincoln Over There, even this development seems disappointingly fleeting. After the viewers’ investment of a season’s worth of time and energy, it’s become increasingly clear that neither the characters nor the series as a whole have grown in any significant way since last season. Fortunately, the journey’s been fun, and perhaps that’s enough.
The finale acts in many ways as an encapsulation of the strengths, and weaknesses, of the season. There are a number of lovely moments and scenes dedicated to character. Olivia’s distressed conversation with Peter at the precinct perfectly demonstrates these characters and their relationship and their late episode scene at the hospital is wonderfully played, with plenty of dialogue left off the page and trusted to the actors’ performances. Walter’s acknowledgement of Astrid by her given name is another nice, and telling, moment. Even Nina’s interaction with Olivia at the Harvard lab is filled with personal touches. Whatever flaws Fringe may have, it has almost always excelled at humanizing its leads and keeping their emotional journeys in tight focus, and this is certainly the case this week.
Much of the pseudo-science of the season has been fun, particularly when used to facilitate an intriguing sci-fi concept. Here it’s Jessica Holt and her Frankenstein bolts. Rebecca Mader is fantastic as Dead Jessica and her interrogation is downright distressing. As Bell points out to Walter (more on that later), they truly have been playing God for the entire run of the series and this scene puts that in stark relief. This is a nice piece of symmetry with season one (and considering the ratings, the writers would be forgiven for including so many season one callbacks thinking this would likely be the series, not season, finale), but this time, the concept is executed far better and far more strangely. Cortexiphan’s newfound regenerative properties may smack far too greatly of retcon, but they were appropriately seeded in part one and pay off well enough over the course of part two.
Unfortunately, the finale’s problems are indicative of the larger issues that have marred the season. The large-scale arcs have faltered. Here we see this with the use of Bell. While it’s interesting to have the return of season one megalomaniacal mad scientist Bell countered with sweet, adorable Walter, Bell spends a majority of his time monologuing. We never do find out just what he’s started, or how, so the why needs to sustain our interest. However, it’s nothing a million genre fans haven’t seen before- a brilliant man, twisted by life, decides he’d make a better God. Leonard Nimoy may nail his delightfully scripted, “I am”, but the best performer with the best dialogue can’t make this storyline feel anything but clichéd. The larger arc issues don’t stop there, but perhaps it’s best not to go into September and the magic flashy paint of immobility (Supernatural has been doing this one for years. ‘Course, that show has magic, so a chalk symbol stopping people from moving actually makes sense).
Then there are the plot holes and wasted moments. If Olivia’s out of Cortexi-juice, how do Olivia, Peter, and Walter get back to Our Side with the bridge closed? More frustratingly, after almost no time with Broyles either in this episode or all season long, we finally get a scene featuring him and it tells us nothing about what he’s been doing or how he’s feeling about it. Are we to intimate from his moment with Nina that those two remain an item in the Newniverse? That’s potentially interesting, but we’re immediately distracted from it by wondering how Nina will run the Fringe lab when she’s currently running Massive Dynamic.
Though the good doesn’t wash away the bad this week, and perhaps this season, the bad also in no way negates the good. The performances are excellent across the board, the storylines the PtB have chosen to embrace are well executed, and Olivia’s Cortexi-bilities are downright cool. September is always intriguing and is by far the most interesting and affecting of the Observers, thanks to the enigmatic performance of Michael Cerveris, and hopefully his end of episode warning will mean an increased role for him over the course of next season. The episode is well produced, with solid cinematography, scoring, editing, and effects, and if forced to choose between well-made though inherently flawed character-driven sci-fi and intricate, fully fleshed-out and arced plot-driven sci-fi, the former will always be preferable, to this fan at least. However, Fringe has proven itself capable of both, and it’s a shame the pieces, strong as they may be, don’t quite come together this year. Fortunately, this isn’t the end, and fans can look forward to seeing the writers and producers recover and find their feet in season five.
What did you think of the episode? What did you think of the season? Where do you think the PtB will go next? Post your thoughts below!