Fringe, Ep. 5.12-13, “Liberty”/”An Enemy of Fate”: Heavy-handed finale delivers with character, if not plot

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Fringe, Season 5, Episode 12: “Liberty”
Written by Alison Schapker
Directed by P. J. Pesce

Fringe, Season 5, Episode 13: “An Enemy of Fate”
Written by J. H. Wyman
Directed by J. H. Wyman
Aired Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX

This week, on Fringe: Olivia goes for a final jaunt Over There, Michael goes back to the future, and Peter gets a tulip.

After five seasons of interesting, thought-provoking genre television, Fringe wraps up its 100 episode run with these two installments, aired back-to-back. Throughout the series, character and philosophy have been the cornerstones for what could easily have become a predictable freak-of-the-week procedural and these priorities are clearly evident in the finale. While elements of the plot will leave some viewers puzzled and others annoyed, the crux of the show, its characters and their relationships, is intact, providing a heartfelt, if not wholly satisfying, goodbye.

Much of these two episodes are, when stripped of the aforementioned character beats, little more than setup for the final climactic moments. Characters make decisions for little reason besides the plot necessitating it. Michael steps off the train so Olivia has to cross over to the Other Side so she has cortexiphan left in her body so she can smash Windmark and we can get a satisfying Momma Bear moment. September offers to take Michael so that Walter can think he has a reprieve so that when September dies, there’s added drama to Walter’s sacrifice. Most of these justifications feel hollow, but fortunately there’s enough fun going on around them to distract, if not cancel them out.

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We get another chance to see Fauxlivia and Lincoln (though neither seem to have aged anywhere near as much as Broyles and Nina- perhaps they have better moisturizers on the Other Side?). Gene is still there, tucked away in amber. And darn it, Walter’s right- anti-gravity bullets are cool. It’s fun to see the Other Side again (woulda been nice to hear that suggestion pop up earlier this season, even to be shot down as too risky). It’s a great reminder of the series’ mastery at character doubling (especially in the same frame) and, though the previous send-off of the Other Universe characters was far more affecting, the brief scenes between Olivia and Lincoln, as well as Olivia and Fauxlivia, are wonderful.

Astrid, and by extension Jasika Nicole, has been utterly wasted all season and could honestly be cut out of this final season entirely, her two bright ideas here given to someone else, without much fuss, a true disappointment and indication of the PtB’s lack of forethought and planning. That doesn’t make her goodbye scene with Walter any less touching and beautiful. Walter’s early decision to accompany Michael may feel contrived (for a show so obsessed with fathers and sons, September’s delay in insisting that he take Michael seems very strange, especially when compared to his didactic The-Show’s-Theme-Is-Love! turnaround), but that doesn’t negate the wonderfully touching hug between Walter and Peter, who’ve come so very far from “I thought you’d be fatter”.

Most of these episodes play out exactly as fans could have predicted and yes, there are significant plot holes (If the Observers never exist, September is never there to distract Walternate, so Walter never has to cross universes to save Peter, so the worlds never crack, so no Cortexiphan, so no trials on Olivia, etc. etc.). Some, this reviewer included, will see this as a frustration and significant flaw. Others won’t care a jot and will tell us nit pickers to lighten up. Either way, for what these episodes set out to be, a character-centric goodbye and love-letter to the incredible fan base that kept this show on the air far longer than almost anyone anticipated, they succeed incredibly. Are they the best Fringe has to offer? No. But they are true to enough of the spirit of the show that they allow the series to go off into the sunset with its head held high.

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For 100 episodes, fans have been treated to thought-provoking science fiction centered on some of the most nuanced takes on genre types we’ve seen on network TV. An often child-like Dr. Frankenstein who’s aware of what his time playing God has cost the world and yet might still make the same choice. A plucky, determined young FBI agent with a history of child abuse and abandonment (and serious trust issues). A bad-boy rebellious son who doesn’t play by the rules, mostly because part of him has known since he was a child that his entire life was a lie. Each character had the potential to be little more than the stereotype many lesser shows succeed with. Instead, audiences got fantastic performances from John Noble, Anna Torv, and Joshua Jackson that grew more nuanced over time, unlike the caricatures into which many multi-season characters devolve.

This was a visually impressive show, from its cinematography and camerawork to its creative integration of onscreen text into each environment. It was a show that took risks, with everything from musical numbers to animation to doppelgangers for just about everyone. It was a show more concerned with whether memory, experience, personality, or something else entirely makes up a soul than catching bad guys and wrapping things up with a bow. In short, it’s a show the likes of which we won’t see again for a long, long time, and that’s one hell of a shame.

What did you think of this finale? Now that we’ve seen the payoff, what do you think of season five? Anyone else dying to know what this amazing cast does next? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

  1. Boris Karlkoff says

    I have expected someone to say what I am about to say during the year and half, no matter…

    Actually, the plot is almost brilliant. You could say that the whole Peter disappearing from existence at the end of season 3 exists only so as to ensure that the time paradox Walter is creating won’t affect him. And, as September mentioned in season 4 The End of All Things, Peter’s “shared future was meant to spring” from Olivia whom you say he would never meet, because there would be no cortexiphan trials, if the universe would not break. The season 5 Black Blotter episode suggests that Walter might have still broken the universe, and there are multiple references that suggest Peter might have not lived long or not in the parallel universe. Yes, the evidence is circumstantial, but I would not doubt the workings of the paradox as much as its explanation. I believe the lack of uncertainty in Peter’s response is a bigger shortcoming than any theoretical concern.

    As for the singularity of your explanation for Michael stepping off the train, I find that to be the basic problem of your review. Fringe usually provides more reasons for any single action and we can just as knowingly assume that if not for Michael getting out, the train would have been searched. Fringe is hardly based on singularity as your review seems to suggest far too often.

  2. Steve Cook says

    This is the reason I am glad I’m not a TV critic. I didn’t have to worry about the contrived plot lines, I could just sit back and enjoy every single minute, which I did.
    There has never been a show, in that genre, that began to compare with Fringe. And, sadly, there probably never will be again.

  3. Dan Heaton says

    Kate, I agree with most of your points about the plot. I didn’t consider just how much would change without the Observers. I think the main reason those slide is because of the connection to the characters that you mention.

    Astrid didn’t get enough to do, but I was still glad to have her on the show. The scene with Gene was priceless, as was the moment with Peter and Walter after the video. It’s those moments that will stick with me long after the plots have been forgotten.

    I agree that Season Five wasn’t the best of Fringe’s run, but it was still an interesting serial experiment that was solid TV. It’s still amazing that it even happened given the ratings. I’ll definitely miss it.

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