Fringe: Gone but not forgotten

ImageFringe is one of those rare, rare creatures: a genre television show that gets to conclude its story on its own terms. For every Fringe, Lost or Battlestar Galactica, there are a dozen Fireflys, Dollhouses and Jerichos. Its unusual enough that a show displaying originality, strong characterisation and thoughful plot development comes along. Its even more unusual that the creators of such a show manage to maintain the ratings and creative control necessary to bring their story to a satisfying conclusion.

With Fringe, it looked unlikely for a while there that we would ever come this far. The conclusion of each season since the second has brought doubts over the show’s future. Many fans, myself included, had even resigned themselves to witnessing a premature death and an unsatisfying conclusion, given that the show was produced by the Fox Network, who were responsible for cancelling shows such as Firefly, Wonderfalls and Undeclared. Yet they stuck by Fringe.

Changing times

What started out largely as a procedural ‘monster of the week’ kind of show in a similar vein to The X-Files (but with crazy scientists instead of aliens) developed over the years into something much more compelling. The mythology – which included a parallel universe, semi-omnipotent time travelling beings, a drug capable of bestowing super-human powers and a futuristic dystopian society – was complex and engrossing, yet it never seemed at risk of collapsing under its own weight (see Lost).

As the show struggled to stay alive, the writers were driven to up the ante, taking advantage of whatever time they might have left. During the first two seasons, a casual viewer could tune in and enjoy a crazy, but generally self-contained, story. As the desire to draw these viewers became less of a factor, the compelling, idea-driven story lines quickly took over.

All good things

And so we came to the finale. I have to admit that, during the first half of the last season, I was beginning to have my doubts. Its not that it wasn’t enjoyable and compelling – it was (and I’m never one to complain about a good old-fashioned dystopian future). Yet I had my doubts as to whether they were moving towards a satisfying conclusion, and the near-total separation from previous story lines left me feeling like I was watching a different show.

I shouldn’t have worried. Fringe has a history of making game-changing alterations to its setting and story lines (shifting the action to an alternative universe or changing the timeline so a key character no longer exists) and has proven before that its characters and themes are strong enough to carry it through.

It was perhaps inevitable that the final series should focus to some degree on The Observers. They have always been there in the background; they are the show’s most enduring and unexplained mystery. Now I’m glad they were put front and centre in the Fringe team’s final conflict. Fringe toyed with plenty of ideas over the years, but the dangers of the abuse of science has been the most enduring of them all. The Observers represent the pinnacle of such misuse – what we might become should we forgo emotions entirely in our drive for scientific knowledge.

Thinking of the fans

I’m not going to argue that Fringe is a particularly important series because of its characters (though I did love the characters – Walter Bishop, in particular, will always have a place in my heart), its writing (often cheesy and overly-sentimental) or its story (wonderfully bizarre and unrestrained though it was). What is important is that it finished on its own terms. It wasn’t prematurely cancelled and it wasn’t stretched out beyond recognition to wring out as much profit as possible. It seemed as though the creators had the freedom to take their stories and characters where they thought they needed to go.

At the same time, Fringe displayed an endearing self-awareness. It knew what it was, what it did well and what the fans wanted to see. The final episodes paid tribute to the show in a number of pleasing ways – we saw Walter take acid one final time, we witnessed Olivia injected with Cortexiphan and visiting ‘the other side’ – a clear indication not only that the creators were confident in their knowledge of their own creation, but also that they understood that their fans loved Fringe for much the same reasons they did.  

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Fringe will get its finale!

ImageIf, like me, you have very much enjoyed entering the odd and unpredictable world of Fringe on a weekly basis, you’ll be glad to hear that the show has been renewed for a fifth and final series. Despite its ailing viewing figures, Fox has seen fit to renew the series and, since we are more used to Fox crushing our dreams (the cancellation of Undeclared, Wonderfalls and Firefly are the ones that still hurt the most), I thought it prudent that we give them their dues on this occassion and vocalise our appreciation for what they have done here.

Fringe fans have long feared the worse. A series has not gone by without a perpetual feeling of fear that the end is just around the corner and that we’d never get to see any conclusion to this bizarre, multi-faceted story.

When the first series premiered it was billed as the latest compelling densely-plotted mystery from the creator of Lost and received the viewing figures that reflected this promise when more than nine million people tuned in. Fast forward to series 4, and the series premier figures had fallen to 3.5 million.

Yet Fox has stuck with it and now we will get to see a conclusion to the story in this (altered) universe, the other universe and the dystopian future we have only just glimpsed.

Fringe is unlike any other show on TV. The blend of technology, old and new, and the fantastic has resulted in a feel that is futuristic (thanks, in part, to the super-advanced ‘other universe’) and grungy at the same time. The sheer volume of science fiction concepts thrown in (time travel, science-induced superpowers, omnipresent observers and alternate universes, to name the big ones) and the main focus of exploring the possibilities of the human mind, has created not only a platform for exploring interesting ideas, but also a story that is as unpredictable as it is just plain nuts. I for one am glad the showrunners will have an opportunity to create a satisfying conclusion.

Click here to read what the President of Entertainment and J. J. Abrams have to say.