Goodbyes are hard. Saying goodbye to a show as wondrous at its peak as Fringe would have been a lot harder if Fox had gone the normal network route and cut its run short several seasons ago, which given its fringe ratings would have been understandable if not forgivable (and many still can't forgive Fox for having wielded the ax so mercilessly in the past to other shows of a fantastic ilk, most particularly Firefly).
Fringe's miracle fifth and final season, focused on a future-shock war for survival against the coldly oppressive Observers, was by no means my favorite. But Friday's two-hour finale brought the show back to basics, with action, sacrifice, clever nods to Fringe's freaky past, many flashes of humor and wit — "Because it's cool" (oh, how I'll miss the childlike awe of Walter Bishop) — and, most crucially, the emotional expressions of familial love and deep devotion that not only distinguished Fringe from its genre peers but, in the form of Anomaly Boy/"child Observer" Michael, would ultimately save humanity.
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I'll leave it to others with more detached and analytical minds to parse all the mumbo-jumbo about time-jumping into the future to reset the timeline of the past, and jump-starting Olivia's Cortexiphan powers to let her hop between universes one last time in an elaborate scheme to rescue little Michael from the grown-up Observers. (But how great to reunite, however briefly, with the "other side's" Lincoln Lee and Faux-Livia — double the Anna Torv goodness — still looking pretty good for not having spent the last two decades in amber. And did you notice the news crawl in alt-world that Chelsea Clinton is leading the polls in their presidential race?)
The moments that killed in the Fringe finale were the moments with heart — none more wrenching than Peter absorbing Walter's farewell message (on yet another videotape, what an otherwise tired gimmick) with Walter still by his side, as dad reflects to his beloved boy, "The time we had together we stole. I cheated fate to be with you. We shouldn't have had that time together, but we did." No regrets. Nothing but regrets. The quandary of mad scientist Walter Bishop in a nutty nutshell, and John Noble sold it for maximum effect, allowing us to cry along with him, while Joshua Jackson said volumes by saying little.
I may have loved Walter's benediction to the trusty Astrid (Jasika Nicole) even more. "You always know how to soothe me," he marveled, as Astrid engineers a lovely reunion with the still-ambered form of Gene the cow. How moo-ving when Walter then sweetly tells Astrid how beautiful her often-maligned name is. It was enough to make me choke on my red licorice.
Such a contrast with the villainous Capt. Windmark of the Observers, who reveals to a captured Broyles that his time with the humans has let at least one emotion seep in: "I too feel something. I believe you call it hate." To which Broyles retorts that the feeling is mutual. And whaddaya know, he's right. I'm sure I'm not the only one who cheered when a telekinetically empowered Olivia crushes the Bald Meanie with a thought-propelled vehicle during the climactic battle scene. (Also got a kick out of Peter and Olivia releasing a greatest-hits gallery of grisly Fringe beasties on the bad guys through bio-toxins.)
"Walter, this is not the end," Astrid tearfully declared during their big scene. But we knew better. The motif of fathers sacrificing all for their sons was reinforced by September (a touching Michael Cerveris), the humanized Observer, telling Walter how his literally earth-shattering efforts to save Peter inspired his own paternal feelings toward Silent Michael. Despite Walter's entreaty that "I need this [sacrifice]," September insisted it would be his duty to take the boy into the future, where Michael's fusion of intellect and emotion will provide the evolutionary roadblock to the Observers' master plan. But the ambush at the point of departure cost September his life, so Walter stepped through the wormhole with Michael instead, a pair of temporal paradoxes destined to be deleted in a cosmic reboot.
So the series ends where this season began, with Peter and Olivia enjoying the company of little Etta, frolicking on a family picnic outing that this time is not interrupted by an Observer invasion. Waiting for Peter when they get home is a note from Walter with a drawing of the symbolic White Tulip of Forgiveness (from Season 2's classic episode), an expression of hope and unconditional love.
A happy but bittersweet ending — does Peter understand what this signifies, what was lost to achieve this day (and presumably future) of bliss? — and it's about as satisfying as this kind of poignant goodbye gets. Fringe's departure leaves a void for discriminating sci-fi fans, and who knows how long it will be before we see another show with this sort of ambition, scope and emotional power.
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