It's the end of the worlds as we know it. And all Fringe Division wants is soup.
"I swear I saw someone walking around with it!" says Jasika Nicole, bubbly and bundled up between takes while filming on a Vancouver lot. With a week left before wrapping Fringe's fifth and final season, the mood on this drizzly December afternoon is unexpectedly light. Especially for folks facing a string of long night shoots involving the ultimate battle between our heroes and their bald overlords, the Observers. "It's going to be big," says Anna Torv, whose Olivia Dunham is already bearing the bumps and bruises of the previous episode's action. "I'll be impressed if we can shoot it in the time allotted."
Not that the show hasn't beaten the odds again and again, having survived several seasons thanks to a fan base stronger than its ratings might indicate. That's why executive producer Joel Wyman has taken great pains to craft a finale he hopes will satisfy the diehards. "I didn't want to come up with more universes or pull any dramatic tricks," says Wyman, who is directing the two-hour finale's last half. "A lot of times a showrunner is in the position to do what they like, because at the end of a series, nobody can tell you what to do. But I owe so much to the fans, I wanted to make sure it was for them."
The countdown to the end has thrown fans into a frenzy. Jumping to a dystopian 2036 set the stage for a series of shocking revelations and goodbyes. None, however, have been just for effect. "We knew that Etta was going to go from the start," says Wyman of killing off the long-lost daughter of Peter (Josh Jackson) and Olivia during a showdown with Observer baddie Windmark (Michael Kopsa). "I wanted to specifically use that character to show that you do not control fate. She fulfilled her destiny."
Now it's time for Fringe to do the same. When it launched in 2008, expectations ran high. Created by the Alias brain trust of J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Fringe had cult cool. The only thing missing? Numbers. And maybe some focus. "The first season was very tough," admits John Noble, the Aussie actor who's won raves as the endearingly damaged Dr. Walter Bishop. "It was all over the place." Wyman agrees: "It didn't know what it was yet. There were some comparisons to The X-Files and things that had been done before, but it wasn't as successful as we had hoped."
And it never would be. The great tragedy of Fringe is that more people haven't seen how Wyman and co-showrunner Jeff Pinkner redirected it from a freak-of-the-week sci-fi series to a deeply emotional, wildly imaginative saga about Torv's FBI agent and her work with Walter, his con-man son Peter, and Nicole's Junior Agent Astrid Farnsworth. They are, as Wyman puts it, "a disparate group of people trying desperately to make a family."
Their ability to create a unit so beloved by the fans amid ever-shifting settings and arcs is a testament to both the cast and the storytellers. "We have gone off into directions I could never have imagined," says Jackson. "Jeff has always talked about each season of Fringe being chapters in a book, because we have gotten to the end of every season, finished off that section and moved on to another story."
For more on Fringe, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, January 10!