Yet another sad day looms in the world of adventurous, interesting TV.
The final episode of Fringe airs this Friday US time (it also functions as the series’ 100th episode), and behold it makes this fanboy mighty sad.
If one thing has become abundantly clear as you read my various entries, I am a huge fan of science fiction generally, but more specifically, wholly original, inventive takes on the genre that dare to take you to rarely reached and highly imaginative places, all the while challenging the notion of what it means to be human.
In lesser hands, that kind of narrative theme could be leaden and unwieldy but in the hands of creative types wishing to not just push that envelope open but rip to tiny itty-bitty shreds and go busting out the other side in their pursuit of great storytelling and engaging characters you want to spend time with, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Such has been the case with Fringe, which first sprang from the creatively fertile hands of J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (ongoing, Abrams, Bryan Burk and J.H. Wyman served as executive producers with Akiva Goldsman as a consulting producer), which started its remarkable five season run as a “weird thing of the week” show on September 9, 2008.
While the first season was a bit hit-and-miss quality-wise as the series worked to find its storytelling rhythm, one thing it had going for it from the get-go, and which drew me in straight away, were compelling characters that made you to go with them through whatever fresh, almost-unearthly phenomenon awaited them in that episode.
Yes there were hints of the dark, menacing conspiracies to come, but what (or should I say who?; well I would if the resulting sentence wasn’t a grammatically grotesque monster, which given the show may be quite apt) compelled me to park myself in front of the TV (or least activate my faithful PVR) was the ultimate band of odd couple-esque personalities – Olivia Dunham, FBI agent (Anna Torv) who is a troubled survivor of illegal drug trials as a child, jack-of-all-trades Peter Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and dancing-on-the-edge-of-sanity Dr Walter Bishop (John Noble), all flawed in their own way but all seekers of the truth, both human and otherworldly.
They were joined by Special Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) and ever-faithful Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), and oddly enough a cow (non-speaking part of course) and at turned helped and stymied by the enigmatic head of Walter’s old company, Massive Dynamic (in league with Dr Robert Bell played by sci-fi legend Leonard Nimoy), Nina Sharp.
As the series progressed, its storytelling became ever richer and more complex with the introduction of a parallel universe, the inhabitants of which (which doppelgangers of Walter and Olivia, affectionately known as Walternate and Folivia) viewed our world as mortal enemies, largely because it was believed, quite correctly as it turned out, that we had led to the savage and to all intents and purposes, irredeemable devastation of their world (this had occurred when Walter stole that universe’s Peter back to replace his own lost son).
But through season 3 and into season 4, it emerged that the truth was quite a bit more complex than that and gradually suspicions were addressed, friendships formed, and mutual enemies vanquished as they faced threats as diverse as a resurgent Dr Robert Jones (series 1’s big villain), the Observers (who jumped on to the main stage in season 5) and a whole spectrum of bruised and flawed humanity who saw salvation, usually erroneously, through their devotion to one scientific pursuit or another.
But whatever the threat, what came through again and again was the titanium-strength relationships between all the characters, whose interactions were given a chance to breathe by writers well aware that there was no point in startling and yes even shocking us with the gruesome realities of life (or at least life as they imagined it) if we didn’t truly, deeply love the people facing them week after week.
And so we fell in love with Peter and Olivia (who incidentally fell in love with each other not once, but twice) and the quirky eccentricities of Walter and his inability to ever get Astrid’s name right (well at least until the final episode of season 4 anyway which had been produced as a finale of sorts should season 5 not be approved) and happily went with them to alternate universes, the almost-ends-of-the-world and into the darkest recesses of human ambition and greed, and marvelled that they somehow managed to keep their humanity intact throughout.
That is why I will be mourning the end of this fine, criminally under-watched show which deserved so many more eyeballs glued to its screenings.
Fringe managed the almost impossible task of being daring and scary and thrilling and shocking all the while remembering that at the heart of every story – Hollywood blockbusters please take note – lies the hopes and dreams of beautifully crafted characters and the relationships that bind them together.
So whether our plucky band of dystopian revolutionaries succeed in their quixotic quest to free an enslaved humanity from the cruel, dictatorial control of the sartorially-impressive, but emotionally-dead Observers, or whether they fail miserably (my money’s on the former by the way), what I, and I suspect others will always remember is that in spite of the odds, Olivia and Peter and Walter stuck together to the very end.
Thanks for a thrilling (and emotionally-meaningful) ride guys – now go whoop some Observers arse for us will ya?!