Fringe finale review – The Day We Died

If ever an episode of Fringe has warranted a second viewing, it’s The Day We Died. A spectacular season finale by any standard, the storyline bounced around both universes and Earth 1’s apocalyptic future. Major characters got killed, reborn and simply erased from existence. Astrid got a new haircut to mark the 15 year jump into the future. And Broyles somehow picked up a glowing cybernetic eye somewhere along the line.

Whether it’s because of the change in timeslot to Friday nights or due to something else, Fringe has got decidedly more bonkers with its storylines. I like to think that being in the traditional “death slot” has made the writers push the boundaries even further. But remarkably they’ve managed to deepen the mythology behind the series rather than damage it. Even the leap into the future was perfectly crafted – but we’ll get to that in a minute. Spoilers from hereon in, crybabies.

OK, we pick up the story 15 years in the future, where Peter has been zapped by the doomsday machine. It’s a bit like Quantum Leap – he’s in his own body, 15 years ahead. But unlike Quantum Leap, he’s not conscious of this – future Peter is in control.

Here’s where Fringe lays it on wonderfully thick – Astrid is a field agent now, Broyles has the aforementioned crazy eye, with no explanation of where it came from. The alternate universe has been destroyed – when Peter activated the machine, Earth 2 was wiped out. Walter’s in prison with the pre-requisite beard and more of a stoop than normal – the “most reviled face in the universe” for causing the wormholes between worlds.

Oh, and Walternate has managed to cross the divide and is plotting to destroy our universe. It’s fantastic! 

The thrust of the future storyline is that Earth is essentially doomed. When the parallel universe was destroyed, it set in motion events that will lead to the destruction of Earth. The Fringe team is patching things up, but they’re delaying the inevitable. And there’s a group called the End Of Dayers who simply want to speed up armageddon by bombing the wormholes. The outlook for Earth is so bleak that Peter and Olivia – now married – are concerned about bringing children into a dying world.

Ultimately, it transpires that Walternate is behind the End Of Days group. He leads Peter to an old house and taunts him about how he’s planning to destroy our world. But, in a wicked and unexpected twist, he’s a hologram and as he threatens to kill someone Peter loves, the real Walternate jumps out of a van and shoots Olivia Dunham in the head. *gasp*

While Peter grieves her loss after the lavish Viking burial – yes, two Viking burials in sci-fi series’ in as many weeks – Walter has been preparing to blow our minds with this genius bit of dialogue:

Walter: Peter, I was wrong. You can save both worlds. We can do it all over again. This time you simply need to make a different choice. And should something go wrong, Olivia would be our failsafe.
Peter: Walter, stop. Olivia’s dead.
Walter: But she won’t be. Not then.
Peter: The machine? I turned that on 15 years ago.
Walter: And all the time I sat in prison, I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I know the pieces were buried millions of years ago, but how did they get there? So deep in the past. Now I understand. I sent them there. The wormhole in Central Park, I sent them back through time. Peter, you can stop the destruction before it occurs.

After a bit more exposition, it turns out that the fabled “first people” who planted the parts of the machine were from the present. Fringe agents used the wormhole to put the parts of the machine in the Paleozoic era, which brilliantly ties all of those events from the past episodes, all that mythology, into this one pivotal moment for the story. 

Minds suitably blown? Let’s move on to the stunning climax…

Peter flashes back to his own time, but with the knowledge of the apocalypse to come and how to try to avert it. Using the machine as a bridge, he transports himself and Olivia (plus Walter and a couple of unfortunate lab assistants) across to Earth 2.

Technically, nothing happens. Nothing gets resolved. But Fringe allows us to bask in the cross-dimensional weirdness of Walter being in the same room as Walternate. And Olivia staring across at her slightly hostile flame-haired alternate. You could cut the tension in the room with a blunt scalpel. Peter – armed with the knowledge of what might happen to their worlds – tells the two Walters that they need to work together to avert the end of the worlds. But just as dramatically, he vanishes…

Outside the Statue Of Liberty (our side), a gathering of Observers surrounds the statue. They hint that Peter’s vanishing is because he’s fulfilled his role in bringing the two sides together. That sounds a bit final, doesn’t it? Is Peter gone for good – and is it a paradox if he’s been wiped out? Because if Peter was the reason for Walter crossing universes in the first place, then how did he come to vanish? One thing’s for sure, there’s a full fourth-season order for Fringe, so the writing team on the show have plenty of time to work out the details!

I’ve looked around, and apart from Joshua Jackson appreaking in a film called UFO, there’s no evidence to say that he’s leaving the show.

There was some debate on Twitter this morning as to whether Fringe had eclipsed the great Lost as a sci-fi series. I can’t comment on that, but I will say that this show has developed into something rare and special. The writing is superb, the characters dark, but often funny and very human. Walter’s various food cravings and attachment to hallucinogens always make me laugh. 

I loved the foray into the future and how there was obviously a ton of forethought that went into mapping out where the characters might be. Having Olivia’s neice as part of the Fringe team was an interesting twist, as was Peter’s allusion to their loss in Detroit. I think like the best sci-fi, Fringe manages to immerse us in a fantasy world, but inspires the viewers to be constantly thinking about how that world works and what the characters’ motivations are.

Finally, kudos to John Noble and Anna Torv in particular for managing to play dual roles so well throughout this season of Fringe. Noble, in particular, has garnered our sympathy as Walter Bishop and our scorn as his own alternate. On the other hand, Anna Torv has created a wonderfully nuanced character in Fauxlivia, and it’s harder to see that character as friend or foe at this stage. Certainly, if Peter does reappear at some stage next year, how will he respond to a version of Olivia that already has his child? That sets things up for some serious drama! Imagine being Olivia Dunham and being in a love triangle with yourself?

I loved it – but what did you think of the Fringe finale?

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