A Bittersweet and Perfect Ending


If you've read anything here before, it was likely in praise of the Fox series Fringe and its actors, writers, producers, directors, and crew. That's all I've really talked about for months, because this was the final season and I had so much to say. Like a lot of fans, I’ve been alternating between tears of sadness and joy. Tears of sadness for how it ended and that it ended. Tears of joy for how it ended and that it was allowed to have an ending. I put my trust in the writers and I was rewarded.

Overall, Fringe fans seem to be happy with this terrific and bittersweet finale that becomes more sweet and less bitter as time goes on. While it was an end to the series, as always it left room for a continuing story and we can speculate on where the characters would be now. But there were concerns and disappointments among a small group. They thought the entire season was a waste or there were too many questions left unanswered. The thing is many questions no longer mattered or were inconsequential in light of everything else that needed to be resolved. A series like Fringe is an evolving entity, and the writers may go off in directions they didn't expect. It would dilute the power of the story if they had to go back and explain every last inconsequential thing, so some remain unanswered. Fringe may have a lot of technical detail, but the emotion is the draw.

It makes me sad to see there were people who hated it. Of course, it's impossible to please everyone, so I understand and let it go. What I can't ignore, however, is the nasty conversation I woke up to one day on Twitter more than a week after the finale. A few people were extraordinarily rude to Joel Wyman (writer and showrunner), mentioning him in Twitter conversations so that he would have seen them if he'd been on, and they've continued to try to get his attention. They went on for hours about how he ruined everything and made Olivia into just a wife and mom, while also complaining that she didn't get to hold Etta in the end. They completely reversed their opinion seemingly because they didn't get one moment. They talk about how Olivia did everything for her daughter and act like Peter wasn't just as destroyed by her loss. The season started with Etta running to her father and in the end she reached him. Perfect. Walter gave Peter that precious thing that had been taken from both of them: time. The Observers didn't invade, so we knew all was right. To me it was implied that Olivia, Peter, and Etta lived happily ever after. A single missing scene doesn't change that or make it anything less than a superb conclusion.

I wouldn't have thought anyone who had ever read Joel's tweets or any interviews could actually accuse him of not caring about Olivia or the fans and writing only for himself. I take offense to this because he's been nothing but kind to us. They were completely hateful, telling him that he did nothing for the story, lamenting that Jeff Pinkner had left the show in his hands, and saying that it was all downhill after season 2. That's hilariously inaccurate. Joel wasn't even solely responsible for the direction until season 5. Fringe kept getting better, more emotionally true with every season. This was the immature bullying of Anna Torv obsessives. They said Fringe was about Olivia. That's not the whole truth. Fringe was about family and heart, as I've always said. It all started when a father lost a child. Just because that wasn't revealed from the beginning doesn't make it secondary. Peter and Walter's story was essential. Without it there would be no Fringe.

"It really is and has been a show about heart. So many people with heart have given their heart to the program. I have to believe in some way that because of that, that it connected with people. It was authentic."

And that's why this finale worked, because Joel knew exactly what the show was and he wrote to its strengths. But some people didn't get it and felt the need to throw around insults. They need to realize that, though Fringe was amazing, it is not real life. Joel is not a god manipulating living pawns for his own amusement. He's a storyteller leading characters on a journey that we can follow, rapt in the emotion he's trying to convey. He wrote from his heart, which those who felt slighted tried to hurt with their vitriolic comments. There is no excuse for their behavior. Nothing makes it more obvious that Joel gave everything he had than what Walter says to Peter through tears and a trembling voice: "You are my favorite thing." According to John Noble, it's something Joel says to his own son. The knowledge that he didn't just come up with that beautiful line as a way to make the audience cry turns the most perfect line of the entire series, a line certain to be said to loved ones of Fringies all over the world, into the most beautiful moment of art imitating life. It makes it even more special. If anyone doesn't think Joel was one hundred percent invested, that is the proof right there, so don't ever accuse him of not caring.

As for those complaining about some lingering questions, I look at it as I wouldn't have traded a second to answer them. There were so few episodes in the season that only the most important things could be addressed, and I'm okay with that. I can't even remember what they were right now, since I haven't yet watched every episode multiple times. I don't want to bring up Lost again, but you may have seen me complaining that it posed many questions it didn't answer. So you might think, "But how is Fringe any different?" The difference is Fringe answered the important questions, often many episodes or even seasons later, and never had me exasperated with a refusal to resolve anything. Every season ended with resolutions and led into the next by posing new situations and mysteries. They did nothing less with the series finale. It was an elegant close that left an opening for something more - books (three are in the works), comics (a number have been published already), a movie (we can only hope).

If you watched carefully and remembered the last two seasons clearly, you can see the two biggest headscratchers - Peter receiving the white tulip from Walter and the reset to 2015 - are actually not left solely to imagination. I haven't had the opportunity to rewatch last season, so reading comments helped tremendously. If you were confused about when Walter sent the tulip, remember that September told Walter about the invasion in the last scene of season 4. It was at some point after this they started the tapes, and the tulip must have been the final piece, to be delivered on the day of the invasion. It reached its destination after the reset. Seeing that part wasn't necessary and, after learning that Walter "lost" the tulip, it would have lessened the impact of the last scene. It was a beautiful way to wrap Fringe, with a nod to what the audience collectively latched onto as our symbol of the show.

Related to that, some wondered how Walter even received the tulip in the rewitten timeline of the last two seasons. If I remember correctly, a number of the same cases still happened without Peter. I assume the events of "White Tulip" weren't changed. Walter wouldn't have told Peck he was looking for a sign of forgiveness from God had he not crossed over to save Peter, had Walternate not been distracted by September, or something else if Observers truly no longer exist. I was just reminded by September's Notebook that Walter never received his sign of forgiveness in the new timeline. I knew this, but in the year since I've seen the episode I completely forgot that it was the alternate Elizabeth who gave him this peace of mind in the fourth season. This must mean that September took the tulip at some point, though it's unclear if he mentioned when. I also don't know if he told Walter about the case involving the White Tulip, but Walter certainly remembered after Michael restored his original timeline memories. I'll have to watch the final episodes again for everything to click into place.

Another question was, why didn't altering the course of human evolution erase Peter? I was wondering this when I went to bed and ideas kept rattling around in my head. I just couldn't grasp it until after a good sleep, and some theories of others helped me to come upon a realization. It makes sense when you think about the finale of season 3. Peter disappeared when September didn't save him in the timeline of season 4. He became an anomaly that defied reality. Peter survived independent of either timeline, so he couldn't be erased again. Yet the memories of everything that happened continued to live on in him and the people he loves. That makes it all worth it. If this is all wrong, I can find out with this month's SFX magazine.

And it's not that season 5 didn't happen. Time resets bug me in other stories because they always cause memory loss, making it seem like nothing really mattered, voiding character growth in the process and leaving the viewer to wonder what the real point was. Fringe is the only story that has done it right. Though Olivia and Peter's time has been reset, memories bled through before. They could well do so again. Olivia regained her memories of Peter, even though this version of her never experienced them. Walter was gifted with every poignant and treasured father-son moment that had been lost to him. All that mattered was restored, as it was meant to be. I would want them to remember the devastation of the loss of Etta, how Olivia saved Peter's humanity, and that Walter set the world right. Some people are certain with the way the camera lingered on Olivia's face that she remembered something, and others say the way Peter looked up sharply at the end meant that he knew. I'd like to think so. But at the least, I will assume that the tulip, though a sign of forgiveness for Walter, will give Peter hope and peace. I wouldn't want the entire season to be forgotten forever, but at least it happened for Walter. Knowing that for certain is more than enough. That he remembers regaining hope in the taxi listening to "Only You" is all that I need.

One other thing I heard concerns about is that Walter doesn't exist anymore or that he should have been erased from the past, too. Wow. Way to pay attention. It was actually said that Walter would be removed from the time period after the reset not that he would cease to exist or that he would be forgotten the way Peter had been. He left the tulip and the tape explaining what he had to do. He didn't cease to exist. He just took a one-way trip to the future. He can't be in two places at once. And just because Walter said he could never return that doesn't mean goodbye forever. This is science fiction, where anything can happen. Walter or Peter or someone could figure out a way. Walter isn't all-knowing. It's his assumption based on his current knowledge. But for now it's goodbye, and it was beautiful. 

Why do I think it was it beautiful? I believed Walter already had more than enough pain, so why didn't I hate this separation the way I always thought I would? Why didn't Walter get the time he should have had with Peter? Walter always felt like he needed to atone for his sins. He felt he never deserved the time he stole. This was not out of the blue, like so many shows where suddenly there's this new facet of a character that was never before hinted at that we're supposed to believe. This was redemption for Walter, saving the world. Though he thinks he will never see Peter again, he could let him go to be with his family, to get the time he lost with Etta, to have Olivia truly be happy again. That's what Walter could do for Peter, and as a father he felt the need to. A family who loves each other will do for each other, and sometimes there is no other way out. Walter was my favorite character and the fact that he could sacrifice his own happiness for others is true character growth and made me proud to have loved him. He didn't take the selfish way out. He was a hero in the end, my favorite hero. 

Beyond this I have no other theories, but that's probably because I have no other questions. The ones that really mattered, the big ones, I have a grasp on. In a complicated show like this there are little things that don't get answered, because so much is going on and stories are ever-evolving that certain details just cease to matter much, which is something Joel Wyman admitted to. The larger mysteries are the ones that need solving and there's not a lot of time in TV to do so, especially when the end is so close. The focus must be the main characters. I remember people mentioning little things with Olivia's memory, which I overlooked because I was so wrapped up with the emotion and talking about that aspect of the show. I guess they weren't significant enough to mention i the last episodes, or they were just errors, or I missed something that Fringepedia will clue me into later. Easily forgiven. Whoever took care of  Etta as a child isn't too significant to me either, as there was no room to fully explore her past in this rush to the finish. As I said, I wouldn't trade a moment. I would not be opposed to more, though. Hopefully, we'll get some great deleted scenes on the boxed set this May. 

As for those who had problems with the entire season, well I can't really help anyone there. That's just too much to address. Some had problems with the pacing. This is a pointless complaint to me. I never thought things were happening to fast or too slow. I took it as it came and it all felt organic. Some hated the tape hunt and thought it went nowhere, but I found no fault. Not everything in life goes according to plan, not everything can be controlled. It was a fun experiment, different every episode. Each year they mix it up and I'm always delighted, because so many shows get stuck in a rut, boring me until I quit or they are cancelled. This season had as many incredible moments as any. Even so, there are always those who have something to complain about and can't see that the acting and dialogue are more important than any small technical details. I even saw arguments about the timeline reset, sure they know the rules of something that doesn't actually exist. Storytellers can bend and break rules to create an extraordinary story, and that was accomplished here.

Others had no patience or a short memory for what Fringe always was. How it ended was exactly Fringe: unpredictable, gut-wrenching, and true to the soul of the show. I was the happiest I've ever been with a finale and the saddest, because we were losing something that felt so fundamental to television. It was the kind of bittersweet that you don't regret. It was the most satisfying series finale (and series) I've ever seen. I have loved very few finales before and Fringe tops those few. I loved every moment, the funny and depressing alike. I feel I need more and I feel it was enough. I am fulfilled and there is a hole in my life. I will always miss Fringe. I will always miss these characters. I will always miss these performers. I will always miss the honest heart of the narrative that's so very rare. There is not a whole lot out of television out there to deeply connect to. Oh, there's plenty to pass the time until the next exceptional thing comes around, but most series could be dropped without a second thought. I think the end of Fringe is going to inspire me to cut some of the shows that only fill dead space. 

Well, there it is. The end. I treasure every minute of this vastly underrated series. In "The Boy Must Live," Walter said to Peter, "I didn't think it was possible to love you more." This surprised me and a huge smile spread across my face. I have said this exact thing a number of times about Fringe. I always got to a point where I thought I loved it as much as possible, but then they did something to break through that certainty. Even though it's over, I'm sure my love for it will only continue to grow.

Now I leave you with the first fan video I saw after the finale, made by Beliveinwonder. It is an absolutely wrenching tribute and the tears came like a flood. The magnitude of it hit me all at once and it was too much. Fan videos have brought up emotions before, but I've never openly wept.

Just a minute ago I saw this video by the always amazing maitikaHan. I've been meaning to watch for the last few days. Glad I didn't forget it.

And one final time, the cast thanked the viewers.

Edit: For an insightful analysis of Olivia's journey, read Fringe Finale and Series Thoughts. It mentions the memory lapses and Resist posters being the product of Olivia's ability to manipulate reality. I never even thought of that. I had first assumed that those were going to be explicitly explained at some point. I haven't restarted the season yet, so it didn't click for me. I wondered about the posters at the top of buildings where a normal person couldn't have reached. I wondered about the posters falling down or being taken down, but I thought that was because the world at large didn't believe the resistance could be effective and that was the visual to represent a world that had no fight left in it. I even missed or forgot about the future dates on the missing children posters of 2015. I'll be looking for these things on second watch. Fringe has always been very deep, rewarding those who view multiple times.


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