Reviews

The Final Season of 'Fringe' Begins for One of the Best Shows on TV

Fringe's Walter is the embodiment of how our noble instincts are corrupted by our inherent ability to ignore the morality of our deeds.


Fringe

Airtime: Fridays, 9pm ET
Cast: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble
Subtitle: Season Five Premiere
Network: Fox
Creator: J.J. Abrams
Air date: 2012-09-28
Website
Trailer
Amazon

Going into its fifth and final season, Fringe has proved itself to be the one and only true heir to Lost. Over the last few years, many shows have tried to replicate Lost’s blend of strong characterization and mind-bending SF, but hardly any have endured past a single season. Fringe, which like Lost was created by J.J. Abrams, has not only survived, but has established itself as one of the best shows on TV.

When it first aired in 2008, Fringe seemed a blatant rip-off of another revered SF show. Attractive blonde FBI agent Olivia (Anna Torv) was paired up with scruffy outsider Peter (Joshua Jackson) and sent off to solve “fringe” cases that defy scientific explanation. They might as well have named the leads Mulder and Scully. The fact that many of the early episodes were monster-of-the-week stand-alones didn’t help stave off comparisons.

Throughout the first season, it was unclear if Fringe had aspirations beyond being a police procedural with a SF twist. Like The X-Files, it planted the seeds of a greater mythology from the very beginning, but it was unclear that it would follow through. Then, in the stunning conclusion to the first season, Olivia found herself face-to-face with the puppet master, William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), in a World Trade Center office in a world where the buildings had not been destroyed by terrorists.

This set up a series of confounding and deeply satisfying twists that led viewers through a shifting landscape of alternate universes, shape shifting double agents, genetic experiments on children, and plenty of interconnected unexplained phenomena. Even better, like Lost, all the episodes soon were feeding into the greater mythology, including those that at first glance appeared discrete.

Even as it's become clear that the show is playing a long game that is rewarding loyal fans, this game also makes it impossible to join the show in progress. Again, like Lost, Fringe is unable or unwilling to make concessions to draw in new viewers. Each new twist makes the overall story hopelessly complicated, which is manna for fanboys and anathema to the ratings.

Season Five opens with yet another reboot. For years, there have been mysterious fedora-wearing men tracking the progress of Olivia, Peter, and his father Walter (John Noble), and occasionally interfering with important events. Nicknamed the Observers, these otherworldly pale interlopers did not seem to be anything but celestial historians who were usually indifferent to human plights. By the end of Season Four, we learned that they were far more sinister than that. The new season's opener sets up the final arc for the series, the war between the Observers and ordinary people.

Fringe is rooted in the concept that such people -- that is, us -- are our own worst enemies. The morality play of Lost shared the view that humans are fallible, but ultimately the real threats on the island were supernatural. In The X-Files, the main antagonists were extraterrestrial. All of the devastation and destruction on Fringe can be traced directly to our own hubris.

Walter is the core of the central paradox that seeking truth can cause untold harm. And so, much of the damage done in two worlds stems directly from his actions. He opened a rift between dimensions when he tried and failed to save his son from a fatal disease. In trying to unlock the potential of the human brain, he created a race of damaged and dangerous superhumans. He even nearly destroyed himself by various manipulations of his own brain, both to enhance its abilities and to forget his own shortcomings. Walter is the embodiment of how our noble instincts are corrupted by our inherent ability to ignore the morality of our deeds. It is one of the great injustices in TV today that John Noble, who has played three different versions of Walter with grace and delicacy, does not have a mantle full of Emmys.

It is always a high-wire act to finish off a series that has become so intricate and byzantine. Even the title of the season opener, "Transilience Thought Modifier Unit-11," is so incomprehensible that it suggests a no-compromise posture for the remaining episodes. Which is exactly what the loyal fans want and deserve. For everyone else, don’t try to engage this show from the beginning of the end. Go back to Season One and watch the whole thing from start to finish.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image