It’s always a pretty exciting thing when a show gets to wrap itself up on its own terms. Too many networks are simply concerned with how long they can keep shows on the air, and are far less concerned with the integrity of the show and/or the execution of its storytelling. I mean, this isn’t a surprise or anything, and it probably makes me sound nïave to even be talking about this like it’s a negative thing that should change (it is, but it won’t). The reason I mention it, though, is because it makes a show like Fringe pretty significant, when you think about it. Fringe was really the Little Science-Fiction Show That Could, managing to stay on the air and somehow dodge the red rubber ball of cancellation while playing in the tiny, tiny gym of the Friday Night Death Slot. Fans of the show almost literally thought it was on the chopping block every single time a season ended, with the exception of maybe the first and second seasons. Against all odds, it would seem, Fringe was allowed to live and then die as it wanted to, and the result was some pretty captivating television. The only problem with the departure of Fringe is that it left a pretty big vacuum. It’s interesting, too, because Fringe was definitely one of the many shows that popped up after the phenomenal success of Lost in an attempt at filling the huge-science-fiction-questions-on-network-television gap that had been left after the latter show’s sixth season. Four or five years ago, we had a pretty good amount of sci-fi on TV. Sure, shows like The Event and FlashForward were not only obviously Lost ripoffs, but they both failed pretty spectacularly. At being good or successful. We’ve had other sci-fi efforts since then, but nothing’s really stuck. Fringe was the only sci-fi show that was good and (sort of) successful, and now it’s gone.
It definitely gave us five magnificent seasons before it left, though. What started out as a monster-of-the-week, X-Files kind of show eventually became something much deeper. We got introduced to a whole other universe, met multiple versions of the same characters, and got mindfucked four ways to Sunday over the course of the show’s run. This whole time, the show’s writers never neglected its emotional core. Throughout everything, Fringe has managed to be a show about a strange little family, and the complicated relationships that form and evolve within it. Fringe has been a show about a few different things — as all good shows will be — but at its core, I think it’s arguable that it wound up being a show about fatherhood. That’s why I thought “The Boy Must Live” was such a beautiful episode: by tying the events of the entire series into September’s relationship with his son Michael, Fringe managed to not only unify the whole series under one single overriding theme, but to tie the stakes of the first four seasons into the very different stakes of the fifth and final season. At the beginning of the fifth season, I was a little wary of jumping to what’s essentially a brand new story like this, but the writers tied things together a lot more neatly than I thought they would.
Fringe was some exciting and fantastic television. Its final season, for the most part, was lean and thrilling. It was an adventure, and it was a fun one to be on. Frankly, though, I think a massive punch was pulled. I know I’ve spoken to at least a few people who were hoping that Peter would wind up inadvertently becoming the “first” Observer (hence the episode titled “An Origin Story”) and would, in a roundabout way, basically set in motion the events that would lead to everything that happened in the series. The show could’ve gone grim, and instead opted to end on a happy note. While I don’t think that the ending of the show was bad by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t ignore how fucking gnarly it would have been if Peter wound up becoming irreversibly emotionless and essentially somehow “fathering” the Observers of the “future” after obliterating the present ones from his time in Earth. Or something like that.
Still, the show ended well. It stuck true to its deepest themes and its truest emotional core, and it did so with an admirable degree of loyalty. You’ll be missed, Fringe.