‘Fringe’ Series Finale: Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice?

Fringe Finale John Noble

“You are my favorite thing, Peter. My very favorite thing.” These are the words Walter Bishop said to his son before he made the ultimate sacrifice; giving up time with his family in attempt to let that family happily exist. Also: “It’s a beautiful name… Astrid.” Tear. These smaller moments, where the four primary members of the Fringe family expressed their profound love for each other (there were quite a few of them in the 2-hour, action-packed finale) are the ones that will stand out to long-term fans when they look back on the end of this always sweet, always risky, occasionally jumbled series. The rest: Michael’s rescue, the visit to the alt-universe, the (ick) time travel — all helped bring about the characters’ deserved happy ending, though it wasn’t exactly the most thrilling, goose bump-inducing end to a Fringe arc we’ve seen. (Read: “Entrada.”)

Which doesn’t mean that it wasn’t great. Fringe took yet another huge risk when it deviated from the alt-universe story that made up the first four-ish seasons of the show, and it had 13 weeks to prove that that risk was worth taking. I think it was — having the characters alone, in dire circumstances, with nothing but each other as means for survival, was a great final journey for a show whose biggest selling point was always the power of its central relationships. And earlier in the season, particularly with Etta’s death and Peter’s transformation into an Observer, we really got to see these four realize what we knew all along: that they were capable of love in a way that — in the beginning of the series — they wouldn’t have imagined.

“You have a beautiful family,” Olivia said to Fauxlivia, on her final trip to the other side. “Now go save yours,” Faux responded. That’s what made this — Olivia’s final mission — different from the rest. Yes she was saving the world, but she was thinking of her family. Of Etta. Not duty, honor, or the difference between right and wrong — the things that had previously driven this slightly (okay, majorly) emotionally stunted character. After a childhood of abuse and a life of abandonment, the Observergeddon turned Olivia into the wife, mother, and daughter-in-law they all knew she could be.

But strangely enough, Olivia’s journey wasn’t the most touching, or heart-wrenching, aspect of Fringe’s final hours. Lance Reddick told Hollywood.com earlier this week that Peter and Walter would have the toughest go of it this time, and boy was he right. Fans learned last week that in order for “the plan” to succeed, Walter would have to sacrifice himself. We knew it, but that couldn’t have prepared us for the scene where Peter discovered a tape, hidden in amber, that Walter had hidden in 2015 back when he first put together (then scrambled) the pieces of the puzzle.

In the tape, Walter tells Peter that if he’s seeing this, he must have wandered into the lab and found Walter not there. He must have read the letter that led him to the tape. Of course, this isn’t what happened — Walter’s final tape was discovered long before (Or after? Bah, time travel.) it was meant to. So Peter learned of Walter’s decision to take Michael into the future during their last moments together, which was heart-breaking and a great final showcase for these two actors. “The time we had together we stole,” tape-Walter said, surely one of the most memorable lines of the finale. 2015 tape-Walter had finally come to terms with what he had done way back when, and — having forgiven himself — he was able to fully appreciate the time that he had had with his son. Beautiful.

However, this is where I must get nitpicky. Walter re-gained his memories of his time with his son in 2036, when Michael gave them to him as both a gift, and an impetus to do what he knew he’d finally have to do — sacrifice himself for his family. The memories Michael gave him let him know that he was capable of extreme love, and that he had experienced it. 2015 Walter had only had a few years with Peter, and was a much different man than the one we saw in the tape. Yes, he probably would have still made the same sacrifice, but not with the years of happy, stolen time that he was referring to. I really hate to pick on a beautiful scene, and the fantastical elements of this show make many impossible things easy to forgive, but Walter’s tape simply does not work within Fringe‘s confusing timeline. Moving on.

Before we got to the gang’s final scenes together, they had to rescue Michael. The episode opened with big-bad Windmark questioning the boy of many words about why September/Donald had hidden him for so long — because for Windmark he was nothing but an anomaly, and certainly nothing worth saving. Michael’s telepathically communicated answer, of course, was love — a feeling so incomprehensible to Windmark that it made his eyes and nose bleed. Hee. Windmark did not learn about the plan through his interrogation, but he did realize that Michael’s intellect was far superior to the Observers’, and his capacity for love and empathy makes us humans look like a gaggle of sociopaths. So, yeah, Michael was important — important enough to merit a trip to the 27th century, to discuss “The Anomaly” with Observer Grand Master General. “There is no greater danger than that is unknown,” Windmark said, asking permission to kill the boy at once. GMG disagreed: He wanted to study “it” further, and felt that Michael’s role in their domain was irrelevant. 

Clearly, he underestimated Olivia. In a scene that was slightly questionable, given Walter’s extreme love for his family, he injected her several times with Cortexiphan (ahh, the memories!) so that she could travel to the ultimate universe, use its Fringe team’s help to gain access to Liberty Island where Michael was being held (a detail Broyles provided), travel back, and escape, again, via the alt-universe. That’s four journeys in as many hours, in case you were (rightfully) confused, and had lost count. This would take a major told on Olivia’s body, and could even lead to cardiac arrest, so Walter pooh-pooing Peter’s concerns was a little troubling, even though Walter himself saw it as total trust in Olivia. (Which, it can be argued, is exactly how he felt the first time around. Yes, he loves this Olivia and had no feelings for the pint-sized girl of yesteryear, but he was sort of treating her in the exact same way, no?) Again, nitpicking. Again, moving on.

And here, this whole time, we thought we had the better universe. Over on “the other side” the Statue of Liberty was as bronze as ever, the Fringe team still ruled over Liberty Island, Chelsea Clinton was a shoo-in for POTUS (another wink-wink little treat for liberal-minded fans), and Fauxlivia Dunham-Lee and her doting husband Lincoln had not aged. Apparently, the Fringe team over there had spent the last few decades locating the Fountain of Youth. The O-and-Fauxlivia reunion was touching and a necessary gift to the fans, and through Anna Torv’s excellent, subdued facial acting we could see the heartache Olivia felt when — due to Fauxlivia’s obvious happiness — she was forced to think about her own terrible misfortune. “It’s okay,” she said to Lincoln, when he reflected on the insane turn of events over on our side. “I made my choices, you made yours. I don’t regret any of them, and neither should you.” [Ed. Note: Why would he?] “You deserve all the happiness that you got.”

Of course he does! We love Lincoln. He totally got the more fun version of Olivia, who made fun of him for checking out “her young ass.” (That levity was very much appreciated in this emotion-heavy episode, and it’s always been something that Fringe has balanced very well.) FauxLincoln-a (shipper name!) were of course willing to assist with the madcap plan, and it basically went off without a hitch — Olivia teleported to her side of Liberty Island, where the Observers were experimenting on Michael, whose brain seems to be so overloaded with thoughts and feelings that speech, movement, and even facial expression is impossible. Through Olivia’s eyes, because of the Cortexiphan, the whole rescue looked like a Walter-esque acid trip — but, she did it. She shot up a bunch of Observers, grabbed Michael, brought him back to the other side, fought MORE Observers (with FauxLincon-a), then transported Michael back to the other Fringe team over on Battery Park. The goodbye to FauxLincoln-a was rushed, but we’d already sort of made our peace with them last year, so seeing the crazy lovebirds at all was a lovely treat. 

With that, it was time for the end of the end. The Observers captured Broyles, and the Fringe team took Michael back to the lab, where the aforementioned tape scene shattered our hearts into a million pieces. Walter told Peter that he had to travel to the future with Michael to give Peter a chance at having his own family, which, despite the illogicality of the tape, was beautiful. September met up with December — one of the calendar Observers who went blindly on the mission to find a suitable time to raid — and asked him to procure something. He did, traveling forward in time to get it, but it ended up in Windmark’s hands and he ended up dead, because the bad Observers had been monitoring him the whole time. Whatever, he was going to cease to exist anyway. The device would create a wormhole that would allow the Fringe team to reset time.

… Which was problematic, since, you know, Windmark had it. Astro suggested that they use one of those Observer shipping lanes to create a wormhole instead, and sure. Fake science mumbo-jumbo, etc. etc. The team assembled their own personal Delorean, and Walter handed Peter a device that would make Observers float away like balloons. Why, you ask? “Because it’s cool!” Walter replied. (“That makes sense, Walter,” Peter said with a smile. Again, with the little moments!)

Then, my heart grew three sizes that day: Astrid — sweet, wonderful, constantly overlooked and okay with it Astrid — took Walter through the Amber for one last surprise: GENE! Walter had always loved Gene, and seeing Old Bessie (sort of) alive and well in the amber, and how much it meant to Astrid to show her to him, led to the goodbye that these two characters greatly deserved. “You’ll always know how to soothe me,” he said fondly. She assured him that it wasn’t the end, that they’d eat Red Vines and drink strawberry milkshakes in the lab once more, as free men. Of course, Walter knew that that would never be the case. “It’s a beautiful name,” he said as she walked out. “What is?” she replied. “…Astrid.” (Excuse me while I wipe the tears from this sensitive keyboard. Astrid’s smile when he said this burned a hole right through my entire existence.)

Now, enough with the touchy-feely: We gotst a world to save! Windmark interrogated Broyles, and though I thought last week that maybe — just maybe! — Windmark’s interest in human emotion could lead to something positive, I was wrong: “I too feel something,” he said. “I believe you call it hate.” Ugh, kill the bastard. He tried to read Broyles, but got nothing: So the Fringe team brought the fight to him, and not vice-versa. Broyles didn’t get an emotional farewell like Nina, Astrid, or anyone else, really, but seeing him hold his ground to protect Olivia was a nice send-off for the character.

Anyway, time for the final attack — which was another huge treat for Fringe fans, bringing back fringe events from seasons past to torture both Observers and pesky loyalists alike. Intestine-bursting parasite worms! Orifice-closing gas! Giant slug-things! Exploding heads! Evil butterflies! It was like a slightly less intense, more “walk down memory lane”-ish version of the scene in Cabin in the Woods where all of the crazy monsters (my personal favorite: creepy molesting tree) came out and murdered everyone. Luckily, since he was in a room with no ventilation, Broyles remained intact.

The resistance, the Fringe team, and Donald met outside for the final hurrah, after Donald told Walter that he would be the one to take Michael through the wormhole, due to his newfound fatherly love. I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of this, since it was obvious that it would never happen, and led to a somewhat cheap end for a wonderful character. But, I digress. There was a final battle, the highlight of which was seeing A, the floating dead Observers (“Peter! What did I say? That is cool!”) and B, the Cortexiphan-ed Olivia have one last go of it. Windmark appeared to beat the crap out of everyone, so Olivia gathered up all of her emotion (gathered by holding Etta’s bullet necklace) to TURN OFF THE LIGHTS OF MANHATTAN AND MOVE TWO VANS TO SQUISH WINDMARK INTO A BLOODY PULP. Olivia, you bad bitch.

Donald took Michael’s hand to run through the wormhole, and, of course, was promptly shot to death by an Observer. Michael sat down next to him with the music box to play him a lullaby as he passed, which, again — tears, tears galore. The music still played as Walter walked over to take his hand, and two boys, simultaneously, mourned the passing of their fathers — both of whom gave their lives, unselfishly, for a higher purpose. Peter mouthed something to Walter as they took one last look at each other, and it didn’t take a Dunham-level genius to figure out that his final words were “I love you, Dad.” (Sob break, BRB.)

Walter and Michael walked into the light, and we flashed back to a scene we’d seen many times before — only this time, it had a different ending. In the year 2015, in a park, a little blonde girl played with a dandelion. Etta ran toward the loving arms of her father, and met them. Olivia didn’t look away, and an army of bald guys didn’t storm the park to ruin that little girl’s future. Olivia smiled as father and daughter played, and when they returned home for bath time, Peter received a letter in the mail: A white tulip, from his father. Hope.

All in all, it was a beautiful, fitting end to the series. Do I still hate time travel? Yes. Does the fact that the Observers — and thus, September — were erased from existence logically mean that Peter couldn’t have been saved from the lake? Yes, but since time travel opens up the doors to a lot of plot holes cough cough Lost, it’s forgivable for the sake of the larger story. I’ll miss you so, so much, Fringe.

Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna



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