In its penultimate episode, Fringe delivers a largely perfunctory information dump. Does this make us excited for the series finale next week?
Let’s bitch it out…
I hate to say it, but for me ‘The Boy Must Live’ serves as one of the weakest episodes in Fringe history, largely due to the fact that it’s the penultimate episode of the series. I’ve long championed the importance of emotional resonance over silly things like plot consistency / plausibility, but as the episode progresses and ‘the plan’ to defeat the Observers is revealed, I’m not certain touchy-feely stuff alone is enough for a satisfying finale.
Although it is wonderful to see Michael Cerveris back as September/Donald (thereby getting a further glimpse into the close relationship he’s developed with John Noble’s Walter) the gaping hole in their plan is impossible to overlook. We find out that the all-important child Michael (Rowan Longworth) is an Observer capable of all human emotion in addition to the super-intelligence that defines the Observers.
‘The plan’ is to build a time machine (with September’s knowledge) and go to the moment in time (the year 2167) when it was decided that the Observers must have all emotion stripped in favour of heightened intelligence. If the creators of the Observers can see (through Michael) that it’s possible to have both, then they won’t create the monsters that occupy 2036, and hence, Observergeddon will be avoided.
The future/past will be changed. 2036 will rebooted. We will likely return to Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia (Anna Torv) at the picnic with Etta, and this time they will living happily ever after (groan).
Except for the glaring omission: if they obliterate the Observers at the point of creation, then there would be no September and no Michael to travel back and forth in time. This also doesn’t begin to touch on how Peter would even have been saved as a child, because September wouldn’t have helped Walter at Reiden Lake. The entire plan rests on something that results in so many inconsistencies, it’s difficult to buy into.
Fringe has long been a show that introduces huge plotlines that contradict those that came before it (I’ve griped before about the timeline reboot of last season that was rather sloppily explained) but I just can’t get past the logic problems with this plan. Perhaps I’m missing some key piece of information from episodes past that explains how this will work, but the very fact that I have to mine the archives or hop on Fringepedia is an immediate turnoff. I feel as though good serial narratives have a built-in manageability, allowing nearly any viewer to understand what the heck is going on without having to rely on a ‘fanboy’ depth of knowledge.
This is common with any narrative dealing with time-travel: it seems that the rules need to mapped out beforehand (i.e. is it ‘whatever happened, happened and can’t be changed?’ Or is it, ‘step on a butterfly and you end up enslaved by apes?’). I just feel that the build-up to the infamous ‘plan’ that we’ve been waiting all season for totally fell flat. How anticlimactic will it be if next week we return to that damn picnic scene? As Ryan McGee rightly points out over on HitFix, “If one cannot remember a life lived, does that life matter at all?” What’s the point of salvation if our characters don’t remember anything? Remember how frustrating it was to see Olivia and Walter when they didn’t remember Peter at the beginning of last season?
Olivia seems to burst at the seams with excitement at the idea that she’ll be reunited with Etta once the future is changed, but what about all the growth that’s come from the journey of losing her? I know that sounds like a rather somber sentiment, but what an achievement it’s been for Olivia to wrestle with all her apprehensions about being a mother and loving Peter enough to convince him to remove the Observer tech and return to her? It will be a cop-out to erase all of that. Truly, how would it be different than if the whole series ends up actually being one of Walter’s LSD trips? All season long, Fringe has advocated the “power of love” (which I’ve surprisingly been on board with), but true love requires growth and sacrifice. I don’t see any of that being maintained if this ‘plan’ comes to fruition.
And speaking of sacrifice, we have Walter drop the not-so-surprising bomb that for the plan to work, he has to die. I have no doubt that this will happen, since it feels like the show has been building up to Walter’s untimely, tear-jerking death all season long. But for the sacrificial death of a beloved character to be meaningful, we need to support the rationale behind it. If I’m too caught up in the logistics of time travel/timeline reboot, I can’t imagine being satisfied with losing Walter.
That being said, if tonight is any indication, we can anticipate some excellent moments between Walter and Peter in the lead-up. ‘The Boy Must Live’ includes an absolutely touching exchange when Walter reveals that Michael has granted him all the memories from his former timeline. True to Fringe form, the emotion of the scene helps to (momentarily) overwhelm any questions about the logics of the timeline reboot. Which is fine for now (I can overlook the occasional nitpick), but when we’re talking about the series finale next week, the show’s going to have to do a lot more than a couple of moving scenes.
Ultimately the weakness of this episode lies in its clunky writing. We get some good scenes here and there, but at the end of the day, the episode serves primarily to set up the finale courtesy of a ton of exposition. I hope for the inverse and the plot holes will feel immaterial next week because we’re so caught-up in the emotion and action. At the end of the day, I’ve enjoyed Fringe so much throughout the years, it’s pretty much impossible for the finale to ruin the series as a whole, but I was hoping that it would end in a less predictable fashion than this penultimate episode has set it up to be.
- Though it’s an information dump, we do get some answers to longstanding questions. We now know why there are no female Observers: The eradication of love means that all Observers are created in labs rather than the good ol’ fashioned way. Unfortunately this still doesn’t explain why all the Observers are white…
- The reveal of the Observer Commander is incredibly anticlimactic. He looked like all the other Observers (I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, but it was). Am I the only one expecting he’d have a crown or something? Wouldn’t it have been cool if the Commander was a woman Observer or an Observer of colour? What a wrench that would have thrown into the mix…
- The return of September (aka Donald) proves equally anti-climactic. It’s far too easy for the gang to not only find his apartment, but also to just knock on his door and he’s home? I wish it were more of a quest.
- Even with all of my gripes about this episode, it sure is nice to see the return of ‘the tank’ (from the pilot no less!)
- No word on why Michael gave himself up in the last few minutes of the episode. Since he’s able to communicate a vast amount of information and emotion through his touch, wouldn’t it be great if he could turn all the robotic, emotionless Observers into Septembers, and then the plan wouldn’t need to happen at all. Now THAT would be an ending.
- I do think it’s significant that Windmark (Michael Kopsa) is acknowledging his developing emotions (rage and obsession). The toe-tapping, Jazz-loving Observer is equally important for the same reason: Observers are indeed capable of emotion and can become ‘human’. And Donald is further evidence that once the tech is out of their brains, they’re functioning humans just like the rest of us. Hmm…I wonder if this could also be an alternative to ‘the plan’?
What did you think viewers? Do you think I’m way off with my reaction to this episode? Do you think I should just shut-up and trust the show since they’ve so rarely disappointed me in the past? Perhaps I’m just working through my anxieties about a Fringe-less life. Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments section below.
Fringe airs its two-hour series finale next Friday, January 18 at 9pm EST on FOX.