Recap: 'Fringe' Finale - 'The Day We Died'
Fringe ends its third season with a finale head-scratching on every level
So can “Fringe” make me forget this hour ever happened, the way that it made everyone in the show forget Peter ever existed?
OK, that’s a strong statement. And not entirely accurate. But let’s be frank: that was a 55-minute dream sequence followed by five minutes that set up Season 4. And while predicting that last five minutes was essentially impossible, the fact that everything we saw unfolding up until that point was either 1) a potentiality or 2) a reality that would be undone at some point robbed the proceedings of anything resembling drama or tension. And that’s a shame. I’ve championed this show long before covering here at HitFix. I’ve reviewed every single hour of it. And I’m not sure I’ve been more disappointed by any single episode of the show more than I was by this one.
[Full recap of Friday's (May 6) "Fringe" finale after the break...]
That’s not to say it was the show’s worst hour. Far from it. But let’s compare/contrast what the show did with Earth 2026 as opposed to Over There. The latter had one thing that the former didn’t: stakes. That world was foreign to us, but home to people that we came to care about. That was due not only to the amount of time narratively spent over there, but the knowledge that they were in the same predicament as those Over Here. By playing with both perspectives as equally valid, “Fringe” played with the notion of perspective in narrative with a deft hand. Know how they say history is written by the victors? We the audience spent the year on the outside looking in, wondering which version of the story would last, sitting in the unique position of remembering both.
What we got tonight wasn’t a slice of the single, definitive story of what unfolded after the destruction of Over There. What unfolded was more akin to a “What If?” comic, with all the emotional heft of a one-off involving Bruce Wayne marrying Lois Lane. It’s interesting to read such a story, to be sure. But the level of emotional involvement one has with it is diminished than compared to a story in-canon. The beauty of having only two universes (as opposed to, say, “Crisis on Infinite Fringes”) lay in the way that the show didn’t deal with a myriad of theoretical possibilities: it dealt with two singular universes. But in undoing “The Day We Died” by sending Peter back to the present (and then, ultimately, out of existence) in the last act of the season, the show undid a lot of that hard-earned narrative work and, in the process, potentially a lot of heard-earned audience trust.
The joy in watching Fauxlivia this season wasn’t in seeing what might happen if our version existed in another reality. The joy was in seeing how similar building blocks formed two related yet fundamentally different people by virtue of environment, history, and thousands of small decisions that ultimately form a life. By halfway through the season, I hated the moniker “Fauxlivia,” because I felt it did a disservice to what the show was putting forth. However, constantly typing out “the Olivia who is every bit as real as ours but has Lincoln Lee for a boss” would have been cumbersome. Fauxlivia isn’t fake Olivia. She’s very, very real. But the Olivia that got shot in the head in 2026? That chick’s totally fake.
She’s fake because that version of the character, along with all the nice little character moments built in for her, were erased the moment Peter came back to 2011. It’s not that the world from which she came was eradicated: it’s the reality from which she came that was eradicated. And with the episode all but shouting, “TIMESPACE WORMHOLES ARE EVERYWHERE, COME HIT YOUR RESET BUTTONS HERE!” throughout the hour, I couldn’t be bothered about the fates of anyone in this world. It was just a place we were visiting for a little under an hour, during which Walter turned into Doctor Exposition and filled us in on a decade-plus of history that also now never happened. I need a drink. Maybe Future Me will send a case of beer through a wormhole.
Waiting. Still waiting. Damnit.
Anyways, those wormholes didn’t just deliver Peter’s consciousness back in time. They also sent pieces of the Doomsday Device back as well, thanks to Walter’s headache-inducing paradox by which Theoretical Future Him sent pieces of the machine back to the Paleozoic Era. This helps explain why supposedly ancient civilizations could produce such monumentally complex pieces of machinery and then scatter it across the globe. It’s a decently neat trick that “Fringe” did here, but largely serves to once and for all separate “The First People” from “The Observers,” a group who apparently really hate the reality of Peter Bishop.
People with stronger mental fortitude than I can try and tease out why The Observers needed Peter Bishop to act as the literal as well as figurative bridge between the two worlds. I’m assuming that his dual citizenship, so to speak, positioned him uniquely in the history of the universe. But we’re three seasons into the show, and we know that The Observers dig super spicy food, occasionally get involved more than they should with human existence, and seem relieved that Peter never existed. That’s it. I imagine Season 4 will finally shed some light on these mysterious folks as The Walter/Olivia pairs try to work together, but I’m so confused by the choice to erase Peter from existence that I can’t possibly work out what’s to come.
But I’m still tempted to look ahead, since looking back is pretty painful right now. That Peter learned both worlds need to co-exist was predicted by…well, almost everyone. Today’s study question: did the show need to send Peter to the future to learn this fact? I’d say no. Emphatically. But since the show decided to go there, I suppose it’s good that it only went there for one hour and say, not an entire season. Maybe that could have allowed time to find out what terrible thing happened in Detroit with Broyles. Or perhaps we could have seen, not simply heard about, The People v. Walter Bishop. But that also would have been the science fiction equivalent of Bobby Ewing in the shower. And would make me want to punch Jean the Cow in the udder.
Normally, I have a lot more to say about “Fringe.” I love it for its audacious concepts, and love it even more for the heart it puts into each character. But tonight, I spent most of the hour with characters I didn’t even know. That choice transformed what should have been a heart-wrenching hour into an academic exercise, an exercise that an admittedly head spinning final five minutes couldn’t remotely save. Perhaps the search for Peter will yield the type of all-too-human drama that the show generally produces. But that search will have to wait until the Fall. For now, I can only sit here, sigh, and wonder how a show that usually gets it so right got this so wrong.
Enough of my take. What did you think of the season finale? Can you IMAGINE if this had actually been the SERIES finale? Or did this actually work for better than I’m giving it credit for? Sound off below!
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