Recap: 'Fringe' - 'Wallflower'
'Fringe' ends 2011 on the same note it's been playing all season
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I’m going to keep this one relatively short, “Fringe” fans. By now, you know how I feel about this season of the show. Very little about those feelings have changed, because very little of the season itself has changed. The producers have gone in a direction they think benefits the show. Many of you agree. Many of you, like me, disagree. This level of disagreement used to provoke passionate anger from yours truly. But here, at the end of all episodes in 2011, I’m just sadly resigned. I stared at most of tonight’s episode, “Wallflower,” without taking my usually furious notes. Why? Because I’m watching a program that’s not just engaging me at the moment.
It’s a curious time for passion in the television landscape. Earlier in the week, “Community” got left off the NBC midseason line-up, and people went collectively ballistic. I’m not on the same wavelength as many fans (including my colleagues at HitFix) are with that show, but I’ve always admired the passion that people put into that show and the zealousness with which they defend it. I can’t say I’m jealous of that passion, because I have it for other shows. We all don’t have to be equally passionate about everything. But here’s the thing: “Fringe” used to be one of those shows that I had “Community”-levels of passion for. Passion is important when it comes to following a television show for years. And the show has slowly drained that passion for me this Fall.
Here’s the thing: as long as we’re in this new world that was created in the wake of Peter’s disappearance, “Fringe” will never be a show I love. It will be an intellectual experiment to witness, not a dramatic experience in which to lose myself. Curiously, the show keeps making these arguments for me inside its own episodes. Last week, Olivia served as an occasional mouthpiece for how this new world order has robbed the show of the familiarity between its characters. This week, Eugene Bryant’s medical condition served as an apt metaphor for the problems plaguing the show. He notes to Olivia that being unseen is tantamount to not existing. That existential crisis permeates every pore of “Fringe” at this point: it’s not that I can’t see the show, but I’m having a damn hard time figuring out what I’m looking at. And because of that, the show I used to love, that I used to passionately extol/defend, has ceased to exist. It’s as invisible as Eugene.
I could semi-tolerate this in the early episodes, when I felt like “Fringe” had to untangle itself from a narrative misstep at the end of last season. “Chuck” did similar work this year in wiggling out of the problematic Morgan storyline, but “Fringe” hasn’t fixed the problem but rather doubled down on its desire to stay in this new reality. When Peter haunted both Walter and Olivia, there was at least some narrative urgency to the matter. But Peter’s return has accomplished little except prolonging either 1) the inevitable return to the old world order, or 2) a stay in a narrative that is telling us the first three seasons were just one long way to get Peter Bishop into a machine so the REAL show could begin. I’m unsure why I’m supposed to care that a newly invented Olivia/Nina backstory came to a “shocking” conclusion at the end of tonight, because there’s barely any context for such a twist. Moreover, said twist exists in a world where there’s absolutely no desire on anyone’s part to fix what’s wrong with this reality. Even Peter is convinced he’s in the wrong universe at this point. Instead of trying to right a cosmic wrong, he spends his days hunting for reading glasses so a Lincoln Lee I hardly recognize will look cute on a date with an Olivia I barely know.
This is something I’m supposed to be passionate about?
I don’t give a damn about chromatophores. They are fun things to read about on Wikipedia but not something upon which to hang an episode of television. In the middle two seasons of “Fringe,” such scientific quirks were the window dressing upon a solid character piece. This season’s “One Night in October” and “And Those We Left Behind” were semi-successful episodes that worked based solely on people introduced to us for the first time. The scientific mumbo-jumbo faded to the background in the face of strong, believable motivations for its supporting characters. It’s not a good thing that John McClennan and The Greens have resonated more strongly than our core cast of regulars. It’s simply impossible for me to sympathize with Olivia’s feelings of displacement when she walks right by Peter on her way to get some 3 am waffles with her new partner. I know why she’s displaced. We all do. The show ostensibly is carrying this out for a long period of time in order to provide catharsis at the end. But all it’s actually doing is delaying the inevitable, wasting time, testing patience, and draining passion.
And absolutely none of this is fun to type out. None of it makes me happy. The show’s quality doesn’t make me happy. Its poor ratings don’t make me happy. The accusations that I want this show to fail don’t make me happy. If you love “Fringe” as presently constituted, I applaud you. That’s meant earnestly, not condescendingly. I’m not here to tell you what’s “right” or “wrong” here. If you love it, more power to you. All I can do is give you my honest opinion with as much explanation as possible. I feel like I’ve done that faithfully through all my years here writing about “Fringe” here at HitFix. And I can honestly say that despite all this, I’ll be back in 2012, hoping my passion for this show returns in the new year. I’m not confident this will be the case. But I’m trying to be optimistic all the same.
Other observations about tonight’s Fall finale…
*** Since some of you will want to theorize: I’ll wager Olivia’s migraines are connected to Nina’s invasion of her home, and we’ll learn there was a noble aspect to that attack that will become clear later.
*** When we first got a glimpse of Eugene’s laboratory, with all the neatly organized trinkets, my first thought was, “Uh oh, apparently WALL-E is going to be this week’s big bad.”
*** Walter believes leprechauns are possible. I look forward to Brittany S. Pierce from “Glee” joining the “Fringe” team in 2012.
What did you think about the “Fringe” Fall finale? Are you coming back for 2012, or have you given up on the show’s new world order? Is Peter’s role believable, given the current landscape, or far too limited for your liking? Are you rooting for this reality to stick? Do you want the old one to return? Is a fusion of the two even possible, or would that confuse things even further? Sound off below!