Recap: 'Fringe' - 'Worlds Apart'
The show will get a fifth season, but will it be losing a major component in the process?
“Fringe” fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing tonight wasn’t the antepenultimate episode of the series. Instead, “Worlds Apart” served as a stepping stone to the two-part season finale, which will appease both those that simply want more “Fringe” and those who hope the final season can correct some of the missteps from this year. While last week’s “Letters of Transit” felt like a show confident in its ability to pay off the speculative fiction inherent in its premise way down the line, “Worlds” felt like a show starting to tie off some loose ends before heading into the sunset. That’s not me assigning any particular psychology into the writers’ room, but it’s striking to see how different both episodes seemed to approach the long-term stability of the show’s future.
While “Letters” was a pretty great hour of tantalizing future details, it also established some narrative encumbrances that the show’s present now has the responsibility of paying off. I worried a bit about this last week, when “Letters” hinted at things both explicitly and implicitly that had yet to unfold in the show’s here and now. Some questions that arose last week: Why was William Bell in amber? What horrible thing did he do to Olivia, and what did it have to do (if anything) with the bullet around Henrietta’s neck? Where was Lincoln? Were there one or two universes in play in an Observer-controlled future? When the audience has more information than the characters, there’s a dramatic tension at play that can make the march towards the inevitable almost unbearable. But it can also turn into the equivalent of long-form “Where’s Waldo?”, with viewers checking off boxes on their bingo cards as the pieces start to fall into place.
This isn’t a slam against “Fringe” specifically, but any television show that deploys this structure. Such a technique tends to work better in film, where the time spent inside the world is brief compared to that on the small screen. (I’m thinking of films like “The Usual Suspects” in this regard.) I wanted to simply enjoy the rather lovely final act in which the two sides realized they were going to miss each other a surprising amount after the bridge between the worlds was closing. Instead, I (and I’m sure many others) started immediately linking this event to the events from last week in my brain. So rather than being in the emotional present, I was in the narrative past. Well, the future that was told in the past. Know what? I need a drink.
So why were the two sides closing down the bridge? Well, it seems that David Robert Jones has been collecting cortexiphan subjects from Jacksonville over the past few decades in order to assemble an army akin to the good ol’ ZFT from Season One. People such as Nick Lane have been trained to psychically connect with their double Over There, with the ensuing vibrations between each forming a third reality “note” in which Jones can eventually rule. How? Those vibrations cause earthquakes, and Jones has sent each of the 27 to various parts of the world in a strategic manner to make the interdimensional Jenga game collapse as quickly as possible so he might rule in the ensuing rubble. Once again, Jones outsmarts everyone (along with Lane, who fools everyone into thinking he’s helping them) throughout the hour and both Fringe divisions are left with no choice but to sever the connection between the worlds, and thus the connection between the cortexiphan patients and their doubles.
While the actors sold the hell out of their goodbyes to one another (how many people had to act against THEMSELVES???), “Fringe” actually didn’t do a particularly good job of selling the relationship between these two versions of these two universes this season. As such, tonight’s script had to pack a lot of emotional material between various parties in order to make the ending more effective. We spent loooong stretches this season away from Over There, and while we’re at the point now Over Here where we have spent enough time in this new reality to start having some memories of our own, there have been precious and few episodes in which the two really worked together towards a common goal. The second episode of the season, “One Night in October,” hinted at the rich story potential offered by the bridge. While the rebooted Jones storyline has involved both worlds, we haven’t seen enough Walter/Walternate scenes (for example) to truly make tonight’s sacrifice carry the weight it could have.
It’s a testament to these actors that those final ten minutes or so worked as well as they did. Had FOX not announced a fifth season before tonight’s episode, I am sure people would have lost their damn minds as the two sides parted from one another. Lord knows the writers saddle Lincoln Lee with the most anvilicious dialogue on television, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t cackle at watching Anna Torv’s Fauxlivia blush as red as her hair upon learning Lincoln was joining her side. Seeing Alterna-Astrid meekly wave goodbye to her counterpart should not have worked, given how badly the show botched the supposedly Astrid-centric episode “Making Angels.” And yet? Jasika Nicole kinda broke my heart a little in that moment. The alternate universe has been an absolute staple of this show since roughly the latter half of its first season, and its citizenry a part of the show since the end of the second year. Seeing it (potentially) leave the show permanently is painful, even if the way in which it disappeared left something to be desired.
I don’t know what the next two episodes will hold, nor what their connections to events in “Letters of Transit” will be. I don’t really care to speculate, for reasons made clear in this review already. But I do hope the show connects up with the future before long, if it does plan on going there again. In the show’s present, there’s only one way things can end. But in the future? Anything’s possible. And for a show with an imagination as wide as “Fringe,” that’s a good thing indeed.
A few more observations about tonight’s episode…
I’ll confess I didn’t even think of “Peter disappearing from reality” as a possible side effect of shutting down the bridge, mostly because I think “Fringe” fans would storm the gates if that ever happened again. All that good will from the renewal? Gone in a heartbeat.
I really, really thought that “Lost” vet Kiele Michelle Sanchez played one of the cortexiphan patients in that initial sequence. But I’m guessing that wasn’t the case. Thank God. I didn’t want to eventually meet another cortexiphan patient whose power was always going to the bathroom.
I quite liked “Welcome To Westfield” this season, but forgot all about the “Noah’s ark” in that town until mentioned tonight. That makes Jones’ seemingly suicidal plan make much more sense.
If “Fringe” never ever has another character talking about how “home is where the heart is,” I’ll be OK with that.
Even though this episode featured some outdoor locations, it was essentially a bottle episode. Ostensibly, this was done to save costs for the two-hour finale. But I don’t hold this episode’s low budget against it. Far from it. In fact, had the entire hour been the two sides working on the moral complexities inside the conference room inside the bridge, I would have enjoyed the hell out of that.
Once again: FAUXLIVIA BLUSHING. You guys!
What did you think of “Worlds Apart”? Was it a satisfying episode in and of itself, or just set up for the final two weeks? Do you want the fifth season to take place entirely in the future laid out in “Letters of Transit”? How do you feel about all of this destruction being causes by someone who died back in the original timeline? Sound off below!