One of the true great science fiction romances on television ended its five-season run last Friday when J.J. Abrams’s FRINGE aired its final episode. In classic SFR fashion, this satisfying end to the series gave the bad-guy Observers their well-deserved come-uppance, let lovable mad scientist Walter Bishop find redemption, returned a tortured Earth and its people to normalcy and, best of all, allowed the lovers, Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop, their happily-ever-after.
**Sigh**. Don’t you just love it when the writers get it right? Even if they do have to manipulate the gene pool, turn physics inside out, kill off a few major characters and throw in a few red herrings to do it.
Abrams himself has been a bit removed from the day-to-day operations of the show for a while now. He and partners Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci created the show and Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions and Warner Brothers Television produces it. He’s currently listed as an Executive Producer, along with Bryan Burk and Joel H. Wyman (who runs the show on a weekly basis, with Jeff Pinkner), while Kurtzman, Orci and Akiva Goldsman are listed as Consulting Producers. Then, of course, there are the writers for individual episodes.
What all that means when the cameras roll only the people on set know for sure. One thing is clear, though. Everyone associated with the show wanted to go out on a high note, one the fans would remember forever. TV Guide Magazine called the final 13-episode season “a love letter to the fans who had stuck by the series through thick and thin.” For a creative talent like Abrams (and the people he works with), finding a way to bring the complicated tale of FRINGE to a well-crafted ending that fans would find unforgettable may not have been simple. But it must have been obvious once he committed himself to the classic structure of good storytelling.
The first season of FRINGE suffered from a certain lack of focus. Though all the elements of the story were present—the conflict between Peter and his father, the hint of darkness in Walter and in Olivia’s background, the nascent attraction between Peter and Olivia, flashes of the Observers and the true nature of Massive Dynamic—they really didn’t seem to come together in any coherent way. This was just a more than usually interesting “freak-of-the-week” show at first, and its low ratings showed it.
Then we learned of the existence of a parallel universe that was causing all these odd occurrences. Our heroine could somehow cross over. Things got really interesting, with whole arcs on the other side, or with characters from the other side on this side. Characters we thought we knew were not who they seemed. Universes collided, melted and merged, with sometimes tragic results. Characters we had come to love made terrible judgment calls (or did in the past). Could we forgive them? Could they forgive themselves?
Gradually we began to see that the show was not based on the science fiction ideas within it any longer; it was based on the characters, on their journey through this very strange universe that Abrams and his partners had created. Walter had to overcome his hubris and find redemption for the many sins of his prideful youth. Peter had to grow up and learn to respect both himself and his father before he could reach out in love. Olivia had to discover her true power—and the ability to love and trust. Of course, we all had to understand the underlying mystery of the Observers, the parallel universes and, eventually, time itself. That was the framework within which the characters interacted. In effect you had three character arcs, one plot arc. Put them together and you had one terrific classic story.
Peter and Olivia’s story—and their happy-ever-after ending—place FRINGE squarely in the SFR camp. Olivia and Peter were only colleagues at first and their romance was certainly of the on-again, off-again variety. But in the final season, Abrams and his fellow producers/writers gave the fans what they wanted and put the lovers together in a more permanent way with the birth of a daughter, Henrietta. The emotional roller-coaster that the couple endures through their connection with “Etta” was the crucible that tested and strengthened their bond throughout the final season. They really earned that HEA—and so did the audience!
No great epic ends happily without sacrifice, however, and in this case, Walter, our dotty old mad scientist, fond of strawberry milkshakes, red licorice and recreational drugs, had to pay the price. Walter owed both Olivia and Peter a debt for the selfish ways he used them when they were only children. Those actions had repercussions that extended long into the future—and into two universes. The only way to truly make it right was for him to make certain the plan that was devised to turn back time at the end of the last episode worked. He sacrificed himself to do so and was redeemed. Walter Bishop, then, is the hero of the story.
Though in many ways, J.J. Abrams and his cohort of Bad Robots are the true heroes for producing one of the best SFR shows on television for the past five years.
Breaking News: An A.P news report cites multiple trade reports today that J.J. Abrams has signed on to film the next STAR WARS film. Twitter has been alight with the news since the trade papers mentioned it, and Abrams’s partner Roberto Orci himself seemed to support it. If true, it would probably be the first time in SF history that STAR TREK fans and STAR WARS fans had something in common to love. (Abrams’s second TREK film, INTO THE DARKNESS, is due out May 17.)