Fringe: The Complete Fifth and Final Season DVD Review: Observing the End

A good wrap-up to a series.
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Thanks to the powers that be at FOX Television and to the delight of the series' creators and their fans, Fringe was renewed for a fifth season in order to wrap up its story.  It's actually more of a half season at 13 episodes, but at least it offers some closure.  How satisfying it is for viewers is debatable. 

This season takes place in 2036, a future previously glimpsed in Season Four's Episode 19, “Letters of Transit.”  Giving up their role as watchers of events, though I am not sure I ever really understood why, or more accurately didn't buy the reason given, Observers from the 27th century traveled back in time because they damaged the planet and took control of the planet in 2015.  They initiated "The Purge," killing off most, though conveniently for the writers not all, of humanity, and instituted martial law for the rest.  They began to alter the environment to make it more hospitable for them.  Some of the citizens, dubbed "Loyalists," accepted their fate and work for the Observers.  Naturally, there are some others who take part in a Resistance, including Olivia (Anna Torv) and Peter's (Joshua Jackson) adult daughter Henrietta (Georgina Haig).

In 2015, Walter (John Noble) was warned about the Observers by one of their own, September (Michael Cerveris).  They devised a plan to defeat the them, and in order to keep in secret, Walter had pieces of his brain removed, so even he wouldn't know it.  However, he videotaped clues to himself that involved different components of the plan.  Then, the tapes and the Fringe team, including Astrid (Jasika Nicole), are encased in amber until Henrietta discovers them in 2036.  It seems needlessly complicated and grew a bit frustrating to watch as many episodes saw the retrieval of a tape to send them off on that episode's mission.

Complicating matters is Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa), Occupation Administrator and the season's main villain.  In the first episode, "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11," he tortures Walter in one of the most gruesome scenes in the whole series, and in the fourth, "The Bullet That Saved the World," his devious actions push Peter to extreme measures, ultimately leading to Peter inserting within his brain a device that essentially turns him into an Observer by giving him the same awareness and ability to use the fourth dimension. 

Peter's decision is unexpected and a great story twist, even though there's no origin of the device given, which would have been nice.  It leads to some very interesting scenes between him and Olivia over a few episodes as his humanity slowly fades away, but there's also a bad one.  The removal of the device is supposed to be dangerous, but it isn't, so there are moments of phony suspense because, of course, the writers didn't have the guts to allow Peter to die.  And they might as well have considering how few episodes were left.

It had become a tradition at Fringe for the writers and crew to challenge themselves with the 19th episode of a season.  For the fourth season, it was a look at a potential future in the aforementioned “Letters of Transit,” and in the third, portions were animated when Walter and Peter were inside Olivia's mind after they took "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide" to assist them.  Although only the ninth episode, "Black Blotter" serves the same purpose and again finds Walter turning to LSD for assistance in his plans.  His hallucinations include a green fairy and extended sequences reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's work on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

When Walter and September's plan to keep the Observers from ever coming is revealed, it's not clear why it's presumed it will work, which speaks to the flaw in the Observers coming to 2015 in the first place.  However, the execution of it delivers tremendous visual symmetry as the imagery of two people walking hand in hand evokes the exact imagery that essentially started the story of Fringe. 

The set offers some special features.  There are two "Dissected Files: Unaired Scene" clips, 44 seconds from Episode 1 and 54 seconds from Episode 11.  Neither offers much information.  "Black Blotter" comes with a commentary track by executive producer J. H. Wyman and editor Jon Dudkowski, who discussing creating one of the more unusual episodes of the season.  Here's them explore this episode made me want another commentary, especially considering this is the final season.  "A Farewell to Fringe" (21 min) combines interviews new and old with series co-creator/ executive producer J.J. Abrams, Wyman, and the cast as they talk about the series.  "Fringe Season 5 2012 Comic Con Panel" (29 min) finds the gang discussing the series in what they knew would be their last appearance a couple months before the final season aired.  The curse words are censored and a few get emotional.  Fan questions appear as title cards.  There is also a Digital Script of Final Episode "An Enemy of Fate" to read and a forgettable Gag Reel (2 min).

By the end of Fringe's fifth season, some characters get happily ever after while others sacrifice themselves so that can be achieved, resulting in emotional closure with the characters and limited intellectual closure with the story.  It is a good wrap-up to a series, even though it wasn't as great as Season Three or One.  Fringe worked so well because the writers and actors created characters, including different versions of those characters, which viewers cared about and who were believable in unbelievable situations.  The series also set a high bar of intriguing scientific and science-fiction ideas that all genre series that follow have to compete with.  The entire series is well worth exploring.

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