FRINGE Series Finale Recap: ‘Liberty’/’An Enemy of Fate’
January 18, 2013 by Marisa Roffman
Don’t you know? All good stories start with “once upon a time” and end with “happily ever after!” – Ella, “Brown Betty”
And so, we’ve reached the end of FRINGE. In season 2’s “Brown Betty,” Walter tried to end the musical noir tale he was telling Ella, Olivia’s niece, in a pretty morbid way. But Ella would have none of that — she wanted a happy ending. So she concocted another alternative to how the story ended. Was it better? Was it worse? That was probably in the eye of the individual viewer.
I think a lot of people will feel the same way about tonight’s FRINGE series finale.
If you were looking for all the particulars of every piece of FRINGE’s mythology to be answered, you’re probably pretty annoyed right about now. But — and I could be wrong about this — if you were in this mainly for the characters and that resolution, I’m guessing (hoping) many of you are happy. You got the rejiggered happy ending even Ella would approve of.
FRINGE was not a perfect show. (I’d argue no show IS perfect, but that’s another matter.) It went through rough patches. It also went through periods of absolute brilliance. And with so much time on our end to mentally prep for the finale, I thought a lot about what I “needed” from it to feel personally satisfied with the episode/show as a whole.
What I kept coming back to in my pre-finale thoughts was I didn’t want the events of the final hour to recontextualize the series in a way that made the previous 99 episodes unbearable to watch. I’ve only had one show whose series finale massively tainted the previous seasons for me, and the thought of that happening with FRINGE was heartbreaking. And I’m so grateful that while clearly things changed, the experience wasn’t ruined. I don’t see myself suddenly being unable to watch the show on DVD, or anything that drastic. So yay for that.
I have a lot more thoughts on what went down, so since this was a double episode (and the very end), I’m going to go through some of the more memorable or important moments (to me), and then dive back into the finale/season/series as a whole. And this is long. I’m not sure if that’s a warning or an apology, but this is pretty freaking long…
Walter tried to hide his fate from Peter. It didn’t work for long.
As Peter and Walter watched over a newly re-Cortexiphaned Olivia, the elder Bishop picked up on his son’s despair.
Walter: Sacrifice is hard, son. But you’re no stranger to it.
Peter: Neither are you, Dad. You’ve sacrificed a lot.
Of course, what the audience knew is that Walter was prepped to sacrifice more — he was wiling to die to make sure this plan goes through. Walter started to tell his son the truth, but then wasn’t able to bring himself to, and simply said, “You’re very strong, son.” (Confession: this was the 1st time I cried in the series finale.)
And look, I’m guessing every hardcore FRINGE fan went into high alert at that moment, too. Things don’t end well for anyone when Peter refers to his father as “dad.”
Then it was back to business as usual until Peter found a syringe in the amber and a tape addressed to him. And Walter’s cover was blown as soon as Peter played the VHS tape:
Tape!Walter: Peter, I sent you a letter. It contains something of mine.
Peter (to 2036!Walter): What letter, Walter?
Tape!Walter: I imagine you called me to ask, “Why would you send such a strange letter?” And when you tried to call, I didn’t answer. So you came to find me at the lab. But I was not to be found. I was here one moment and then vanished from the face of the earth the next. I want you to know I’m fine; living many years from now.
Peter (to 2036!Walter): What is this, Walter?
Tape!Walter: You will never see me again. You will never see me again because it had to be this way to ensure the future of our humanity. Your future. The future of Olivia. The future of Etta. I don’t want you to be sad. The time we had together, we stole it. I cheated fate to be with you. We shouldn’t have had that time to be together, but we did. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t want to say goodbye, but I will say, I love you, son.
Then Walter admitted the syringe was an inoculation for time travel. (Of course it was.) Walter inoculated himself in 2015, so he could be the one to bring Michael to the future. He just had a spare in amber in case something happened to him. At that point, I figured someone might be stubborn and try to save Walter from that choice — I thought it could be poor Astrid who had given up basically everything for the Bishops already, or perhaps Peter in an effort to sacrifice himself for his family again. But that wouldn’t come into play later.
Walter tried to explain to Peter exactly why he would disappear in 2015: “Because, Peter, the boy and I will become a paradox. Nature abhors a paradox. It has to heal itself. It does so by deleting me and the boy at the moment of the invasion. The boy and I will disappear after 2015.”
Peter was devastated, and man, John Noble (Walter) and Joshua Jackson (Peter) killed that entire scene. If you weren’t weeping at that, how did you manage to stay composed? Seriously. I was a mess pretty much as soon as Peter realized what was going on, and then Walter told his son, “You are my favorite thing. My very favorite thing.” Between those actors and Chris Tilton’s score, I was just a goner.
Peter and Olivia’s goodbye before she went back Over There.
This wasn’t a hugely important scene, but as I was watching, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how far Peter and Olivia have come. Their dialogue from tonight:
Peter: You’re coming back. You’re coming back with the boy. For Etta. I love you.
Olivia: I love you, too.
It makes sense since they’re married, had a kid, were ambered, etc., but perhaps because of the nostalgia from the show ending, I couldn’t help but think of their goodbye in “The Last Sam Weiss” when Peter was about to enter the machine. Look how far they’ve come!
Fauxlivia and Lincoln are together. With a son. (Whom I’ve dubbed Henry 2.0. Yes, I know how season 3’s Henry got his name. But give me this?)
With Michael on trapped with Observers on Liberty Island, the best bet to free him was for Olivia to cross Over There, get to where she’d need to be to bypass security on our side, cross back to our side, steal Michael, come back Over There, and then find a place to safely transport them back home. But to do that, she needed a little help from the Fringe team Over There, and so we got to say hello again to Fauxlivia and Lincoln (who both looked pretty freaking remarkable considering they aged 24 years…they must have taken the same health precautions 2026!Olivia and Peter did in “The Day We Died”).
Lincoln and Fauxlivia are shocked to see Olivia, and the guilt was apparent on Lincoln’s face when he heard how bad things had gotten in his home universe. After all, here he was, happy, with a full family, while his friends on our universe had lost so much.
Lincoln: It’s crazy, how life works out.
Olivia: It’s okay. I made my choices, you made yours. I don’t regret any of them and neither should you. You deserve all the happiness you got.
And hopefully he got happiness. We didn’t learn much about Fauxlivia and Lincoln in 2036 (I would have been fascinated to see some of Seth Gabel’s wishes play out for Lincoln), but they were at least adorably playful/cute together
Astrid saves the day.
No, seriously. You read that right. Astrid FINALLY GOT SOMETHING TO DO! And not only did she have something to do, but Jasika Nicole (Astrid) wasn’t kidding when she said “without her, everything would just go to crap.”
With the initiating reactor for the machine MIA, the team couldn’t open the wormhole to send Walter and Michael forward in time…which would have spelled the end of this season-long plan. So, brilliant Astrid realized they could use an Observer shipping lane (where materials were transported from the future to our current time) as their wormhole. They needed a stabilizer, but that was at least something they could get.
The return of Gene and Walter/Astrid get their goodbye.
Before the team left on their final mission, Astrid showed Walter where Gene was ambered. “I at least wanted you to see her,” Astrid explained.
“You always know how to soothe me,” Walter told her, pulling her in for a side-hug. “You always have.”
Astrid was hopeful about their future, though. She described a future of them “drinking strawberry milkshakes in the lab, and not even going to remember this happened.” (I’ll get back to that in a few.)
And then Walter did possibly one of the nicest things he’s done in a while:
Walter: It’s a beautiful name.
Astrid: What is?
I get Walter’s nicknames for Astrid was his thing. It was cute. It was his way of showing affection. But this is also a woman who has given up her entire life for this family. We don’t know a heck of a lot about her life pre-invasion (the brief glimpse in “Making Angels” was the only real exception), but in 2036, they were all she had. And despite that, she was often left behind and then had to pick up the slack to save their lives. If Walter thought this was the last conversation he was going to have with this woman who had been his constant companion, I’m so glad he was serious and kind.
Peter and Olivia go on a quest for the stabilizer and unleash a trail of Fringe events in their wake.
It was a pretty awesome visual to have so many of the FRINGE “cases of the week” come back thanks to Peter and Olivia spraying gas over Observers as they invaded Observer territory while on their quest for the stabilizing cubes, but the mechanics of it was a little bizarre. Either way, after Peter got the cube to stabilize the wormhole in his possession, they were able to save Broyles, who was being held in an unventilated room nearby. Yay, luck!
September changes the plan…but it doesn’t matter in the end.
Inspired by Walter’s love for Peter — and with 20+ years of learning to understand the depths of his emotions — September realized that what he felt for Michael was love, so he told Peter he’d would be the one to travel with his son to the future, and took the inoculation to make it happen.
“It’s not about fate, Walter, yours or mine,” September informed a crushed Walter, who had been planning on sacrificing himself for his own redemption. “It’s about changing fate. It’s about hope. And protecting our children.”
Which, really, is so much of the series summed up right there. The events of the show kicked into gear because all Walter wanted to do was protect a dying version of his son. He didn’t intend to keep him, he just needed to know that there was a version of his Peter in existence out there; his love overrode all rational thoughts. He changed fate and thus everything we saw happened. How could Walter in any way fault a father for wanting to be with his son?
But the gesture ended up being for nothing.
As the plan came together later in the episode, the Observers didn’t take too kindly to their shipping lane being taken hostage. September and Michael were running to the wormhole and September was shot in the back. Michael sat down and played his little music box for his fallen father, and Walter realized he’d have to make the sacrifice he had so recently been relieved from.
There was no time for real goodbyes this time around between Walter and the people he loved, but that almost worked better. The sorrowful looks between Peter and Walter? Heartbreaking. As was Peter’s mouthed, “I love you, Dad.” We saw a brief moment of grief from Astrid, but it’s a real shame Walter and Olivia never got any closure.
The only good thing about the Observer versus Our Team fight? Windmark finally died. He kicked Peter’s butt and the parallel of him choking Olivia in a similar way to Etta’s final moments was jarring, but in the end he got squished by a car that was moved by telekinesis. So…there’s that. (Is it terrible I wanted his death to be more painful? Yes? Fine.)
The timeline was reset.
With Walter and Michael doing their part in the future to show that emotions aren’t terrible and maybe the Observers shouldn’t invade us, please, bam, next thing you know, we’re back there in the park where the season opened up. Probably not a surprise to most viewers; we’ve been theorizing about it for months, and nearly every theory I’ve read about how the series would end ultimately resulted with them in that field again. I’m…still torn about the reset. It certainly appeared that all of season 5 was wiped away from existence, and while the year was often depressing as heck, losing powerful moments like Walter seeing the lone flower growing, Etta’s death, and Nina’s sacrifice hurts. But it’s done, and young Etta was delighted to be with her parents, none the wiser to how terribly difficult her life nearly was. No big, bad Observers to split up the happy family, only the dreaded bath time to fear.
Peter gets that letter from Walter.
Etta finally gets her bath, and Peter opened up that fateful a letter from Walter. (“I sent you a letter. It contains something of mine.”) Inside? That missing white tulip drawing. Peter at first looked amused/confused, and then he quickly looked up…knowingly.
And this is where things are about to get really nerdy, folks.
I’m sure this has already been debated, but what does Peter know? In Astrid’s goodbye to Walter, it certainly seemed like they were saying when they rebooted the timeline, they wouldn’t have a memory of the future. (And therefore, Peter wouldn’t remember seeing the tape where Walter warned he’d do exactly that.) Does he know his father is now gone? Does he remember all of what he went through in season 5?
Furthermore, what did the timeline reset, exactly? (And presumably did we stay in the season 4-5 timeline? If so, hopefully Walter kept his memory of his original persona.) We know there was no invasion, but how far back does it go? Is the only thing that changed that invasion? (AKA September still arrived to interrupt Walternate, which meant Walter had to cross over to save Peter and the events of the series happened up until that fateful invasion day?) Or are other things different? I understand the words Walter said about the paradox and why he and Michael would need to disappear, but if I think about the complexities of it (and the implications for the time travel earlier in the series) my head hurts.
Despite the looming questions in my head (and those above are just scratching the surface), I come out of the FRINGE experience satisfied. Yes, the first half of “Liberty” dragged a bit for me and I found myself looking at my clock for the last half of “An Enemy of Fate,” wondering how the heck they were going to fit the rest of the series in with so little time left, but the character moments in the two hours blew me away. I laughed; I cried; I cared. At the end of the day, being touched by the show is more important to me than whether every little thing I wanted to see answered was addressed.
And I was.
At its best, FRINGE brought more heart to an episode than any other show on television. Walter, Peter, Olivia, Astrid, Nina, Broyles, and the supporting characters brought such an incredible dynamic to the table every week that I could probably spend another couple thousand words just talking about them. What they were, what I’ll miss…it’s all starting to become a little more real that this was their final bow. And I’ll forever be thankful that the writers got to end this incredible story on their own terms.
A couple other thoughts:
- Fauxlivia and Lincoln were incredibly fast to be okay with timeline reboot. I know they trust Olivia, but since they have their nice little safe home and family, you’d think they might be a little more hesitant to help her reset time. (Man, I’m going to miss typing sentences like that.)
- Speaking of Over There, we left Fauxlivia and Lincoln in a not-so-great spot. I’m going to assume they’re safe and sound with their Over There family. But did the timeline reboot alter their lives?
- In 2036 Over There, the news reports showed that Chelsea Clinton leads polls in Presidential race.
- Loved that December lived in apartment 513. (AKA episode 5×13, AKA episode 100, AKA their series finale.)
- As it turned out, they did pull a “Letters of Transit” on us with “The Boy Must Live”…they tipped their hand on rebooting the timeline and Walter’s sacrifice and let the next two episodes deal with those consequences.
- I’m glad the final scene of the series wasn’t reunited in the park. That might have been too predictable.
- What’s interesting to me is that while Walter certainly made a sacrifice — I don’t think there’s anything worse for him in life than having to be apart from Peter — he didn’t actually die. While I certainly didn’t want to witness Walter die, I had been mentally prepping myself for that outcome for a while. After all, as former FRINGE executive producer Jeff Pinkner noted in season 3, “Had we played [the episode 'Peter'] first, Walter’s the big villain [of the show]. But because we know him and we love him and we see the consequences, we understand why he did it, suddenly it becomes an understandable act.” While Walter might deem his fate the worst thing imaginable, I’m glad he’ll have the chance to live the rest of his life knowing he made it possible for his son to get his family back.
- Also, can you picture Walter and Michael spending the rest of their lives together? Michael not speaking, Walter likely getting frustrated with that. Comedy spinoff? (I kid. Mostly.)
- What the heck are Astrid, Nina, and Broyles up to in 2015 if there’s no invasion to worry about?
- Before the season started, FRINGE showrunner J.H. Wyman said that when he was crafting this final year, as a television viewer himself, he felt “most importantly, I wanted to sit down and after I finish watching the [series] finale of my favorite show, I would want to feel like, that was an experience and I cannot believe that stuff is over. I can imagine where my characters going in the future.” I felt that when the episode was over. I wondered where Peter, Olivia, and Etta would go. What would their life be like sans Walter and Observers? Maybe one day we’ll find out.
- Thanks to social media, a fan shout out seems to have been discovered. (“Thanks for your support!”) Did you spot any easter eggs? Because I’m sure there were more I may have missed. (I did see the six-fingered bloody hand print…)
- I need to thank you guys. Whether you’ve read every recap or this is your first one; if you commented or merely lurked; if you yelled at me or agreed with my opinions (or some combination of the two)…all of it, any of it, it mattered. Clearly I adore this show, but seeing your great ideas/theories and pure passion for the show has been an utter delight over the years.
And a couple of memorable quotes:
- “Lieutenant, are you suggesting I might be the Dove? I’m more of a raven, don’t you think?” – Broyles
- “Can you hear me? Blasted thing, what I wouldn’t give for a good old-fashioned tumor-inducing cell phone.” Walter Bishop, ladies and gentlemen.
(Funny) Bishop exchange of the night:
Peter (to Walter, after his father offers him anti-gravity bullets to shoot the Observers with): If we shoot them, they’re dead. Why do we want them to float away?
Walter: Because it’s cool.
Only appropriate to end this recap with an old Walter quote: “I think I shall miss them. More than I imagined.” And we will. Thank you again for coming along on this ride.
Filed under Fringe Recap