Fringe’s Final Curtain: Series Finale “Liberty/An Enemy of Fate” Review
The fifth and final season of Fringe concluded last night with an emotional and satisfying farewell filled with love, hope, and sacrifice, and more than a few shout-outs to the show’s many longtime fans.
The first half of the two-part finale, “Liberty,” is spent retrieving the most important piece of Walter Bishop’s plan: the Observer child Michael, who was captured by Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) in last week’s episode “The Boy Must Live.” All our regular characters are given a chance to shine this hour, and Anna Torv is particularly featured, as Olivia must use her ability to phase between universes in order to rescue Michael from a high security detainment facility on Liberty Island. To do this, Olivia will need a massive dose of Cortexiphan. Peter is upset about the possible side effects, but Olivia feels this is the only way to get their daughter Etta back. Joshua Jackson’s portrayal of Peter’s concern (“What if I lose you, too? What then?”) is stark and touching, and Anna Torv’s performance in a later scene is equally affecting (and horrifying), as Walter adminsters Olivia four increasingly painful shots of Cortexiphan into the base of her skull. Yikes! Less than twenty minutes into the two-hour finale and I’m already tearing up … but also laughing, as Walter mangles Astrid’s (Jasika Nicole) name one last time (“You’re brilliant, Ashcan!”)
Olivia’s trip to the Other Side gives us a chance to see Seth Gabel as Lincoln Lee once again, although neither he nor the alternate Olivia (now Lincoln’s wife!) look old enough for this timeline. (Apparently a bit of gray hair is supposed to represent two decades of aging … or maybe the other universe has better Botox treatments than ours?) The high dose of Cortexiphan messes with Olivia’s focus, and she barely manages to retrieve Michael before the Observer doctor can begin dissecting him (and conveniently the paralytic that the boy was dosed with earlier has worn off just in the nick of time!).
Meanwhile, Donald/September has hit a snag while constructing the device that will send Michael to the future and save the world, and he must contact his Observer colleague December (Eugene Lipinski) from the original team of twelve for help obtaining a new part for the device.
In the final episode, “An Enemy of Fate,” Walter and Donald explain the plan’s execution in a technobabble-filled obligatory exposition scene. Michael will be sent to the year 2167, where his existence (as a hybrid anomaly capable of both enormous intellect and profound emotion) will divert the scientific course of study that eventually leads to humans evolving into emotionless Observers, thus resetting time. The plan hinges on the device Donald has built, which is still missing several parts.
While unearthing a necessary part from amber, Peter finds yet another videotape, this one addressed to him. In it, Walter explains that he has chosen to accompany Michael into the future. He is making this sacrifice to ensure the survival of their universe, and in order to prevent a paradox, he will have to remain with Michael in 2167. Both Joshua Jackson and John Noble are wonderful in this moving scene. Walter’s confession to Peter, and Peter’s grief-stricken appeal for another solution, are played with just the right combination of pathos and restraint, culminating in a tearful embrace as Walter tells his son “You are my favorite thing, Peter … my very favorite thing!” These are the moments that Fringe fans adore (even if it means we may run out of tissues).
Astrid and Olivia, unfortunately, are unable to retrieve the final part for Donald’s device; At December’s apartment, they find Loyalists rummaging around, the part missing, and December hanging dead from his ceiling.
But Astrid isn’t done being brilliant! She proposes hijacking one of the Observers’ shipping lanes, which uses a wormhole to operate in a similar way to the proposed time travel device. (One may wonder why September didn’t think of this in the first place, instead of wasting all that time and energy building his own device … but we’re way past nitpicking at this point.) Now the team must steal a new and different piece of Observer tech that can reverse the the shipping lane and redirect it to 2167.
From this point on, there’s hardly time to breathe … after the suspenseful and deliberate pacing of the first episode, the latter part of the finale practically explodes with action and homages to previous favorite Fringe events and characters, beginning with Walter’s decision to use anti-gravity osmium bullets to shoot the Observers and watch them float away like balloons, “Because it’s cool.” When Astrid discovers our old friend Gene the cow in the amber, Walter is touched; and in a heartwarming moment he reveals that despite years of pretending otherwise, he knows Astrid’s real name. “It’s a beautiful name … Astrid.” (More tissues, please.)
Windmark, meanwhile, has captured Broyles (Lance Reddick). As the team prepares to raid the Observer facility for the final piece of tech, a stabilizer cube, Broyles tries desperately to resist Windmark’s mind reading.
Back at the lab, Donald confronts Walter to tell him he has decided to take the boy into the future himself, explaining that seeing Walter and Peter together made him understand his own fatherly feelings toward Michael. In an episode packed with fine performances, Michael Cerveris’ stands out; September’s budding affection for the humans he was sent to study made him the most appealing of the emotionless Observers, but now, as the fully human Donald, the depth of the feelings that he conveys, and his delight at possessing them, is heartbreakingly poignant.
The final assault on the Observer facility could not be more satisfying, as Peter and Olivia unleash a cornucopia of past Fringe event bio-weaponry on the hapless Observer and Loyalist troops, stealing the cube and incidentally rescuing Broyles. The showdown at the shipping lane is violent and intense. Donald and Walter divert the wormhole amid flying bullets, and Windmark almost succeeds at snatching Michael. Olivia manages to kill Windmark with the last of her Cortexiphan-induced superpowers, but poor Donald is shot down as he tries to lead Michael through the wormhole. In a beautiful sequence accompanied only by music, Walter realizes he is destined to make his sacrifice after all. Taking Michael’s hand, Walter leads the boy to the future, as Peter mouths “I love you, Dad.”
And just as suddenly, we are back at the idyllic park where Peter, Olivia, and 3-year-old Etta are picknicking, the oft-remembered scene of the Observers’ invasion … but this time, no Observers appear. A happy Etta runs into her father’s outstretched arms, and the family returns home, where Peter finds an envelope from Walter. It contains the drawing of the white tulip, Walter’s symbol of hope. Walter is gone, but the world is safe. (Cue more tears!)
Walter Bishop described the years he was able to spend with his son Peter as stolen time. In a way, this last season of Fringe was similarly stolen … according to the ratings, the show should have been canceled long since. As much as I will miss it, I can’t think of a better way to sum up my feelings about the show than to quote Walter as he told Peter, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”