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The Heart is an Organ of Fire: Fringe Producer J.H. Wyman on the Show’s Final Season

By on September 28, 2012
FRINGE Executive Producer J.H. Wyman (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

FRINGE Executive Producer J.H. Wyman (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

Fringe returns to television tonight for its fifth and final season on FOX, and thanks to a conference call this week with Fringe Executive Producer and Show Runner J.H. Wyman, Screen Spy has quite a bit to share about the upcoming season.

Wyman was a gracious and appreciative interview subject, thanking the press and the fans before any questions were asked. “It never ceases to amaze me or blow my mind that we’ve made it here,” he began, saying that just hearing the words “fifth season” was a thrill for him. “We all know that we would not be here without you guys,” he told us with genuine warmth.

A Love Letter to the Fans

Wyman said that Fringe creator J.J. Abrams’ description of the show as essentially being “about a family” changed his entire conception of science fiction. “Once I figured that out and went, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see that the further science fiction gets, the more about humanity it actually is about,’ … it sort of changed me, my impression of science fiction and how I would attack my work on the program,” he explained.

“Over the last season my biggest concern, of course, was telling an authentic, honest story that I could stand behind and that I would feel that I was giving the fans a love letter that I think they deserve,” Wyman told us. “I want to feel that Fringe made sense,” he continued, adding that the finale should make the fans say, “Wow, that was satisfying.”

He also explained that he wanted the fans to feel happy with the characters’ journeys, and to be able to imagine their futures. “I really wanted to get the viewer for this final season down on the floor with them and go through the things that they’re going through because [again]… it’s a family show. It’s about disparate people that are trying very hard to hold together a family in a very difficult time. I think people really relate to that.”

Wyman was rhapsodic in his praise of Fringe’s cast and their performances in the final season. “I cannot wait for you guys to see some of the performances that are being pulled off this year. I mean to me, it’s mind blowing,” he said with obvious excitement. “And they’re doing it because they too feel like it’s the end and they want to bring their best, and examining their characters that they’ve created for four years … allowed them the opportunity to do that.”

The World in 2036: Cuddly vs. Evil Observers

Wyman spoke of the decision to set the final season in the year 2036, following the events from Episode 4.19, ‘Letters of Transit.’ “We’ve always been interested in going back and forth in time and we thought it would be such an interesting idea to maybe tell the story in the future,” he said, adding that he personally “fell in love with the possibilties of telling the story in the future, and married that quickly.” When asked if the plot of the final season was something they had planned all along, he was thoughtful. “We like to be clever and say, ‘We knew a lot of stuff,’ because we did. But, the truth is we didn’t know a lot of stuff either. We did not know at the beginning on the bus that the amber was amber from the alternate universe. It was re-contextualized, but it’s like it just sort of fits like a little bit of a puzzle … even up until the last episode, my thinking was fluctuating and vacillating between several different ideas.”

When my turn came, I congratulated Mr. Wyman on the internet video ads featuring the now malevolent Observers. “I really enjoyed the Observers viral ad campaign,” I told him. “It was seriously creepy … and really startling, since the Observers used to seem so benign and even kind of cuddly. What was the thinking behind turning them into the evil bad guys, or was that something that was planned all along?” I asked.

”Yes, this has been in the hatch for a while,” he answered, “but … the story that I’m constantly telling is that the heart is an organ of fire, and that you can’t stop it from feeling or connecting. That’s what our job is as human beings, and how wonderful to have this Observer ‘September’ to come and understand that we are, although very messed up, very special; special people, and beautiful.

“He was sort of pushed out on a mission as one of twelve scientists to come and … evaluate and to watch us for reasons they didn’t really fully understand either, [and] he fell in love with us. So, that’s why he seems very cuddly,” he explained, and then brought up the second sympathetic observer, ‘August.’ “When I was writing ‘August’ I really did toy with the title … in retrospect, maybe I should have called it this, but my first working title for it was ‘A Cautionary Tale for an Observer.’

“The answers to your questions lie in that, but he fell in love with us and he was cuddly because he understood that we were flawed, but special,” he continued. But as we have all now seen, “When the rest of them come, it has nothing to do with warm, cuddly feelings!”

Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia (Anna Torv) (Photo © Fox Broadcasting Co.)

Journeys of the Characters in Season 5

Wyman discussed the relationship between Peter and Olivia (Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv), which he has called a “fractured fairy tale,” and what we can expect this season. “No love story worth telling is easy,” he explained. “It’s the sort of hills and the valleys that make a relationship, in my opinion, really dynamic and worth watching. The harder the tale, the more worthy the payoff.” He added, “Their relationship will shift and grow and evolve, but I think that it’s safe to say that we’ll be there for every step of the way.  Everything will be sort of logical.” He says that this season will allow the audience to “really get in underneath the hood and investigate those relationships.”

He also hinted at changes that Walter experiences in the final season, saying, “We carefully designed a journey for him this year that is entirely unique and will affect him in ways that I’m sure that aren’t things we’ve seen before. Look, when you’re dealing with the brain, when you’re dealing with taking tissue out, putting things in … I mean, this is Fringe; anything can happen!” He laughed, then added, “That’s spoiling it enough, but secret enough at the same time.” He described actor John Noble’s performance by saying, “John Noble [is] such a fantastic actor. One of the consistent challenges is to give him things that he’s never played before because he’ll do the work. He just is outrageous.” He described Noble’s reaction to being given material that he had done before: “It just wouldn’t sit with him. I’d get a pretty swift phone call.”

The Final Season’s Continuous Story Arc

Wyman spoke extensively about the 13-episode format of the final season, which he said will provide a continuous aec with the thirteen episodes telling one story. “I’m treating them as a saga … sort of feature films,” he says “What [we] have really enjoyed is that continuity of emotions, to be able to sit down and say, ‘Okay, I have to devise an odyssey: What is Walter’s odyssey, what is Olivia’s odyssey, what is Peter’s, and so on?” He described the nature of episodic network television where each episode needs to stand on its own, meaning that “One week you’ll have Olivia very concerned about something that Peter did to her, and then the next week, she’s upset because she has a blemish on her hand … There’s a sort of randomness to what people are going through on a week-to-week basis.

“So, in this season what it’s allowed us to do is to not really be so concerned with that, but more concerned with, okay, how are these people going through what they’re going through? These are real issues, and how are they going to deal with them and what’s going to happen? So, it’s actually been a lot of fun, very freeing.”

Etta (Georgina Haig) and Walter (John Noble) in Season 5 of FRINGE (Photo © Fox Broadcasting Co.)

The Heart of a Show

Wyman’s strong feelings were apparent when he spoke about the heart of Fringe and its supporters. When asked what he would take away from his time working on the show, he replied, “On so many levels, it’s really been the highlight [of my career]. I’ve definitely emerged from it a much better thinker and a much better writer and a much better storyteller in general.”

“I adore the fans … in my opinion, it’s like everybody owns a little brick in the building,” he said sincerely. “It was like a miracle, and everybody supported it. When I started looking at it … I think the only thing that did save the show were the reactions of the media and the fans that could identify the heart [and] the aspirational ideas in the program, and they responded to that. I have to believe that they’re not here to see how a flux capacitor works. They’re here to see what the human heart is about and watch these people that they love go through things, and go through them with them.

“It’s all about the people. Yes, the narrative is incredibly important … but really, it’s the characters people love. I just had to [say] … the fans, I think they love the same things I do, which is these incredible people. If I can tell the story honestly and with a degree of depth and make people think and go through things with them this last final season, that would be a great reward.”

Thank you, Mr. Wyman. We’re all grateful to be able to enjoy that reward with you.

Don’t miss the premiere of Fringe‘s fifth and final season, ‘Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11,’ Friday September 28 at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.