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In the back-to-back episodes that served as a series finale for Fringe, the overarching story circled back into itself, revisiting the past and using it to explore the show's perennial themes of love and fatherhood. Also woven into the fabric of the story were emotional reminders of what each character stood for over the past four years. All that was laid out in the finale before a breathtaking roller coaster to a satisfying ending.
Fringe has had many iterations over the years, but the one that has arguably won the series' place in the pantheon of sci-fi TV shows is the introduction of the alternate universe. Not the idea of its existence or Walter's first trip over there, but rather the initial interactions between the two sides that made the third season so special. There was some sort of closure at the end of the fourth season, but saying goodbye to the series without a last visit would have been disrespectful.
The first half of the finale (Liberty) was designed to take care of that legacy and to recast Olivia as the series' standard bearer, the character who is helped by a team of extraordinary people it's true, but is ultimately the one who, more than the rest, seems to have the words "fate" and "destiny" attached to her actions.
As always, the Other Side did not disappoint. It's remarkable that for a whole universe created to extend our protagonists' playground, so to speak, it is such a fascinating place that seems to deserve a story of its own. The tech was as good as ever, the background music attached to any crossing made the viewer eager, and Fauxlivia's had just the right alterations to look older (and she was obviously the boss). Her smile, her gait and her overall personality were reestablished in just a couple of frames and a single sentence to Lincoln, "You stop checking out my young ass!" Something our buttoned-up Olivia wouldn't have said in a million years. Even Walternate wasn't left out of the closure, and it was a nice touch to have Fauxlivia keep her coat (even at her desk!) so that her body didn't affect our perception of what the story was trying to convey.
And if it's true that over the years Olivia and cortexiphan often got called in when the story seemed stuck, it worked because it was always used to advance the narrative instead of being just an escape. Here, the need to cross wasn't just an obvious ploy thrown in to meet old friends, but really came across as the only solution to get Michael back. The fringe case of the first half was obviously Olivia regaining her abilities which seemed painful and affected her balance enough to get us worried, even though we knew it would not be the end for her, at least not yet.
The second half (An Enemy of Fate) was the roller coaster ending with a few twists. Liberty brought back Broyles who was instrumental in rescuing Michael, but it also blew his cover and pitted him against Windmark who had pieced together enough information to know the endgame, this in spite of his failure to read Michael's mind.
After Olivia's showdown in Liberty, this part was for the handkerchiefs. There are scenes with such an emotional pull that they could be used to measure a viewer's capacity to get emotionally involved. This is a politically correct way to say that if you are a long time viewer and didn't cry or at least get misty eyes during the initial farewell scene between Walter and his son (and to a lesser degree during the one between Walter and Astrid), then you must get your heart checked.
Because of the legacy of the alternate universe, it was fitting that the previous fringe case revolved around crossing to the Other Side, just as it made sense for the final fringe case to be around time travel, the process that brought the Observers to the protagonists' era. I was expecting the writers to forget about the large magnet and give me a gotcha-moment, but they didn't, all the collected items were used, only that the machine at the heart of the plan had to be replaced.
Because nothing happens in Fringe without a reason, the need for the replacement gave us the opportunity to "understand" how time travel works, which includes finally getting a decent explanation of the role of the famous cylinders. However, what was more interesting was how the story circled back to December, of the first group of Observers, and explained how they fit in and how they changed.
Hijacking a shipping lane meant the fugitives would have to confront Windmark and not just run away from him as they did for the entire season. And of course Windmark had changed for the worst, a change that had given him a strong motivation, something always important for the villain of any story. The final confrontation is revealing on how the showrunner (who also wrote the finale) saw the cast of characters.
In the finale, just like in the beginning, she was cast as the soldier and Peter as the person keeping Walter grounded and focused on the task. Throughout the final episode, with her love for Etta and Peter as an additional motivation, she still had the same sense of responsibility as in the beginning (when all seemed lost, she asked Michael what "she" should do, not what "they" should do). She was the instrument of fate while Walter and Peter represented the reason why she should fight.
Besides the bigger theme of love, Fringe has always explored the relationship between a father (Walter) and his son (Peter), so more than her own fleeting relationship with Etta, the father-and-son relationship represented the perfect allegory of why September said the fight was not about fate, but about hope and protecting the children. It is the reason why after the time reset, Olivia was not at the forefront of the scene in the park. It was Peter who finally got to hug their little girl running towards him. In a way, for two seasons now, the show has been trying to complete that sequence, trying to show us that father-daughter hug.
We generally (but not always) split any story into three big parts, a beginning, a middle and an ending. The beginning's main job is to spark our interest, the middle fails if it doesn't keep us glued in and the ending has a lot more freedom. The most common ending to science fiction is the bittersweet, the one that leaves us with a whiff of nostalgia and possibly the thought that there's more to tell. I personally think many writers choose a variation of that ending because it's easier that way, because like that they don't have to sprain their brains to find a conclusion that provides a satisfying emotional closure without being too cheesy.
Fringe had a beginning that took some time to really spark our interest, a middle with the alternate universe that was brilliant before getting a bit lost in its own mythology in the fourth season, the bigger ending (season five) had some growing pains, but the last episodes have provided a satisfying ending to a mostly mesmerizing journey. The series achieved it, on the one hand, by allowing us to say goodbye to everyone that mattered (including Fauxlivia, a personal favorite), and on the other hand, by making the viewer feel like the ending was right. Yes, our brains might have some questions about the extent of the reset and a couple of other things, but it's an ending that doesn't leave our hearts wondering or wanting for more, an ending after which it is easier to smile and move on with our lives without a heartache which, to me, makes it the best of endings.