When Fringe was looking at cancellation late in season 4, a season that most people didn’t think they’d get, they presented a plan to their producers for a half season to finish the story. Then they teased that final arc during season 4 when they jumped forward to 2036, a time when the Observers have invaded and become fascist rulers. Two FBI agents are searching for the lost original Fringe team who have been discovered in amber.
This episode felt out of place in season 4, but it sets up the entire premise of season 5. The now reunited Fringe team, and the FBI agent who found them, are attempting to enact a plan to rid themselves of the Observers.
I suspect this is a divisive season for fans of the show. I personally liked it, but the departure from previous seasons could alienate. The new style is different enough that the intro has changed entirely, keeping only the structure and the score. The show goes from being roughly a crime procedural to a hero’s journey adventure drama. There are no more “monster of the week” episodes–all the fat has been trimmed. Now there are only episodes that build to the execution of the plan. Episodes consist of a mini-mission to find a component along with character and relationship development.
The new setting is all concrete jungle or rural emptiness. There is a definite 1984 vibe with signs up that show an Observer and the phrase “The Future is Order”. Later on, counter signs showing the picture of a martyred rebel say, “Resist.” The future is a little bit retro–styles from the 1940’s seem to be in fashion, creating an allusion to WWII’s fascists as well as 1984. Furthermore, many of the Fringe team’s allies are still around, like Broyles and Nina Sharp, but they’ve aged 21 years while Olivia, Astrid, Peter, and Walter haven’t aged a day since 2015.
Like with season 4, the threads of theme are strong and multilayered. At the forefront, the relationship between parents and children. Peter and Olivia become reunited with their daughter but then have to deal with losing her. Peter and Walter’s relationship continues to develop and open up. And there are new fathers and sons who continually expand the audience’s understanding of our core characters. But there are also themes of sacrifice and redemption.
The episodes of this season regularly reference back to previous Fringe cases, giving the final season a strong sense of closure through the circularity. While the team no longer investigates Fringe events, they are now forced to use evidence from those Fringe cases to move forward in their plan. They become the terrorists, now that they’re on the other side of the law.
Season 5 is definitely darker emotionally than the other seasons, but that enables an ending to the show that is deeply satisfying and bitter-sweet. Sure, the science of time travel gets all timey-wimey, but I’m not watching Fringe for the practical science.