In 2036, Walter, Peter and Astrid track down Olivia who, like them, has been ‘frozen’ in amber since 2015. They (and the Observers) attempt to reconstruct Walter’s fragmented plan to take down the oppressive Observers.
It is great that Fringe has been given a 13 episode final season to wrap up the show, hopefully to fans’ satisfaction—it feels earned after four years of imaginative storytelling. However, the changes that have been made in putting the regular characters into the Observer-dominated future of 2036 (previously seen towards the end of last season in ‘Letters of Transit’, an episode thought to be a one-off flash-forward at the time…) have turned Fringe into a different kind of show.
The series has changed frequently across the four previous seasons, but the investigation of ‘fringe science’ topics was always central to it. The ‘two universes’ idea obviously caught the creators’ attention, so that was developed, explored, then wrapped up. Last season’s ‘where’s Peter?’ storyline stalled repeatedly and was rather confusing, so much so that at the start of this fifth and final season it can be quite difficult recalling exactly where Fringe is, narratively-speaking. There’s quite a jump from the end of the previous season, although some throwaway dialogue attempts to fill in the gaps.
This new take on Fringe looks set to re-invent the series again, but this time it could take the shape of a bog standard heroes-against-the-evil-oppressors storyline. It has to be hoped that the showrunners have something more interesting up their sleeves than this episode seemingly promises…
The recovery of Olivia is achieved fairly quickly, but with consequences as Walter falls into the hands of nasty Observer Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa, returning from ‘Letters of Transit’). Walter’s torture is brutal, and it will be interesting to see if the effects of this (with significant memory loss seemingly being one of them) are forgotten by the next instalment.
Georgina Haig returns as Peter and Olivia’s daughter Etta, with the family relationships now beginning to reflect those in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, as timey-wimey effects have compressed the parent-child age difference quite significantly.
There are some decent emotional moments here, with Peter and Olivia lamenting their lost past and memory-damaged Walter being moved by the music of Yazoo he finds on an old CD. This is all good stuff, but ‘Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11’ is ultimately rather underwhelming and a little disappointing (and not just because of the absence of ‘Letters of Transit’ guest star Henry Ian Cusick, either).
Fringe has always displayed more imagination than the usual dull ‘good guys versus bad guys’ shows. Some faith is required that (despite signs to the contrary) this season will shape up to be something exceptional, rather than run-of-the-mill.
Verdict: A worryingly conventional reboot for the often-fantastic Fringe.
Episode 1 ‘Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11’: 7/10
Brian J. Robb