Fringe definitely hit its peak in its third season. After building momentum during its first two seasons, the show aired a season of television that was not only one of the best seasons aired during that year but one of the best seasons of science-fiction television ever as it expertly handled parallel universes and other complex subject matter. While season four of the show was still enjoyable, the show did get a little too complex for its own good. Instead of fixing this problem for its fifth and final season though, the show only ratcheted up the complexity and in the process forgot what made this show so great in the first place. These final episodes of this once great series are a long way away from the glory days of season three.
In this final season of Fringe, the story takes place in the future as the Observers have taken over and have put the un-amber-ed parts of the world into an authoritarian state. After being released from the amber state they have been in for years, Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Walter (John Noble) try to find Olivia (Anna Torv) with the help of Peter and Olivia’s long lost daughter, Etta (Georgina Haig), before they try to take on the Observers. In a surprising move, Jeff Pinkner left as co-showrunner before the season began leaving J.H. Wyman as the show’s sole showrunner.
The loss of Jeff Pinkner in the writing room turned out to be a big one as it became clear this season that J.H. Wyman couldn’t handle the show on his own. While just taking on a simple storyline narrative (revolution), Wyman was somehow able to bog this entire season down in way too much scientific mumbo-jumbo and exposition that ultimately didn’t matter much in the end game. Wyman and his writing team lost track of what made this show work in the first place, the characters and the family they have created. While there were still numerous acknowledgements of that (from the fate of Etta to a touching final moment between Walter and Peter), they were too often clouded by tracking down MacGuffins and Observers talking about things obscurely. This was quite simply a season that brought all of the weaknesses that this show has had all along to the forefront.
That is a shame because the normally reliable cast got left behind. Anna Torv did not get a single bit of worthy material this season and the return of Alt-Olivia (who Torv has done wonders with) just seemed like a way to remedy that rather than bringing the character back to actually enhance the series’ narrative. Joshua Jackson (who has always been the series’ weak link) seemed like he was put in the forefront too often this season while John Noble took the brunt of the mythology stuff that bogged down this entire season. Luckily he was able to get some great moments in the series finale (especially when he was onscreen with Michael Cerveris, who got a worthy sendoff). Georgina Haig was another highlight this season (even if her screentime was all too brief).
With a final season as poor as this, Fringewill unfortunately fall short of being considered a sci-fi tv great.