It's the beginning of the end. Fox's fan favourite sci-fi series Fringe returns for its fifth and final season. Yes, it may only be a half season, only 13 episodes, but late last season myself and other loyal fans were just happy our beloved series had been renewed. Surviving TV's version of network series death-row being on the infamous Friday night time slots Fringe is now able to go out on their own terms. So where does a compacted half season take the series exactly? Well the better question is when.
In a not so typical season premiere fashion "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" (that's a mouthful of a title) doesn't quite pick up after last season's finale episode, but rather the fourth last episode of last year; "Letters of Transit" (4.19). If you need a quick refresher "Letters of Transit" was Fringe's standalone episode of the season set in the year 2036. In the future the observers have stopped watching the world in secret and now rule the Earth enslaving or policing the helpless human race. At the very end of "Letters of Transit" Henrietta, with a little help from an agent Simon Foster, had just freed Walter, then later Astrid, and her father Peter from 24 years of suspended animation after they encased themselves in amber. With the help from September, the good observer, now only Walter has the knowledge of how to defeat the observers. For safety reasons their plan was scrambled and locked away in Walter's mind and now the rest of the gang need to find a piece of tech to help him remember. Hence the lengthy title. And guess who has this important piece of tech? The final member of the Fringe team, Olivia, who also has been in amber for the last 20 something years.
The idea to start this fifth season off by piggybacking off of arguably last season's strongest episode is a brilliant one. Granted that since Fringe's show-runners had to conclude the series main arc last year as a contingency plan, encase this fifth year for the show never happened, the series will now have a different ending than was originally planned. So it only seems fitting for the show filled with paradoxes to have a second contingency plan with this 2036 futuristic setting to help continue their story.
Part of what I love about Fringe is they are constantly reinventing the show with every new season. Resetting the series in the future for this final year opens up a ton of possibilities for where the show could go. Last year when audiences first got a glimpse of this new world in "Letters of Transit" there was so much speculation, curiosity, and unanswered questions. Those aren't critiques but complements. The way they took the show to the future but by only filling in the blanks the were necessary to the story for that episode shows just how smart Fringe's producers & writers are at preserving the mystery aspect of the show.
Enough of me boasting my excitement for Fringe to be back and lets get to this season premiere. The episode opens roughly a day after Henrietta and Walter rescue Peter and Astrid from the amber. After a nights sleep the four of them go out and search for Olivia. Walter, the only one with the plan to rid the world of the observers, gets captured as the rest of them save and free Olivia from amber. When Olivia is awakened her reactions are mixed and things start to come to light about the missing years before their group ambered themselves. What has been revealed so far is that the day the observers publicly arrived, and started their rule, there was a blast and Peter & Olivia were separated from Henrietta. Thinking their 3 year old Henrietta dead Olivia is consumed by grief, while Peter still holds on hope for her to be alive. With neither able to come to terms and accept the same singular fate for their daughter Peter & Olivia grow apart. Olivia, bent on revenge, worked with Walter to take down the observers and Peter continued a near impossible search looking for their daughter.
For the most part that is all the backstory we are given during this season premiere episode. There was some brief flashbacks to help with the Peter & Olivia stuff but the character who will explain this transition to the future to the viewers at home will be Georgina Haig's Henrietta Bishop. Haig is a very welcomed addition to the cast as it gives a different dynamic to everything. The character of Henrietta has continued on, from her first appearance last year, in bridging the gap for audiences at home. She hasn't had much of interaction with her parents yet, other than recusing Walter (it is only the first episode though), but along the way she subtly explains this new world to them in a few mere lines of dialogue. Things like the observers need a stronger amount of carbon dioxide in the air to breath other than oxygen like humans and amber gypsies are a subculture apparently. The family stuff will come later but as of right now Henrietta the futuristic tour guide suits the show just fine.
Lastly there are some key points, events, and personal theories I have that I'd like to point out. First I thought it was hilarious that the first thing even remotely futuristic they decided to introduce during the premiere was the egg-sticks. Apparently a good source of protein but disliked by even Walter, and he eats pretty much everything. Speaking of Walter for the first half of the episode he isn't his usual quirky self. If you might remember after Henrietta and Simon repaired Walter's brain in "Letters of Transit" with the other tissue he had William Bell remove years before he became less the goofy Walter and more the serious type like Walternate had been. My two theories going forward are one: the goofy version of Walter may return in the aftermath of his almost life ending psychic interrogation with the observer Windmark, and two: Walter might be able to self-repair his mind (in a way) and possibly recover his memories of him and September's plans with the help of music. The whole music angle sounds a bit ridiculous but I can't think of a better reason why the final scene of Walter listening to Yazoo's "Only You" ran for so long before the end credits rolled.
Show-runners J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner wouldn't say much about this final season of Fringe this past summer at San Diego's 2012 Comic-Con but what they did hint at was periodically each episode would illuminate what happened to their characters leading up the year 2036. Unfortunately all signs point to Seth Gamble not returning as Lincoln Lee for this final season, however no other series regulars have departed. Lance Reddick's Agent Phillip Broyles and Blair Brown's Nina Sharp didn't make an appearance the first episode back but they were both in ep 4.19 last year and unlike the rest of the main cast they weren't suspended in amber. Meaning, in addition to Haig's Henrietta, Broyles and Nina could have their own episode or story about what exactly happened after the rest of the fringe team vanished and how the observers' occupation unfolded. With a compacted season for their final year Fringe will no doubt maintain the action-packed pace from this episode as well as continue with their mystery sci-fi element for an epic conclusion I'll be tuning in every week to see unfold.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.