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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

For the final season, a very different “Fringe”

Published: October 5, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

In the world of science fiction, J.J. Abrams has become something of a king, creating the long-running show “Lost,” with an almost cult-like, devotional fanbase despite a near-incomprehensible plot, in addition to directing the latest “Stark Trek” movie and it’s forthcoming sequel. With so much success, it’s sad to see another of Abrams’ projects fall by the wayside. “Fringe,” which premiered its fifth season last Friday, has been given only a half a season to finish its story arc before cancellation. Nevertheless, the final countdown to the end of “Fringe,” has begun and it has dawned with quite the flourish.

The season premier, though flawed, was ultimately rewarding and enthralling. It places the characters in what is essentially an entirely new plot, built on the universe created in the past seasons but set 20 years in the future. This presents the team with very different challenges. Rather than fighting scientific mystery, the Fringe team now fights the oppressive regime of a previously benign group called the Observers, long a part of the “Fringe” mythos but never before taking such an active role in the story. This radically different formula, though risky and unfamiliar, ultimately pays off.

Though Fringe no longer has the air of mystery and science to lean on, the added emphasis on character and family is what has always allowed “Fringe” to stand out from the pack in the world of science fiction, and is what is emphasized in this premier. In truth, the old formula of “Fringe” was lost long ago, somewhere around season three, and without an effective new plot, season four floundered and nearly died then and there. Although a certain sense of nostalgia for the old formula will always be present, the new emphasis on family would make that monster-of-the-week basis seem hollow and meaningless. This emphasis, furthermore, is certainly a good thing. Focusing on the development of the characters as they relate to each other makes the show seem more realistic despite its wild science fiction, and has been the overarching direction all along. Although very different and slightly uncomfortable, ultimately branching off in this new direction to close-off the show, will most likely prove a wise choice. The sense of oncoming closure, though detracting from the vast open sense of mystery that the show once had, is the best path for this stage of the story.

In addition to setting up an exciting new story, the production details of the season five premier were above and beyond the regular “Fringe” standard. Most of note is a much more artistic sense of cinematography, particularly evident in the episode’s final scene.

The depiction of a mid-apocalyptic New York presents some great opportunities for not only sweeping shots of an altered skyline, but also for the small details of broken and flashing CDs hanging from a string in last efforts at art in a world so openly hostile to it. Single yellow flowers growing out of cracks in the pavement, are ultimately symbols of what this premier was about: a new hope for humanity in the face of conquest and oppression.

In addition, season five presents a new character, meaning that a whole new actress has to fit herself into a long-standing and well-established cast of beloved characters. Georgina Haig plays Etta Bishop flawlessly. As the daughter of two other characters well-known by the audience, her challenge as an actress was to play a character that was believably their child. Haig took on this massive task and gave us a character that not only looks like her parents but bears elements of their personalities as well.

The cast that viewers have known from the past seasons, consisting primarily of Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble, was as brilliant as ever, reflecting the underlying issues and apparent personalities of their characters with every expression and gesture.

Though very strong on its own, the season five premier does reflect some of the problems that “Fringe” has run into over its four-season lifespan. Season four featured a massive reset of the story, erasing all memory of a particular character and inserting him back into a family that did not know him. Over the course of the season, the producers apparently seemed to have decided that this was a bad idea, and it seems that with the dawn of season five, writers are trying to make us forget that this strange derailment ever happened.

In the time between seasons three and four (a three-year-span of time), relationships have all apparently been built exactly back to where they were. All of season four seems, in effect, a meaningless diversion, inserted when the writers assumed that they would have more time before cancellation. As a result, the premier bore a sense of being forced, pushing the audience to forget what had happened. Although the character disappearance that prompted season four was merited and important in terms of development, “Fringe” seems to have wanted to have it all: getting rid of their character for the purpose of plot and some character development, but then bringing him back so that the team could also continue as normal. This was a mark of poor writing, and although season five represents a strong new beginning, the demerit still stands.

Despite building on some serious faults, the premier of season five shows great promise. The writers have promised to give answers to a myriad of still-unanswered questions, and provide closure for the characters that fans have come to love.