Fringe has never exactly done things the easy way. Having begun life, to all appearances, as a kind of early-X-Files anthology show about weird occurrences, the show got steadily more ambitious, involved and challenging–parallel universes, alternative realities, time travel in several directions. And as several of the show’s stars and producers said, at one last, wistful but good-humored Television Critics Association panel, some fans got left behind on the interdimensional journey.
Speaking in a recorded video message, megaproducer J.J. Abrams acknowledged that the show never became huge, thanking Fox for “support[ing] a show that isn’t a massive hit.” The bright side of the show’s ratings, he joked, was that “we can have these parties, we can have mixers with every single viewer in attendance.”
I’m not one of those fans who dropped Fringe, exactly, though I do think that–after I felt the show peaked in its third season–it fell off in its fourth season. I still watched, and often liked it, but it started losing me as it burned through its parallel universes plot and eventually introduced an endgame that involved our heroes in a rebellion, set in the future, against an invasion of the show’s mysterious Observers, from the even farther future.
And yet hearing the show’s stars talk about the experience of wrapping up the show–and more important, getting the chance to finish the show on a set timetable–I felt my affection for the show surging back. In part, it’s a matter of investment. Star Joshua Jackson likened shooting the last season of the show to wrapping up Dawson’s Creek–a show I fell even more out of love with as it went on, but felt compelled to see wrap up for old times’ sake. Finishing up a second series, Jackson said, he wasn’t sad: “All shows end. I’m just glad we have the opportunity to end well.”
Appearing with Anna Torv, Lance Reddick and executive producer J.H. Wyman (John Noble was “under the weather”), Jackson with his costars also praised the show’s writers for taking risks throughout the show’s run: they could have, he said, “rested on our laurels after the first or second season, but we blew it up and went to another universe.” (One aspect of the parallel-universe storyline Jackson won’t miss, he says, is sitting through the long process of watching other actors, playing two versions of themselves, set up and “speak to air” two times, to get both halves of the scene.)
What’s kept the show involving as it’s gone through numerous twists is its sustained emotion: the relationship between Peter and Olivia, the father-son relationship between Walter and Peter, Walter’s sense of guilt and responsibility for righting the effects of his past hubris. It was always important that the show never be simply cool or clever, Wyman said: “Being clever is not an emotion.”
And if there was one thing this last panel had, it was emotion. Responding to a question about playing an African American character who wasn’t defined by his race, Reddick began by giving the story of how he came to get the role. (He originally auditioned for Charlie, then for Broyles, and was passed over for both roles before Fox changed its mind.) Then, returning to the point that he had wanted to make sure he wasn’t typecast as the “angry black commander,” he recalled finishing up as Daniels on The Wire–a not-dissimilar role, he noted–just before starting Fringe.
After wrapping The Wire, he said, he thought, “I can’t wait to play something else. Then after my last scene, I couldn’t stop crying.” As he finished the story, he started choking up again.
And I’ll admit I felt it too. Though I remain a little dubious of the turn Fringe has taken–resetting its story, in a sense, to a fight-the-future resistance storyline–I’m hoping a final 13 episodes will focus its creativity. I’ll miss the show’s brand of weird science with heart. And there’s no way I won’t watch through the end. When it comes time to say goodbye to family, that’s just what you do.