Tuned In

Fringe Watch: A Different World

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Craig Blankenhorn/FOX

Craig Blankenhorn/FOX

Spoilers for the season finale of Fringe coming up after the jump: 

If I’ve had one overarching complaint about Fringe in its first season, it’s that it’s been timid: hemmed in by how much weirdness and mythology it thinks its audience can tolerate, hesitant to put any flesh on the vague notions of The Pattern and what Massive Dynamic et al. are up to.

You can’t exactly say that about last night’s breath-stopper of a season finale. Yes, we’ve been building up to the idea of a belief in a parallel universe earlier in the season. But last night’s finale not only focused on the parallel universe, but it actually ended its story inside that alter-Earth—one where an elderly JFK was addressing the UN (I think; I suppose from the photo it could have been a “former President” Teddy), the Obamas are moving into a rebuilt White House, Len Bias is alive, and—a staggering final shot—the World Trade Center is still standing, bathed in a golden sunrise. Oh, and evidently Peter is not the original Peter, but an alterna-Peter kidnapped from the other world by Walter in restitution for the loss of his actual son at age 7. 

It’s as if Lost had ended its first season not just by opening the hatch but by introducing time travel. Fringe, to reiterate that hoary sci-fi complaint, may not be giving us “the answers,” but it is putting the questions right out there, and suddenly I am much more eager to see a season 2 than I ever thought I’d be. A quick hail of bullets:

* Though news of Leonard Nimoy’s casting was out there—a nice two-fer with his appearance in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek—the reveal was still effective. One quibble: when you cast someone whose voice is as distictive as Nimoy’s, there’s probably no point in having him speak, then step out of the shadows for a big reveal.

* I’m a broken record about my admiration for John Noble, but this episode proved again how well he handles being the show’s expository linchpin, its comic relief and its emotional center all in one.

* Conversely, I don’t quite get all the complaints out there about Anna Torv. Hers is not the most emotionally compelling performance, but with Noble in the cast, I’m not sure that’s what this series needs, and I kind of like her willingness to play Dunham dry and low-key, instead of doing the heart-on-her-sleeve action star like Jennifer Garner.

* I don’t know how the harder-core sci-fi fans out there feel about structuring the story around a parallel reality, but I’m excited. No, it’s not the rarest premise in sci-fi, but it’s been used relatively rarely in serial TV. Unlike, say—cough, cough—time travel.

I know other Tuned Inlanders have run hot and cold on this show over the season; did the finale win you over the way it did me?