'Fringe' season finale review: Killing to live, living to die

Fringe closed out its season with an hour that wrapped up some of this season’s loose ends, settled some timeline hash, quoted some William Butler Yeats, answered a few nagging Observer observations, and rang William Bell to a fare-thee-well.

The first satisfying twist in “Brave New World” part two was (SPOILER ALERT!) to have Jessica Holt prove to be a pistol-packing baddie (I got that vibe off her last week, but wrongly thought — silly me — from the color of her hair she might prove to be Nina’s evil daughter). In the cosmic balance of things, Astrid lived even as Jessica died a lingering death. Holt shot the Observer September (his blood-stained white shirt an immediate visual reference to the “Back To Where You’ve Never Been” episode) but then Super-Olivia deflected further bullets which ricocheted back into Jessica.

With the help of Nina, Walter, Peter, and Olivia kept Jessica alive long enough for the show to work in some nicely off-putting googly-eyed special-effects and information about Olivia’s importance to the future/present/past. (Pause to congratulate Josh Jackson for delivering the line that instructed Olivia to inject Jessica not in her body but “right in the thinker,” pointing to his head.) By the climax of the episode, it was Olivia taking a shot to the head: A bullet fired by Walter in a startling desperation move, guessing/knowing that Olivia’s Cortexiphan consciousness would quell the vortex, heal the worlds (as well as her wound). This was also an answer to the earlier episode’s Observer message that Olivia would die in all possible futures, something September uttered without knowing how it could be true until it happened here.

Fringe has taken risks, repeatedly over the seasons, with the riff of bringing characters back to life, if not resurrection from final death at least reviving a spark of consciousness on the verge of flickering out. This night’s variation on that riff was a superlative one, almost Reanimator-funny except that it was also so emotional. After Peter’s initial agony at witnessing his father shoot the woman he loves, the sane-mad-scientist scene of Walter pushing the bullet through Olivia’s skull, her wound quickly healing from its Cortexiphan content, was exhilarating.

Leonard Nimoy has made for a marvelous overreaching genius, his booming voice the perfect instrument with which to deliver sermons conversationally. Which is to say that not many actors, hemmed in by the small screen, could talk about how much Walter “hated God” after Peter’s deaths, could go Biblical about God “creating us in His image” and then rejecting the idea that he was “playing God” because: “I am.” Those two flatly inflected, chilling words were fully as potent as his earlier, more lyrical recitation, that “I grew older; I grew cynical; I grew cancer.” And unlike Walter’s watery grave Reiden Lake, Bell wanted to seek his solitary death on a more utopian island, William Butler Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree”:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

But first, there was the new world as both Walter and Bell had conceived it; indeed, this was as explicit as Fringe has ever been about how the standard notion of scientists thinking of themselves of as gods and then believing their own hype. Stoked on the ideas that Walter originally cooked up like so much LSD and then had removed from his brain, Bell had gone so far as to build and stock an ark, one that would contain all animal life-forms except the corrupt, sinful, fallen human ones: “I assumed Walter and I would die off,” said Bell, with the new collapsed world he left behind “unencumbered by the savage whims of mankind.” And even the unexpected presence of Olivia and Peter didn’t faze him: the megalomaniacal Bell concluded, “You will be the new Adam and Eve!” No, it turned out, he ultimately upgraded Olivia “the Redeemer.” As I said, this was Fringe going very on-the-nose with its religion, and all the more vivid for being so boldly direct.

Walter’s flaw was, ultimately, a loss of faith — in humankind, in the nature of fundamental goodness in the world. He, as much as Bell, played God — in fact, more successfully than Belly, because Walter succeeded in granting himself salvation: By snipping out the arrant hubris in his nature, and doing penance as a madman, and reconnecting with his humanity lo these many months in becoming a true father to his only begotten son. His tragic irony is that he helped to create in young Olive a vessel for “incredible compassion” (Nina’s phrase); that is the greatest end-result of Cortexiphan-dosing, with Olivia its purest example. In the duality that Fringe has made central to its core, Olivia was now the power source that Peter had been to connect (or disconnect) the worlds. “You had the power all along,” said Nina, who, when Olivia made the comparison to The Wizard of Oz, suddenly reminded me a bit of Glinda the Good Witch. #BuildABetterWorld indeed.

This is mad-scientist stuff at a very high level. The care in construction was, as always, meticulous. Jessica Holt hearing the ding-ding-ding of her bicycle bell echoed in Belly’s Magical Disappearing Ring-My-Bell.

As for the final-minutes cliffhanger touches — Broyles promoted to General; a new Fringe division with a science department that Nina would oversee; Olivia’s pregnancy; September’s admonition to Walter (“We have to warn the others; they are coming”) — I leave them to the grateful fifth season of Fringe. Yeats again, my choice of verse this time:

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Twitter: @kentucker

For more: Fringe finale: Producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman discuss those final moments, tease season 5

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