Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Fringe" Review: "Brave New World"

I suppose there's some rather excusable anger going about in the wake of "Fringe"s penultimate season finale, mostly due to the fact that there wasn't very much of a stinger on the episode. It wasn't an episode that made for a gut-wrenching denouement, mostly because they'd already done that two episodes back. Their nineteenth episode, which often breaks formula and goes the strange route, broke the rule of leaving surprise revelations on next season to the very end. They revealed that, in the endgame of this season, everything would turn out alright, in a sense anyway. We'd already gotten the tough goodbye to the parallel universe. Now was closing up the arc of this season.

Now I suppose there's the simple suggestion that you leave "Letters of Transit" to the very end of the season, but that would have rung a little anticlimactic. If you think about it, the last four episode of the season really act as a four-part season finale, but in this case the first of those four episodes told us where Season 5 will take us. Does that obliterate any tension from the remaining three episodes? In a manner, yes. We know who lives to see the year 2036, and that makes it rather impossible for any of them to die. But there's also an inevitability to the rest of proceedings. "World's Apart" was such a pedal-to-the-floor episode as it tried to veer in the opposite direction of catastrophe, only to reach the conclusion that closing the door between universes was inevitable.

So "Brave New World" had the difficult job of bridging that extra gap, which it did at least partially. The first hour was very much a quietly emotional one, and I loved how they let things be told by the story and not by the dialogue. Olivia and Peter's desire for a happy life together was doused by very real fears of death. As a matter of fact, I was rather pleased with the opening case of Jessica Holt. There really seemed to be a sense of loss in that strand, that death was inevitably coming for her. I liked the measured release of Olivia's power there, that it was rather quickly getting out of hand. But even there, I noticed something not quite kosher with Jessica.

As it turns out, she's a baddie for the villain, which was such a massive disappointment for me. So much of what made the first hour work was this feeling of somebody living a normal life, with problems of her own, suddenly facing death. And now she's just evil. What an unfortunate switch, but I digress. You've got to take some good with the bad, though there was plenty disappointment in the pot. I realize, appreciate, and actually like the way David Robert Jones was dispatched in this episode. The revelation of nanites quietly reveals how Jones was able to repair himself after transporting out of a German prison in Season 1. To that point, I also liked revealing that he too was nothing but a pawn in the scheme of the real master. I just feel bad for Jared Harris, who was kind of given the short stick once again. Another death, all too soon.

But who is the master villain? Why William Bell, of course. This season has been all about how Peter's death in both universes changed people's lives. Apparently it inadvertently led to William Bell getting cancer. That's something that really does need a little more explanation. He didn't get cancer in the original timeline. Why now? And how can the brilliant master of science come up with Cortexiphan as the only solution to cancer? There's got to be something smarter that he could have done, but for some reason didn't. But again, I digress. Good with the bad. All that jazz, which leads me to my fourth complaint for this episode.

September, whose shooting has been a mystery that's lingered across the entire season, seemed trapped all too easily, and by somebody who really didn't matter. I understand that William has plenty expendable lackees, but there has to be somebody more qualified for this act of evil, right? I mean, there is the question of how William knew about that stasis ring, and how he was able to hide it from September's future vision. Still, it felt like an easy way to tie up a storyline, and not an incredibly emotional one. And my fifth and final complaint for this episode was Nina, who has previously this season been such a strong character, but in this episode she was... fluffy. Stick "You've had the power all along" right alongside "Mutant and proud". Oh god, it would be horrible if "Fringe" suddenly turned into "X-Men: First Class".

Actually, I do have a sixth complaint. Peter, whose importance has waned as the season went forward, is just way too bland a character now. He gets some wonderful lines, and I love Joshua Jackson, but the character is just boring now. He seems too happy for his own good. Isn't this the guy who knew all the cool and illegal ways to get something done? What happened to that? What set that off in this episode was how he played such a coddling husband-type in his scenes with Olivia. This episode did him no favor, and he seemed like a 50s house Frau in my opinion. Hopefully they mend that in season five, but I have my doubts.

So there we go. The bad is out, but there is still a ton of good. Where do we start? How about Walter and Astrid, who have gone on one hell of a ride this season. We got a real good dissection of their relationship throughout the year, from him treating her as his voice puppet, to him revealing a little more care to her, and most recently to him realizing that she likes tending to him. Do I feel an awkward romance on the rise? I hope I do, because that would be amazing to see realized. Astrid really got to show her FBI moves in the warehouse before being unfortunately, and rather sadly, shot. No, you just don't get to do that to her and freak us out like that.

But it was most powerful to see her in the hospital. I have to say, if there's an MVP to this episode, it's Jasika Nicole, whose sense of guilt and not being able to better protect Walter was so strong. I just love her so damn much. It made the scene of Astrid calling Walter out on saying her name right, and then handing him Red Vines, all the more sweet. Their relationship has quickly become the strongest remaining on the show. Give Peter and Olivia some spark. Bring back Lincoln and Bolivia. Stop pushing Broyles and Nina! It's awkward, and weird, and makes no sense!

And on a side note, are we going to see the Observers kill of Astrid's father? I never thought of that, but it seems so strong! That has to happen. I don't care if it's cruel. I don't want to have a series finale that leaves our characters' lives intact. I don't want to feel like they go on further adventures! I want true and absolute closure. I don't want to see Heaven. "Lost" already did that, and they did it best. I want to story to feel true, definitive, and as strong as it was in "Peter". Anything less, and they've failed. Sorry to lay it out so upfront, but the writers have really put themselves in a corner. This season has had its weak points, and they have to mend that with their final direction. It has to be devastating. It has to be bold. If we see all the characters left happy, I won't be. If we see just Peter left alive, I'm good. If we see just Henrietta left alive, I'm good, but that is rather predictable and cheesy. If we see just Walter left alive, I'm good, but I'd rather see him die. Just saying that's the direction he really should take.

But back to the episode at hand, what also worked was William Bell. I know it had been hinted at that he would return in some way, but seeing Leonard Nimoy back in the flesh was one hell of a shock. What was more of a delight turned out to be that in the years absent in this timeline, he has gone absolutely loony. Apparently that's what happens when you inject yourself with Cortexiphan, and you could see that though his intelligence hasn't lost, his sanity most definitely has. The childlike inflection he gives to all his statements places him rather coldly in "I'm right and you're wrong, na-na-na-na-boo-boo" territory. As such, he gets some hilarious line-readings.

And though I wasn't a fan of what happened to Jessica Holt's story, I was happy with what they did with her after she died. The scene of them reviving her brain to interrogate was one of the strangest, most disturbing and absolutely bonkers scenes this show has put on. I absolutely loved it, and it shows they're not out of ideas. They just seem a little too sheltered and kind to their characters. I'm fine with them giving their characters a kind end this year, but I have a bad feeling they'll do it again next year. I don't want to leave the series with a bunch of characters still alive. I want a final season death orgy that announces the definitive end.

But again returning to the story one last time, I loved how difficult the last ten minutes were, when Walter turned around and horrifically put a bullet in Olivia's skull to end the collapse of two universes. How he slapped Peter to his senses, quite hilariously given Peter's sappy downturn. But most of all, how they had to push the bullet out of Olivia's brain. That was tough to watch, but oh so brilliant. I worried there'd be brain damage, but there really should have been. Actually, I wish they'd turned her back into Amber timeline Olivia. That would have been an awesome way to lead into next season. Instead, it was all too expected.

I get it, and I get why the writers did it that way, but they have still put themselves in a rather difficult position for their finale. They have to tie up the arcs of the characters in an emotional way that doesn't make them all happy. Peter needs to get his badass center back, and not be this perfect husband. That's just a weak move. Walter needs to finally cope with what he's done, and pay final sacrifices to make up for it all. We need to see Walter die, which as horrible as that may sound, and even though the writers may stray away from it for me simply saying it, that needs to happen for him. It shouldn't be too pleasantly sacrificial, like original timeline William Bell. It shouldn't be like a one-off disposing of characters, like Alt-Lincoln. It needs to be difficult and wrenching right up to the last moment, and far beyond.

Olivia also looks like she's got a tough road ahead. Maybe she will still die. We don't know where she is in 2036. She may be dead. And we don't know if William has already done "what he did to her" as Walter and Astrid reference in "Letters of Transit". But she is going to have a final arc that ties things up for her. She's a person who has been constantly putting herself in harm's way for the good of people. Sure, she's died twice, both by Walter's hand, but she hasn't sacrificed herself. I thought she might in this finale, but she didn't, which means it's still to come. And Astrid? I've already said that thing about her father. Don't just make it a scene where she talks about the event. SHOW IT TO US! Don't tell things! Show things! And if Walter is still alive in the end, Walter and Astrid need to be a real couple. Not up for debate, and I am serious!

You can do whatever you like with Nina. Broyles will find his proper end, I'm sure. But I have just one more suggestion for the final season: Be Bold! Before this finale, I might have gone to call "Fringe" the best science fiction since "2001: A Space Odyssey". Now, I don't think it ever will be, but maybe they can prove me wrong. Maybe they can do something that isn't predictable, overt, and sentimental. In Season 5, don't be corny. Don't be evasive. Don't care too much about your characters. It's not about them. It's about the story. It's about what the story is saying. If you end the show in a predictable way, with everybody happily ever after, it will all have been for nothing. I have stuck my neck out for this show for years. Joel and Jeff, I don't need you to prove yourselves to the public. I need you to prove to me that it wasn't a mistake. That is what needs to be done.

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