Season Finale: Fringe – “There’s More Than One of Everything”

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“There’s More Than One of Everything”

May 12th, 2009

I wrote a piece a while back about the ways in which Fringe sits between the procedural and the serial, with episodes that feel heavily formulaic and others that are heavily serialized and almost feel like a different show. “There’s More Than One of Everything,” as a finale, sits as the latter, an engaging with huge ideas, long-gestating character reveals, and the central “reality” that the show has been dealing with.

But what makes this episode work is that it didn’t come after a string of your run of the mill procedural episodes: by spending more or less the entirety of the post-hiatus period, which I haven’t been blogging about as I’ve been forced to play catchup more than once, balancing these two elements more effectively than in the first part of the season, the show has found its footing and was capable of delivering this finale without feeling as if this was an out of the blue burst of serialized interest to a show that too often falls on its procedural elements.

So when the scene eventually arrives when all of the individual cases suddenly tie together to help Olivia solve the true motivations of the infamous Mr. Jones, it doesn’t feel like the hackneyed scene it could have. The show doesn’t quite feel as natural as, say, Lost within this particular environment of the big event episode, but the show quite adequately and quite subtlely put itself into position for this finale over the past few weeks, and it was much more effective as a result.

As for whether it’s right up there with Abrams’ other shows in terms of finales, well, that’s a different story…but not an unpleasant one for the creator.

J.J. Abrams didn’t actually have anything to do with this finale from a conceptual level, neither directing or writing any part of it, but it has his fingerprints all over it with its ending. There’s nothing that Abrams likes better, especially on Alias (the last show that he legitimately ran, let’s be honest), than an ending that totally rocks the show’s world and turns it on a dime. So, when the camera pans back to reveal that Olivia has entered into the alternate reality, and that in that alternate reality of New York the World Trade Center’s twin towers still stand, one can’t help but applaud Abrams and his team for putting together a final shot that feels quite fittingly epic and, considering the tragedy it evokes, quite powerful when leading into the summer hiatus.

Now, we’ll see next time if Abrams is getting better with following through on his finales (Alias Season Three, I’m looking in your direction), but there’s a lot more to this twist than just the twist itself: she wasn’t magically transported to that particular area, but rather we learned how it was done, why it was done, and even understood in what ways it had been used in the past. If clarity and a lack of vague notions is the price we pay for Abrams hewing more carefully to network notes and dialing down the mythology slightly, I’m all for it: both in last week’s episode and in this finale, the payoff of the alternate reality was well paced and well executed, offering visual excitement (people cut in half), some serious tension with good Mr. Jones making a return appearance, and of course the biggest reveal of all.

We have known for a while that Peter was, at the very least, something different than just human: Walter has told the story of his “near” death in that car, and how his being alive shouldn’t be possible. Whether that was a story implanted by his subconscious as a defence mechanism or something else entirely, we now realize that it isn’t true: based on the conversations early in the episode, and confirmed by the gravestone at episode’s end, we now realize that the item Walter went into the alternate reality to bring back to him was, in fact, his son Peter. And with that we have a revelation, hidden from any of the characters but Walter as far as we can tell, that there isn’t more than one of everything, considering that one of the Peter Bishops is dead.

I’m looking forward to the flashback episode that perhaps explains this a bit more clearly, but this answers one of my early season problems, Peter being quite uninteresting and boring, although perhaps unnecessarily: I’ve quite liked Peter as of late, and felt like his more calm approach to Walter (and last week’s project that he developed to help his father with his records) is far superior to their constant tension. The show, despite heading into darker and darker territory these past few weeks, has nicely maintained their relationship as something without quite as many hangups, and this in some ways could entirely overcomplicate that.

At the same time, though, the beauty (and perhaps contrivance) of Walter as a character is that his memory is so complicated that he can hide things like these facts just long enough for the show to go back to being a more standard procedural before eventually emerging and taking Walter back to the place where he finds the most emotional struggle. It means that we can still have Walter and Peter bantering about, but now with the knowledge that Walter’s mind is blocking out the fact that his choice to bring Peter over was clearly not an easy one. Let’s think about it: wouldn’t he be kidnapping his alternate self’s child, taking him away from his mother and father? And, depending on what age he was, is Peter’s pancakes story a memory of this Walter or the other, alternate one?

It’s not clear how far the alternate reality theory goes: does it explain some of the past phenomenon, like perhaps the hairless child who had been living in the sewers for that length of time, or the Observer who seems to bear many similar qualities? Or is the alternate reality simply one potential plaything for the series, one that will be reserved for this particular conflict and that doesn’t quite reach as far as we might think it does? Either way, it’s a fascinating idea, and by tying it to Peter the show will be able to tie it to a very human connection, and one that will complicated (selectively) the relationship between father and son.

The episode’s other major revelation on the character front is the introduction of William Bell, quite enjoyably played by Leonard Nimoy in a scene that FOX quite ridiculously showed in the previews along with many other key scenes. While the finale still had punch thanks to that pull back, Nimoy’s presence was helpful: not only did it cause me to return to the night’s earlier excitement during Star Trek (which I saw this evening), but it finally puts a face to the name that we knew would have to show up after being introduced in the pilot. In a season like this one, it’s important that there’s something of a cycle, and Bell is a good place to start on expanding the show to the next level considering that he, unlike Walter, both understands his past and seems capable of communicating the future (or what he expects of it) to Olivia.

You’ll notice I haven’t talked about Olivia much, but this storyline has gone a lot of great things for her too, albeit less emotional: after being quite lifeless for most of the season, she still isn’t overly engaging but the show isn’t pretending that she is. While Alias got bogged down in “You are the Chosen One”-like language in regards to Sidney Bristow, Abrams is intelligently placing Olivia at the center of these trials almost by random: because she was one of the children who was first tested, and now happens to be investigating these crimes, she is particularly able to tap into these alternate realities, as we saw during her visions in last week’s episode.

This has been quite subtlely done over a number of episodes, and while Bell’s “I’ve been waiting a long time for this” gave me a few too many Rambaldi flashbacks, I think that Olivia needed a reason to be in this investigation and has now received one. Her motivation was long John Scott’s death, which was actually kind of holding the series back: it was too simple in that it was quite a simple emotion, and too complex in Scott’s various allegiances, and it led to some of the first half’s struggles. By comparison, this purpose actually feels like it makes Olivia better at this job, more in tune with what she is investigating, and I’m quite pleased with how Anna Torv has begun to suck much less (sorry, can’t think of any other way to put in) during this back end.

The series isn’t yet in a position where it can do big and enormous finales, but it positioned itself well: Blair Brown’s Nina Sharpe was the right character to be heralding in these changes, Broyles was intelligently used as a sort of guiding force while remaining at a distance from the science, and perhaps most importantly Robert Jones is a downright creepy villain turned even creepier in his oozing, bandaged form. Combine with the vivid special effects, whether the people cut in half or the need black and white view into the alternate reality, and you have an episode that felt suitably climactic, and impressively so considering how little momentum the show seemed to have in the beginning of the season.

So, really, this was everything it needed to be: the show still has a lot of potential to tap into, and as I say Abrams isn’t known for following through on his finales, but that powerful final image and a recent track record of high calibre should be enough to keep fans of the series engaged until fall, when the show returns without an American Idol lead-in but with plenty of expectations. Thankfully for the show, however, a finale like this one creates expectations that go beyond ratings into the realm of “What’s going to happen next?”

And after a rocky start, the show should be glad to get to that point.

Cultural Observations

  • Some great cinematography here, especially the shots of The Observer and Walter on the beach: I didn’t get to watch the show in HD, but by all accounts it should be seeing some attention from the Academy in terms of its look.
  • Charlie’s hat? Was awesome.
  • There’s some questions that Bell needs to answer: for example, is the reason for his technological supremacy in this reality related to something in the alternate reality, perhaps a discovery or an occurence that happened or did not happen? Was there a scenario wherein, in that reality, Hitler never rose to power, or the atomic bomb was never invented, or anything radical of that nature? Considering that September 11th never happened, that would be a pretty hugely different world, not some sort of subtle change, and I’m curious to see both how much time we spend in that world and to what extent its technological progress reflects on Bell’s success.
  • I’ll use this as my quick pulpit for a moment: Star Trek was freaking spectacular. Even if you have no relationship with these characters, the balance of nostalgia and ingenuity was running better than I could have expected, the special effects were strong but within the vein of the series, the performances (especially Chris Pine) were absolutely fantastic, and Michael Giacchino’s score was superlative (especially for an action film of this nature). Abrams put together an impressive package, and I can’t wait for a sequel. In Fringe-related news, I now don’t blame Giacchino for phoning in his Fringe scores, his movie stuff has been fantastic.
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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Season Finale: Fringe – “There’s More Than One of Everything”

  1. Haz

    Great episode. Not the eye-popping, intense crazyness in a typical Lost season finale, but still interesting. I will say though, I am warming to Anna Torv but she definitely needs to bring next season in terms of emotions.
    That whole 9/11 aspect at the end was amazing. But I read it that the attacks did occur. United 93 hit the White House. But the two planes did not hit he towers. I got that from the newspaper on Bell’s office. The headline was “Obamas moving in to the NEW WHITE HOUSE”, Wink Wink. Anyway, Great episode, can’t wait for season 2.
    PS: Get Joshua Jackson some more screen time. Even the assistant on the show is on screen more than him. WEEEIRd!

    PEACE

  2. Interesting that JJ Abrams’ alternative reality always has lots of lens flares… I’m referring to the ending and of course Star Trek, which had hundreds of them.

    • I read in an interview that the lens flares were an homage to Star Trek: TOS. Something about light playing across faces. He sure has been catching a lot of hell for them, but I kind of enjoyed them.

  3. Waterland

    I think Haz is right— the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 still occurred, but the White House was hit while the twin towers survived. And did anyone else see the model ship on the chair in the beach house? It looked a lot like the Black Rock to me…

  4. Tinker E. Chance

    I just caught up with the show. I am a huge X-Files fan, and this show is very derivative of that show to me (in a good way). I think that there is enough potential for Season 2 to be good, though I am slightly skeptical. There’s enough in the overall mythology of the show for it to be good, we’ll just see how it’s executed.

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