After finishing the fourth season of Fringe, I find myself uttering the one word I never thought I’d use to describe it – disappointing. Whilst it pains me to say it, I have to admit that the science fiction show has finally become so convoluted that it’s bordering dangerously on being labelled tiresome; though with J.J.Abrams at the helm I suppose it was to be expected. The man is brilliant, but he has a habit of creating programmes that become so complex and intertwined that it’s difficult to follow the narrative and, more crucially, it’s impossible to remember what’s previously transpired. Season 4 seems to have lost the plot entirely and is probably the reason why season 5 is the final for the series.
I religiously watched and adored the first three seasons; between the bizarre ‘fringe’ occurrences and the mysteries surrounding the characters back stories, it was gripping, emotional and almost always baffling in the best of ways. It managed to maintain that vital element of realism and the small circle of endearing main characters kept the show grounded. The episodes in previous seasons could, and often did, stand alone, with plots that were satisfyingly resolved. This is not the case with Season 4 and I had to quite literally force myself to persevere to the end as I struggled to get past the dragged out storylines and plot links which were, quite simply, nonsensical.
Season 3 alternated between the two universes (the main universe and the deteriorating parallel one), with the creation of the Doomsday device and Peter’s part in reacting it, driving the narrative. It ended with the two universes being bridged, resulting in Peter disappearing and ceasing to have ever existed in people’s minds.
Season 4 picks up after this event, with the butterfly effect of this new reality without Peter meaning that both universes are now stabilised and are existing harmoniously. This part of the plot, however fundamental to the ongoing storyline, is the first breakdown. The series suffers from Joshua Jackson’s (Peter) absence, proving how vital his character, and equally his presence, is to the show’s success. It seemed bland without Peter and the episodes plodded on until he made his grand reappearance. Even after his return the plot struggled to gain momentum, feeling slow and unexciting as it went through the motions to get to the (ever so slightly more stirring) two-part finale. It seemed as if the same old stories were being cruelly regurgitated, with the excuse of it being a different timeline.
It was good to see the return of both the evil David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) and the newly evil William Bell (Leonard Nimroy), but this joy is short-lived as neither character has nearly enough screen time. The regular characters seemed less charismatic this season, as if they’d lost their mojo; Anna Torv especially looked about as bored as I felt.
In spite of people’s favourable comments on the Letter’s of Transit episode, it was one of my least preferred. The episode, which is set in the dystopian future of 2036 and sets up the premise for the final season, was completely out of place and lacked any sense of continuity. I was left thinking that I’d missed something, when in reality it was a poorly positioned episode. It might have been better placed at the end of the season where it could successfully link the timelines. If this episode is a sign of what’s to come in the final season it doesn’t give me much hope.
Despite this season being an overall disappointment, there’s one consistently positive element of Fringe that I only have good words for. His name is John Noble and he’s Fringe’s secret weapon. In much the same way that Joshua Jackson does, Noble brings light to Fringe at its dullest moments. With humour and eccentric humanity, his character Walter reinstalls the sense that all is not completely lost with the series.
If you haven’t ever watched Fringe you’ll most definitely be mystified by this review and the talk of parallel universes. It’s truly a series you have to watch to grasp. Saying that though, you could probably watch the entire series and still be none the wiser. It’s your call.