This Friday marks the final episode of Fox’s Fringe with a two-hour “event.” I love Fringe, and while I love that they are getting the proper send-off, I am devastated to see it go.
Looking back, Fringe is one of those shows that is difficult to pull out a handful of “must see” episodes. If you are a fan, you have seen them. If you haven’t been watching the show, there is no “catching up” - you’ve got to watch it from the beginning. The show started out as a mix of monster-of-the-week procedural, but when J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinker took over the reigns in season two, they brought in a dense and complex mythology that made the fans obsess happily, but made it difficult to tune in casually.
My hope with this list is to set up the important moments in the life of Fringe; the wackiest, the most interesting, and hopefully the stuff that will cause non-viewers to seek it out on DVD. It is in no way exhaustive; just a selection of some of the episodes that stand out most to me.
The Fringe series finale airs as a two-hour special on January 18th at 8pm on Fox.
The season one finale was a mind blower, as it was the first to take us into the alternate universe, which became an integral part of the mythology of Fringe.
Episode 216 - “Peter”
The first episode to really employ time travel, this one took us back to the 1980s, when Walter was a mad scientist instead of just being mad. It is here that we learn the truth about Peter’s death and Walter’s obsession with bringing him back - even if it meant kidnapping him from a parallel universe. In addition to the important plot points, setting the episode in the 1980s afforded the chance to use many fun retro references, including an 8-bit credit sequence.
Episode 218 - “White Tulip”
The first “mythalone” episode - a phrase coined by showrunner Joel Wyman to describe an episode that both new viewers and hardcore fans could enjoy - is often considered the finest, most poignant single episode in all of Fringe’s 100 episodes. The story involves another mad scientist (played by guest star Peter Weller) who himself is working on time travel. It leads to a sincere “heart-to-heart” among the two scientists, with themes of redemption and forgiveness. The white tulip is a symbol of forgiveness and something that is a recurring thread throughout the series (most recently turning up in episode 518.)
Episode 220 - “Brown Betty”
In the last few years, everyone has done musical episodes - to varying effectiveness. But Fringe may be the first genre series to do a musical episode since Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s 2001 episode, “Once More With Feeling.” And they did it well. Essentially a standalone episode, Walter smokes an extra-special batch of marijuana he grew called Brown Betty - and is then asked to babysit Olivia’s niece, Ella. He spins for her a noir tale, casting Olivia as the lead detective in Ella’s mother’s murder.
It is interesting to note that this episode was actually the 19th of the season, but the 20th to air (due to a season one holdover.) As you will see below, beginning with “Brown Betty,” the producers used the 19th episode of each season as a “play” episode.
When the episode first aired, I had this to say: “Hands down, my favorite episode of Fringe ever. It had everything: Passion! Betrayal! Zombies! Urban legends come to life!” And it was certainly one of the more gruesome episodes. A depressed 17-year-old ballerina kills herself and her mother donates her organs. A man in her therapy group, desperate to give her one more chance, has been stealing the organs in hopes of bringing the ballerina back to life. Add onto this the Fringe science of keeping people alive without, say, a heart, and the fact that he hands the dancer’s corpse like a gruesome marionette, and this episode has pretty much everything you could ever want.
William Bell’s consciousness has taken up residency within Olivia, and time to separate them is running out. Walter being, well, Walter, he feels the best was to separate them is to go into her mind - and that will require Walter-sized doses of LSD. Peter trips for the first time; Broyles trips on accident, and the bulk of the episode is animated. It’s pure wackiness as only Fringe can do.
This episode took place in the year 2036 and was clearly a setup for a fifth season, despite the fact that, at the time that this episode was shot, most critics and analysts didn’t think Fringe would make it to a fifth season. Olivia wasn’t in this episode, and Peter doesn’t show up until the end. Instead we follow a young, blonde Fringe agent named Etta - who is clearly Olivia and Peter’s daughter, even though that reveal doesn’t come until the last scene - and the beginning of the Observers invasion. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of this episode, but it was truly important to the run of the series. Plus, after being frozen in amber for 20 years, Walter comes out with even more holes in his Swiss cheese brain, which makes him even more childlike and ridiculous.
Since Fringe wouldn’t have an episode 19 in its final season, they put a fair amount of playful weirdness into episode nine - but not the whole episode. On this leg of their scavenger hunt, Peter, Olivia, and Walter come across a young boy who had been hidden away decades ago by Walter and Donald. The boy, Michael, has not aged; in fact, he is an Observer child, the only one they’ve ever seen. Michael’s caregivers do not believe that they are the ones they have been waiting for, and ask for the password, which only Walter has. He can’t remember, but “luckily’ he dropped acid before heading out, and retrieves the password from his cracked brain via a Monty Python animation.