Fringe (TV series)

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Fringe intertitle.png
The "Prime Universe" title card used from seasons 1–3.
Created by
Theme music composerJ. J. Abrams
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes100 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
Production location(s)
Running time
  • 81 minutes ("Pilot")
  • 50 minutes (Season 1)
  • 43 minutes (Seasons 2–5)
Production company(s)
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkFox
Picture format720p (HDTV)
Audio formatDolby Digital 5.1
Original releaseSeptember 9, 2008 (2008-09-09) –
January 18, 2013 (2013-01-18)

Fringe is an American science fiction television series created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. It premiered on the Fox network on September 9, 2008, and concluded on January 18, 2013, after five seasons and 100 episodes. The series follows Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), and Walter Bishop (John Noble), all members of the fictional Fringe Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, based in Boston, Massachusetts, under the supervision of Homeland Security. The team uses fringe science and FBI investigative techniques to investigate a series of unexplained, often ghastly occurrences, which are related to mysteries surrounding a parallel universe.

The series has been described as a hybrid of fantasy, procedural dramas and serials, influenced by films like Altered States and television shows such as Lost, The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. The series began as a traditional mystery-of-the-week series and became more serialized in later seasons. Most episodes contain a standalone plot, with several others also exploring the series' overarching mythology.

Critical reception was at first lukewarm but became more favorable after the first season, when the series began to explore its mythology, including parallel universes and alternate timelines. The show, along with cast and crew, were nominated for many major awards. Despite its move to the "Friday night death slot" and low ratings, the series developed a cult following. It also spawned two six-part comic book series, an alternate reality game, and three novels.

Emotions and conscience

One of the themes underlying this series is that of the emotions that make us human, together with conscience which is our interior moral compass. This is developed through the characters called Observers who had no emotions and no conscience.

The Observers are hairless pale men that typically wear grey suits and fedora hats. They are quiet, tending to mind their own business and interact only minimally with others.[2] Appearing in every episode, they tend to appear before significant events in history.[3] They use advanced equipment, such as advanced communication devices and compact binoculars, and they employ an alien written alphabet. A distinguishing trait is their diminished sense of taste, and it is often shown that they can only taste very spicy food. Observers also have diminished emotions.

The Observers are able to predict future events, and they are able to travel in time and across universes without difficulty because of their advanced technology. In "The End of All Things", it is revealed that the group of Observers seen in the first four seasons are a team of scientists from the far future, or at least from one of humanity's many possible futures. This group of Observers traveled to their past to observe the events that led to their creation.

The group of Observers seen in the show during the first four seasons had designated code names, with each individual referred to as a month of the year: September (Michael Cerveris) appears in every episode in the first four seasons, even if only in a cameo shot, while December (Eugene Lipinski) and others appear with less frequency. In the episode named "August" a rogue Observer named August was shown (Peter Woodward) who sought to try to change the fate of a young woman contrary to the Observers' practice.[4]

September is seen in both universes during the episode "Peter", both to cause Walternate to miss a critical observation for the cure for Peter's illness in the parallel universe, and to rescue Walter and Peter after they fell through the ice in the prime one.[5]

The episode "The Firefly" involves a series of events temporally engineered by September to force Walter to make a choice regarding Peter's safety as to prepare him for a future event. These events included bringing the son of Walter's favorite musician into the present to draw Walter's attention.[3][6]

After Peter's disappearance in the third season's finale, "The Day We Died", the Observers remain aware that Peter has vanished, claiming he has been erased from existence.[7]

The episode "Letters of Transit" reveals that by the year 2609, the Observers had wreaked environmental havoc on the Earth - to the point that they decided to simply travel back in time to the early 21st century and colonize the planet before the environmental destruction occurred. In the year 2015, the Observers invaded from the future, instituting "The Purge" and killing many humans. Although humans continued to resist well into the year 2036, the Observers largely succeeded in conquering the planet. The fifth season focuses on events in this future, where the Observers, run by Captain Windmark, maintain control on the remaining humans through their own abilities and the assistance of human Loyalists. A rogue group of humans, the Resistance, fight against the Observers, and have come to learn much about the Observers' abilities, including that many extend from an implant in the back of their neck that expands their mental processing power at the cost of emotions. Due to coming from a much more polluted Earth from six centuries in the future, the unpolluted atmosphere of 21st century Earth is too "clean" for Observers to live in for prolonged periods of time (or perhaps, simply uncomfortable): thus after conquering present-day Earth, the Observers set up terraforming factories to increase the level of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, which will cut short the life expectancy of regular humans by decades.

In the episode "The Boy Must Live", September explains that the final emotionless version of the Observers were "born" out of an experiment performed by a Norwegian scientist in 2167. That scientist was the first scientist to replace space in the brain usually designated for negative human emotions, such as rage, with brain cells tuned to increase intellect. Many generations of humanity later, brain cells currently tuned for emotions (not just the bad ones but the good ones as well) were engineered to be intellectual brain cells. Higher and higher intelligence was the ultimate goal.

The experimenter modified human genes to displace certain emotional facilities for improved mental abilities, and the success of the experiment eventually led to the development of near-emotionless humans with high levels of intelligence that became humanity's evolutionary future - aka "the Observers." Without emotions, there was no urge to procreate, and thus the Observers developed technology to artificially grow new Observers using Observer DNA via maturation chambers.

During the out of body growth process, Observers were grown from embryo into fully matured adults. Sometimes, the growth process would create genetic anomalies; typically, the Observers would destroy any anomalies. The Observer September encountered one such anomaly - Anomaly XB-6783746 - and was affected when he learned he was the "genetic parent." September did not destroy his progeny but developed a strong desire to save his son - Anomaly XB-6783746 - after scans revealed that the Observer was even smarter than mature Observers while possessing all of the emotions sacrificed so easily starting in 2167. His son, later named "Michael" by human caretakers during the initial Earth invasion by the Observers- possessed both human emotions and Observer-level intelligence. September then hid the child in the early 21st century (which was humanity's future but centuries before September's time). The series' finale concluded with Walter's successful effort to transport "Michael" to 2167 to convince the Norwegian scientists to abandon any efforts for reproductive medicine which might involve sacrificing emotions. These emotions are the backbone of humanity's conscience and moral compass and when humanity loses its collective moral compass in the pursuit of raw intelligence - we become the cold and calculating husks deemed "the Observers."

In the series finale, December explains that all twelve members of the science team had begun to experience varying degrees of human emotion, and that they had all agreed to keep these emerging emotions to themselves, in order to remain undetected by the other Observers in the future. They were also unaware that their mission of observation was also a precursor to the invasion that would see the Observers take over in 2015.

  1. Buchanan, Jason. "Fringe [TV Series] (2008)". AllMovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved January 18, 2013.
  2. Levin, Gary (November 19, 2009). "Michael Cerveris of 'Fringe' relishes role of the Observer". USA Today. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Fringe recap: Ep 3.10 "The Firefly"". Open Salon. January 24, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  4. Dennis Smith (director), J. H. Wyman (writer), Jeff Pinkner (writer) (November 19, 2009). "August". Fringe. Season 2. Episode 8. Fox. {{cite episode}}: Unknown parameter |episodelink= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |serieslink= ignored (help)
  5. David Straiton (director), Akiva Goldsman (story), J. H. Wyman (story and teleplay) Jeff Pinkner (story and teleplay) Josh Singer (story and teleplay) (April 1, 2010). "Peter". Fringe. Season 2. Episode 16. Fox. {{cite episode}}: Unknown parameter |episodelink= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |serieslink= ignored (help)
  6. Charles Beeson (director), J.H. Wyman (writer), Jeff Pinkner (writer) (January 21, 2011). "The Firefly". Fringe. Season 3. Episode 10. Fox. {{cite episode}}: Unknown parameter |episodelink= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |serieslink= ignored (help)
  7. Joe Chappelle (director), Jeff Pinkner (teleplay and story), J. H. Wyman (teleplay and story), Akiva Goldsman (story) (May 6, 2011). "The Day We Died". Fringe. Season 3. Episode 22. Fox. {{cite episode}}: Unknown parameter |episodelink= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |serieslink= ignored (help)