Fringe (TV series)

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From Seeds of the Word, the encyclopedia of the influence of the Gospel on culture

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 languageEnglish
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes100 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
Production locations
Running time
  • 81 minutes ("Pilot")
  • 50 minutes (Season 1)
  • 43 minutes (Seasons 2–5)
Production companies
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.

The protagonist and his relationship with God

Walter Bishop was an eccentric researcher specializing in fringe science.

He was one of the most brilliant scientific minds of his generation with an above average I.Q. of 196. From the 1970s until around 1991, Walter, an endowed chair of Biochemistry at Harvard, conducted experiments in the basement of the college's Kresge building, along with his lab partner William Bell and their assistants. The field of the duo's experiments ranged from quantum physics to genetic engineering, propelling Walter into an unknown relationship with the U.S. government to advance its most scientifically innovative -- and ethically questionable -- research projects under the heading of fringe science.

At one point in the early 1980s, Walter assisted William Bell's experiments on children using the drug "Cortexiphan". The test subjects included both Olivia Dunham and Nick Lane. ("Bad Dreams")

An accident in 1991 resulted in the death of at least one of his assistants, Carla Warren ("The No-Brainer"), beginning many accusations of Walter using humans as guinea pigs for his experiments.

Charged with manslaughter, Walter was instead deemed mentally unstable and admitted to St. Claire's Psychiatric Institution. Only Walter's immediate family were able to visit him in the institution, though it took seventeen years before his son, Peter Bishop, would even speak to him.

After seventeen years of being locked up in a mental institution, which had many negative effects on his personality, Walter was eventually recruited by the FBI to work in their Fringe Division alongside Olivia Dunham and his son, Peter Bishop.

When Walter has an MRI of his brain, his charts show that he has been through a procedure on his brain. A review of Walter's test results showed that has had three incisions on the left temporal lobe. Walter had tissue removed from his hippocampus, which stores memory and contributes to spatial awareness. This was done by his friend William Bell to remove the memory of how Walter opened the doorway to the dimension. When his brain pieces were reconnected by Thomas Jerome Newton he seemed more normal than ever. ("Grey Matters")

Walter says that he had been an atheist until he stole Peter from the other side. The night after the crime Walter instinctually realized that he had violated God's trust and domain and believes the series of misfortunes that have taken place since have been God punishing him. Walter asks God for proof of his forgiveness in the form of a white tulip. When another scientist points out that tulips don't bloom at this time of year, Walter responds "But he's God". He further explains that "If God can forgive me maybe it's in the realm of possibilities that my son can forgive me too" ("The Man from the Other Side")

Creation, life and death

The Vacuum (or the Machine) exists in both universes and has the ability to create or destroy worlds. It was designed by Walter Bishop in 2026 and sent back in time through a wormhole in the shattered universes' fabrics. Somehow, Walternate acquired the device with the intention of destroying the other universe in order to save his own. He used his son, Peter Bishop, in his insidious plot as nothing more than a pawn in his elaborate agenda.

The device is an ontological paradox, having never been created or destroyed, instead, existing in a time loop. It was originally thought to have been created by an ancient civilization called the First People. Several sketches were created detailing the device and its uses, most prominently being the one of Peter Bishop activating the Machine with fire coming out of his eyes amid the backdrop of a destroyed city. The artist of these sketches is currently unknown. ("Over There: Part 2") Another sketch depicts Olivia Dunham acting as the crowbar.

In the year 2026, Walter realized that the First People were actually not prehistoric beings, but himself. He realized that he could revert the damage by sending the Machine back in time, knowing that it would be discovered by the Fringe Division. He altered the Machine by creating a system that would send Peter's consciousness forward in time. In the future, Peter would be able to see the repercussions of destroying the Alternate Universe and make a different choice.

Naturally, the most logical decision would be to not send the Machine back at all, thus guaranteeing the Alternate Universe would never be destroyed. However, because the Machine was indeed sent back in time originally, Walter had no choice but to send it back again or else risk creating a paradox. Walter explained to Peter that by instituting a technology that would allow Peter's consciousness to travel forward in time, he would be able to circumvent the rules of time and give Peter the opportunity to create a different choice.

Walter intended to send the Machine back through time by way of a wormhole, meaning that he, himself, was actually the origin of the First People myth and that the Machine paradoxically exists but cannot exist. ("The Day We Died") As it was transported back to a time period before the two universes split, it was duplicated when the Alternate-Universe was created.

Father - son relationship

The main character, Walter Bishop, has a son named Peter. Peter was born in the Alternate Universe in 1978. In 1985 at the age of 7, Peter had an incurable illness, just like his counterpart Over Here. His father desperately searched for a cure, as did the Walter Bishop from Over Here. The other Peter Bishop died before Walter could discover this cure.

However, unwilling to let his son go, Walter continued searching for a cure by watching Walternate search for a compound through a window with the capability of seeing through universes. Walternate discovered the correct compound, but September, an Observer, distracted him.

The Observer, whose job it was to see moments of historical significance, did not realize the ramifications of distracting Walternate. The scientist turned away from the experiment, missing the signal that the compound had worked. When he demanded September to leave his lab and turned back to his experiment, the indicator had faded, leaving Walternate to assume the test had failed. However, Walter Bishop had seen the experiment and was able to reproduce it.

Now, knowing that he was the only hope for the dying child on the Other Side, Walter crossed over, intent on giving the cure to the boy and proceeding to pick up the pieces of his life without a son. However, the vial containing the cure shattered, leading Walter, in a final act of desperation, to kidnap Peter, bring him Over Here, cure him, and return him to his rightful home. However, when the two returned, they fell through a patch of ice into a lake. With their fate apparently certain, Walter and Peter were saved by the same Observer, who seemed to have a job of saving Peter's life after he accidentally distracted Walternate.

There were even more consequences which even Walter could not foresee. The crossing between universes fundamentally weakened the very fabric of the universes. Crossing over to return Peter would risk ripping the universes apart at the seams. Coupled with Elizabeth Bishop's love for her son, Walter decided to raise Peter as the son that he had lost.

Throughout his childhood, a rift between him and his father developed. After Walter was institutionalized, Peter moved to Allston with his mother because she could not afford the mortgage of their house in Cambridge. They didn't speak for the next 17 years, during the time that Walter was in the mental facility, until his hand was practically forced by the FBI agent Olivia Dunham who needed his help to get in touch with Walter, the only one who could help with her investigations on fringe science cases. Walter was then released by the hospital into Peter's custody and Walter's former laboratory at Harvard University, which had been shut down in the meantime, was reopened for him to use.

After an incident on a bridge where Peter sees "a man from the other side", Peter realizes that he is not from the prime universe. Walter is saddened by Peter's anger and he tries to apologize, but Peter won't forgive him. ("Brown Betty") Walternate crosses over to take Peter home, and Walter is further saddened by this. ("Over There: Part 1") He then gathers Cortexiphan test subjects to cross over to rescue Peter. While over there, he reunites with William Bell and eventually rescues Peter. Though Bell dies in the process when they return to the prime universe, Walter does get some closure from Bell. ("Over There: Part 2")("Season 2").

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 tightly tied to emotions. These are developed especially through the characters called Observers, who had no emotions and barely any 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)