Top 10 Fringe Episodes
A lot of people remember Fox for being the assholes that cancelled Firefly. Or Arrested Development. Yet, once upon a time they had a show that took the geeks by storm: The X-Files. It followed 2 FBI agents investigation cases that dealt with the paranormal. It is a cultural TV icon. In 2008, Fox started a new show, Fringe, that was very similar to X-Files. It was about FBI Agent Olivia Dunham who teamed up with a mad scientist, Dr. Walter Bishop, and his caregiver son, Peter, to investigate matters of “fringe science,” for example time travel or genetic splicing. It was Fox’s little show that could. It was eventually moved to 9 o’clock on Friday night, a timeslot where much of its target audience is out doing things. Thankfully, the people at Fox saw something in it and held on to it despite its mediocre ratings. Recently, Fox gave them a limited number of episodes to conclude their season long arc. It ended on January 18 2013, and what better time to look back at the series’ top 10 best episodes than now.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but SPOILERS from here on out.
10. Brave New World (2 parter)
Episode: 21 & 22
Just in case the series ended here, this was set up to be somewhat of an ending. It didn’t answer all of the “mytharc” questions, but it concluded one major villains attempts to destroy the world (rather collapse the 2 universes to create 1 new universe). Robert David Jones (Jared Harris) has infested a Boston location with nannites that will cause anyone infected with them to spontaneously combust. The kicker is they only work if the subject is infected, so after a few deaths, everyone else cleverly stops moving so the Fringe team can come in and investigate. This was only a distraction so that he could set up antennas that would reopen the riff between the dimensions. He is doing this under directions from Dr. William Bell, Walter’s old friend and fellow mad scientist. Bell was played by Leonard Nimoy (SPOCK!). Nimoy kills it as Bell. He has a very gentle way of saying things that make him seem so nonthreatening, but the ideas that he is spewing are absolutely crazy. It is the whole series in a nutshell: fringe science threatens to end the world as they know it, often times under innocent intentions, while the fringe team, motivated and empowered by the immeasurable, intangible elements of humanity, save the day.
9. Anomaly XB-6783746
This episode takes place in the final 5th season. This is when the Fringe team froze themselves in amber to get away from the invading Observers only to wake up in a dystopian world run by The Observers. The Fringe team is now trying to take down The Observers. The key to this is a bald empathic boy, Michael, who is also mute. He was part of one of their earliest cases. The downside is The Observers know this, and they are also out there looking for him. The real highlight of the episode in the Fringe team’s old ally, Nina Sharp. Sharp is now elderly and stuck in a wheelchair, and when the Observers corner her and the boy before the Fringe team get to them, she has to act as the last defense to keep him safe. She is kind of out of options so she tells Michael to hide. When she comes face to face with The Observers, who believe they are the superior race, she gives them a talking too (a really great monologue by Blair Brown).
At the end of Over There (more on that later), Olivia is stuck in the other universe with her hair dyed to match her other self (called Fauxlivia by the fans and critics). The Fringe team from the other side are brainwashing her to make her believe that she is in fact Fauxlivia. Meanwhile, Fauxlivia crosses over to our dimension with a new hair color to pose as Olivia and send intel back to her Fringe team. This was a banner episode for actress, Anna Torv, who plays both versions of Olivia. Not only has she presented two characters that are equally as
The Fringe team have a new case. It turns out that a damaged New York building full of residents got damaged because a building from the other dimension was pulled through a rift and merged with the building on our side. Walter believes to equal out the matter a building from our side will eventually move to the other side. They need Olivia to tap into her latent abilities. Because these abilities were because of the drug trials she was part of as a child (run by Walter no less), she travels to the old lab in Jacksonville FL to knock something loose. She ends up on a trippy journey through her psyche literally trying to connect with he inner child. Olivia eventually saves the day as usual, but the final moments of the episode are what counts. Olivia’s new powers reveal to her that Peter is actually from the other side, and he doesn’t know it.
This is the earliest episode on the list. At this point, we know that there is this thing the FBI call The Pattern, and it is pretty much a bunch of old experiments done by Walter during his mad scientist days run amok. We also know that there are bald men who have shown up at important moments in history. The FBI calls them The Observers. An Observer has appeared in every episode thus far (and continues to show up). This is the first time the Observer enters the picture. His arrival also marks the arrival of a strange cylinder that works as a beacon. Before he goes the Observer has a cryptic meeting with Peter, and Walter later confides in him that he had a similar experience when he and Peter as a child almost drowned.
5. Over There (2 parter)
Episode: 22& 23
Peter knows he is from the other universe, and he takes it reallybad. He has romantic feelings for Olivia, and becoming a paternal figure for a psychologically handicapped Walter has made their relationship stronger than ever. And now he knows that it all isn’t real. When they are approached by the other Walter (dubbed Walternate), Peter volunteers to go back to his original universe. Our Fringe team uses a pseudo-prophecy (the literature is actually from the future so its more like a history book) to figure out that Peter, for being stolen from one universe and integrated into the other, is the key to a doomsday machine that Walternate plans to use to fold the universe into each other. So The Fringe Team crosses over to save Peter who is convinced where his real home is (hint: its our universe). I never thought much of Joshua Jackson. The Mighty Ducks is a great childrens’ series, but I didn’t really care for the soap opera antics of Dawson’s Creek. Here, in Fringe, Jackson convinces me that he is leading man material. He has confidence on camera, chemistry with just about every single person, and is no slouch when it comes to the physical aspects of the show.
4. Subject 13
This is a flashback episode to when Walter was a mad scientist testing a drug called Cortexiphan n children and documenting the paranormal abilities the children started exhibiting. One of those children was Olivia. This is the first time Olivia meets Peter, also as a child and having already been kidnapped from the parallel universe. These kind of episodes, where we find out characters had met each other earlier in life and they just happen to not remember it, can be troublesome. It just seems ham-fisted, but Fringe figures it out. The focus is on Walter, a character which actor John Noble should be given the utmost credit for. He can simultaneously be funny and tragic in his absent-mindedness, and the shadow of his days as a mad scientist weigh down on top of him making him less of a man and more of a baby. In these earlier days, Fringe decides to paint him less mad and more obsessed. When he pushes the children too far, he immediately feels guilt and tries to make amends. It is also one of the greatest endings a Fringe episode has ever had. Olivia, developing the ability to move between universe, runs into Walter’s office to tell him she knows she can do it and giving him a picture she drew of herself with Peter. A loud noise gets her attention behind her. Its Walter walking into his office. She turns and the Walter she was talking to as well as her drawing are gone. Walternate now knows what happened to his Peter.
3. And Those We’ve Left Behind
Season 4 was an interesting one. Peter, being the only Peter in either world, used himself to bridge the 2 worlds so that each Fringe Division could work together to fix the deterioration of the worlds at the expense of his existence. He was disappears and neither side remembers him, but through a combination of his will to live and Walter and Olivia’s love anchoring him, Peter reappeared. That is the story of this season, but this episode (which shares the seasons’ motifs) is a bit of a detour. While investigating time fluctuations, the Fringe team find a time bubble surrounding a suburban house. Inside the house is the Greens (character actor Stephen Root and his real life wife, Rosy Rosemont). Katy Green was a distinguished professor of physics until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Raymond is a skilled electrical engineer using her research to create the time bubble transporting Katy back to a time when he didn’t have Alzheimer. It is quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking episodes of television ever (let alone just Fringe). You might recognize Stephen Root from the tv show News Radio or from the few projects he had with the Coen brothers. He is one of the most talented character actors working today. With his real wife playing his on-screen love, the chemistry is absolutely perfect, thus why it becomes so sad to watch Katy relapse into her disease while Raymond is powerless to stop it.
2. White Tulip
This is an amazing episode. It is representative of everything Fringe can be. It is for all intents and purposes a stand alone episode about a weird piece of science that the Fringe team is investigating, but that doesn’t stop the mytharc. The themes of the mytharc are embedded in the episode, and Walter is actively struggling with writing a letter that would reveal the truth to Peter. The writers refered to it as “mythalone,” being able to welcome new viewers yet still sate the fans. The investigation revolves around a MIT astrophysicist, Alistair Peck, played by Peter Weler (fucking Robocop, DUDE!). Peck is attempting to go back in time to save his fiance from dying in a car crash. Each jump suck the energy not just out of electronics, but also the people in close vicinity. The key moment is when Peck and Walter meet up an discuss the morality of using the science that is hurting people to save just one. The chemistry and tension is palpable. This episode also sets up the symbol of the white tulip as a symbol of forgiveness, one that continues to come up as the series goes on.
This is it. The episode that reveals how the story got moving. It explains how parallel Peter ended up in our universe. See, our Peter got very sick, and Walter could not find a cure. Racked with guilt, he created a window that would look into other worlds, one where Peter may have survived. Just to know that Peter is alive would be enough for Walter. He sees other Peter, but he is sick too. Walternate finds a cure, but he isn’t paying attention when it happens. So Walter creates a door, kidnaps Peter, and retraces Walternate’s steps. Peter is cured, but while they are trying to return, the door is destroyed. Peter is now stuck in our universe, thus he is the Peter we have been watching the whole show. It is such a brilliant origin story of all the problems that have happened over the course of the show and goes to show how good intentions can go very very bad: one of the central themes of the show as well as a classic science fiction theme.
For obvious reasons, Fringe has been and probably always will be compared to The X-Files. When I first started writing here, I did a list of the best X-Files episodes, but there is a big difference between these 2 lists. The X-Files list are entirely stand alone episodes, while this Fringe one are almost entirely mytharc episodes.