In the alternate universe, Madison Square Garden is the quarantined site of a worm-hole with people frozen since 1999 in containment-amber; Liberty Island doesn’t just have a bronze version of the Statue of Liberty — it’s also the headquarters for the Department of Defense. (Leave it to patriotic politicians to militarize a symbol of open welcome.)
And so the season finale of Fringe began, with Peter helicoptering over the island to greet his long-lost father, the Secretary of Defense Walter Bishop. They said all the right things — “I’ve imagined this moment so many times”; “It wasn’t easy, making the choice to come home” — but there was a manly reserve that precluded the emotional reunion Peter had with his mother last week. (I hope you recorded both of these hours, because they gain a lot in watching them back-to-back, as the two-hour TV-movie Walter’s hazy God intended.)
Still, Peter was sufficiently moved that the camera cut away discreetly, to the hospital where the crispy, original Walter had been taken after being shot. There, opposing teams — our Olivia and William Bell; alterna-Olivia and Charlie — were racing to his bedside from different directions. Our side won, and Walter and Bell were reunited, only to start squabbling. The new trio head off to a Kentucky Fried Chicken, where Walter wolfs down what looks like a Double Down and dons a Red Sox cap [update: many of you, more sports-knowledgeable than I am, comment that this was a Brooklyn Dodgers cap; I cede to you] as a disguise and the two scientists agree that Olivia needs help re-opening the soft-spot back to our universe after the deaths of her Cortexiphan friends last week. Avoiding sci-fi jargon when old-fashioned metaphors will do, Bell says that Olivia can open a crack in the universe-portal, but they need to make a “door-stop” to hold the door open for a full return.
Meanwhile, back at the DOD, Walternate tells Peter the technology needed to save Earth-2 is based on “very old tech” that he hopes Peter, with his aptitude for our world’s more advanced technology, will be able to upgrade and set in motion. Then Peter gets a load of alt-Olivia and likes what he sees. Faced with the easy-smiling, wisecracking Altivia, Peter looks at her sultry auburn tresses and says, “Your hair’s different — I think I like yours better.”
She takes Peter to an apartment where he can stay safe, and here we must bring up what I’ll call The Red Stuff. Most immediately, we notice that the apartment is decorated with framed comic-book covers including an issue of Red Lantern/Red Arrow that Neal Adams would have dreamed of only through bloodshot eyes; I think I also spotted a covers from The Dark Knight Returns and Justice League International, and I’m sure you’ll tell me what the others were. But the red stuff: The opening titles are in red, of course, and Altivia wears a red shirt under her leather jacket. Many rooms contain red furniture. Peter asks what the red marks on a map are in Walternate’s office (they’re the quarantine areas, dad says). When Bell drives our Walter through a blasted landscape on Earth-2, everything in the scene is shades of gray except for the candy Bell is eating: Twizzlers, aka red whips. Later, the machine used to slip back into “our” world glows a hot-coal red. In our world, we associate red with blood, life, passion; what does it mean in the alternate world?
Okay, back to our story. Bell and Walter go to alt-Harvard to take dusty sheets off the equipment the Walternate used for his experiments. The scene becomes both an impassioned argument and a Fringe-mythology info-land-fill: Bell tells Walter that the “William Bell on this side was killed in a car accident as a young man; over here, the other you and the other me never had occasion to meet.” When Walter brings up how their lives diverged — Bell became a rich executive while Walter went into a rubber room for 17 years — Bell barks angrily that “Creating Massive Dynamic was not my idea!” (Ding, ding, ding! Whose was it, then? Nina Sharp’s?) There’s a lot of wonderful acting here by John Noble (“You robbed me of my memory, my wife, my son!”) and much generous under-playing by Nimoy, allowing Walter’s anguish to take hold of the scene.
Back at Altivia’s apartment, she and Olivia get in a gun-to-gun stand-off, which becomes an excellently vicious Krav Magalternate fight scene. Olivia knocks out her foe, then dyes her blonde hair “chestnut brown,” it says on the box. She leaves Altivia tied up and rejoins Peter, who’s figured out the technology, which is made complete by a specific human genome — specifically and inevitably, Peter (that’s what has made him what he’s been called repeatedly throughout the season: “special”). Peter’s figured out something else: That his real dad is a bad guy. He tells Olivia, “It was never about fixing this universe — it was about destroying yours.”
“I don’t belong here, but I don’t belong there, either.” Olivia says, “You belong with me,” and… yes, Polivia fans, they kiss.
What follows is a grand-scale battle scene, with our heroes in a street war complete with unstable “phosphorous grenades.” Nimoy/Bell has a fine action-hero moment, explaining over the shooting and (red) fire, “I supplied Fringe Division with the 76 model [gun].” He shoots a mighty, obliterating blast and holds up his own weapon with a smile: “This is the 77.” Clint Eastwood or Elmore Leonard couldn’t have put it more succinctly.
There’s a big explosion, which knocks out Bell. When he comes to, Olivia is standing over him, saying, “Dr. Bell, can you hear me?” She explains the explosion: “I, uh, used the grenade.” This is the moment a switcheroo occurs, during the street battle, while Bell was knocked out by the grenade. Olivia always speaks precisely, but the Olivia we saw in this and subsequent scenes says “uh” and “um” and drops her “g”s (“I’m lookin’ for a typewriter).
Bell, “Olivia,” Peter, and Walter gather in the opera house, where the old Way-Back Machine is sitting, ready to go, pulsing red. Bell says, “I will be the power” that will help get them back to Earth-1. He says his atoms are so “split apart” from multiple universe-crossings, he’s the equivalent of many “atom bombs.” He’s a human door-stop, one who is about to sacrifice himself for these people. Bell’s last words to Walter are crucial, about “why I took those parts of your brain. I did it because you asked me to, because of what you were becoming.” There’s a massively dynamic clue about a theme I’ll bet will surface in Season Three.
Big red glow and — zap! — we’re back in our world, with a white-shirted Broyles saying “Welcome back” to Peter, “Olivia,” and Walter, but no Bell. Bell is, we’re supposed to believe, dead — exploded.
Pretty soon, we’re back at Ye Olde Typewriter Shoppe, where a certain O. asks for the familiar Selectric Model 251. She ruffles her hair and we see the tattoo — confirming it’s Altivia who’s come to our Earth, not Olivia. She types “Infiltration achieved,” but we don’t see the magic typewriter’s response. Finally, back on Earth-2 Secretary Walternate visits a prison-like facility, and a still-dark-haired Olivia, curled in a ball of fright (just as she was as a Cortexiphan child), gets up and begs, screams, “Please let me out of here!” End of season two of Fringe.
Do you really think Bell is dead? I know that in what we laughingly call real life, Leonard Nimoy has said this was his final acting job, that he won’t appear in Fringe or Star Trek or anyplace else. What a marvelous final performance, if that’s what this truly was. But what’s to stop Fringe from making William Bell reappear in another form? (And not to obsess about The Red Stuff, but I wouldn’t doubt that the Fringe writers are familiar with at least three other manifestations of “The Red Right Hand”: the phrase from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Nick Cave’s 1994 song, and Joel Towsley Rogers’ 1945 superb mystery novel.)
I’m also going to stop here and just give praise. First to the actors, not just the mighty John Noble, but also the ever-subtle Josh Jackson, and a truly adventurous Anna Torv. Second, to director Akiva Goldsman and writers Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and J.H. Wyman for these final two hours. I know that, right down to its title, Fringe is sci-fi with the emphasis on science, but I’m in it for its imagery and metaphor, its literary and cultural-studies provocations. The fact that the series can accommodate a fan like me only confirms what a well-wrought piece of pop culture Fringe has become.
Chime in below and tell me what you think about the finale, won’t you? Thanks.