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'Fringe' season finale recap/review: 'The Day We Died'

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Fringe closed out its third season with another peel-your-scalp-back finale in its final few minutes, preceded by an episode that tied many things together while introducing some new concepts. Oh, and also new hair styles, a new villain, and a new eye on Phillip Broyles.

Picking up where last week left off, the 47 year-old “Agent Peter Bishop” in the year 2026 was taken to the hospital after being injured. There we saw Agent Dunham — not Olivia, but her now-grown niece, Ella, who’s just been promoted to Fringe Division agent status. She was soon joined by Olivia; Ella is unsure what formal title she must use with her Aunt Liv, who solves the problem by saying, “Just call me ‘Boss'” — hmmm, Olivia has Broyles’ job now? Also, Astrid is a full-fledged Fringe Division agent as well. Less surprising: Olivia and Peter are married. (Kudos to you Commenters who said you’d spotted a wedding ring on future-Peter’s finger last week.)

Through quick, terse dialogue and by watching TV reports, we knew that the world was rapidly tearing — worm-holes, vortexes opening up in Manhattan and London’s Thames River, among other places — and there was a new-to-us foe, a terrorist named Moreau (Brad Dourif), a leader of the End of Dayers, whom we saw plant a bomb and explode an opera house. (With that one gesture, the show made sure we had no sympathy for Moreau’s cause, and made his subsequent connection to Walternate redound all the more poorly upon Walternate’s bitter revenge plotting.)

In quick succession, we saw now-Senator Broyles, who had a snazzy glowing-blue right eye, the result of some earlier assault, I assumed in Detroit, and he helped bring us up to speed on what happened between Peter’s present-day conjoining with the doomsday machine and 2026: “The entire globe is disintegrating,” said Broyles. And: “Walter is responsible.”

In a most poignant callback to the pilot of Fringe, Peter visited a Walter in captivity, his hair scraggly, his beard bushy. He had stood trial as the man who set in motion all the terrible things that were going wrong in the world and was serving time Peter was spared, as the latter was deemed an unwitting accomplice acting in “self-defense.” Freed on a temporary furlough to help Peter figure out the bomb mechanism found at the blasted opera house, Walter was reunited with Olivia, a scene that was important in establishing that Olivia has now gained such confidence, she could control her telekinesis to do quick, delicate things such as buoying a dropping box of Walter’s fragile lab equipment.

Walter had lost any of the personal-growth momentum he’d been developing in the wake of William Bell telling him he was on his own now and that he should trust his own instincts and intellect. Indeed, Walter called himself “the most reviled man in the universe,” and he was probably not exaggerating — even Ella, who once called him “Uncle Walter,” had a hard time seeing past Walter’s hubristic acts.

There were two almost back-to-back scenes with Peter at the center of them. When Walter blamed himself for all that’s gone wrong, Peter countered with a hearfelt, “You’re my dad” — i.e., he now considered Walter his true father. Then there was Peter’s sit-down with Walternate at the house in Reiden Lake (Peter was, to paraphrase the Observer, given the key… to save the girl?), where Peter apologized to the grim, white-haired man for “the personal suffering I caused you… I’m sorry for destroying our world” — that was to say, the alternate, “red” universe of Walternate’s.

But it turned out that this wasn’t a true meeting: Walternate had sent a sort of hologram version of himself to Peter, and thereby evaded Agent Bishop’s capture of him. Walternate then made good on his threat to destroy something Peter loved, by shooting Olivia dead.

I wish I could show you the little slip of paper on which I has scrawled, soon after seeing the coming attractions at the end of last week’s episode, these words: “Olivia Dies.” I swear, I predicted it… but of course, who cares about guessing correctly, since neither I nor you could have predicted how it happened? That’s one measure of good drama: You may have a strong feeling that, say, Anna Karenina is going to meet a bad end, but you’re moved when it happens anyway, in a manner you did not foresee. I’m not equating Jeff Pinker, J. H. Wyman, and Akiva Goldsman (the producer-writers of this teleplay) with Tolstoy, but the guys sure know about the power of love and family, about long-form foreshadowing, and unexpected pay-offs.

Seeing Olivia shot in the head and her corpse soon thereafter deposited into the sea was also pretty damn eerie, given what’s happened in “real life” in the past week to a certain sleeps-with-the-fishes terrorist.

Between them, Walter and Peter amassed a lot of knowledge: That Peter, since he can “see both worlds,” has to “make a different choice.” One of the implications? Olivia would not be dead.

The First People? Walter, Peter, and, perhaps, the Fringe inner circle — Peter wasn’t even ruling out Astrid. Walter and the First People had sent the parts of the machine back in time millions of years. Father and son realized that “our two worlds are inextricably linked… If one side dies, we all die.”

In one of the night’s final stunning moments, both universes’ doomsday workers were brought together in one spot: Walter facing Walter, Olivia facing Olivia. No more “alternate”s!

Thus Peter placed himself in the machines in both worlds, forming “a bridge, so that we can begin to fix” — but his image flickered out (much as Walternate had done earlier) before he completed that sentence; Peter was gone. It took an (“our”) Olivia to pick up on Peter’s thought, to send us off into next season: She said they had to work together to fix the universe.

This was where any other show would have ended. But there was a final kick: The Observers were arrayed across the green Liberty Island field. “You were right,” said one. “They don’t remember Peter.” “How could they?” said the other. “He never existed. He served his purpose.”

Now, think about the implications of what could happen. I’ll toss out a few. Walter can become whole again, his intellect and his humanity reintegrated. Same with Olivia. Or perhaps for a while we’ll have a pair of Olivias working together, as sisters in revolution.

Everyone will, I presume, be looking for a Peter. (They may have forgotten he existed now, but they’re going to find evidence that a Peter existed, or must exist — that is, must be willed into existence — don’t you think?) What will the disappeared Peter be like next season, what sort of changed man will he be? How will this Peter relate to the Olivia we see next season? My surmise is that Peter didn’t merely form the bridge; he is the bridge, operating, for the nonce, outside of time.

Think, moreover, of one other small thing: There may not be (is not?) a baby anymore. (If so, I for one will be glad. Love babies in real life; in Fringe, not so much.)

Consider about the whole arc of this season and tell me this wasn’t one of the most moving, thrilling, funny, inspiring chunks of television you’ve watched. The performances by Noble, Torv, and Jackson were extraordinarily adroit, never showy or merely clever. I was so glad that, by season’s end, Jackson/Peter had once again taken center-stage — a central importance — to a season that, by the nature of its design, needed to concentrate a lot on Walter(s) and Olivia(s).

Fringe benefit:

• Some clues were doubtless embedded in the phrases that flashed across the silver-gray opening credits, among them: “Thought Extraction,” “Clonal Transplantation,” “Dual Maternity,” “Brain Porting,” and — unprecedentedly  blunt-yet-vague — “Water” and “Hope.”

Hope is, and remains, what Fringe is, at its still center, all about.

Important note: Jeff Jensen will have an essential interview with Josh Jackson and John Noble here at EW.com tomorrow. Be sure to watch for it.

Twitter: @kentucker

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