Peter and Olivia try to stop William Bell from creating his 'Brave New World' in an episode that sets the stage for the show's final season

By Jeff Jensen
May 12, 2012 at 05:43 PM EDT
Liane Hentscher/Fox
S4 E22
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The season finale of Fringe ended with both a birth announcement and a death notice. In the aftermath of a world-saving skirmish with Yaets-quoting wannabe god William Bell that left Olivia Dunham briefly deceased from a bullet to the brain, the Cortexiphan-juiced FBI agent revealed to Peter Bishop that she was pregnant. The Henrietta Cometh! The budding parents hugged; eavesdropping Walter and Astrid beamed. Yet in the very next scene, we saw the elder Bishop burning the midnight oil in the Harvard lab and receiving a visit from a certain fedora-sporting time traveling friend. “We must tell the others,” September said. “They’re coming.” The Observers cometh, too! And with that, Fringe sent us into the hiatus believing that the oppressive liberty-snuffing future seen in “Letters of Transit” remains in play. But will the final season of the sci-fi saga be set in 2036, with Team Bishop Boys leading a revolution against their bald headed, water-swigging rulers? Or will the action be set in the present, with pregnant (or new mom) Olivia and the rest of Fringe division fighting to subvert Observageddon? One thing’s for certain: I’m happy to even be theory-dreaming about one more season of Fringe.

While not the equal of previous season finales, the second part of “Brave New World” was rough and uneven and yet always compelling and altogether good enough. Part of me thinks that “Letters of Transit” would have been a more interesting, buzzy way to conclude the year. Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the finale we got was that it didn’t deal more knowingly with the premise that defined the season: The timeline reboot. The conceit had been downplayed in recent weeks, and the finale only lightly touched on the matter, during a tender scene between Olivia and her (former) foster mother, Nina Sharp. In allowing her Rebootlandia identity to fade away so her original recipe self could take hold, Olivia made the choice to give up the historical, emotional connection she had with Nina. That choice hurt Nina. But it left her with eyes to see the point that I think Fringe was trying to make with the reboot, which seems to be a gloss on the old maxim “the more things change, the more things stay the same,” or put another way, a trippy-ironic sci-fi take on the philosophical concept known as “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” Here at the end of this controversial reboot year, the relationships as they were have been restored, and the fundamental nature of each character remains the same. Fringe pounded its storytelling world into a warped new shape, just so it could bounce back to its old form. Everything is pretty much in its right place — at least, the things that actually matter: The people. Was the journey worth the point? I think Fringe fans will be debating this for years, the same way Lost fans argue over season 3 or the way Buffy fans argue over season 6. No, season four of Fringe was not the best season of Fringe, but it deserves huge props for creative boldness, several episodes that were certifiable keepers, and more Emmy-worthy work from the year’s MVP cast member, John Noble. But again, I think “Brave New World (Part Two)” should have made a meatier, more explicit summary statement about the reboot. A scene I wanted to see, but didn’t get: Peter acknowledging the long, crazy trip it’s been since the season 3 finale. After all, the younger Bishop’s psychic quantum leap to 2026 via The Doomsday Machine set in motion the chain of events that precipitated to the reboot, which ironically fulfilled the function of The Bridge: To save the “over here” and “over there” universes from destruction. Does Peter still have any memory of his 2025 jaunt? Maybe next season will tell the tale.

The episode opened with Belly and Walter watching an episode of Terra Nova. Wait, sorry: It started with Bell using virtual reality tech to show his old friend and former colleague the new earth he wanted to create, a land before time Eden populated with designer life forms like his freighter ark of animal-human hybrids. (Bell’s scheme owes something to one of the more underrated sci-fi spectaculars in recent memory: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.) To make his New Genesis, Spock Face needed a big bang, and he intended to produce one via the collision of the “over here” and “over there” worlds. Providing the power: Cortexiphan kid Olivia Dunham, tweaking with extraordinary electromagnetic energy. Bell explained that he got the idea to play almighty creator from Walter: Back in the eighties, Bishop invented radical terraforming tech and was tempted to use it in exactly the way Belly was using it now because of his anger toward God over the deaths of both Peters. Walter’s conscience got the better of him, and he asked William to cut those memories out of his brain to prevent him going full-on Dr. Manhattan. Presumably, the resulting damage punched his ticket to St. Claire’s. Bell took up the mad mantle years later after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He became angry and cynical. He also became convinced that if man was truly made in God’s image, then man’s destiny was to become gods. Or at least, just William Bell.

I’m not sure if I believed everything Bell told us. And I’m not just saying that because Bell’s stated motivations and backstory blow up the elaborate theory that I shared with you last week. My reason for suspicion is the same thing that keeps my speculation alive: “Stasis Runes.” In a bit of business that many of you anticipated (but I did not), we learned that Rebecca Mader’s character, introduced last week, was actually an agent working for William Bell. I’m guessing that her function – whether she knew this or not – was to produce scenarios that would further activate Olivia’s powers. Last week, she played the role of nanite victim; Olivia cured her. Last night, she phoned Olivia, claimed that someone was following her, and asked her to come over to her house. As Jessica baited Agent Dunham, we saw September arrive – and then get snared by “stasis runes,” a golden symbol painted on the floor that was actually technology from the future capable of trapping Observers.

Long story short, Olivia and Peter found September stuck to this hexagonal slab of glyph-marked flooring in the now-abandoned warehouse where Bell was storing his excess animal-human hybrids. Before the heroes could liberate The Observer, Jessica showed up and made a show of shooting September with a weapon devised by Bell for the purpose of killing Observers. She put one bullet into September. When she tried put more into him, Olivia used her telekinetic abilities to deflect them back at Jessica, killing her. Olivia then told the wounded time traveler about their peculiar encounter in “Back To Where You’ve Never Been,” when Bloody September appeared to her and claimed that in every possible world, she had to die. The Observer said he had no memory of that moment in the opera house –because for him, that moment hadn’t happened yet. And with that, Bloody September vanished “into the future” to investigate… and then (presumably) went back in time to The Orpheum to fulfill the time loop, per the rules of bootstrap/predestination paradox.

Burning Question: How did Bell learn to snare and slay Observers? I contend that the central premise of my theory remains valid: That William Bell is leveraging intelligence from the future. But who’s feeding it to him? 2036 Walter? Or could it be September himself? Regardless: I suspect all of this tech will come in very handy next season when our heroes are tasked with averting Observageddon.

NEXT: Down the well with Lost references.

In one stand-out scene, the Fringe division agents used Massive Dynamic’s regeneration tech to bring Jessica back from the dead (briefly) to make her cough up Bell’s location. Yes, of course, the egg-scrambled assassin’s cryptic ramblings reminded me of Rebecca Mader’s brain-melted death rattle during the fifth season of Lost, albeit with more creepy crossing eyes. (“I’m not allowed to have chocolate before dinner…“) To be honest, I’ve noticed bunches and bunches of Lost allusions – explicit and indirect – throughout the season, and especially in recent episodes. I’ve refrained from making them because I know from the message boards that not all of you like it when I go down that well. So to speak. But in this episode alone, I got flashbacks to the moment in season five, when Fake John Locke completed the time loop circuit with the real John Locke by making Richard Alpert give him the compass, and to the moment at the end of season three, when Alex’s boyfriend Karl made like September and told the castaways that the invasion of Others was coming.

But I digress.

Peter and Olivia tracked Bell to the freighter (another Lost evocation!), named The Talos. Fun Fact! In Greek mythology, Talos was a giant winged man of bronze that protected the goddess Europa and the island of Crete from pirates and plunderers. (Unless the ship was actually called The Telos, which is Greek for “intent” or “purpose” or “final cause.”) Bell was unfazed. In fact, the awful artificer was prepared to amend his plan by letting Peter and Olivia come along and the play the role of Adam and Eve. It was Walter who saved the day, in a manner that was shocking as it was totally logical. Olivia was powering Bell’s big bang; ergo, Olivia had to die. So Walter shot Agent Dunham in the head. Bell’s march toward “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” was tripped; the world’s  catastrophic slouch to mutant Bethlehem was averted. Spock Face rang his bell, then vanished into… which parallel world? The “over here” world, I think, since Peter realized that Bell’s ark was located in the “over there” world. Watching Bell do the teleporting ding-a-ling, I suddenly thought of the beat in “Letters of Transit” in which Walter cut away Bell’s frozen-in-amber hand. THEORY! If you recall, Astrid was about to explain the significance – something about needing Bell’s paw to “access” something – before Walter interrupted her. Anyway: In the 2036 future, The Bridge is destroyed, and Olivia is out of the picture. Which means the only way to get “over there” is Bell’s bell. But only Bell can ring Bell’s bell. So I think Future Walter swiped Future Bell’s hand so he can use it to ring Bell’s bell so he can cross over to the other side and get the tech he needs to build the beacon that will bring an end to The Observers. Somehow. Got it?

Anyway, so Olivia got shot in the thinker and went toes up, fulfilling the prophecy that The Observer gave to Olivia via Olivia. But this is a Cortexiphan Kid, whose many gifts include regeneration. (See: the parable of the lemon cake, last episode.) For some reason (to allow Walter a heroic beat? to facilitate a cool-gross visual?), Olivia couldn’t heal herself unless Walter pushed the slug out her brain. For me, watching Walter tap into Olivia’s skull to save her life evoked the beat earlier in the season in which Walter came thisclose to lobotomizing himself with a needle through the eyeball, but was saved by Olivia. Here, he got to return the favor.

The epilogue was full of happy endings for our heroes — and ironic foreshadowing for those of us with “Letters of Transit” on the brain. Broyles was promoted to general. Fringe division was given funding to finance a full-fledged science unit, headed by Nina. Astrid survived her gunshot wound from last episode. Olivia learned she was pregnant. The Observer announced: “They’re coming.” And with that, Fringe 4.0 came to a close. I’ve enjoyed taking the ride with you. Thanks for hanging in there with me though all the links and theories, ramblings and rants. I hope to dialogue with you in the message boards this weekend. For more Fringe coverage, you can read Ken Tucker’s take on the finale here and my interview with the exec producers here.

Be seeing you.

@EWDocJensen

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