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TV Review: Fringe – “The Day We Died”

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Last night, FOX’s Fringe delivered a truly game changing finale. “The Day We Died” is set in 2026, with the alternate universe long destroyed, and “ours” rapidly deteriorating. Fringe Division is led by Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), and her agents include husband Peter (Joshua Jackson), niece Ella (Emily Meade), and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) with a new hair do. A terrorist by the name of Moreau (Brad Dourif, Deadwood) is setting off explosives in New York City, and the team soon discovers that the villain behind him is old foe Walternate (John Noble), who is trapped in “our” universe, having come to ask for help shortly before the destruction of his. To stop Walternate, Peter must ask Senator Broyles (Lance Reddick) to let Walter (also Noble) out of jail. But it may already be too late.

This episode is not what is expected at all, and the preview aired last week is certainly misleading. While many thought Peter has traveled in time 15 years into the future, Peter soon becomes less confused, and has all the memories of the past fifteen years. So it’s not a standard time travel story. Instead, it’s a look at what happens because of a choice Peter makes fifteen years ago. The choice to step into the machine, which leads to the annihilation of the alternate universe from whence he came.

There are a couple of notable absences in the future scenes. Nina (Blair Brown), who never gets enough screen time, appears only at the funeral. Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) is missing entirely. While the Lincoln in “our” world has only been seen once, he has become quite enjoyable as part of the alternate universe Fringe Division. It is disappointing that circumstances are not set to draw him deeper into the group. Since he isn’t seen, we don’t know where he is. Perhaps he does work for Fringe Division, and just is somewhere else during the episode. However, with much more important stories to tell, Nina and Lincoln are just not vital enough to be included in “The Day We Died.”

This is the story of how Peter destroys the world. Following in his father’s footsteps, as Walter is the one who creates the first tear between the two worlds in the first place, Peter is the one that ends their war. But his ending is flawed, as once he destroys the alternate universe, “ours” is doomed, too. They are not separate entities, but rely on each other for survival.

What a fascinating concept! While months have been spent worrying that whichever side won, billions of innocents would die, in the end, that is not the issue at all! The main characters all think the universes can not both co-exist, but instead, they now discover that they must co-exist. What a turn!

The First People are finally explained. The whole episode is part of a paradox. A machine destroys the world. In the future. Walter learns that, and so he and others, the First People, build and take the machine back through time. Presumably, they use the wormhole in Central Park, which explains that particular disaster’s necessity in this story. It is not explained how the second machine gets into the alternate universe’s past. Yet, once Walter takes the machine back, and somehow gets Peter’s 2011 consciousness to live through the 2026 events, then use that knowledge to save the world, both doomsday and Peter are wiped from time and history.

What does this mean for Fringe? Obviously, this is a good storytelling device to get the characters from the two universes on the same page. “The Day We Died” ends with Walter, Walternate, Olivia, and Fauxlivia in the same room, reluctantly ready to cooperate. Apparently, season four of Fringe will focus on both sides working together to save their worlds. They are now in a position to do so, with Liberty Island allowing free passage as a bridge back and forth. This also exposes Fringe Division to the public, and makes known the events going on, leading to many more possible stories. A rich trove ready to mine!

But what of Peter? No one remembers him, so no one is even poised to search for him. The Observers know Peter is gone, but as he served his purpose already, they have no reason to bring him back. Did they, or one in particular, create Peter to save the world? Or is Peter an anomaly that threatens destruction, until he changes course and fixes things, thus negating his own existence? What would the return of Peter mean? Would things reset again? Can Peter survive in a fixed world? Does Peter’s son, Henry, still exist? Is Fauxlivia still will the previous boyfriend? The questions are endless and far from answered.

However, Joshua Jackson is part of the central trio the series is about, and Peter is a very popular character. The producers have already confirmed he is still under contract for next year. The last has not been seen of Peter. Will the one Observer most often shown (Michael Cerveris) experience sadness at losing the man he spent so much time watching and seek to return him to life? He has shown a willingness to break the rules before. Will the others try to stop him? The Observers seem the most obvious element to use to bring Peter back, but that is not at all confirmed by the creative team behind the show, which have repeatedly proven how good they are at delivering the unexpected.

In the future, Peter and Olivia are married. This backs up the hope of many fans that they will end up together. On screen, we have now been shown a stable, long-term marriage existing between the two. Once Peter finally is restored, which is inevitable, will the show pursue it wholeheartedly? Even when Peter comes back, will she remember him? They have just begun their relationship as season three ends. Is this a sign from the writers that they plan on keeping that romance alive? If so, it is a welcome one.

Ella, Olivia’s niece, is also introduced as an important character, working with her aunt. It is surely disappointing for the actress playing her that the series jumps back to its present at the end of the episode, thus negating any need to continue to use her. But, in a jam packed episode, this is not just a feel-good insertion. It is a sign that Ella will be more involved somehow moving forward. Considering how deliberate Fringe is with what they choose to include versus what they leave out, it is a remote chance that Ella’s story is over. This has to be a major clue to the future.

Will we ever get to see the future again? Or the First People in the past (Imagine that theme song!)? Fringe shows a willingness to go where the story is, often in way that viewers cannot predict. The writers will only take the story to the future or past if it is necessary for the continuation of the series’s plots. Considering that the distant past has now been fully explained, they will probably not go there. Yet, by mentioning it, a door has been opened. A lot of fans will want to see those events. How can they become relevant again, so there is a necessity to see them?

The same can be said for the future. The 2026 in this episode will no longer occur, so all the future versions introduced are now gone. Peter changed the course of history majorly. The positive aspect is that Olivia didn’t die at Walternate’s hand. But that also means a carefully constructed world will only appear in one episode. That is a crying shame. Hopefully, there will be reason to get around the quandry. Could next season go back and forth in time, as this season did between the universes?

Olivia’s death at the hands of Walternate says much more about his character than hers. In fact, despite one of the central trio getting hit dead square in the forehead by a bullet, the moment holds no tension. There are no tears evoked. No strong emotional reaction. Even the funeral scene is more ripe for curiosity than grief.

Is this simply because events are already on course to be corrected? Olivia is killed fifteen years into a future that will not happen. Sure, the characters are sad, but as a viewer, the moment seems insignificant in this episode, which is highly surprising. For Olivia’s death to be a minor thing in “The Day We Died,” it really demonstrates just what an earth-shattering episode it is.

Walternate, on the other hand, is shown as pure evil. Yes, he has his reasons. His son chooses the version of Walter that kidnapped him as his beloved father, turning his back on Walternate and destroying his world. That would be enough to make anyone angry and long for revenge. But Walternate has kept up this attitude for fifteen years. He has truly crossed beyond any ability to redeem himself. He is chock full of malice, and must be stopped.

Watching Walter and Walternate has been very interesting because they are the same man shaped by very different circumstances. To see Walternate take such a drastic turn to the dark side means that Walter is capable of it, too, under the right conditions. How much will Fringe explore this? How much can they, without ruining a character who has shown so much growth? Now that they are together, will they begin to rub off on one another? The convenience of Walternate allows a consideration of the options without reflecting poorly on Walter. Truly brilliant. Which makes Walter’s jail sentence in the future, as well as all of humanity’s hatred for him, most regrettable, though under the circumstances, understandable.

Fringe has been renewed for a fourth season and will return to FOX next fall.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It's All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.
  • joann palmer

    i do hope they bring back the next season .i never miss a show.

  • Already renewed. It will be back.

  • The finale was mind-blowing, brilliant, exhilarating TV. There is a must-read interview with Joshua Jackson and John Noble on Entertainment Weekly’s web site, and it includes some exciting speculation about Peter’s role in the series next year.