I thought my post last night would satisfy my need to fangirl flail over the Fringe finale (alliteration intentional) but I find that’s not the case. Instead of watching the pilot today (which I still may do), I wanted to linger at the end of the story for a while longer.
So I re-watched it, and was struck by things I didn’t catch last night. (This is why I love spoilers. I truly get why they reduce enjoyment for most, but for me, knowing what’s going to happen allows me to focus on what is happening, as opposed to freaking out about what’s coming next. I almost always enjoy my second viewing of something more than the first, Yeah, I’m weird.)
Anyway, getting back to Fringe… in a big picture way, I loved that the story allowed for proper goodbyes – not just among the characters, but even for us as we traveled with Olivia back to the Other Side, which was such a key part of the overall story for so long, and said farewell to Lincoln and the other Olivia. (It seems a bit harsh to call her ‘Fauxlivia’ now.) There was something very satisfying in seeing their happiness, in knowing that universe is thriving. (Bonus: how many of us get to see what we’ll look like in 20 years, as our Olivia did?)
But we also got to see all those other goodbyes, even if we didn’t know them for that at the time – and all of them are among my favorite moments of the evening.
Walter could not have been Walter, could not have done all that he did after leaving the psychiatric facility, without a significant support system. Primarily Peter, yes, but Olivia’s endless patience and acceptance of who and what he was played a role – as did Astrid’s. And we got emotional payoffs of those relationships as Walter kisses Olivia’s forehead in the van prior to her trip to the other side, and then with Astrid when she shows him Jean, still encased in amber.
“You always know how to soothe me,” he says in a beautiful and fitting tribute to their relationship, and then the man who even earlier in the episode mangled her name shows that he knows exactly who she is: “It’s a beautiful name.” “What is?” “Astrid.”
And thinking through those relationships in a way I didn’t last night makes me aware of the magnitude of the sacrifice Walter made, because in the future, there won’t be an Astrid or Olivia or Peter, only a silent child. I think I’m going to pretend that he finds the great-great-great-grandchild of Peter and Olivia to love and care for him. (Hey, anything is possible, right?)
Other moments that deeply moved me:
- Peter and Olivia’s discussion about her proposed trip to the Other Side
- Peter and Walter’s conversation while waiting for Olivia to wake up, which, while not yet their true goodbye, somehow served as a foreshadowing.
- Olivia’s focus on Peter as she concentrates on crossing over. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but it felt very much to me as if he were her touchstone in some fashion, right up until she was gone.
But what really struck me during this second viewing was the repeated emphasis on the love of parents for their children. We see it in Walter and Peter’s goodbye, when, even acknowledging that their time together was stolen, and that it is only fitting that he now pay for that some way, Walter regrets nothing; we see it in Peter’s words to Olivia toward the end – even knowing that he’ll be losing Walter, he says, “We’re going to see her. Going to have her back. Nothing else matters.”
And then we see it in Donald’s growing love for Michael. The scene where Donald explains his decision to go with the boy, and Walter helps him understand the depth and nature of a father’s love for his child is such a powerful scene to me. Even with his own concerns about paradoxes, how can Walter – a man who crossed universes for his child – not respond to a man just stumbling onto the depth of what a parent can feel for his son?
But despite Donald’s conviction that ‘it’s about changing fate’ …fate apparently had a different idea, and Donald is struck down before the gate, allowing us again to focus on the bonds between parents and children. In his dying moments, Donald’s focus remains on Michael, who takes out the little music box, the silent child’s farewell. And then Walter, not at all surprised by fate’s intervention (given his earlier comments about paradoxes) holds out his hand, a kind, reassuring smile on his face as his role shifts again to fathering a young boy.
We have one more moment, though, between him and Peter, as he looks back. Walter will remember this moment for the rest of his life; Peter, presumably, will not, and that somehow makes his mouthing of the words, “I love you dad” all the more poignant and heartbreaking.
With that, Walter and Michael turn, walk into the future…and we’re back to seeing the scene in the park. We’ve seen it quite a few times now, enough to know immediately what it is, and what it means. For those of us who’ve followed the season closely, we even knew the precise second that we had proof of Walter’s success, proof the timeline had been reset.
And thus, even with the sadness of the parting still lingering, we see Walter’s final gift to his son as Peter swings Etta around while she shrieks with laughter.
I said last night that I prefer hopeful ends to bitter ones, and that’s what we were given here. Life is seldom all sorrow or all joy. Pain and grief often bring along slivers of healing (usually in unexpected in ways), and even great happiness often comes with a price. So a story with a dark ending unrelieved by hope does nothing for me, and while I’ll occasionally enjoy an unambiguous happy ending…I prefer this kind, where we get joy in the context of a sorrow which gives it meaning.