The Best Show You’re Not Watching: Fringe

10/01/2012 1:35 PM |

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At this point, Fringe, an X-Files-ish show that used to be about multiple universes, could basically just be the actors sitting on benches, gazing at one another meaningfully, and I would cry throughout most of the episode. That’s how exacting a job its actors and writers have done over the last four seasons (especially the first three) of crafting characters you adore not only as individuals but as a web of friends, family and lovers. So Friday’s season premiere, the show’s last, was especially moving, as more happened than silent staring contests: picking up in a dystopic future, like where Dollhouse was headed before Fox pulled the plug, season five promises to be plotty and action-packed—and, narratively, much different from previous seasons. But the premiere was as ever rooted in its characters, spending more time in teary conversations than with car chases and impossible rescues: the reunions between Peter and Olivia, between Olivia and her daughter, between Walter and Olivia—whose eyes could stay dry?

But most affecting was the conversation Peter and Olivia had standing around in The Bronx, the emotionally honesty between two people acknowledging that they had not only failed each other but had also failed the world. It’s an unusual position for television characters to be in: like Buffy and her friends, the Fringe team is often battling some super villain in a Race Against Time to save the world from forces that seek to destroy it. And then in the season finale they succeed. Until this time. I suspect by series end they will have done something to help repair the planet, taken over by alien colonizers. Last season, Fringe felt like it was flailing after having tied up its stunning three-season arc. (“Uh, Peter disappeared! Oh, he’s back. But back where? Oh, right here.”) Already, this season feels more deliberate, one last hurrah before cancellation. It might not be the best time to start watching, but it’s always a good time to start from the beginning.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart