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RIP Seasons 1-3 of FRINGE

The only remaining characters from S1 of FRINGE

I used to love Fringe. I watched the first few episodes of the first season as they aired, but couldn't get into it. I heard something interesting happened in the season finale, so, when the season arrived on DVD, I gave it another shot. What started out as a more clinical, cold version of The X-Files eventually turned into a show with interesting characters and a lot of heart. It was quite a risk centering the show around a protagonist so emotionally distant and reserved, but it paid off handsomely as Olivia became tied to Walter Bishop, his assistant Astrid, and Walter's son Peter. The relationships between those four characters, and their boss, Agent Broyles, are what kept the show grounded during the first 3 seasons. Whatever craziness occurred in their universe, I always pulled for these characters to get back to one another and be safe.

That all changed in the fourth season as the creators and writers of the show decided to hit a huge reset button. Not only did they remove Peter from the show's universe, they "mind-wiped" the show's remaining characters(and the universe itself) and removed Peter from their memories making his existence a non-reality. So, every thing they had done with Peter, every way he had affected their lives and the lives of countless people around them, didn't happen.

Now, this was a pretty ambitious risk to take. I truly admire what the people behind the show were trying to do. It's pretty unprecedented. Unfortunately, this development did not work for me. And the reason why is pretty simple: they took away my show.

When I love a show, it's usually because of the characters. McNulty, Giles, Buster, Lorne, Coach Taylor, Boyd Crowder, Sawyer, Arya. These people are what kept me coming back, week after week, to see how they were doing and what they were up to. They're my TV friends. I care about them and want things to turn out OK for them. I don't like to see them disappear.

So, when Fringe decided to throw out all the emotional connections made in the show's first three seasons and introduced "similar" characters(played by the same actors, of course), I was not happy. Yes, these characters looked the same, had the same names, but they weren't my characters anymore. They weren't the characters I had seen triumph and fail, laugh and cry. These weren't the people I watched grow and change over the course of 3 seasons. These characters were as much strangers to me as the characters were in the pilot episode of the series. I didn't have a reason to care for those characters then, and I didn't once again.

Oh, sure, they eventually brought back Peter. But he, like me, wanted to get back to the show that existed before this season. But, as we eventually found out, that place didn't exist anymore. Luckily, his connection to Olivia was strong enough to bring her original character back, but this killed off the "new" Olivia's mind and experiences. The fact that none of the other characters in this universe seemed to care about this development after it happened shows just how little the show's creators and writers actually cared about these "new" characters. So, I ask you, if that character's death meant so little to them, and to the characters on the show, why should we care about the rest of these "new" characters?

This isn't the first time this has happened on a show. On a mico level, characters change or writing quality on a show goes down and character become stupid and do things they would never have done before(Sarah became progressively stupider on Party of Five and no character on Heroes remained consistent after Season 1). Alias "rebooted" itself several times, throwing its core characters into new situations, having the protagonists trust and work with villains from the first few seasons. The most obvious parallel to draw, though, would be the 5th season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

In the 5th season, Buffy suddenly had a younger, teenage sister named Dawn. On the show, characters acted like she had always been there. Later in the season, it was revealed that Dawn was actually a "key" used to open another dimension. This "key" was made flesh by some mystical monks who used the Buffy's blood(or something) to turn the "key" into a living being. Then they somehow alter the entire fabric of the universe to make everyone believe that Dawn had always existed.

Now, the show never really examined how this affected everything that has happened on the show before. Mostly, it ignored that little(GIANT) plot hole and had even minor characters just say "oh, hi Dawn" as if they had known and seen her before. It honestly didn't effect much. But, it was still a troubling development.

On Buffy, monsters that were killed in the past weren't suddenly still alive or anything because of Dawn's sudden existence. On Fringe, however, entire cases that were solved in the show's first few seasons were apparently never solved in the new Fringe universe and popped up regularly in the 4th season. All this really did was point out the fact that almost everything we watched previously on the show didn't really matter. It's practically like the makers of the show said, "all that stuff you cared about and watched intensely? That didn't happen. Now, watch this!"

Strangest of all, the character on Fringe seemed to have settled into the same rhythms and relationships with each other that were present in the 3rd season. So, it's like the show is trying to pretend that the characters are the same again, even though, with the exception of Peter and Olivia, they aren't the same. It's like they jumped ahead or just assumed these characters feel the exact same way without having the same experiences their "past" selves did. For a show that passes itself off as very intelligent and logical, such a development is damn insulting.

Fringe remains one of the most well-produced shows on network television. The direction is always tight, the cinematography is beautiful. The actors sell everything they're given. It's pretty much at the top of its game in almost every aspect. If it weren't, I definitely would've stopped watching the show near the start of this season. As such, I've watched this entire season, frustrating as it has been. Contrast that with a show like Supernatural were the writing and production have taken a severe hit the past two seasons, but characters like Dean, Castiel, and Bobby keep me coming back because it feels like I've been through so much with those characters. To abandon them now, even though what they have to deal with is no longer interesting, would feel like a betrayal. I would feel like investing all the time and energy caring about them over 5 seasons of television would've been a waste.

However, the makers of Fringe seem to not care about that and have effectively made me feel like I did waste my time and energy. But, I choose not to think that it was a waste watching those first 3 seasons. I just feel like it's now a waste watching the 4th season and, as I'm sure I will watch it, the upcoming final season. The show I loved is gone. I guess I'll see what happens next, as the show is well-produced and has one of the finest ensembles on television today. It's just too bad all but two of the characters I loved are now gone forever.

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  1. Blogger Rickey Williams | 10:00 AM |  

    Hello, I just wanted to respond to your post. I completely agree with your assessment of the show. It's amazing how many fans are not really outraged at this development in the show, and I think you hit the nail right on the head with the answer. It's because now the characters act so much like their previous versions that people don't notice the change anymore.

    Sometimes when I see posts about how great this season has been I want to ask "have we been watching the same show." At the end of season 3 I was really looking forward to seeing Walter and Walternate work out their problems with each other. I was looking forward to Fauxlivia and Olivia actually working past their differences. I liked seeing the progression of Fauxlivia through her interactions with Peter and having a baby, but now that Fauxlivia is gone. What upsets me the most is that we are never going to get to see a "real" resolution to these two universes.

    While watching Fringe it was clear to me at least, that the purpose of the show was a story about a man trying desperately to save his child, and by doing this started a conflict with another universe. The relationship with our original characters and their relationship with their alternates was the crux of the show. Now what is it about? Observers taking over the world. Ugh, I just get so frustrated. I'm glad that I found you're blog post because it lets me know I'm not crazy for thinking that the Fringe I knew is lost forever.

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