Fringe, Fox’s direct descendant of The X-Files, is a sci-fi tale of risk, redemption, romance, repairing strained family relations and mad science run amok.
Much like its predecessor, Fringe is mostly a procedural show, with “mystery of the week” type weird science events to investigate, along with a slowly expanding mythology. But whereas X-Files focused on urban legends and aliens, the action on Fringe’s first four years focuses primarily on a conflict between two alternate dimensions (done in a very comic book way) starring an ensemble cast of FBI agents known collectively as Fringe Division:
The roots of the story (which are not revealed until well into the second year) are in 1985, when Dr.Walter Bishop and Dr. William Bell, two luminary scientists, were able to prove a theory they had held for some time: there was another dimension, similar to ours, existing simultaneously along with our own. Bishop and Bell had built a “window” to the other side, a machine that could show the other dimension when looked though.
What they saw was a world that nearly mirrored our own, with small oddities (such as reliance on blimps over jet planes) reflecting the different path time had taken in the alternate reality. Around this same time, Walter’s only child, his young son, was deathly ill. Despite his brilliance, Dr. Bishop could not find a cure for his boy’s affliction, and the child died. Dr. Bishop was devastated, but found a small measure of hope when he looked through the dimensional window and saw his doppelganger on the otherside, where medical technology was slightly ahead, was still working for a cure, and that over there, his son still had a chance. Until something completely unexpected happened.
As Walter watched, someone came into his lab, on the otherside, and distracted his other self, just as the compound that could cure his son was stabilizing. Dr. Bishop on the otherside was turned away, toward the stranger (an “Observer,” we could later discover) and missed the fact that he had just found his son a cure. But Walter on our side saw, and became determined that he would not allow his son to die again. He knew his own mind, and knew that his other self would not go back, and would never know he had found a cure but missed it. Concocting a bold plan, Dr. Bishop recreated the cure for his son, and against all warnings, found a way to build a “doorway” to the otherside, where he planned to administer the cure and return as soon as possible. But fate lays waste to the best made plans, and in the chaos of crossing over to the otherside while his colleagues tried to stop him, the vial Walter was carrying the cure for his son in was broken…
So instead of being able to cure his son on the other side, Walter instead had to kidnap his “son” and bring him back to our dimension to save him. Because of the damage done (which would set up most of the action of the first two seasons, without revealing why) from the first crossing, and the fact that they could not find a safer way to cross again, along with, no doubt, a bit of not wanting to lose his son again, Walter never sent his son from the other side back, and never told him the truth…
The series actually begins almost 20 years after all of that occurred. Walter’s son, Peter, is grown up, a brilliant but troubled man who lied and forged his way through MIT, ran afoul of some dangerous criminals, and is first seen on the show doing dealings for oil contractors in war torn Iraq. Peter doesn’t think much of his father, who at the time was locked in an asylum after a lab accident killed an assistant years before. And so Peter is not at all happy when he is visited by an FBI agent who is investigating a bizarre incident, with questions about Dr. Walter Bishop. A never before seen chemical or biological weapon had been set off on a passenger plane, and the investigation had lead to old work done by Dr. Bishop. The terms of Walter’s confinement in the mental institution restricted him from receiving visitors without a relative, and though Peter at first refuses to help the FBI, he eventually relents and agrees to go see his mad scientist father. He is soon drawn into the investigation and a budding relationship with the FBI agent who recruited him:
The hard-edged heroine of the series, Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent whose investigation of a suspected terrorist attack on a plane lead her to Dr. Walter Bishop. Along with Dr. Bishop and his son, Peter, Olivia is tasked with cracking a conspiracy of traitorous government agents (one of which turns out to be her deceased boyfriend) and technological terrorists whose actions are known to the FBI as “The Pattern.” They become the core of an FBI task force to be known as Fringe Division that is supported by a handful of other agents, mainly the divion’s director Phillip Broyles, who has an unpleasant past grudge against Olivia, and Agent Astrid Farnsworth, who assists Walter with laboratory research as well as several others such as Charlie Francis, Olivia’s partner at the FBI. Investigations into the Pattern lead to a group of rogue scientists known a ZFT with ties to work done earlier by Dr. Bishop and his former partner Dr. Willian Bell (played expertly by Leonard Nimoy) and the General Dynamic/Apple-esque company he founded: Massive Dynamic
Massive Dynamic. What don’t they do? Apparently, there not much, because every Fringe investigation seems to lead to them, and their COO, Nina Sharp, an old friend to both Walter and William. Eventually ZFT is found to be led by a man named David Robert Jones, who is killed by Peter while trying to open a door to the other dimension.
It is soon discovered by the Fringe team that there is another universe, an alternate reality, and that it is dying, being destroyed the weakening of the fabric of reality, caused by Dr. Bishop’s crossing dimensions, and that in an attempt to find a way to cross back over, Walter and Bell had experimented on children, including Olivia. She was the only one of the children, many of whom ended up displaying supernatural abilities, was able to ever cross over to the other side. The alternate dimension is populated by alternate versions of almost everyone, including another Walter Bishop (later to be called Walternate) and Olivia (called Fauxlivia) and they believe that what happened to their universe, the destruction and the kidnapping of Peter, to have been deliberate acts of war. In response they created cyborg type beings known as shapeshifters, that were able to cross dimensions safely where as people could not. Walternate has a machine, an ancient piece of technology created by the mysterious “First People” that is somehow tied to Peter’s genetics. The machine seems to have limitless power, to destroy and create, and Walternate plans to convince his son to use it to destroy our dimension. But instead of using the machine to destroy, Peter (or his consciousness from the future, or his consciousness returning from being projected into the future, where one universe had been destroyed, and the other was dying as a result) uses the machine to create a bridge between the two worlds, hoping that with them linked they would have to work together. He got his wish, but at the cost of his very existence.
A group of bald, pale men, always seen wearing nondescript black clothes and hats, who seem to pop up all through history at important moments (think the Watchers) to “observe.”
It was an Observer, one called September, who had accidentally distracted Walternate in his lab as the cure for Peter was about to be discovered. And it was also September who later pulled Walter and young Peter from a lake of broken ice after they cross over from the other side, in an attempt to fix his “mistake” of changing the timeline when he distracted Walternate. The Observers seem to have the ability to move through time and space at will, and have highly advanced technological devices. Their motives and methods are a mystery. But a large group of them is seen gathered outside at the end of season three, when Peter uses the machine to create the interdimensional bridge. After linking the universes Peter is seen fading from existence, seemingly unnoticed by anyone else.
One of the Observers comments to September, “You were right, they don’t remember Peter.” And September replies, “How could they? He never existed. He served his purpose.” Erased from Existence The fourth season opens in an alternate timeline where September failed to rescue Peter from the lake after being brought from the other dimension by Walter, and so Peter died on both sides and was never there to meet Olivia, or become part of the Fringe Division. Things worked out in a similar fashion, though, with Walter working with Olivia and the FBI, and the two universes being linked by the interdimensional bridge.
But without Peter there to kill him, David Robert Jones in still alive in this timeline. Olivia and Walter are both being haunted by dreams and visions of a man that they do not know. A man that turns out to be Peter, who has been kept in a state of existence by the force of his connection and love with both his father and Olivia. Eventually this force brings Peter into the new timeline, and together with Walter and Olivia, they work to stop David Robert Jones, who seems to have everyone, including Broyles and Nina Sharp, working for him in the timeline.
They are able to stop Jones, who along with Bell, was attempting to synchronize the two universes together and collapse them, using the energy like a Big Bang to create a third universe, that Bell would build and control. But foiling the plan forces them to forever close the dimensional bridge, and nearly costs Olivia her life. It is revealed to Peter by the Observer, September, that they had needed to erase Peter to get rid of the son he was going to have with Olivia, Henry, to ensure the Observer’s future would come to pass. September delivers a final message to Walter that “They are coming,” at the end of season four.
The Fight for the Future
The special episode aired on 4/20/11 called “Letters of Transit” gave a preview of the upcoming fifth and final season. Taking place in the year 2036, it shows an Orwellian dystopian future in which the Observers had taken over the world. It was revealed that the Observers were time travelers from the 27th century, where the Earth was ruined, who had travelled back to Observe and determine the proper moment to take over. That time turned out to be 2015. The Fringe team encased themselves with amber (an invention seen first on the otherside that was used to seal dimensional soft spots) to avoid the Observer takeover, and was found and released in 2036 by Peter and Olivia’s daughter, Henrietta, who is a member of the now Observer controlled Fringe division, but also a member of the native human resistance…
Fringe returns on 9/28 at 9pm on Fox.
Follow me on Twitter @d10_dude