For a programme that deals with crimes of a scientific nature, Fringe is a remarkably spiritual show. The long-running debate at the centre of the show has been a question of determining what is God’s domain and what is for humans to tinker with. For much of his adult life, Walter has occupied the grey zone in the middle, and since being released from St. Claire’s, he has attempted to find a clear delineation between the two. But his past dalliances with things that are beyond man’s grasp have sometimes come back to haunt him. In this week’s season 4 finale, Walter’s past flirtation with the idea of a perfect universe reared its ugly head, and Walter was forced to confront Bell’s bastardization of it.
A pre-St. Claire’s version of Walter might have been tempted by Bell’s plan to start the universes anew, devoid of evil, but the Walter we know now, having felt love and friendship from Peter, Olivia, and Astrid, recognized the immense human cost in such an endeavour. Ultimately, going along with Bell’s plan would have been an act of selfishness. So, he chose to risk Olivia’s life in order to save billions of others’. In an echo of last season’s finale, Walter shot Olivia, and she dropped dead.
Here’s where I start to have some problems with “Brave New World: Part 2.” It was pretty obvious that Olivia wasn’t going to die, at least not permanently, so her execution and resurrection, if you want to call it that, felt a little cheap, especially since Cortexiphan’s regenerative abilities haven’t figured prominently on the show until now. That being said, I think that the show did manage to capture the tension of Walter’s operation on her brain quite well.
The larger problem, though, is that as interesting as this all was from the perspective of Walter’s character, the show didn’t do a good job of establishing why Bell would be a malevolent force in this timeline. We never saw the spark that prompted him to take Walter’s idea to such an extreme, and as a result, he didn’t feel much like the Bell we met at the end of seasons 1 and 2. Bringing back Bell was a great way of reminding Walter of all the harm he could have potentially caused, but it was a lousy way of giving Bell believable motivations. I would have also liked to have spent more time in Bell’s perfect world, just to get an idea of what he was envisioning, but I don’t think Fringe had the CGI budget to pull off something like that.
This episode was clearly intended to function as a series ender in case Fringe didn’t get renewed (but it did, so yay!) Because of this, it delivered some satisfying closure for our heroes, and it gave them a Fringe division with an expanded mandate and budget. (It’s General Broyles now, thank you very much.) But it also strayed a little into hokey territory with Olivia announcing her pregnancy. (I swear, women get pregnant left, right, and centre on TV. It’s as if they all conspire to use unreliable birth control.) “Brave New World: Part 2” also didn’t spend enough time setting up next season’s arc, choosing instead just to hint at it with a brief appearance from September at the end of the episode. He warned Walter that “they’re coming.” I’d wager that’s a reference to the state of the world we saw in “Letters of Transit,” and hopefully, that will be much better handled next season.
But I don’t want to complain too much, because this was a solidly entertaining episode of Fringe, and one that finally showed us Massive Dynamic’s mysterious method of talking to the dead that was teased at the end of the series’ pilot. As a treatise on the idea of playing God and a culmination of Walter’s character arc, “Brave New World: Part 2” was superb. Saddled with the burden of having to resolve this season’s narrative missteps, it did quite a good job, and it leaves me cautiously optimistic about Fringe’s fifth and final season.
Season grade: B