Fringe is not a show that we devote a lot of time to here at Uproxx. It has a small but rabid fanbase, but not as rabid as some other shows with similar ratings (Justified, Breaking Bad, Mad Men), and it airs on Friday and most people time shift their viewing, so it’s a hard show to rally a base of people to devote to a discussion on the following Monday, especially after a heavy night of brilliant Sunday dramas.
It doesn’t help, either, that it’s an immensely frustrating show, one that frequently backs itself into narrative corners and gets out of them by literally rewriting reality. Like the Steven Moffat/Matt Smith years on Doctor Who, it often uses sci-fi gimmickry and time travel to cheat, reversing tragedies to get two big emotional responses out of its audience: 1) the devastation of seeing a beloved character die, and 2) the elation at seeing his return. The only character on television that’s died more than Doctor Who’s Rory Williams, for instance, is Fringe’s Peter Bishop, but for the most part, the writing has been strong enough and the characters rich enough that we’re willing to forgive those shortcuts. But if the consequences of this week’s episode of Fringe are reversed, I don’t think it’s a forgivable cheat. Yet, on the other hand, if those consequences aren’t reversed, then the death of that character is equally unforgivable.
THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD.
Etta Bishop died in “The Bullet that Saved the World,” the episode of Fringe that aired Friday night. She didn’t die in the traditional Fringe sense, either: Her essence does not remain; her soul hasn’t been downloaded onto a hard drive; she wasn’t erased from history; and she didn’t get zapped into another dimension. She blew the f**k up. She’s in more pieces than Walter Biship should legitimately be able to piece back together.
Why is this so problematic?
Because the fifth and final season of Fringe seemed to be built around Etta. If you’re not watching Fringe, you’re not reading this post, so there’s no point in trying to explain what’s going on, and if you do watch Fringe, you already know. Everything in Fringe seemed to be driving toward defeating The Observers, and living happily ever after as a big happy reunited family in the future. Peter had to literally will himself into existence last season so that he and Olivia could have a child together, first a son, Henry, then — after reality was rewritten — a daughter, Henrietta, who would lead the Fringe revolution against The Observers. Peter and Olivia were frozen in amber for years in order to assist their daughter in defeating the Observers, and the few episodes this season have took pains to develop Peter and Olivia’s relationship with their daughter.
After all that, why would they kill her? Could she really be dead? If not, then blowing her up with an antimatter baton only to bring her back is cheap and manipulative. Also, mean. She was easy to quickly invest in, and her death was not only shocking, it was devastating, especially after the high of the previous scenes with Broyles.
If so, if she has permanently died, then f*** Fringe for taking her away so soon, leading us toward a satisfying conclusion to the series that we will never get, and for turning Etta into a token symbol of the resistance, a matyr at the expense of Peter and Olivia’s emotional well being. You can’t take their goddamn kid away from them and expect them to rally; I don’t want eight more episodes of “Let’s do it for Etta!” Or one or two episodes of Peter and Olivia grieving, wallowing in their misery, wondering if they can work through their own relationship after the loss of their daugther. There are only eight episodes left: Those should be used for kicking Observer ass.
Frankly, it’s bullsh*t either way you look at it, and a misguided attempt on Fringe’s part to jump on the kill-the-major-character bandwagon with shows like Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones. Fringe is not a heavy drama; it’s a nifty little sci-fi show populated with a lot of characters with whom we have enough affection to suffer through the bad arcs (SOUL MAGNETS), but I’d hate to see the show end on a bad arc.
But the reunion with Broyles was sweet, and well earned.