I haven’t been able to write about Fringe since “Stowaway” and most of the second half of the season, I’ve been spotty with my reviews. It’s a scheduling issue, and I apologize. And frankly, I don’t actually have a lot of time to write this review of last night’s penultimate episode, “The Last Sam Weiss,” but it was so awesome that I just have to get down a few thoughts. I know that it is most certainly not one of the “best,” but I’m confident in my assertion that season three of Fringe is one of my most favorite seasons of television ever. This series has it all figured out. Even the middling episodes and somewhat sketchy decisions ultimately fade away because the writers pull out something new and improved.
Take this season’s endgame for example. We’ve all assumed that by the end of this season, one of the two universes was going to be gone, or at least severely damaged. We also assumed that Peter was going to have to make some melodramatic choice between the two Olivias. “The Last Sam Weiss” mostly blows up both of those assumptions within one 42-minute episode while still managing to throw in a number of fantastic, emotional character moments. This is really everything we could have asked for in a penultimate episode to a season of television like this.
Let’s talk about that cliffhanger first. After waking up from his machine-induced coma and taking an $800 cab ride to NYC in such a way that suggested he was somehow connecting to either his childhood or the childhood of his deceased Earth-1 counterpart (YEAH), Peter finally got into that damn machine. And (presumably) instead of destroying either universe, it shot 2011 Peter to 2021 where the WTC memorial building is finally finished (suggesting it’s Earth-1), but anarchy and lawlessness rule. The Fringe Division appears to be out and operating in this future version of Earth-1 like it does in present day Earth-2. WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? Based on the previews for next weeks’ finale, I’m going to take a guess that this future Peter sees is one where somehow the machine didn’t destroy one universe, it just smashed both of them together. So if you go back to the snow globe analogy that we’ve seen previously, this future world is basically the drying water and broken glass left on the table in the aftermath of the smashing.
It is obviously unclear whether or not this is a real, definite future that Peter has stumbled into or just a possible future that could come to pass. I’d like to think that the series wouldn’t just jump forward ten years and never look back, but at this point, I honestly have no idea what the Fringe team has up their sleeves. It would be slightly disappointing to not get to see the merging of the two universes just for pure visual satisfaction, but again, there’s really no indication what the hell is going on — which is the point of it all. Dystopia futures have been done to death in this genre, but you could have made the same case for alternate/multiple universes before Fringe pulled that trigger at the end of season one. Again, I have full confidence. I don’t want to get hyperbolic, but this feels like a Lost-ian size gamechanger. I’m not sure it’s as impressive as the flashforward reveal at the end of season three of that series, but it’s kind of close.
But before all of our minds had to go and get blown by that final reveal, “The Last Sam Weiss” was really all about Olivia, which is always nice. Because of the machine-related prophecies, it seemed like Olivia was mostly going to be a bystander in this inter-universe war, at least at this juncture. Although the machine stuff provided a nice platform for Josh Jackson and Peter, Olivia is still the series’ strongest character. Thankfully, this episode is mostly about Olivia’s super-important role in all things machine-related. Sam and she spend the first half of the episode looking for a “crowbar” to pry open the machine long enough to get Peter inside, which is sort of aimless and goofy, but ultimately works because of Kevin Corrigan and Anna Torv’s fun chemistry. Corrigan’s Weiss is demystified a bit here, as it’s revealed that he’s not actually immortal, but just part of a long bloodline of Sam Weiss characters who have dedicated their life to figuring out this First People nonsense. It makes the Fringe world a little smaller in that respect, but I’m okay with it.
Anyway, Olivia. It turns out that the crowbar is actually not a crowbar, but her. This episode is full of callbacks to the first season, most notably the story with David Robert Jones and his tests of Olivia in “Ability.” Walter figures out that Olivia can turn off both universe’s machines using her mind powers (like she did in “Ability”), but it’s a struggle. Near the 30 minute mark of the episode, things come to something of stop so that it can make time for two fantastic scenes between Walter and Olivia. As we learned a few weeks ago, Olivia’s biggest weakness is her fear, and Walter dispatches all of that with a couple wonderful, heartfelt pep talks. Both John Noble and Anna Torv are tremendous in these sequences and it’s really wonderful that in an episode like this with so many big reveals and moments, there is still time to reinforce the bonds between these characters. Olivia, Peter and Walter (and to a lesser extent, Astrid) are a family and the father-daughter relationship between Walter and Olivia has always, always been my favorite on the series. Walter’s speeches don’t work immediately, but that doesn’t make them any less influential. Maybe my favorite part of the season’s second half. Just wonderful. Of course, Olivia and Peter ultimately get her mind right together, she shuts off the machine and tells Peter she loves him. Swoon.
I could really go on forever about this episode and this season, but I’m going to save a lot of that for next week. I can’t believe the finale is already here.