Created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, ‘Fringe‘ is set primarily in Boston, Massachusetts and centers on FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham and her team. Assigned to the Fringe Division by Special Agent Philip Broyles, Olivia investigates odd happenings that can only be explained by fringe science, the field of science that includes mind control, shared dream states, and alternate universes. Debuting in 2008 on FOX, ‘Fringe‘ is a sci-fi drama; some episodes are self-contained, but the key to understanding the show is its deep mythology and complex on-going storyline.
‘Fringe’ Season One Recap
Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is in love; it’s a secret because her love is John Scott, also an agent. They’re called in on a case about a plane that landed on its own (thanks to a new, sophisticated autopilot system) with everyone on board dead. Their investigation leads them to a storage facility; a suspect detonates a bomb, and John is injured. The bomb doused John in a strange mixture of chemicals that makes his cells crystalize. Devastated, Olivia’s determined to find a treatment. She discovers the work of Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a scientist who did a lot of work during the 1970s and 1980s on fringe science. Because of an accident in his lab that caused the death of his assistant, Walter has been institutionalized for seventeen years, and he can only be visited by a family member. Broyles and Olivia don’t get along, so Broyles won’t help her see Walter. If she wants to see Walter, she has to find a family member on her own. She finds Walter’s son Peter (Joshua Jackson) in Iraq. Peter doesn’t want to help her or see his father. Olivia threatens him; Peter is not an upstanding citizen, so to avoid trouble he returns to Boston with her.
In order to help John, Walter needs to know the chemicals involved. John saw the suspect, but he’s in a coma. Walter has a way to communicate with him—a shared dream state with Olivia. After getting the information, Walter cures John, who appears to be a traitor. During a car chase, John wrecks his vehicle as he tries to get away from Olivia. He dies in her arms. Impressed with her work on the case, Broyles (Lance Reddick) puts her in charge of the Fringe Division. In addition to Walter and Peter, the team includes Olivia’s FBI partner Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) and Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole). Several cases they investigate are linked to the work of Walter and his former lab partner, William Bell, who went on to found Massive Dynamic. Olivia wants to question Bell, but he’s never available. Instead, she deals with Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), Bell’s second in command. Besides tracking down Bell, Olivia also has to deal with John’s memories interfering with her own and the escape of David Robert Jones.
Olivia immerses herself in Walter’s sensory deprivation tank to purge John’s memories from her mind. In the process, she learns that he wasn’t a traitor; he worked for a covert unit, like the Fringe Division, that was investigating The Pattern, a series of odd events. Olivia is convinced that Massive Dynamic is behind The Pattern, but Nina and Broyles tell her the truth. The Pattern is evidence that our universe is starting to break down because it is beginning to collide with an alternate universe. Very few know about the alternate Earth, and David Robert Jones is one of them. Jones has a team of people helping him to cross over. Before he leaves, he wants to accomplish another goal—to activate Olivia. She was a part of a group of children Walter experimented on with Cortexiphan in order to enhance the children’s natural psychic abilities. Walter Bishop and William Bell were investigating ways to cross over with minimal damage to the universes. Olivia’s telekinetic ability manifests; her power’s not strong, but it is enough to diffuse Jones’s bomb.
Jones knows what Nina knows—that Bell is on the other side. Bell got there as a result of Walter’s work that allowed Walter to cross over. Although Walter enjoys being out of the institution, working again, and reconnecting with Peter, his memory is in shambles and his emotional state is unpredictable. Peter is reluctant to help at first; he calls Walter “Walter” and not “Dad.” With help from Astrid, who has become Walter’s lab assistant (he gets her name wrong more than he does right), Walter begins to focus more and come to realize that his work has caused harm to others. He tries to justify his actions, but by interacting with the others, he begins to take responsibility for his past.
Walter receives help from an Observer to stop Jones. Observers are a group of people who wear gray suits and hats, are bald, and don’t seem to age. They experience time differently than us; they see multiples timelines and time periods all at once. Observers appear at events they deem important. They watch us and are not to interfere unless to correct a mistake one of them has made. The Observers prompts Walter to find a device that can close a portal to the other side. Peter uses the device; as the portal closes, Jones is caught in the portal and cut in half. Since she stopped Jones, Nina keeps her promise and helps her meet Bell. While in Manhattan, Olivia is pulled to the other side; there she meets William Bell (Leonard Nimoy).
Season one ends with Olivia’s heart healing from her loss of John; she is dedicated to finding answers and not much is going to stop her. Peter and Walter are growing closer, but Walter has a secret. He knows Peter Bishop died in 1985. This Earth’s Peter. The Peter we have come to know is from the other side.
‘Fringe’ Season Two Recap
Season two begins with Olivia missing from her car. Bell pulled her out of her car while she was driving; when she returns to our universe, her momentum continues. She crashes through the windshield and slams into the pavement. A man tried to stop her meeting with Bell; this man is a shape-shifter from the other side. Shape-shifters are soldiers; each one has a device unique to the individual. The device allows the shape-shifters to change form. If separated from the device, a shape-shifter is trapped in a form. They are organic-inorganic hybrids that bleed blood and mercury. A shot to the head kills them. Their brain, or storage disc, is at the base of their spine. They get orders by going to a store called Typeset Antiques; at the back is a room with a typewriter and a mirror on a desk. Communication is possible because what is typed on the paper can be read in both universes. The shape-shifter that tried to stop Olivia’s meeting with Bell learns, via the typewriter, that that he still needs to complete his mission.
To complete his mission, the shape-shifter kills Charlie and takes his place. Fake Charlie needs to find out what Olivia learned from Bell and then kill her. Olivia doesn’t remember right away; she doesn’t remember her meeting until a bell is rung. She collapses, and she remembers her meeting. Bell rings a bell at the beginning of the meeting. Bell tells her that crossing over is harder than Walter and Bell ever realized and that crossing over has done a lot of damage to the other side. The other side sees us as invaders, and shape-shifters are the First Wave, soldiers sent here to prepare this side for an invasion from the other side. Bell’s trying to prevent war, but the other side’s world is severely damaged. Before he sends her back, Bell rings the bell again and tasks Olivia with stopping the shape-shifters from finding the frozen head of Thomas Newton, a person with knowledge about how to open a gate between the two universes. Olivia remembers this and tells Fake Charlie just before she learns he’s a shape-shifter. Olivia shoots Fake Charlie in the head, but she’s too late; Fake Charlie was able to tell his team of shape-shifters where the head is. The team retrieves the head and attaches it to a body; Thomas Newton is functional.
Because the frequency of crossing between the two universes is increasing, the damage to this side is increasing as well. More soft spots, areas where the barrier between the two worlds is weak, are appearing, and things are being pulled to the other side. To help the situation, Walter realizes that Olivia needs to regain her ability to see things from the other side. She has many talents, Walter says, and Olivia, Walter, and Peter go to Jacksonville, Florida, the place where the Cortexiphan trials were held, in order to trigger this ability. The trip works, and Olivia is able to find the building that is going to be pulled to the other side, saving many lives. Things from the other side now glow and shimmer to Olivia, so when she looks at Peter, he glows. Walter begs Olivia not to tell Peter; Olivia agrees, but tells Walter that he needs to tell Peter the truth soon.
Newton’s ordered to bring The Secretary over from the other side. The team figures out where Newton plans on opening the gate. Newton is using a different technique than Jones did, so Walter’s device from before won’t work. Peter operates the device, and in the process realizes that he is from the other side because when the two worlds meet, the FBI agent next to him dies but Peter is fine. Hurt that Walter did not tell him the truth, Peter leaves. While Peter is gone, Olivia admits to herself how she feels about him.
Newton’s successful bring The Secretary over. The Secretary is the other universe’s Secretary of the Department of Defense, Walter Bishop. The other universe’s Walter Bishop, Walternate, finds Peter. He asks his son to return with him. Peter agrees.
The other side is slightly more technologically advanced than this side and some of the history is different. Zeppelins are a mode of transportation, Martin Luther King, Jr. is on the $20 bill, and the Fringe Division is part of the Department of Defense. The damage Walter’s invasion caused is everywhere: the air quality is low, food is scarce because of environmental damage, and space-time anomalies are common; the Fringe Division sometimes has to put an area in quarantine, meaning the area of the anomaly is covered in amber. Walternate tells Peter that he needs Peter’s help in constructing a machine that will help heal both worlds.
On this side, Walter and Olivia figure out that the machine (a diagram of it was left for Olivia by an Observer) can destroy one of the worlds. Walter encourages Olivia to use her ability of crossing between the worlds, but Olivia doesn’t have enough power to get her and Walter across safely. They enlist three other Cortexiphan people (they were a part of Olivia’s group and have been kept at Massive Dynamic after being discovered and activated as adults). The group is successful crossing over. Before they can meet up with Bell, the three Cortexiphan adults die. After meeting Bell, Walter and Bell look for a power source they can use to cross over again, and Olivia finds her double and takes her place. As her double, Olivia is able to get to Peter. She tells him the truth about the machine, but he’s figured that out on his own. She tells him to come back for her, and they kiss. They bring Peter home.
Season two ends with a surprise. The Olivia that returned with Peter is not our Olivia. The Olivia from the other side, Fauxlivia, was able to take Olivia’s place. On the other side, Walternate has our Olivia as a prisoner.
‘Fringe’ Season 3 Recap
Season three takes place in both universes; episodes that take place in the other universe have a red opening sequence instead of the regular blue one. In the alternate universe, Walternate gives Olivia treatments that convince her that she belongs in that world. He does this so she will volunteer for an experiment; he wants to figure out how she can cross between worlds when Fauxlivia can’t. The treatments work for a while, but she sees Peter. She knows Peter is part of her mind, and “he” finally convinces her that she does not belong in this world. With the help of alt-Broyles, she makes her way to Walter’s lab (even in the altverse Walter’s lab is in a basement at Harvard) and uses the sensory deprivation tank to cross over (the tank helps her focus her mind so she can use her ability).
In this universe, Fauxlivia blends in. Yes, Peter notices a subtle change in her behavior, but she says the visit to the other side and her new relationship with Peter made her see things differently. Peter believes her. Fauxlivia was briefed by Walternate, so she knows how to use the typewriter to communicate with him. She is ordered to get Peter involved in the machine; there are pieces of the machine on this side, and she has Newton find some for her. Her plan works; Peter wants to know why the machine will only work for him. Fauxlivia has to clean up her trail; she kills those who know too much. After Newton is captured, she orders him to take his own life, and he does. Peter has fallen for Fauxlivia, and they are intimate, so he’s crushed when he learns the truth. During one of her attempts at crossing over, Olivia is able to get a message to Peter. He tests Fauxlivia, and she fails. Fauxlivia escapes, but Peter switches his computer for hers, so she does not know she is taking the wrong computer when she leaves. They track Fauxlivia down, but not before she’s prepped for extraction. Objects of equal mass can be exchanged between the two worlds; in the place of Fauxlivia is the dismembered body of alt-Broyles.
Back home, Olivia is flabbergasted that no one realized she was gone. She tries to play it cool at first; after all, the people in the altverse bought her as Fauxlivia, but she is disappointed in Peter. Olivia breaks things off with Peter and becomes a bit obsessed about what Fauxlivia was like and how she interacted with Peter. She feels violated. She didn’t choose to stay in the altverse, and she fought hard to come home. After a few weeks, she believes Peter when he says that he thought it was her and that they can be amazing together. And things are wonderful between them until William Bell returns. In order to come back from the alt-verse, Bell sacrificed himself by using himself as a power source (his atoms were charged from crossing over so many times). By breaking the bonds between his atoms, the energy was used to send them home. However, Walter remembers that Bell worked on a way to bring the soul back to a vessel. After he was declared dead, Bell left Walter all the stock to Massive Dynamic and Nina a bell. Walter rings that bell. Bell’s soul enters Olivia (he made her a vessel during their meeting). Bell’s plan to stay in Olivia and find a new host does not work because he’s taken Olivia over. Peter, Bell, and Walter enter Olivia’s mind so she can reclaim her body; Walter tries to download Bell’s conscious to a computer, but the plan fails. William Bell is gone.
In the altverse, Fauxlivia learns that she’s pregnant with Peter’s baby. Walternate is thrilled. He has her kidnapped so the pregnancy can be accelerated. This act accomplishes two things: the virus Fauxlivia has that threatens her life and her child’s does not have time to replicate, so a healthy baby is born, and Walternate gets a sample of blood with enough of Peter’s DNA to turn on the machine. With the machine activated in the altverse, the machine on this side is turned on as well. With the machines on, our universe starts to fall apart. Vortexes, electrical storms, and other phenomena threaten to destroy us. With our world in danger, Olivia harnesses her ability and controls the machine on the other side long enough to let Peter inside the one in this world. Peter starts the machine, and he is sent to the future. Peter experiences life fifteen years after deciding to destroy the altverse; our world is devastated. Amber is used to cover anomalies, the environment is dying, and Walternate enlists terrorists to speed the destruction of our world. Walter has an idea: What if he could bring Peter’s consciousness to the future so he could see the result and then send him back to the moment he’s in the machine? Walter’s idea works, somehow. Peter is back in the present and still in the machine. Instead of destroying one world, he brings them together. In the same room are Walter, Olivia, Fauxlivia, and Walternate. The Walters start to fight, but Olivia says that whatever has been done is done, and that they need to figure out how to fix things. Peter disappears.
The last scene takes place outside where a group of Observers are. Two Observers have a conversation. Observer 1 says, “You were right. They don’t remember Peter.” Observer 2 replies, “How could they? He never existed. He served his purpose.”
Season three ends with one of the most jaw-dropping endings I have experienced. That last scene changes everything. What happened to Peter? What did Peter do? Did Peter merge the two universes or create a new one? I haven’t been this excited for the next season of a show since the ending of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” (Star Trek: The Next Generation). I can praise ‘Fringe‘ for its tone, style, writing, and acting, but the most praise is for how the show excels at surprising me, which is why I have avoided all teasers for season four. I have no idea where this show will take me. And I love that. The season four premiere of ‘Fringe‘ airs Friday, September 23, on FOX at 9pm (8pm CST).