Fringe Thinking:
Yellow Submarine

With its fifth and final season, Fringe has entered a new dimension. Or is that descriptor unavailable, lest the senses of the word be confused? The series has, after all, built much of its mythology on transdimensional travel to a parallel Earth — Over There, a.k.a. the Other Side, home to doppelgangers of our heroes and villains. Instead, Fringe's future lies in the actual (well, the actual fictional) future, as viewers had already been made aware through advance promotion and as was seen on Friday night in the Season Five opener...

I'll get back to the future shortly. First I want to take a few moments to welcome any new readers by way of giving these writeups (and their titles) some context.

Once upon a time, I blogged on much of Lost's final season. You can find all of my posts on the subject at that link in reverse chronological order — minus a few that were offline for some tinkering when a round of Blogger "upgrades" wreaked havoc on the HMTL formatting of anything that I reverted to draft and then attempted to republish; they'll be set up properly again someday.

I used Beatles songs as a unifying element for the subtitles of those "Lost in Thought" posts. Once I determined to attempt to blog on Fringe at the end of Season Three, I figured I'd homage the fact that both series were J.J. Abrams co-creations by tweaking the conceit for "Fringe Thinking" to focus on songs written solely or primarily by John Lennon either within or without The Beatles, starting with an overview subtitled "Across the Universe". I only got a pair of Season Three episodes (3.19 & 3.20) and the Season Four debut (4.01) written up after that, but Fringe is easily one of my favorite shows on the air — heck, it's probably one of my favorite TV shows ever — and despite, if not a little because of, the fact that I'm still in the midst of prepping other projects I have hopes of clocking in with regular writeups of these last 13 episodes. I also admittedly have concerns that Season Five will be so much of a thing unto itself that it will disappoint a bit compared to the intriguing internal echoes throughout the series as it stands, Seasons Three and Four especially, although if that's the price we pay for having had Season Four provide a satisfying conclusion to the series to date since renewal was still up in the air when its finale was shot, well, so be it.

"Yellow Submarine" was, sources agree, mostly a Paul McCartney composition, but John Lennon did make some contributions to it, and I just can't pass up the opportunity to use it in reference to Olivia Dunham's hibernation in amber.

Episode 5.01 picks up from 4.19, "Letters of Transit". When 4.19 aired last April, its plot suddenly jumping to the year 2036, the dystopic future it presented — in many ways at least as disorienting to us and our protagonists as were previous seasons' alternate universes and altered timelines — was as much a cautionary tale shading the present-day plot as a potential springboard for a still-uncertain fifth season. One could simply (all right, maybe not simply) take it as a glimpse of yet another set of ramifications of the failure to integrate Peter back into the timeline properly, if indeed this future did flow from such a failure.

In 4.19 we saw a world that had been enslaved by the Observers. Walter Bishop, Astrid Farnsworth, and then Peter Bishop, three members of our core cast, were released from amber in that future by a team of freedom fighters including a young Fringe Division agent named Etta — Henrietta Bishop, Peter and Olivia's grown daughter. When 5.01 opens we see the family enjoying a day in the park — in 2015, still a few years in our future but 21 years ago in context — a sunny day that grows cold when the Observers invade. The vision turns out to be a dream of Peter's, albeit one of actual events.

This season picks up where that episode left off, with a title sequence that's the most different yet of all the show's variations on its original theme of pulling the viewer through lists of fantastic scientific possibilities. Fringe's original blue/green opening showed genetic anomalies such as a six-fingered hand amidst terms including, in Season One, "teleportation", "psychokinesis", and "dark matter". New terms were used for Season Two, and still others were used in Season Three in both the regular and the alternate red openings that ran in episodes set primarily on the Other Side. The altered timeline brought a golden hue in Season Four, whose phrases included "time paradox" and "quantum entanglement". Among the variations only briefly seen was the retro sequence first used in Episode 2.16, "Peter", where fringe science from the perspective of 1985 included "personal computing", "virtual reality", and "cloning". Now with Season Five's icy blue background and thick block letters in stark contrast to Fringe's previous thin, metallic logo we're peering through barbed wire and shown that in 2036 concepts like "freedom" and "individuality" are as way-out possibilities as "thought extraction" was in 2010.

Fringe's Season Three finale had showed us another dystopic future in a fever dream of Peter's. Episode 3.22, "The Day We Died", found an older Peter (aged, not ambered) in the year 2026, dealing with the consequences of This Side's Fringe Division having used the would-be doomsday machine to obliterate the Other Side. He learned that destroying one universe actually sentenced both to destruction, and so after waking up back in 2011 instead used the machine to create a small bridge between the universes so that the two sides could work together. In doing so, Peter vanished from existence — only to pop up in Season Four in a timeline that had no record of him surviving childhood, an enigma to his former loved ones.

It's almost pedestrian for Fringe to venture into the future given where the series has taken us so far. Lost progressed from threading each episode with a flashback to flashforwards to, in the final season, what at the time was called a "flashsideways" — although it turned out that we were glimpsing not a parallel universe or rewritten timeline on Earth but a timeless afterlife. In my final "Lost in Thought" post before the show's final season began, I described how each season could be seen as exploring a new dimension of space and time. Fringe has similarly expanded its horizons, beginning with the Fringe Division team of one Earth, expanding to another Earth, and then showing us those once-colliding worlds cooperated in the altered timeline that followed Peter's disappearance; the future seen as we begin Season Five is apparently Fringe's final frontier.

I hope if not expect that this dystopic Observer-ridden future may yet be erased as we reboot to some earlier moment, presumably our (the viewers') present if not that day in the park in 2015. And I hope furthermore that the timelines that preceded and resulted from the adult Peter's removal from history get reconciled if, as seems to be the case, they haven't been already. When "Letters of Transit" aired towards the end of last season, the present-day storyline had Olivia's memories in the new timeline being written over by those of the timeline in which she'd known Peter — due apparently to their close emotional bond. Her counterpart from Over There had now never borne a son with Peter, yet Over Here's Olivia and Peter were parents to a daughter named Henrietta, whose name is surely not a coincidental echo of Henry's.

When the Observer called Windmark is verbally and psychically interrogating Walter early in "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11", Walter mentions the importance of music — something whose creation and enjoyment most Observers can't fathom. Then at the episode's end Walter pops a CD into a car stereo and surrenders to the gorgeous, hypnotic synth-pop of "Only You", the 1982 debut single from Yaz (as the duo was known here in the States; they're Yazoo in the UK). I'm sure that Walter considered that moment an oasis, despite his situation in the husk of a car in a rubble-strewn street in a colorless despotic world, but, oh, was I ever glad to be watching TV with my headphones on.

This episode's glyphs spell out the word "doubt".

Images © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment, courtesy Fox Broadcasting Company.

Next in 'Fringe Thinking': Mother (Episode 5.02)

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