Nearly a decade late, I have finally watched every episode of Fringe. This is an accomplishment for me, since I no longer have the attention span for years-long series, and because I actively dislike Season 1. I’ve tried to watch Fringe before and never made it out of Season 1. Until now.
And I do now agree with the “It gets better!” cries. I really like certain aspects—the characters, Peter’s story…but I end the show with the lingering sense that Fringe never truly lived up to its potential. It echoed so many ideas or plots from shows like The X-Files or Charlie Jade. It even echoed its own ideas in later seasons, though it made good use of them.
Anyway, my opinions are unoriginal, and years behind, but I like ranking things, so here is my list from favorite to least, and why:
It fully invested in two universes and made them both interesting! The story finally paid off many details from earlier seasons, including Cortexiphan, the machine, the prophecy, you name it. I enjoyed that it explored Peter and Olivia/FauxLivia with more heart than soap opera. Peter vanishing in the finale cliffhanger is great, too. Also: Broyles, LSD, and a twizzler.
Walter and Peter’s—also Olivia’s—backstories and conflicts reveal that Fringe’s strength is character, not science fiction, and the show steadily improves. The larger arcs and conspiracies with the shapeshifters and Walternate also focus it for the better. Though vague, the Observers are intriguing. The fringe-science cases are still boring.
Season 4, the middle and end
Setting aside the beginning (see below), S4 affords better purpose to the MOTWs from S1 than S1 did. Better use of David Robert Jones and William Bell, too. Peter’s yearning for his timeline, and the team getting to know each other again, didn’t strike me as a huge step down from prior seasons, and so I enjoyed S4—more than others, apparently. But Olivia, Walter, and Fringe are different, less vibrant, because of the timeline changes, and the show ultimately doesn’t recover from it here or in Season 5.
I still don’t care for it. I especially don’t care for the cop-show clichés that abound. And the fringe cases, the monsters, are… “echoes” really is the best word. S1 didn’t inspire any investment until almost the finale. But it does an okay job of world-building, at least, and Walter is at his most eccentric and original. Thus, I rank it above S5.
Technically, I enjoyed watching it a lot more than S1, but the storytelling was “last-gasp” in quality. Example: the scaffolding of the Betamax-tape scavenger hunt. It also felt like a double knock-back for Olivia and Peter to be estranged again, though it lead to touching moments, as always. I missed the multiverses, too. The series ends beautifully, though.
Season 4, the beginning
Stunningly anti-climactic after S3, and a massive mistake to not bring back Peter in the premiere. I guess Fringe thought it was exploring Peter’s absence, but really it was wasting episodes. And one of them was about an emotional fungus, FFS.
So, there you have it.
I don’t have a concrete list of favorite episodes, so instead I'll include an exchange that has stuck in my mind through all the marathoning. From 4x9, Enemy of My Enemy:
Four seasons into the show, it was a touching reminder of what Fringe was really about: a father and a son, both learning to be better men.