It might be the only game in town, but Fringe certainly earns its title of the best sci-fi series on television. The series, which has been constantly and criminally underrated since it premiered in 2008, is pretty much the only piece of hard science fiction you'll find on network television, and nearly all of cable. The series has touched on all the major tropes of the genre -- even aliens (see season 2's "Earthling") -- while remaining tightly focused on the beautifully written and acted characters. You can't help but applaud FOX for ignoring the show's poor ratings and renewing it for a fifth and final season -- if any show deserves a proper ending, it's this sci-fi opus.
The penultimate chapter of Fringe, its fourth season, is out on DVD now, and it is, of course, great. The first half of the season received criticism largely for its removal of Peter from the timeline. It was a risky move; taking the male lead of the series out of the equation for the first four episodes of a season was a move almost unheard of, and it understandably ruffled a few fans' feathers. But, ultimately, it was an interesting move, that furthered the show's ongoing themes of circumstantial identity: Are we the sums of our experiences? How large of a role do our choices play in our lives? It could be argued that Peter's removal and subsequent return to the timeline weren't as elegantly handled as they could have been, but the questions the storyline certainly compensated for what the season's early storyline lacked.
Season 4 was chock full of great stuff -- the Astrid-centric episode, the return of David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) and William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), the callbacks to season 1 mysteries -- but the season's undeniably most important episode is the nineteenth: the dystopian "Letters of Transit." The episode sets the stage for the fifth season by showing a dark future where the mysterious Observers have travelled from the future and taken over. It's the episode with the greatest rewatch value -- really, it's almost required that you watch it at least one more time before venturing into the season 5 premiere, which airs on FOX September 28. There are some interesting things to be gleaned from the episode, such as: Why is there no coffee in 2036? Does this mean that the future shares something with the alternate universe's plight? And what exactly is the bullet that Etta (Georgina Haig) wears around her neck? My guess is that it's the one that Walter shoots in the season 4 finale. And where the hell is September (Michael Ceveris) in 2036?
The season 4 set itself is pretty darn great. The artwork is a shiny, blue-tinted version of the key art for season 4, featuring fragmented versions of our heroes, with some Observers hidden in plain sight in the bottom half of the poster (believe it or not, it took me nearly the whole season to spot them). The set's special features are rather sparse, with minimally informative looks at the Observers and Peter's disappearance, as well as a fairly interesting look at the Fringe comics and a grin-worthy gag reel.
Ultimately, the episodes are the real draw for this set, and they're thankfully up to the task. It's definitely worth the purchase for any Fringe fan, either one looking to catch up or one looking to rewatch before the big premiere of the final season. Either way, get it.