The final episodes of a series -- particularly a serialized genre show like Fringe -- are important to cementing the legacy of the series as a whole. A missed step in closing the story can damage the reputation of the entire series. Just look at "Across the Sea," the third-to-last episode of LOST's sixth and final season. It was a poorly-timed, exposition-heavy, and largely irrelevant episode in the midst of an otherwise solid season -- and it soured the series for many previously die-hard fans (myself NOT included, for the record). Of course it's necessary for a mythologically heavy series to provide answers to its audience, but they have to be meaningful answers, presented in the right way.
"The Boy Must Live," tonight's episode of Fringe, is the equivalent of LOST's "Across the Sea" in all but one important way: it's very, very good. As expected, the episode delivers a solid amount of answers (most via the most welcome return of Michael Cerveris's September/Donald), and kicks into high gear the events that will drive next week's final two episodes.
A solid portion of the episode is spent dedicated to the explanation of September's plan, but less than you might think. While we do find out exactly what the hell season 5's scavenger hunt has been all about, we also spend a solid amount of time with Observer baddie Windmark (Michael Kopsa), who has some absolutely fantastic character moments, both in a conversation with his superior (James Kidnie) and in a scene in which he listens to music. Though we've been given enough reason to hate Windmark throughout the season, it's this episode that really cements him not just as a threat, but as a fully realized character with maybe just a touch of empathy.
As the trailer for the episode showed, we do get to see the Observer's future, although not in any great detail. We also learn how the Observers reproduce, and exactly how they evolved from us. But amidst all these answers (which are rather satisfying, I must say), we do get lovely character moments from our heroes. There's a scene, early in the episode, between Peter and Walter that will undeniably become a fan favorite -- it not only beautifully showcases their relationship, but addresses the changes to the timeline that season 4 made, and rather gracefully sweeps them under the rug (the early arc of season 4, if anything, will be seen as Fringe's significant misstep, and as missteps go, it's excusable).
Speaking of Walter, though, we finally get back to the theme of atonement for past sins that the series has long been built upon. Sure, "Black Blotter" saw him addressing his own dark inner nature, but it's much more compelling to see Walter striving to make up for his past sins. A conversation between him and September -- a rather meaningful one for both characters -- thankfully proves that the series hasn't forgotten about this theme, and intends to deliver on it in spades.
"The Boy Must Live" is undeniably the most satisfying episode of Fringe's so-far-so-good fifth and final season, providing some of executive producer J.H. Wyman's much-mentioned "recontextualizing" of past episodes, but more importantly looking toward the show's future. If next week's two episodes, "Liberty" and "An Enemy of Fate," are even close to as enjoyable as tonight's "The Boy Must Live," then it looks like Fringe might be left with a barely-tarnished legacy that most sci-fi shows would envy.