It's really amazing that Fringe stuck around for as long as it did. Despite critical adoration, the sci-fi series was long beleaguered by low ratings -- and yet was allowed to finish on its own terms, with a shortened fifth and final season that ended in January -- and hit Blu-ray and DVD earlier this month.
In some ways, Fringe season 5 hardly feels like the same show as the four years that preceded it. It takes place in the dystopian future of 2036, in a world completely overtaken by the time-travelling Observers, a race of advanced humanoids. Our characters are shifted from their roles as FBI agents to rebel insurgents, forced to become guerilla fighters in a world they no longer recognize. The show also became a serial, with all thirteen episodes telling one story, as opposed to the slightly more procedural layout of the show's earlier seasons. For the purposes of plot and structure, Fringe season 5 is a radically different series.
But at its heart, it's the same. Our main characters continue in the same arcs they've always had -- Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia (Anna Torv) come to understand Walter's pain as they endure a great loss of their own; Walter (John Noble), meanwhile, finally comes to terms with his own ego and the ramifications of his scientific experiments. And, from a broader perspective, the themes are all there: family, love, and hope remain the show's foundation. It might appear a fundamentally different series, but it's a well-done -- if not entirely logical -- progression from the show's previous seasons.
And while the season does have a little bit of filler (episodes like "The Recordist" and "The Human Kind" still feel mostly unnecessary, even when marathonned when the rest of the season), it really sticks the landing, with a trilogy of final episodes that manage to revisit everything that made the show great -- from alternate universes to gory fringe science -- before bringing it all back for one final emotional kicker. The season and the series end on such a satisfying note -- one that feels emotionally true to the show's very essence -- that it's easy to forgive any of the show's other narrative shortcomings (yes, even the weird detour that was season 4 fits into the show's overall arc a little more snugly). To reluctant to start the series for fear that the ending might disappoint, go ahead and start. It'll be worth it.
As for the set's special features, there aren't many. The show's final Comic-Con panel is here in full, and its rather sweet but ultimately for die-hards only. The best special feature is the featurette 'A Farewell to Fringe' -- a twenty-minute video juxtaposing the making of the show's pilot back in 2008 with the filming of the finale in 2012. It's surprisingly affecting to see that the actors are as emotionally attached to the series and the characters as anyone, and it also helps in making the fifth season seem more cohesive with the rest of the series. The gag reel has a few chuckles, and the deleted scenes are interesting but not really necessary -- one features Windmark (Michael Kopsa) quietly going through September's closet.
For those of you who, like me, prefer all your DVD box sets to match (I'm still bitter about the lack of continuity in my LOST collection), worry not -- though the Fringe season 5 case is slimmer than preceding sets, everything else matches up. It fits right in.
So, should you buy Fringe's fifth season? Absolutely. And, hopefully, its release on DVD will encourage more people start watching and to enjoy the show's brilliance -- because, ultimately, it's really worth it.
You can order Fringe season 5 over at Amazon.