Well, I have finally reached the end of Fringe. It has unquestionably been one of the highlights of my TV watching over the last year, and will remain in my mind for a long time. I have been reflecting on why I found it so special.
In my first take on the series (posted in January 2013), which I wrote after watching only the first few episodes, I commented that Fringe frequently involved gruesome X-Files type biological/medical scenes which pushed it towards the horror field. On the other hand, it starred Australian actress Anna Torv as Agent Olivia Dunham, who "has immediately joined the select group of actors whose presence is an incentive for me to watch whatever she's in". I compared it with Warehouse 13, which I started at the same time but subsequently stopped watching after the first couple of series as it was too lightweight and repetitive to hold my attention, whereas I remained gripped by Fringe through all 100 episodes.
The second time I commented on Fringe was in September, when I wrote "Fringe continues to impress, with Anna Torv playing Agent Olivia Dunham (actually two of them, in parallel worlds) still very much the highlight of the series. The way she shifts body language and expressions depending on which Liv she's playing is fascinating; the uncertainty and vulnerability of the 'original' Liv, the result of experiments she was subjected to as a child, being replaced by the bold swagger of the confident 'alternate Liv' who did not experience that. The progress of the plot threads is somewhat erratic, with some episodes focusing on carrying forwards the intriguing parallel worlds mystery while others take a time-out for more or less unrelated X-Files type weird events."
This remained true for much of the series although as the climax of the final season approached, the parallel worlds plot was wound up (but not forgotten) and replaced by a new threat: the invasion of the bald, robotic Observers, supermen from the far future who set about ruining the Earth's atmosphere to suit what they were used to. I wondered beforehand how it might end – perhaps an all-action finale in which the Fringe team battle their way to their goal, getting killed off one by one until Olivia succeeds in thwarting the Observers' plan with her final dying effort? Not quite – in fact, not at all like that. The conclusion was satisfactory (with some reservations) but the pace surprisingly slow, with time-out being taken for various protracted emotional scenes - which I would have preferred rather less of.
It is probably not a good idea to think too deeply about the internal logic of the plotting in the final series. Having previously established the get-out-of-jail-free card of all time-travel series – the existence of parallel universes, thereby neatly sidestepping all of the usual paradoxes – the story line ultimately depends upon changing their existing time line rather than creating a new one. This throws up all of the usual "suppose you kill your own grandfather" type of questions. However, the story charges forward with such conviction and pizzazz that the plot holes rarely become obvious at the time of watching.
So, what was the basis of the appeal? An intriguing premise, much better than the X-Files because it was so much more than a collection of macabre stories; variety in the story lines with an overarching plot which kept developing in new and interesting ways; and above all, a really great ensemble cast backing up the deservedly multi-award-winning Anna Torv and making the most of the generous opportunities for character development. They really drew me into their world and made me care about what happened to them, which is the ultimate test of any fiction, written or on screen.