Fringe was one of the best TV shows that no one was watching. (All right, that a few very loyal people were watching.) When it began five seasons ago, the show was ostensibly about Agent Olivia Dunham, who was recruited to a special “fringe” division in the FBI, institutionalized scientist Walter Bishop, and his estranged son, Peter. The trio became a team, and while the show eventually mutated into something weirder and grander and more wonderful than fans ever could have expected, its main characters never lost sight of their ultimate goals — trying to solve the increasingly strange crimes they come across and preventing (or causing) the end of the world time and time again. A mix of cop show procedural and Mr. Wizard–type scientific wonder, it’s worth looking back at what made Fringe, whose series finale airs tonight, so memorable.
- It killed its darlings. In season one, the main plot focused on Agent Dunham’s recently murdered, double-agent boyfriend; when it proved to be too confusing and not particularly entertaining, that entire chain was abandoned and the show focused only on the story’s weirder facets. People got and lost powers, shifted from evil to good, major characters were killed, and minute details of stories from one season became crucial plot points further down the line. Fringe fearlessly renounced anything that didn’t work, which resulted in compelling and interesting story lines.
- It helped Joshua Jackson break with his Pacey-riddled past. Because it was such a distinctly different performance from his Dawson’s Creek swooner, Jackson was able to distance himself from his teen-star past and come into his own as an actor. Hopefully he’ll be able to easily jump from Fringe to other projects.
- It was a family show. Fringe was able to walk the line between TV for kids that are just getting into weird, cult-type shows and parents who want to watch something on a Friday night that doesn’t heavily feature a Disney tween. Much like Amazing Stories and The Twilight Zone before it, Fringe is poised going forward to be a gateway show for legions of sunlight-avoiding geniuses.
- Nina Sharpe. Blair Brown was fantastic as the ruthless chief operating officer of Massive Dynamic, the creepy technology firm that may or may not be the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet Earth. She ruled with a robotic arm sheathed in a fierce leather glove. We’d not seen a villain like her.
- A diverse set of players. The core cast trumpeted racial and gender equality without beating you over the head with it, and it was refreshing to see a TV show full of people who were so unapologetically intelligent.
- The way Walter mangled Astrid’s name. He unintentionally called her everything from “Astro” to “Astling” as she moved from assistant to vital crew member; watching her slowly give up correcting him over the seasons was a delicate peek into their relationship dynamic. It was endearing the few times he got it right.
- Monsters. Lots of ‘em. And really weird plotlines. Bald, silent time travelers who can bend the space-time continuum, an airborne illness that causes people to spontaneously combust, overlapping alternate universes that bisect people, radioactive brain-melts, bodies drained of spinal fluid, shape-shifters, immortality achieved through lightning strikes, and human bombs are all just the tip of the iceberg. The motto of Fringe seemed to be “Let’s get weird,” and it was glorious while it lasted.