‘Fringe’ Friday: Show runners talk Walter, Bell, Season 4 finale
Tonight the fourth season of “Fringe” comes to a close. I got the opportunity to watch the finale a bit early, and I can honestly say it does not disappoint. It’s a conclusion that could easily have been the ending of the series, but also drums up excitement for what the fifth and final season of “Fringe” will bring.
Show runners and executive producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner took a few minutes out of their hectic Friday to chat with me about the ending of this chapter and the roads that brought “Fringe” there.
In the last few weeks, we’ve gotten to see the full extent of William Bell’s plan, wanting to collapse the two universes to create a new one. It’s a literal version of the classic science-fiction theme of “playing God.”
Wyman: We were always interested in the idea of science being science, and it’s really how you use it that defines if it is good or bad. Ever since “White Tulip” we’ve been investigating the theme of how much knowledge is too much knowledge? And what happens when technology reaches the point where it’s growing exponentially and we’re no longer human beings as we recognize ourselves right now, but more machine-like or logical to a fault. Where we evolve out of our humanity. The hubris of trying to become a God is a huge downfall. It’s a cautionary tale. We’ve always be interested in those themes.
Pinkner: Obviously there’s the Yin/Yang of Walter and William Bell. The relevant part of our story started 27 years ago when Walter decided that he should play God. Back in 1985, he said to his assistant that “there’s only one God in this lab right now, and that’s me.” Then he shattered two universes, knowing the consequences, in order to save his son. A reason we could understand. Now there’s the dichotomy that William Bell has gone to a place where you could pretty much objectively say he’s crazy. Walter made an arguably rational choice. It was a desperately emotional decision. Whereas William Bell, he’s nuts.
Bell’s plan pulled in ideas and experiments that were littered throughout the first four seasons. Tonight’s episode was really a culmination of everything that came before it.
Pinkner: Absolutely. Part of the design was how can we bring this thing full circle while still leaving a door we could walk through for Season 5.
Wyman: The world we contextualize is so big for us. A lot of the things were set into motion earlier. Maybe we didn’t know the extent of how they were going to be used, but there were things put somewhere to be held until a later date. In Season 1, you saw the amber on the bus and you didn’t know what that was, but now everyone knows what the amber is really used for. It’s a lot of fun for us. Fun to go back to see things, and this is how we’re needling it all together. Makes a fun puzzle for the fan, to watch it all be put together.
At the same time all the science and plotting came together, the emotional core of “Fringe” comes to a climax as well.
Pinkner: We have always said that the reason we love television, the reason we love “Fringe,” is that we get to spend years telling the stories of these characters. “Fringe” has always been a family drama masquerading as science-fiction investigation. It’s those emotional themes, those emotional stories. That’s the reason we care. Everything else is a vehicle to tell either cool or moving or scary stories, but they’re all ways to investigate the emotions of the characters. And the emotions of the audience, frankly.
Wyman: That’s our goal. Traditionally we always end a season like we’re closing a chapter. This push-off point is obviously crucial. We wanted to satisfy thematically all the ideas we’ve been talking about and to a degree close this chapter and start anew. In a way you need to be prepared for Season 5, by going through everything you’ve gone through.
How soon do you need to get back to writing Season 5?
Wyman: Fast. We’re just so lucky to get the chance to tell the next chapter. Everyone from the crew to the actors, just everyone who works on the show, are blown away that No. 1: We’re still here. It’s no secret the show has had some struggles with ratings. But the love we’ve seen for “Fringe” from Fox and Warner Brothers, but more from the fans and the media. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. We’re also blown away that we get to finish the story in a way that it deserves and that the fans will appreciate. For lack of a better way to say it, it’s one time where the good guys won. The fans of science fiction and the critical darlings that don’t get the highest ratings, they have shows they love that never saw the light of day, or if they got a little more time, they would have had a chance. This is one of the times where the network stuck with the show, and it needs to be applauded. We’re just amazed and pleased and incredibly grateful.
Each time the show supposedly got closer to getting canceled, you got more daring and inventive.
Wyman: We can honestly say we never changed the story based on any information other than our own personal taste. That’s a bit of a victory. There were times we were unsure. For example, when we went to the other side. We were taking characters everyone had grown to love, and we said “hold that now while we go over here to a whole new version of the characters.” Would people even go for that? Is it not some form of suicide? Common knowledge would probably say yes, but we went to the creative place to make the decision. We know we cannot do these characters justice unless we actually do go over there. Fully go over there. Commit. We found the alternate characters very compelling and necessary to get some of the thematic things we were trying to say out. That was our criteria. For every single decision-making process, we asked, what do we feel? What’s the right thing to do? That’s definitely something we’re both very proud of. Some people may have liked some of the story turns we came up with, some may not, but the truth is they were ours. They were never dictated by “you guys are getting canceled!” The network was very transparent with us. And fair. First we moved to Thursdays and then to Fridays, but they always told us why. Telling us what their strategy was and what they expected from us. Every time we moved, someone said we were getting canceled, and we were like, “But wait, we were supposed to get canceled two years ago. Weren’t we?” But we held on. And it was our journey.
-- Andrew Hanson
Photo: John Noble as Walter Bishop. Credit: Fox Television