With Fringe being Fringe – that is, a sci-fi drama that has proven over and over again that everything is possible — showrunner J.H. Wyman has at his disposal, entering the final season, any number of super-cool storytelling devices in his toolbox.
Yet what he most wants to play with is the characters’ — and thus viewers’ — emotions, as the Fox series unspools its last13 episodes.
“I realized this is not a season for tricks and multiple universes, new introductions of things,” Wyman tells TVLine. “So I had to do some soul-searching and say, ‘What would I like? What would I want, demand, if I had invested four years in this show?'”
After asking himself those critical questions, Wyman came away with two final-season resolutions.
“One thing I was adamant about was getting inside the emotion of the characters that everybody has grown to know over four years, and really pay that off in a big way,” he attests. “[This season] is about questions, about emotion, about family…. I want to put the viewer down on ground level with our characters, so they can go through this final experience with them.”
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That said, Fringe is by no means going cold turkey with the far-out. Instead, you should count on quality over quantity. “I want to see the stuff that really freaks us out… all that Fringe-y stuff that’s inherently our show,” Wyman clarifies. “And some of the things may really blow your mind because now we’re in the future, and things are all that much cooler. You can really let your imagination go.”
Second on Wyman’s “must” list: After the very final entry in what he calls a “13-hour feature film saga” has hit the airwaves, “I want to get into my car the next day, drive off and feel like, ‘Hmm, I can imagine where these characters are today. I can imagine what they’re doing.’ That was really important, because I can’t accept closure that doesn’t have some form of hope. That’s just who I am.”
Even the glimmer of hope, though, is 13 long hours away. As Season 5 starts up this Friday at 9/8c, viewers will lay witness to a most idyllic setting: Peter and his wife Olivia (played by Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv), several years into the future, beaming as their young daughter Henrietta frolics in a park.
But then the Observers came.
“That moment in time would definitely be an earmark to where things started to go off the rails,” Wyman says. “They had their daughter taken from then, inadvertently, but she’s gone.” And though we know, from last season’s Episode 19, “Letters of Transit,” that Etta eventually emerged unscathed and even grew up to be a fine Fringe agent herself, her parents’ union was dealt a blow. “Most couples, when they lose a child, unfortunately don’t make it through that,” Wyman notes. “So, what happened to Peter and Olivia?”
Rather than rely too heavily on flashbacks to answer questions about the time between Henrietta’s abduction and when Peter, Walter (John Noble) and others got ambered, Wyman says “you’ll see bits,” enough to understand the rift that formed between husband and wife. “I’m keeping the narrative of this as clean as possible.”
Instead, Season 5 is set almost exclusively in the year 2036, picking up soon after the events of “Letters of Transit,” during which Peter reunited with Etta (Georgina Haig) in a powerful, sweet scene that can never be watched too many times on YouTube. There in the future, Peter, Etta, Walter and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) will piece together the puzzle of “Where is Olivia?” – which is but the first step in their great journey towards (hopefully) vanquishing the evil Observers who now lord over Earth.
Why did the chrome-domed, fedora fetishists seize our planet anyway? “That’s the cool thing — they always had an agenda. We just didn’t really understand completely what it was,” Wyman previews. “When you realize that they wrecked their planet and came to use ours…. That’s just who they are. They sort of don’t really consider us to be anything worthy [as an opponent], to be honest.”
To further appreciate what the Observers have in mind, Wyman promises to occasionally eavesdrop on those very strange birds. “I find them fascinating and I know a lot of people do, so I’ve been adamant about helping people understand them, and I think you will,” he says. “You’ll understand what their mentality is like and what it’s like to be an Observer.”
Skimming Wyman’s plan above, one might wonder if the Alt Universe — the other side where we spent so much time during Season 3 and some of Season 4 — will be allowed to sneak in one last encore. The answer would seem to be a regretful no. “It’s so tough, because it’s only 13 episodes… and my biggest fear is to sort of have, like, this daisy chain of cool things,” Wyman explains. “It’s all got to be about something. I want to focus on what’s really going on, on the real drama. What’s the real stuff that makes you care? It’s these people that you’re invested in.”
When all is said and done and the last hour of what Wyman describes as a “three-part finale” airs early in the new year, “Sure, there’ll be some guy in Des Moines going, ‘Hey, you never answered that thing in Episode 3.…’ But that’s OK. I’ll live with that,” Wyman says. “Because all the stuff that’s really, truly important , the emotional things, will be addressed.”
Speaking of the emotional, Wyman gets that way as he reflects on these, the final months ahead of him. (Shortly after Thanksgiving, he will fly to Vancouver to direct the series’ final episode.)
“It’s hard, because at the same time that you feel, ‘OK, a script is finished and that’s an accomplishment,’ you also feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, another script is finished and we’re closer to the end,” he shares. “Everybody involved with the program, we are so in love with these characters, [and] it’s getting harder and harder because you realize, ‘Wow, these are really beautiful characters and they’ve all grown so much.’ And what they’re going through in this last season is profound. So it’s bittersweet that way.”