Tonight, January 18 at 8 p.m. EST on Fox, "Fringe" will reach its epic, sure-to-be heartbreaking finale. It's a two-hour, 100th episode culmination of an adventure that has spanned decades, shattered timelines and crossed universes in the space of five years, while still maintaining the unbreakable familial bond at its core.
While it may be painful to bid farewell to Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv), Walter (John Noble), Astrid (Jasika Nicole), Broyles (Lance Reddick) and anyone else who might happen to reappear for the show's denouement, the finale stands as a testament to the passion of fans who have kept this smart, courageous series on the air for five seasons, and to Fox, for allowing the perennial bubble show to bow out gracefully instead of being snuffed out without a goodbye.
To reflect on the show's many accomplishments and preview the final two hours, HuffPost TV spoke to executive producer and showrunner Joel Wyman, who crafted the finale -- and the final season as a whole -- so that fans will be able to look at their favorite characters and say "I know them. I’ll never forget them," as they say farewell.
Read on for Wyman's thoughts on Walter's arc, Peter and Olivia's quest to reunite with Etta, which familiar faces we might see in the finale, and how September and Windmark will play into the series' climax. Light spoilers ahead.
Do you have any plans for Friday night? Are you doing something special to commemorate the occasion?
Yeah. It’s so sweet, Bad Robot is going to have a little bit of a screening. I’m going to get to watch the finale with all the incredible crew and all the hardworking writers and everybody who was involved in "Fringe." We get to say goodbye together. It’s really nice ... It’s something of a war to get through all that, and at the end of it when we’ve passed the finish line, everybody’s looking together and remembering all these great things that they did.
Over the last couple of episodes, Walter has seemingly resigned himself to the fact that he might have to sacrifice himself in order to save the world, since he somewhat broke the universe in the first place. Can you talk about his mindset in the finale?
I think that’s all part of the journey. I don’t want to spoil anything because I think our surprises are ... I think people have come to really expect them and most of the time enjoy them. I think that the ability to be able to stand back and look at your life is very eye-opening. Not many people get that opportunity. Life happens so fast that it’s right in front of you and you don’t really get the chance to sit back and say "Look what I’ve done, look what I’ve made." I think that that’s where he’s at. He’s examining his position in this. He’s examining everything and there are so many things that are happening to him. He’s trying to understand them and trying to do what he did before, which is not act irrationally but to actually digest things and try and find his spot in all of it.
Peter and Olivia seem very set on the idea of reuniting with Etta (Georgina Haig) at the end of all of this, if they succeed in defeating the Observers and changing the past. Would you say that's the crux of their motivation in the finale, above simply saving the world?
I think it is. I think that it would be for anyone. This is a really, really clever bunch of people. They’ve been through so much. In "Fringe," anything can happen and I love that they know that and I love that they accept that. They’ve been through so much. I mean this sort of gets to my larger way of attacking the season this year and the theory that I was trying to work on, which I personally am glad that I started to investigate. If you look at "Fringe," most of the time our camera was from a view of looking down on our characters, watching them make their decisions, watching them go through things. That was very effective in some ways. There were some emotional things, there were some intriguing things. That’s the way one likes to a television program.
Then I started to think about what would I want at the end of the series if I invested this much time. For me, it always comes down to the characters. Those are the people that you spend the time with. It’s not the weird science or the crazy stuff. That’s all very intriguing, but it’s not the reason why you’re there. I don’t believe that. I believe the reason you’re there is this incredible connection that has been built between these people.
So, I started to think, "That’s what I really want to focus on, I really want to focus on these people." I want to make sure that people remember them. I want people to leave with them feeling like "I know these people. Oh my gosh, I got to really know them." That was the biggest thing in my mind. I just wanted to make sure there was a solid connection between these characters and the fans.
So, I shifted the camera from up above, the objective point of view to the subjective point of view. I really wanted you to go through these things on ground level, at stage level, with these people and that you would experience a loss like Etta, for example. You would feel that terrible feeling. So at the end you will say, “I know them. I’ll never forget them.”
I think that was especially effective with Etta, because it truly was like a punch in the gut. I feel like many viewers, myself included, were asking ourselves, "Haven't these characters suffered enough? Haven't they lost enough?" It raises the stakes and illustrates that, realistically, this war will have casualties, but it also makes you wonder, "How much is too much?"
Right, how much is too much? The answer is, we have no control. That’s what I was trying to say. A couple of things really consumed me. I was really shocked, because it’s like, we’re here enjoying our freedoms because of loss just like that. If you had said to Etta, “Would you stand up and lose your life for this cause?" she would say "100 percent." So would her mother. That is a hero in my opinion, and that is somebody worth writing about. Those are the types of heroes that I want to write about all the time, people that are willing to do things like that. It just goes to show us that sometimes we forget that great things take great sacrifice. That just seemed to be very natural for the cause. I mean, if it’s going to be a war, it has to be bloody sometimes, doesn’t it?
September (Michael Cerveris) has been largely absent for much of this season, but he's been such an integral part of the fabric of "Fringe" from the start and he returned in a major way in the last episode -- can you preview anything about his arc in the final episodes?
I’m trying to really allow you to get a larger and more full picture of some of the darker, unseen areas of the characters. September’s a very interesting person. I think that some of those great aspects to his persona and what makes him up will be illuminated. He cares very much for our group. It was really important to maybe shed a little bit more light on who that character is.
One of the other amazing discoveries of this season was the character of Windmark (Michael Kopsa) and how his pursuit of our team has inadvertently brought back aspects of his own humanity -- those negative emotions like anger and hate -- that the Observers are supposedly too evolved for. It's almost as if our characters make everyone more human and more alive just from proximity to them.
Yeah. I think it was a great writer, Michael Ondaatje, that said the heart is an organ of fire. You can’t keep it down, even through evolution. It’s there for a purpose.
To that end, what can you reveal about the consequences of him embracing those emotions and how that conflict will play out in the finale, without spoiling anything?
He’s a formidable opponent. I love him, I adore him as a character. I think he’s unfortunately in a position where people want him to lose. As performed by Michael Kopsa, he really transcends what’s there. He’s just so deliciously bad that you don’t know what’s up his sleeve. Let’s put it this way, I couldn’t have been more fortunate in the casting.
As we've seen in the promos for the finale, The Other Side will make a reappearance -- is there anything you can say about that aspect of the story without giving too much away?
I think that it’s part of "Fringe," there are so many elements that are part of "Fringe." Half the fun was ... like I said, the first thing that I need to get sorted was emotionally, "What am I doing with these people?" Once that was sorted then you can look at it and go, "Now let’s have a little bit of fun. What are some of the things that I’m interested in, and how could I use these elements to tell good stories?" I just thought it was very natural. I didn’t want it to be like, "Spot the cool thing from the seasons past." I didn’t want to play that game. I wasn’t interested in that. But this is legitimate, where I feel like things that are going to be coming are there for a reason. Actually, I could argue they needed to be there. I wanted to have a good reason.
As we reach the end, what are you hoping that fans will take away from the show -- its legacy, if you will?
For me, it's that people would leave thinking, "Well done." Like, "You tried -- those guys really tried," because we did, we tried and that’s all you can ask for. I think that I would like for people to take away from it that they made the show what it is and that they can feel proprietary over it; they owned a little bit of the building. I think this was the first time that social media has had such a big play in keeping a show around, and our fans are unified. So, I want people to kind of take away and say that "this was a show that was aspiring to be something that you don’t get all the time; it was trying to say something that you don’t necessarily see all the time; I will always remember it." It really is and has been a show about heart. So many people with heart have given their heart to the program. I have to believe in some way that because of that, that it connected with people. It was authentic. Like I said, we tried.
The "Fringe" series finale airs Friday, January 18 at 8 p.m. EST on Fox. Check out our retrospective of the show's best moments from critics who have covered "Fringe" from the start.