First episode impressions: ‘Fringe’ Season 5 (TV review)

In the early days of TV, every episode was a standalone, so if you missed an episode you wouldn’t get lost. Eventually, we started to see more serial TV with ongoing stories that rewarded regular viewers. “Fringe” (8 p.m. Central Fridays, Fox), now in its fifth and final season, is the next iteration: I’ve seen every episode, yet I feel like I’ve missed several.

“Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11” is an appealing sci-fi work to start off this truncated final season. It finds the gang getting reunited piece by piece in 2036. I liked Peter’s quest to find Olivia, going to dystopian information brokers (using walnuts as currency, as suggested by his daughter, Henrietta); it has a nice “Blade Runner” feel to it.

I never really understood the goals of the Observers (aptly nicknamed “Baldies” by the resistance fighters), but now it seems clear they are blatantly bad guys, taking over Earth through their oppressive government — partly through rewarding “loyalists” with “vouchers.” They even go so far to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as regular Earth air is too oxygen-rich; this lowers human life spans to about 45 years.

Like many “Fringe” episodes, this one centers on the attempt to remove information from someone’s brain — in this case an slightly-more-emotional-than-we’re-used-to Observer tortures Walter to get the resistance plan hidden in his gray matter (It was put there by a good Observer back in present day, I think). In his resistance, the plan is destroyed, thus meaning our heroes are stuck in the future without a plan.

The good news is that this allows for the introduction of new characters, namely the resistance fighters who are holed up in a building developing new tech, including a handy device that makes live people appear dead. This allows the gang to get into an Observer stronghold and rescue Walter in much the same way the Jedi freeze themselves in carbonite and sneak into the Citadel to rescue Even Piell in Season 3 of “The Clone Wars.”

We’ll no doubt meet more resistance fighters as the season moves forward, but so far there’s Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost’s” Desmond) and, of course, Henrietta (Georgina Haig), Peter and Olivia’s daughter. Although I don’t remember a thing about Peter and Olivia losing their daughter when she was 3, the reunion scenes here were fine and Etta is already firmly ingrained as part of the Bishop clan (as is Astrid, who also makes the leap forward in time).

The visuals remain a strength of “Fringe.” This seems like a believable 2036: Technologically advanced in some ways, for better (one of those sci-fi staples: translucent computer screens) or worse (egg sticks); and devolved in other ways (the collapsed economy and the oppressive government that is literally killing its people slowly). Although sometimes reminiscent of other apocalyptic movies and shows, the amber sets “Fringe” apart; I especially like the long shots of amber covering a seemingly random section of the town, and the concept of “amber gypsies” — black-market people-sellers — is a nice touch in the season premiere.

Even more so than the loving relationships among the Bishops, it’s the little details about 2036 that I think will really make Season 5 pop. The writers have definitely set up a worthy challenge for our freedom fighters; I just hope this season is a bit easier to follow than previous ones even as it continues to explore the fringes that most shows (even in the sci-fi genre) don’t dream of.

What are your thoughts on the Season 5 premiere of “Fringe?” Share your comments below.