If you’re a fan of Sci-Fi shows, there’s a chance you might’ve heard of a little show co-created by J.J. Abrams. No, it’s not Lost. It’s an admittedly lesser known, but no less fantastic (I’d say better) show than his most famous series. It’s called Fringe, a surreal Sci-Fi trip full of freaky occurrences, parallel universes, altered timelines, and mysterious beings known as Observers. For Fringe fanatics like myself, the task of picking out favorite episodes is a nearly impossible task. With five seasons of stand out episodes, even picking ten is an almost insurmountable challenge, but I attempted it anyway. Be warned, don’t read on if you haven’t seen the series. Just go watch the whole thing and thank me later. (P.S. the show’s free on Prime video).
10. “Jacksonville”, Season 2, Ep. 14.
This episode still has one of the most shocking openings in the show, which is saying something. I’ll never forget that image of a man with his doppelganger’s head jutting out of his chest when the building he was in was merged with the same building in the other universe. Additionally, this episode is great because it fills in some crucial information pertaining to Olivia’s childhood involvement with the Cortexiphan trials and gives you a taste of how ruthless young Walter and Bell could be in their pursuits. Seeing Olivia’s childhood trauma re-triggered so she can identify glimmering objects from the other side is heartbreaking although it’s crucial to her saving the day in the episode. The episode’s highlights are the near first kiss between Peter and Olivia and the final scene where Olivia, obviously excited about going out for drinks with Peter, sees him glimmering and realizes that Peter was stolen from the other side by Walter, leading to Walter’s explanation in the next incredible episode, but more on that later on…
9. “Welcome to Westfield”, Season 4, Ep. 12.
Season 4 has a much sadder feel given that it takes place in a revised timeline where Peter never lived to adulthood and never had an effect on the lives of our other main characters. Of course, we all knew Peter would come back eventually and he does in episode 4…the only problem is that no one remembers him. That all changes in this episode, one of my favorites because it feels like vintage creepy Fringe. While investigating bizarre occurrences in the small town of Westfield, whose inhabitants all seem to have become homicidally insane, the team realizes they’re trapped in the town. Further investigation leads Walter to discover that the Westfield’s in both universes are merging together, causing many of the townspeople to merge with their doppelgangers on the other side, creating some of the series most delightfully creepy sights such as people with two heads in one or being driven murderously insane because they have two sets of memories. Aside from all these thrilling plot devices, it’s such a delight when Olivia starts recalling events from the original timeline she shared with Peter, ultimately leading them to get back together. After season 4’s more depressing timeline, this standout episode begins a return to the Fringe characters as we know and love them.
8. “There’s More Than One of Everything”, Season 1, Ep. 20.
Compared to the show’s core seasons (2–4), Season 1 doesn’t quite hold a candle in terms of overall quality, at least not until the last four episodes or so. This is due mostly to the more stand alone quality of the early episodes, even though there were several good ones. Once the show started to set up its overarching continuity, it really started taking off. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Season 1 finale where some of the show’s biggest mysteries up until that point are finally brought into focus, inevitably leading to more questions. Chief among them is seeing Walter grieving at young Peter’s tombstone and David Robert Jones attempting to open a portal to the parallel universe before he’s cut in half when the portal closes. Chief among these moments though is Olivia’s long overdue meeting with the mysterious and elusive William Bell, Walter’s ex lab partner, played by the legendary Leonard Nimoy, who, in the episodes most stunning reveal, meets her in one of the Twin Towers, which are revealed to still be standing in the parallel universe. I remember the shock I felt at this revelation and this was the moment that I went from liking Fringe to being absolutely hooked. Little did I know that this was only the start of a wild journey.
7. “Brave New World Pts 1&2”, Season 4, Ep. 21–22.
Although cut into two parts, I consider the season 4 finale to be one episode. There’s so much to love about this episode, but I’ll narrow it down to the best bits. First off, Walter’s on fire throughout this entire episode, making brilliant deductions and coming up with genius solutions left and right. It also has some of his most delightfully mad moments, especially when he returns to St. Claire’s to figure out if Bell visited him during his seventeen year incarceration, as he calls it. As it turns out, Walter’s right about Bell being behind every nefarious scheme throughout season 4 and it’s only fitting; Bell is truly the Moriarty to Walter’s Sherlock Holmes. The return of the legendary Leonard Nimoy as an insane, power mad Bell intent on collapsing both universes and creating his own is kind of perfect for a man who spent his life playing God. Aside from all this, the tender moments between Peter and Olivia are just beautiful given how much those two suffered. Additionally, it’s pretty cool to see Olivia’s Cortexiphan powers fully activated, with her catching bullets midair, controlling people’s movements and ultimately being Bell’s unwitting doomsday machine. The tension just builds and builds through one crisis after another until that devastating moment when Walter shoots Olivia in the head to stop Armageddon. Peter’s heart-wrenching agony as he watches Walter brilliantly rush to push the bullet out of her Cortexiphan saturated brain can heal itself made for three of the tensest minutes of tv I ever watched. After so much stress, it’s so beautiful to see Peter and Olivia receive the news of Olivia’s pregnancy. Of course, the episode ends with September’s chilling warning to Walter, “We have to warn the others…they are coming.”
6. “World’s Apart”, Season 4, Ep. 20.
It seems that many fans feel Season 4 was where the show began to suffer, mostly due to the absence of Peter and the altered timeline, which I always felt was a fascinating way to look at how a single person influences the people in their lives. Regardless of your thoughts of the whole season, Season 4 featured many fantastic episodes, particularly those involving our cooperation with the alternate universe. It was great seeing the depth and humanity of Fauxlivia and Walternate and how they interacted with their former enemy selves in our universe. The evolution of those interactions made this episode all the more sad when our beloved characters in both universes are forced to permanently close the bridge to prevent David Robert Jones from collapsing both universes. It’s great seeing both Fringe teams work together to try and stop Jones. Still, the emotional deluge comes from the farewell moments shared between our doppelgangers, most notably Walter’s tearful moment with Walternate filled with mutual respect and wisdom. Olivia and Fauxlivia’s farewell is also heartbreakingly sweet along with Astrid waving goodbye to her equally lovable counterpart. Our side’s Lincoln Lee deciding to stay in the alt-verse with Fauxlivia is a perfect way to end his character’s journey to find a place to call home. All in all, it’s a bittersweet, tearful farewell to the show’s greatest source of creativity. I think we all joined Walter when he said “I think I shall miss them…more than I imagined.”
5. “Entrada”, Season 3, Ep. 8.
After the horrific discovery that our Olivia was trapped in the alternate universe and replaced by Fauxlivia in ours in the Season 2 finale, Season 3 kicked right off with episodes that alternated between the two worlds to show how both Olivia’s were dealing with their circumstances. As we desperately rooted for our Olivia to make it back home, we were horrified to see Fauxlivia capitalize on Peter’s feelings for our Olivia and worm her way into his bed. Peter eventually got wise and discovered her deception, resulting in the non-stop thrill ride that’s episode 8, “Entrada”. The tension never lets up and the episode’s seamless switching between universes is flawlessly executed. Anna Torv’s dual performance as both Olivia’s is always note perfect, but in this episode she shines especially bright, simultaneously conveying our Olivia’s utter desperation to get home and Fauxlivia’s cold determination to fulfill her mission and be extracted. Add to that, the selfless sacrifice of Alt-Broyles to get our Olivia home and Peter’s rage at being duped and you have the ingredients for a perfect hour of television. Hearing Walter utter his classic “Vagenda” line is just the hilarious cherry atop this masterpiece.
4. “6B” Season 3, Ep. 14
Although perhaps not a crucial episode in terms of moving the plot forward, this episode remains one of my all time favorites because it contains everything I love about Fringe in one episode: freaky occurrences with an awesome Scientific explanation (in this case Quantum Entanglement, what Einstein called “Spooky action a distance”) all rooted in an emotionally moving episode. In this case, the team investigates spooky violations in the laws of physics in an apartment building and discover that the grief a recent widow is feeling for the loss of her husband is causing her to interact with her husband’s doppelganger who lives in the same apartment in the alternate universe and who lost his wife, leading the two of them to believe they’re seeing their lost spouses’ ghosts. The idea of the two grieving spouses forging an emotional quantum entanglement which threatens to destroy both universes is sheer genius, but perhaps the episode’s finest moment is Olivia finally overcoming her fears of vulnerability and giving into her feelings for Peter, culminating in the two of them finally getting together. All in all, it’s a beautiful episode that gives these two characters a much deserved win.
3. “Liberty/An Enemy of Fate” Season 5, Ep. 12–13.
To be fair, we already knew who September was referring to when he told Walter, “they are coming,” because season 4 ep. 19 took us to the future where the Observers have enslaved all of mankind. We also met Peter and Olivia’s grown daughter Etta as she releases our beloved characters from Amber so they can rid the world of the Observers. Season 5, our beloved show’s final season, picks up where 4.19 left off and it’s a season packed with epic battles, surprising twists and one emotional gut punch after another, culminating in these final two episodes, which I again count as one episode. Season 5 answered many long overdue questions about the Observer’s intentions and also satisfyingly worked in several elements stretching back to season 1, ultimately delivering an emotionally satisfying and incredibly powerful finale. In the first part, “Liberty”, Olivia crosses over to the alternate universe to rescue Michael, the Observer child who’s integral in defeating the Observers. Just seeing Fauxlivia and Lincoln one last time is enough, but add to that Olivia’s kick ass rescue mission, and you have an awesome kick off to the finale. However, they saved the best for last in an emotionally devastating but absolutely beautiful conclusion to the Fringe Saga. Highlights abound, but my favorites are Walter and Peter’s heartbreaking, tearful last embrace with Walter’s line, “You are my very favorite thing, Peter” along with Walter and Astrid’s (and gene’s) last moment together before the epic battle featuring call backs to several awesome Fringe bio weapons from earlier seasons, all culminating in the final edge of your seat moments when Olivia finally kills that asshole Windmark and Walter takes the child observer into the future, looking back warmly at Peter who mouths “I Love You, Dad.” If you’re not in tears throughout the episode, you have no pulse. All in all, it’s really the perfect, most deservedly satisfying ending for such a compelling and emotionally daring show like Fringe.
2. “Over There, Parts 1 & 2”, Season 2, Ep. 21–22.
Despite being in two parts, I count these final season 2 episodes as one and what an episode it is! Our characters cross to the alternate universe courtesy of Walter activating Olivia and a few other Cortexiphan subjects’ latent ability. The episode is a non-stop thrill ride in which we meet some key citizens of the alternate universe’s Fringe Division, chief among them Olivia’s doppelganger, infamously known as Fauxlivia, and the seemingly villainous Walternate. A major highlight is the fight between both Olivia’s, (kudos to Anna Torv for pulling it off perfectly). As if that wasn’t cool enough we also get the highly anticipated reunion of Walter and William Bell, the Lennon/McCartney of Science who bicker delightfully like an old married couple of geniuses. The episode’s heart though is the mission to bring Peter back to our universe despite his knowledge of what Walter did all those years ago. The apex comes when Olivia (disguised as Fauxlivia), tells Peter that he has to come back because he belongs with her, finally leading to their first kiss. Of course, the ending of the episode contains the most devastatingly shocking moment of the show as we learn Olivia’s trapped in the parallel universe and Fauxlivia has returned to ours with Peter and Walter. What a mind blowing set up for the excellent Season Three.
Before I reveal my # 1 favorite Fringe episode, I wanted to give a few honorable mentions to episodes that almost made it in.
“6:02 AM EST”, Season 3, Ep. 20
“The Firefly”, Season 3, Ep. 10
“Making Angels”, Season 4, Ep. 11. (Alt Astrid meets our Astrid)!
“White Tulip”, Season 2, Ep. 18.
And now, without further ado, my number one pick, with a bullet…
1. “Peter”, Season 2, Ep. 15
This episode is ground zero for the core mythology of Fringe. Everything which makes Fringe so fantastic, ZFT, Shapeshifters, interdimensional war with a parallel universe, Observers, etc, all trace their origin point back to this, undoubtedly the most crucial episode of the series. In what might be John Noble’s finest hour, we finally get to see Walter at the height of his brilliant, almost godlike powers and witness the long teased out moment when a desperate, grief stricken Walter opened a wormhole to a parallel universe and saved then inadvertently kidnapped an alternate version of his dead son, Peter. Despite having been foreshadowed throughout season 1 and the early part of 2, finally getting to see the full story play out and feel the emotional power of Walter’s great trespass makes this a sublime stand out in a series full of stand out episodes. Additionally, finally getting to see Peter’s understandably troubled mother (played by the great Orla Brady) and learning how Nina actually lost her arm are really nice bonuses. The episode has a companion of sorts in the great season 3 episode “Subject 13” in which we see the immediate aftermath of Peter’s abduction in both universes and get to see young Olivia during the Cortexiphan trials as our Walter tries to activate Olivia’s ability to cross over so might take Peter home. Still, this episode manages to be the crowning achievement in a series which consistently raised the bar of what great Sci-Fi television could be.