It was only weeks ago that I predicted the fifth season of “Fringe” would be its best. After a few shows now the prediction has come true and the program has become an absolute must watch if only because we may not soon see so many important themes explored by any one show.
How far is too far when one aims for a scientific breakthrough? What happens, good or bad, when we break the “laws” of “nature?” Are there really any such “laws” in the first place? Are human beings and their thoughts, emotions, and everything else that goes with them, the result of an evolutionary process that entitles them to no special dignity or respect or is there something else (God maybe?) that makes them deserving of dignity and respect? Or, does their scientific makeup alone entitle them to dignity and respect? Is God redundant? These and other mind-twisting questions were given mind-blowing answers in the first four seasons of the show.
In those seasons, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) learned how dangerous science could be when we go too far and when the wrong people use discoveries for the wrong reasons. He also learned the importance of relationships with other human beings. We ended the fourth season with him loving his son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) who in turn cherishes Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) who, in turn, is pregnant with her and Peter’s child. Then there was Astrid, the FBI agent for whom Dr. Bishop, himself, has a special love.
All this love didn’t make for peace and happiness, however, as the fifth season begins, not in the present, but in 2036 where the world is now under the fascist rule of the “Observers.” They polluted their own world in the future and travelled back in time to take over the Earth, which they had been scoping out for the first four seasons.
Olivia, Peter, Walter, and Astrid had tried to fight the Observers when they first came to Earth in force but found themselves losing the battle. So they placed themselves in “amber,” in a state of suspended animation, hoping someone would eventually come along to free them. That someone does come along: Twenty one years later they are freed by Etta Bishop (Georgina Haig), Peter and Olivia’s daughter, who they haven’t seen since she disappeared at age three when the Observers first landed. Etta is a leader of the Resistance Movement against the Observers.
The first four seasons featured many things, among them artificial intelligence. teleportation, and quantum entanglements. Those things are all present in season five, but with the addition of new issues centering more on humanity and society. How does a fascist society suppress joy, community, education, imagination, private thought, due process, free will, and freedom? How might an individual or a group actually live when freedom is removed? What is it like living in a world where each and every one of your private thoughts can be read? (Not that we havn’t gotten at least a foretaste of that already today.)
Heavily explored so far in Season Five is the concept of what humans consider “beautiful,” and how that relates to “joy” and “happiness.”
In one scene, Walter is being tortured by an Observer.
Observer: “You’re trying to think of music. You miss music.”
Walter : “There’s not a lot of it here.”
Observer: “We tolerate it. But it’s merely tones, rhythms and harmonic vibrations. I don’t understand it.”
Walter: “Mostly it amazed me. Music helps you shift perspective, to see things differently if you need to.”
Observer: “See things like hope?”
Walter: “Yes, very much like that.”
Observer: “But there is no hope for you. Nothing grows from scorched earth.”
How do tones, rhythms, and harmonic vibrations, arranged in a certain way, touch peoples’ “spirits?” Is the answer to this beyond science? Or does that matter, the important thing being that music does touch our “spirits?” And what of our “spirits?” Are they really a part of our material selves, ultimately knoweable and traceable in their origins, or are they something intangible and “special?”
And what of hope? Is it scientifically explainable? Walter sees a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk. Is it scientifically explainable, is it a sign of hope, or both?
These are the questions being tackled in Season Five of “Fringe.” I urge you not to miss this show. It may be a long time before anything like it is seen again on TV.
Photo: Season 5 main characters Peter, Walter, Olivia, and Etta. Fringe official Facebook page