Anticipating: Fringe – The Series Finale

I remember randomly tuning into an episode of Fringe about three years ago in the middle of their second season and thinking, “What’s with this X-Files rip off and why the hell is Dawson’s Creek in it?”  It didn’t help that this particular episode involved quite the bit of time travel, paradoxical looping and, to add to the random, Peter Weller of Robocop fame.  It became a bit much and I tuned out as fast as I tuned in.

Flash forward a couple of months to the series finale of Lost, another JJ Abrams series that I got completely immersed in, and was also chomping at the bit to see how this modern mythology would end.  Looking back now, my evaluation of Lost was affected by how much I loved the series and ended up giving the writers and creators way too much leeway with their finale. Looking back, I am disappointed in how they one of TV’s most original mythos and gave it not just a pedestrian ending but also a US ending where everything is fine in the end.  Ugh!  Lost should have been the epitome of tragedy, an island where all souls, no matter how noble or twisted, have already squandered their chance at redemption.

Yeah, I’m still bitter about it.

But now Fringe, the series that took over for Lost has a real chance to be more than an X-Files clone or another Abrams series, it can really be a hallmark for a lost art in US TV writing, a true American tragedy.

Spoilers ahead:

Coming in to tonight’s two hour finale, Fringe has set us up for the end game in the Humans vs Observers war with a few possible outcomes three involve tragedy and one scenario is the cop-out “We all live happily ever after.” Let’s take a peek:

WALTER DIES

This is the most obvious of the four since last Walter came out and said it in last week’s episode.  While obvious, it would still be the most satisfying for me since it makes the most logical sense: Walter’s hubris has been the source of nearly all the calamity in the Fringe universe.

In the ‘normal’ timeline, Walter stole Peter from the alternate universe in complete defiance to the laws of man, God and physics. Not only did Walter break the universe but he also ended up indirectly killing or maiming his wife, lover, best friend, adopted daughter while also alienating his best friend and newly adopted son.  The first four seasons of Fringe have been primarily Walter trying to repair the harm to both his family unit and the universe at large.  While actually succeeding on a surface level, our Walter never quite was able to fix everything.
In the ‘Other’ universe, Walternate set off a large-scale assault on the normal universe in response to his son being stolen.  Though it hasn’t been mentioned in the canon of the show, I kept seeing clues that Walternate set off a larger tragedy that the Other Side blamed on our universe in an attempt to give his Fringe division wider ranging powers.  Though Walternate has every justification to be pissed, he also shares our Walter’s hubris and has done his own fair share of universe breaking and family scarring.

And our current version of Walter is a little softer and just as goofy but started off as a killing science machine willing to do anything to destroy the Observers. His intellect so out of control that he craved a second forced lobotomy for fear his intellectual war with the Observers would lead him to abandon his humanity and challenge them on an individual level.

All to say, whatever he does, wherever he goes, Walter can’t help but break the fabric of reality apart.  This finale gives him the chance to stop tinkering with the rules of relativity and offer himself as sacrifice. It’s only fitting considering how much damage he’s done and the tragedy would be that he could never truly fix what he has broken.  This would also give John Noble a chance for one last over the top performance that may actually get him a richly deserved Emmy for crafting sci-fi’s most memorable Twizzler loving mad scientists.
PETER DIES

Gotta give Joshua Jackson a lot of credit for not banking in his Dawson Creek fame and finding a different challenging role which he has definitely done with Peter Bishop.

Peter has always been the person out of sync with the universe but ironically is usually the most natural guy in the room.  Jackson plays him very deftly even though the writers haven’t given Peter a whole lotta depth, they’ve given him a big chunk and important part in the mythos but it never feels like Peter has changed too much over the run of the series.  Making this the perfect time for him to sacrifice himself.  Well, this would be the second time he’s given up his life to save the universe(s) and while it bit shocking it wasn’t entirely tragic.

This season, Peter went over to the dark side and found out how much like his father he really is.  Maybe that added element and the resulting scene of Walter grieving can up the drama level and also give Joshua Jackson some added motivation.  While not my preferred ending I would be happy to see Peter, the boy who was always meant to die, find out he couldn’t shake fate no matter how hard his father and family tried.

OLIVIA DIES

The last few episodes have been definitely lacking in Anna Torv and that’s a damn shame given how much gravitas she’s added to the series.  Season after season, Olivia has been the character you could always count on to be put in danger and find her way out of it giving sci-fi a new heroine to cheer for.

But much the same way the progressive multi-cultural casting of Lost dwindle down to a few Anglo males and one Anglo women who loved them, the Fringe writers have forgotten that Olivia really has been the straw that’s been stirring the drink the last 99 episodes.

I hope they’ve just been playing their cards close and not revealing that Olivia, Walter’s metaphorical second child, is one of the biggest victims of Walter’s mechanizations.  Could her sacrifice be what finally forces Walter to stop playing God?  Maybe.  It would make for one hell of an end scene and leave the Bishop boys have to learn to live with each other without anyone else to help them.

NONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS DIES

This would be the lamest end the writers could dream up.  Even if Astrid or September or the boy Observer or the whole Other Universe dies in the place of our heroes, it would be just a slap in the face to the viewers. Well, the readers who like really drama, which seems to be a smaller and smaller fraction of the US viewing audience who seem to be more invested with ‘reality tv drama’ then staged drama.  Ironic, considering how staged reality shows are and how more true to life art can be.  Or should be.

Fringe has done a great job of showing us the horrors of a fractured multiverse all because one man wanted to save his son.  Bold. Noble. Wrong.  So so wrong and the viewers have gone through five seasons of the consequences of this most selfless and selfish of acts.  The reward should be watching one of the key characters finally feel the full weight of that act.  To do otherwise would cheapen the journey.

I only mention this because of the Lost finale.  I still shake my head when I think of the final scene between Ben Linus and John Locke, two wonderful characters played by a pair of brilliant actors who played off each other wonderfully, after six seasons of being at each other throats (literally) they all sum it up with an “I’m sorry” (for destroying all your dreams and manhood, betraying you at every turn and then choking you to death with my bare hands only to see your dead body used like a puppet) followed by an “It’s ok” (that you lost everything you ever cared about including any semblance of a soul only to be still trapped in this purgatory as a subordinate).

Luckily, Fringe has learned a lot of lessons from all the previous JJ Abrams’ series and didn’t hold out to long on mysteries, never let the mythos get ahead of the writers and always kept placing their bets on their three principal actors.  A great formula that has produced a great show and, hopefully, a suitably rich tragic finale.

Most Intellectuals Will Only Half Listen


loudspeaker
Originally uploaded by tutam

[In response to Claudia Rankine’s open call to move “toward a discussion about the creative imagination, creative writing and race.”]

First off, I want to applaud Ms Rankine and her thoughtful course of action with dealing with the racism in po-biz. She identified a problem, went to the source, engaged in conversation, wrote a response, and then presented herself in an open public forum. All these actions are well worthy of praise especially when one considers the fact that many authors are more than happy to just rest on their laurels and harp about these kinds of issues behind closed doors or, even worse, their private web feeds.

I’m even more thankful of Ms Rankine’s follow-up by posting her presentation (again, in an open and public forum) and then opening up a new forum for writers to share their own individual thoughts on racism in creative writing circles. Please link over to claudiarankine.com and click on AWP for the presentation or OPEN LETTER for her call to responses.

But, as Nas reminds us, some intellectuals only half listen and would prefer to rehash the territory Ms Rankine already traversed by referring over and over again to one racist poem.

So here is what I don’t understand: Why do poets-of-color insist on reinforcing the Ivory Tower (the literal and figurative one) by constantly paying deference to it? And if they think they aren’t doing that, then I respectfully disagree. To put it plainly and name the harm: I would rather not teach/share/discuss Tony Hoagland’s “The Change” and instead focus on the wide body of work from so many other poets who successfully and respectfully discuss racism in their poetry.

Here are some poems I would rather refer to:
• “Skinhead” by Patricia Smith
• “Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races” by Lorna Dee Cervantes
• “Talk” by Terrance Hayes
• “So Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans” by Jimmy Santiago Baca
• “Niggerlips/Negro Bembón” by Martín Espada
• “About the White Boys who Drove By a Second Time to Throw a Bucket of Water on Me” by Patrick Rosal
• “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton
• “The crowd at the ball game” by William Carlos Williams

This is an incredibly incomplete list but a good start for anyone who wants to start talking about how hard and complex issues can be dealt with craft and tact in poetry. I’m open to more suggestions but will shy away from reading any poems that are presented with disclaimers such as “This poem does a lousy job of dealing with racism,” or “Here is an example of a white privileged dude talkin bout his white privilege but trying to dress it up as a poem.”

And why will I shy away from it?

#1) Because if I want to read what Anglo-Centrics thinks about the issue of racism as seen through their personal prism, I can go to the thin Poetry shelves of (insert name of national book selling chain) on my own and pick up that book on my own.

#2) I don’t need to eat a shit sandwich to know it doesn’t taste good. Point, as vulgar as it is, made.

#3) Every time you read your friends/students/colleagues a “change” poem that isn’t really about change, not only does a cat die but, more importantly, a much better poem goes unread. See list above.

Reaction: LOST, The Series Finale


Q&As
Originally uploaded by Jackman Chiu

I was expecting the very worst end possible for Lost: another round of unanswered questions, new characters to muddle the story arc, tons of techno babble, and at least one farfetched dues ex machina. Yeah, my expectations were set to a record low and I was ready to walk away from the television in total disgust. Instead, Lost ends with a clean finish to the story arc, characters fulfilling their destinies, and a ton of spiritual techno babble that left me satisfied. At least for now.

I include the last qualifier because I remember the finale of Battlestar Galactica leaving me wanting more. Yes, the story was done and we finally reached our promised destination but some of the mystery still lingering with the question of divine intervention (aka Angels in Space). Lost, on the other hand, made a clear separation between what the real world and the imagined universe. A separation and explanation that has me cool for now but I wonder how I’ll feel about it in a few months.

The other reason I’m cool with the ending is that I predicted at least two key parts of the finale. Status = Pleased with myself.
(Spoilers be here)
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Anticipating: LOST, The Series Finale

I’m coming to accept the fact that the Lost finale will disappoint me. Not because the writing, characterizations, or acting has been bad, I actually think this season is as strong as any of the previous seasons. Ok, the first season kicked major ass and hooked me on the Island mythos with the quickness. So, yeah, that was the best season but novelization like teenage romance is all about fast, addictive starts; rocky, drama filled middles; and awkward, sloppy endings. That’s why Lost is bound to fall short on its promise, and that’s why I will be super-glued to the television on Sunday to see exactly how far it will fall from my grace.

I mention novelization because teledramas like the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Sopranos, and Battlestar Galactica have really given novels a run for their money as the modern myth makers. I have no doubt in my mind that future generations will speak of the work of Ronald D. Moore and J.J. Abrams in the same breath as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In fact, I’d bet they’d be more associated with these great authors then they will be filmmakers or even other television producers since characters like Quark, Big Pussy and Gaius Baltar have some serious sci-fi cred going on.

The other reason I say novelization is to make sure I don’t trample on the iconic “Great American Novel” which none of these shows are since (and here is where I don my I ♥ Haters shirt) putting together a TV novelization is harder than putting together a novel.
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Harriet Caught the Vapors


Originally uploaded by Pro-Zak

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sharing poetry in different forums to help reach different audiences and how so many poems sound so similar because they are written for only one room. For me, one of those rooms include poetry blogs especially since they give a poet not only the opportunity to share their work but also give valuable insight into process, revision and recitation. Even though poetry blogs are still relatively young in comparison to the advent of the Information Age in general and incredibly new when compared to the Gutenberg Revolution, they’ve offered some great information about how poets think. They also offer a lot of crap about folks who seem to want to blog about everything except how they actually put a poem together.

One of the best places to see this mix of the dope and the whack in poetic action was the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog. I say was because as of today What’s New at Harriet is that it has gone from being a crossroad of dialogue to a dead end alley of news links making it no more better and probably less efficient than setting up a Google alert for: poetry, poetics, poems.
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