It's an emotional time for the Fringe cast and crew. Earlier this year, the little sci-fi series that could was renewed for a fifth season against all odds, but now it's time to finish the story of the Fringe team and go out with a bang.
"It's very emotional," Executive Producer Joel Wyman told reporters at Comic-Con International. "This is the end, but it's still a cause for celebration. I was trying to hope that people would feel that it's because of them and it is a celebration. Forever we'll have these characters and my job is for the season end to make sure these fans feel that they can have it for the rest of their lives."
In fact, most of the actors said the return to the set for the final 13 episodes will be poignant.
"That level of emotion will be there on day one," Jasika Nicole said. "We know we have five whole months to go, so I guarantee you that the first day of the last episode is going to start and -- it's such a privilege to know this is the end so we can take our time with it and appreciate these moments. That is such an opportunity that not a lot of people in television have. I think it's going to be very emotional in the last episode, but we have five more Vancouver months to go."
John Noble agreed, saying he’s been “preoccupied” with thoughts about the final season. "I have great trepidation about how we're going to handle it," he said. "It'll be the hardest six months we'll ever do. Every step, every decision has to be right this year. That's a really exciting challenge, but it's a bit daunting."
While some embrace the emotion surrounding the sendoff, star Anna Torv is focused on bringing her A-game to the set.
"I just don't think you can think about [the emotion] until it's there," she said. "I think that we're all just -- we haven't started yet. We start next week and I think my focus is going to be on just doing the best job that I can. Everyone wants to finish the game well and strong, so that's where I am. I'm not thinking about goodbye."
Torv also expressed excitement about being able to return for one last season. "We're also going into the fifth season knowing it's our last," she said. "It's a really luxurious position that we're in and I think that everybody's -- I don't think anybody's about to squander that. We can sit and think and work and all that kind of stuff, too."
However, it's Josh Jackson who seemed to have the most positive outlook, describing going into the final season as "a much more joyful thing."
"I think it's such a rare gift to be given what I consider to be a grace note at the end of a TV show," he said. "Most TV shows end in bloody, awful haze with bitter acrimony on all sides. I watched Firefly, and I was not stoked when it was all of a sudden, 'Nope, that story's just over.' Millennium was another one where it was getting so interesting and they're like, 'No, you'll never see it again.' So for us to have the opportunity, knowing we're going into the last year -- and we've been dealing with this for the last two years -- each of the last two seasons has been so touch-and-go ratings wise that there's basically had to be a backup plan in case we got cancelled to put an ending onto the show.
"To know we have 13 episodes to tell a really good story that gives -- it challenges everyone in the right way. Wyman has a chance to finish his story, finish his characters and leave off exactly where he wants to go. We as actors, because they brought us in -- in a way they really hadn't in the past -- have a chance to really think out [our characters]. I'm happily challenged by it. I'm excited by it. It's not maudlin for me. I feel like the response we get in those panels is about one of the coolest things I have ever experienced in what's been a pretty long and good career so far. The opportunity to pay that dedication back by finishing our story in a proper way I think is wonderful and I'm really excited to go back to work and get started."
Equally excited is Noble, who’s looking forward to working on the perfect finish for Fringe.
"I think it's the perfect story length," he said. "It's also very lucky in this day and age to get a chance to do five seasons. To have written the bulk of this saga and [get a chance] to write the final saga is an unbelievable gift. I'm thrilled. If we don't do it well, I won't celebrate, but I'm so committed to making every step that we take in the right direction. We do have this really hard task to give the fans a great story. It deserves to finish well. It'll be hard work, I'm a bit nervous about it."
Although it will certainly be hard work for the actors to deliver a stunning performance that fans will deem worthy, the greatest challenge falls to Wyman, who will direct the finale and only has 13 episodes to wrap up the entire series.
"The deal was is that I would take 13 episodes to finish,” he said. “Everybody felt so strongly at Fox about the program that they wanted to give me enough time to finish and make it satisfying for the viewer and fan. That's what I needed. I needed 13 to tell the story that I wanted to tell and I'm absolutely certain that it's enough to make sure that everybody can take away from the show something special. I have my own feelings about the ends of shows. I'm a huge TV fan, so if I spent four years watching a show and it ended in a way that I thought sucked, I'd be bummed, just like everybody else. When you start thinking how [the end of the show] is going to happen, I thought what I wanted. What I want is that everyone comes to a natural conclusion that's earned."
Some of the challenge for Wyman will certainly come from the recent departure of his longtime co-showrunner Jeff Pinkner.
"I miss Jeff. We've been through so much," he said. "I can't really talk about that because every man has to make their own [decisions]. Me personally, I couldn't dream of leaving the show. I actually do better making features than I do on television. Features are a very different world. I made one while I was on Fringe and it's fun, but it's not about that for me. For me, I really love these characters to an extent that's probably not natural. [Laughs] I love them. Everything that happens to them, I can't let go. I'm so disappointed that he didn't want to join, but I know he'll be okay. He's a talented writer and whatever his creative things are, I want him to follow. We -- Bad Robot and J.J. [Abrams] -- we always want that. I will miss him because we had a lot of fun. We're going to miss that, but he's only a phone call away. I don't know, it's bittersweet for me. I'm not him, so I can't really comment on it."
Spoilers were another major aspect of the show that Wyman refused to comment on, giving only vague teases as to what may surface in the upcoming episodes.
"This season is designed to be a love letter for the fans. So, there are some questions out there that haven't been answered that we'll be answering -- things you've probably forgotten about," he said. "A lot of those things will be examined and within the structure of those things, you never know who's going to show up. … Anything more than speculation, I'm just afraid it will diminish the experience. I don't want to give away who's coming back and who's not because you're going to get some good surprises."
As for the season premiere, called "Transilience Thought Unifier Model 11," Wyman hopes it will both answer and promote fan questions for the season as a whole -- especially since it takes place in 2036 after the Fringe team has been released from being ambered for 20 years.
"Some of the things that I would be interested in if I was you guys asking is, 'What happened in the time between 2015 when they were ambered and how did they get ambered and how did they end up here and what happened?'" he said. "Those things I'm really interested in answering so you can get a hold of the entire new paradigm and go, 'This is so cool. I get it now. She was here, they were here, this happened, they were in amber – oh, my God, their daughter grew up.' It's a really cool connect-the-dots that we're really thrilled about."
Jackson speculated on the ending and what it could mean for the characters in a more abstract sense -- particularly Peter, Walter and Olivia.
"Olivia's ending is more private, it's more personal," Jackson said. "Peter will certainly be involved with the ending for her character, but if she was, at the beginning of our show, the innocent and there's even a speech in the pilot about Pandora's Box. I think that's the framing device for her entire character. You can't go back to childhood, even though many of us want to. For her, I think embracing the difficulties and the pain and sadness but also the happiness and joy and beauty of life -- that's Olivia's journey. She's assembled and fumbled through this. Emotionally she's been very disconnected and for her to find some kind of basic happiness would make her a whole woman.
"I think Peter is deeply involved in her finding that happiness, but I'm not sure that Peter is so intimately involved. That's her finish. For Peter, I don't think his finish is actually about himself. The finish of his journey is for Walter to be absolved of the guilt he has of kidnapping Peter as a child. I think the thing that Peter wants more than anything else is for his father to be whole. If Walter gets there, that's the end of Peter's journey."
However, the final season of Fringe would not be possible without the show's crew, which Wyman called "the best crew in Vancouver," recalling when the entire crew stayed on for the show even though it wasn't a full 22-episode season and even came in for a special meeting when they technically weren't on the clock yet. "They all stopped their vacation and met for a day and met with me," Wyman said. "I had never seen anything like that. Everybody's going to be very emotional this year, everybody knows how fortunate they are and everybody feels like they're a part of something special and it's bringing out the best of people, which is inspiring for me."
Jackson wrapped up nicely by appropriately describing why he felt this was the appropriate time to finish up Fringe.
"If there were more stories to be told, I would say it's not time to close the door," he said.”'Dawson's Creek, when we graduated from high school, it was time for that show to be over and we went for two more years. You never want to be repeating yourself, but at the same time you don't want to be in a place where you're constantly trying to trump yourself either where you're just pumping up the story for no reason. Because this is our last year, I want to say we're ending at exactly the right time."
Fringe returns Sept. 28 on Fox.