Friday is the beginning of the end for Fringe as Fox’s cult sci-fi drama its final season. Set for 13 episodes, the little show that could gets a chance to wrap up its entire saga and go out with a bang -- at least, that's what showrunner J.H. Wyman is hoping for.
"The actors and the way that they are receiving the material and the way they are performing, I'm really enthusiastic, and I cannot wait for you guys to see some of the performances that are being pulled off this year," he said in a conference call with journalists. "To me it's mind-blowing. They're doing it because they too feel like it's the end and they want to bring their best and examining their characters they've created for four years allowed them to do that."
The final season takes place in the year 2036 in the world of the now-famous fourth season episode "Letters of Transit" -- an episode Wyman characterized as a backdoor pilot Season 5 should the show get renewed.
"Traditionally in the 19th episode of each season, we went off the beaten path. We were throwing around a lot of very interesting ideas on what to do last season. We didn't really know the entire fate of what the program was going to be concretely," he said. "We thought it would be terrible if we ended without some form of an ending that I could either pick up via comic book or some kind of other media that would finish the story for the dedicated fans. That got us thinking that we could use the 19 spot as sort of a backdoor pilot. We've always been interested in going back and forth in time and we thought it would be such an interesting idea to tell a story in the future. … So we used that slot 19 to be a test to see how it went. I think when the results of it came in, it was pretty clear. Personally, I fell in love with the possibilities of telling stories in the future and married that quite quickly."
Season 5, which opens with "Transilence Thought Unifier Model-11," will also explore the relationship between series leads Peter Bishop, played by Joshua Jackson, and Olivia Dunham, played by Anna Torv, which has been a focus of the series since the first season.
"No love story worth telling is easy. It's the hills and the valleys that make a relationship, in my opinion, really dynamic and worth watching," Wyman said. "The harder the till, the more worthy the payoff. Everything that came [in] the four years before, I'm really trying to give the characters specific odysseys this year that are singular -- meaning for each character -- but also relationship dynamic odysseys where things are growing and shifting and shaping. Peter and Olivia are going to be a big part of that. Their relationship will shift and grow and evolve. I think it's safe to say that we'll be there every step of the way and everything will be logical. One of the things we get to do this year that I thought was great for telling authentic real emotional stories is that the 13 episodes, I'm treating them as a saga, as a 13-episode feature film. You'll get to track their emotional growth pattern and their relationship very carefully. We're really going to get under the hood and investigate those relationships."
While Peter and Olivia will be a large part of the final season, the other members of the Fringe team all have plenty to do, with Wyman crafting odysseys for each to bring everything to a suitable conclusion. He also teased the roles of Nina Sharp and Phillip Broyles in this futuristic world.
"I don't want to spoil anything," he said. "Traditionally, I'm very tight-lipped. I feel like this one is really tough because there are only 13 episodes, and I really don't want to give anything away. … I would say that definitely you are going to see people -- it's no secret in 19 we saw that they're around and they're going to continue in a capacity that you might not expect."
The season will also bring challenges for John Noble, who plays Dr. Walter Bishop, and his character.
"John Noble is such a fantastic actor, and one of the consistent challenges is to give him things he's never played before," Wyman said. "He'll do the work. He's just outrageous. It just wouldn't sit with him -- I'd get a pretty swift phone call if it was something he'd played before, and rightly so. We carefully designed a journey for him this year that is entirely unique and will affect him in ways that aren't things we've seen before."
Indeed, the Fringe team all have challenges to overcome, perhaps none so large as the looming threat of the Observers for the final season, something Wyman stated was planned from the very beginning.
"It's been in the hatch for a while. The story that I'm constantly telling is that the heart is an organ of fire," he said. "You can't stop it from feeling or connecting. That's what our job is as human beings and how wonderful to have this Observer, September, to come and understand that we are -- although very messed up -- very special people and beautiful. While he was pushed out on a mission as one of 12 scientists to come evaluate and watch us, for reasons they didn't fully understand either, he fell in love with us. That's why he seemed very cuddly. When I was writing 'August,' I really did toy with the title, but my first working title for it was 'A Cautionary Tale For An Observer.' He fell in love with us and he was cuddly because he understood that we were flawed but special. The agenda was what it was. When the rest of them come, it has nothing to do with warm cuddly feelings."
However, Wyman notes that one of the major reasons fans have come to support the show with such vigor is the emotional impact, something that carries into the final season.
"When I was sitting around thinking how I was going to tell this story in the last season, my biggest concern was telling an authentic, honest story that I could stand behind and that I would feel I was giving the fans the love letter that I think they deserve," he said. "There were so many things to pull from because there were four seasons of things. What became very clear is when you sit down and ask yourself that question as showrunner, the only place you wind up is, 'Well, what would move me? What would I want as a closure?' I love television, I'm a huge fan of films and television, and if I invested four years of my life in these characters that I had grown to love … what would I want? Once I started asking myself those real questions, it became very clear that answer for me was I want the truth. I want to feel that Fringe made sense, I want to feel that my characters evolved in a place they deserved -- sometimes maybe unexpected -- but I would feel satiated that logically they've come to a conclusion that makes me satisfied. Most importantly, if I finished the season finale of my favorite show, I would want to feel like it was an experience and I could not believe that chapter is over. I can imagine where my characters are going in the future -- that hopefulness, I'm very interested in. I feel like that's what we need as a society. It's really messy out there, but the truth is there are a lot of things to be celebrated and we have to focus on hope. I wanted people to feel [satisfied.] The key to that for me is the emotional relationships. It always has been. … In the past, I think we've made the mistake of watching the characters from above and disconnecting to a certain degree. I really wanted to get the viewer in this final season down on the floor with them. It's a family show. It's about disparate people who are trying very hard to hold together a family in a very difficult time to hold together families."
Although the final season is an opportunity to wrap up the entire series, Wyman said he also sees it as a gift to the fans and longtime supporters.
"In my opinion, it's like everybody owns a little brick in the building because it was like a miracle and everybody supported it," he said. "When I look at it, I think the only thing that did save the show were the reactions of the media and the fans that could identify the heart in the program and the aspirational ideas in the program. They responded to that. I have to believe they're not here to see how a flux capacitor works. They're here to see what the human heart is about and watch these people that they love go through things and go through them with them. Once I committed to saying it's all about the people -- yes, the narrative is incredibly important -- but really it's the characters that people love. If the fans love the same things I do, which is these incredible people, and I can tell a story honestly and with a degree of depth and make people think this last final season, that would be a great reward."
Fringe begins its final season Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.