For a show based entirely on pseudo-scientific concepts that could never actually work, Fringe did an pretty good job of making everything that happened over its five-season run sound scientifically plausible. In fact, right up to the very last episode, every imaginable anomaly on the show was explained. They even played around with time travel and multiverse theory with pretty good results.
And then they screwed it up. In the last few minutes of the show, they basically ruined five years of storytelling with one mistake. A word of warning: if you thought Fringe had a mostly-happy ending, this post is going to ruin everything for you.
Previously on Fringe…
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s a quick recap of the end of the series. Olivia, Peter, and Walter have teamed up with the former Observer named September (who now calls himself Donald) to send September’s son into the future. Specifically they are going to send him to meet the scientists who invent the technology that creates the Observers. The goal is for the scientists to see the boy and realize that there is something even better than what they’re building. They will divulge from their current path, decide not to build the Observer technology, and the Observers will never exist. When the Observers never exist, they never reach the year 2609 and decide to come back in time to take over the world.
If the Observers never take over the world, the 2015 invasion never happens, Peter and Olivia’s daughter never dies, Nina Sharp never dies, and all of the terrible things we see in season 5 never happen. This seems like a really great idea. Stopping the Observers from existing would stop the invasion and everyone would live happily ever after.
That’s exactly what happens. Time is reset. The Observers don’t invade in 2015. Peter and Olivia take their daughter home, and Peter recieves a final letter from Walter, who went to the future with September’s son because September died.
Hooray! A happy ending! All is right with the world! Actually, no.
In the beginning
You see, Walter comments before going to the future that his time traveling will cause a paradox that the universe will attempt to solve by erasing all traces of him from 2015 until the year he travelled to. In theory, he’s right. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the Observers no longer exist.
That means that in 1985, September never appeared in Walternate’s lab. Walternate never missed the development of Peter’s cure. Walter did not need to cross over to save Peter. Walter’s portal did not initiate the series of events that lead to The Pattern. The nonexistent Pattern is never investigated by the Fringe Division. As a result of not being needed, the Fringe Division never even exists. Walter is never institutionalized. Olivia never needs his help investigating a case. She never meets Peter, who is not even in her universe anymore. Nothing that happens in the entire series happens.
The entire plot of the series starts from a moment in which an Observer interfered with events. If the Observers don’t exist, September can’t interfere and the Fringe Team never exists. The actual ending of the show following Walter and Michael’s trip to the future would be Walter in his lab watching Walternate cure Peter. He would then rest assured that his son was alive somewhere and would proceed with his life. The end.
A possible explanation
Now, it is possible that the Observers still exist after Walter and Michael go to the future. It’s possible that the “new” Observers simply don’t try to take over the world. If that were the case, everything leading up to the 2015 invasion would still happen, but the invasion would never take place. Maybe Walter even made certain that the original twelve Observers would go back and carry out their mission of observation in order to ensure that everything plays out correctly until the invasion point. However, there’s really nothing specific in the show that seems to indicate this, and the characters repeatedly state the the Observers “will never exist.”
Back to the future… and back again… and again…
But then we have another problem: a Grandfather Paradox. This specific paradox is the result of the question, “What if you went back in time and killed your grandfather before your father was born?” If that happened, your father would never be born, and you would never be born. Thus, you would never go back in time and kill your grandfather. If you never do that, however, your grandfather is still alive. In that case, your father is born, and you are born. You then go back in time and kill your grandfather, restarting the cycle again.
This is exactly what should happen at the end of Fringe. If none of the events of the show take place, then the events leading up to Walter and Michael going to the future never happen. If that moment doesn’t happen, the Observers are eventually created and eventually they go back in time and start interfering with the course of human events. This will eventually lead to the war in season 5, followed by Walter and Michael going to the future to stop it. If they stop the Observers from existing, then the events of the show never happen (again). Thus a Grandfather Paradox is created. The two stories loop over and over. No one ever gets past the moment where Walter and Michael enter the shipping lane. Ever.
You had one job
For five years, Fringe continually came up with scientific-sounding ideas that theoretically could or should work (but obviously wouldn’t in real life). The fact that the entire logic of the show is destroyed by a simple Grandfather Paradox is kind of sad, but almost unavoidable when you start dealing with time travel.
Still, it was a great show and I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t. But if you haven’t, why are you reading this far into the post? You probably don’t even understand anything you just read. Oh well, that’s what you get for reading spoilers.