The acclaimed Fox sci-fi drama series Fringe simultaneously comes to a close while celebrating its 100th episodes with its series finale. Exploring the human condition through the prism of parallel universes, unexplainable phenomena and unimaginable threats, the show’s five seasons were possible thanks, in large part, to its devoted and loyal fan base. Now, it is reaching its epic climax with a two-hour finale that promises to be a satisfying conclusion.
During this interview with show star Joshua Jackson, he talked about what he’s going to miss most about the show, what Peter’s role will be in the finale, what he will take away from this experience as an actor, how involved he was in the conversations about what the final season would be, the fact that he didn’t think to take anything from the set as a memento, why he feels Fringe was able to engage an audience at a time when people have such short attention spans, how the finale experience compares to the finale experience he had on Dawson’s Creek, what he sees for the legacy of the series in television history, and how much he loves the ending to Peter’s journey. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOSHUA JACKSON: The thing you end up missing the most is not actually what gets put on the screen. The hardest thing to walk away from, over a long-form TV show, is the comradery of the company, both with the crew and the group of actors. Creatively, I feel like this show came to a natural and satisfactory ending. I hope that people will be satisfied with the way that we put the story to bed. I feel like, instead of either stretching the show on for too long or having it cut off in an abortive way, we got to tell the ending of our story. For that, I’m really satisfied. But, I will miss the people that I was working with, for the last five years.
What is Peter’s role in the final two hours?
JACKSON: Well, the first of the two hours really deals with Olivia’s story, almost exclusively. It gives us, in a very Fringe-y way, a final insight into where she is or has been, over the course of this season. So, nobody other than Olivia has much of any role in that story. But then, in the finale, as much as Walter may be called on to make a sacrifice and the gang, in general, is trying to implement Walter and Donald’s plan, at least in the script, it read pretty fairly spread across all of the players. Everybody has their piece in the story. And then, ultimately, Peter’s role, as it has always been, is to be the dutiful son and the husband and father. That plays itself out in a really specific way. I don’t want to tell you how it plays itself out, but everybody is pretty engaged in the finale.
What will you take away from this experience, as an actor?
JACKSON: As an actor, I don’t know what the take-away is, only one month removed. I can tell you that the thing that’s most satisfying to me, as an actor, is the work that John [Noble] and I did, with Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman, to try to keep the father-son relationship as honest and dynamic as we could, in the center of this very, very large, crazy science fiction story. That was always really a point of focus for me. I had the chance to be on a serialized TV show and to tell my piece of it, which was the story of the prodigal son who starts off doing everything he can to get out of this world, and then eventually gets drawn in through the love of his father, and then falls in love with a woman, and then, over the course of the seasons, completely reverses to now because a dedicated son and solid and reliable boyfriend, and then husband and crazily protective father. I think that’s an interesting journey to go on. For me, as an audience member, I’m always most engaged by serialized storytelling, so as an actor, the thing that I take away from it is how much fun it is to perform a serialized story.
JACKSON: To a greater extent than in any time in the prior seasons of the show, I was involved in the initial conversations about what Season 5 would be. Wyman was incredibly open this year, not just with myself, but with all of the actors, about what their characters would be and with what their final arcs would be. He gave all of us the signposts of what our season would be, in a way that hadn’t happened before. It gave us all the opportunity to plot out exactly how we thought we should be playing each of our individual characters. From that standpoint, it was actually tremendously satisfying. I felt like the Peter as Observer arc was quite interesting this year. What was always interesting to me about Fringe was that, even though the larger story was as big as it could possibly be, like saving the universe and dopplegangers, and all the rest of it, the beating heart of the story was always this family tale. So, I really enjoyed the fact that, at the center of what was driving Peter and Olivia this year, was both the recovery and loss of their child, and being a couple trying to grapple with that, both individually and together. I think we did a really good job this year of having the larger story driving forward, but having the smaller interpersonal story be honest. And as always, Peter and Walter are inextricably linked. Peter mirrored all of the mistakes that his father had made, all those years ago, in regards to his own child. So, I felt it was a very satisfying story, and a proper way for our show to end.
With the Observer arc, you got to do a bit of an alternate version of Peter. Was that something that you actively wanted the opportunity to do?
JACKSON: I was never too concerned about doing an alt version. As much fun as it seemed like it was for the people who had done it, it wasn’t something that I felt was necessary for me to do to feel like I had been a part of Fringe. What was more important to me was to find what would be an honest and satisfying story, and then conclusion to the story, for the Bishop family. Neither Wyman nor myself were interested in having another season of Peter and Olivia, will they are won’t they. So, it was more interesting to have them be still a couple and still a married unit, but that was deeply, deeply, deeply damaged by the loss of their child, and to have Peter mirror the mistakes that Walter had made. The becoming an Observer portion of it was just a natural outcropping of Walter’s great sin breaking the universe to save his child because there was no place that was too far for him to go. And in the version of the story that we were telling, the most outrageous thing that Peter could do would be to become the enemy to destroy him. I thought that was actually a fairly natural outcropping, and it also gave Peter and Olivia an interesting arc to their story, as they tried to figure out how to be together again, instead of being alone together, after the loss of their child.
JACKSON: You know, people ask me that all the time. Maybe I’m just not very imaginative, but it didn’t even cross my mind while I was there. So, the answer sadly is no.
How do you feel about the way Fringe engaged its audience, in today’s TV world that makes it easy for people to disengage?
JACKSON: In the true way of popular media, some of it was intentional. I know, from the very beginning, Bad Robot wanted to put a second layer beyond just watching the show. And I know that Fox was really keen on that, too, as a way to deepen people’s experience of Fringe. And the audience itself took that and ran with it in a way that went beyond the wildest imaginations of anybody who was engaged, in the beginning. As much as every TV show is trying to reach out to its audience, it really is the audience itself, in our case, that continued to drive their own interest and continued to keep each other engaged. As much as we tried to help them along, the community of Fringe became totally self-supporting. When you talk about Fringe, not just as a narrative experience on screen, one of the more interesting thing that’s come out of it is that community built around the show and how powerful that can be in tipping the scales towards the show surviving or failing. By traditional metrics, our show would have been off the air at least last year, but probably two years ago, except the passion of our fan base made it impossible for our show to be dismissed, in the way that, even 10 years ago, science fiction shows were quite often lost. The fan base and the passion of the fan base is a large part of the story of the show Fringe.
Even though they’re very different shows, you’ve been through a series finale before, with Dawson’s Creek, which had an equally emotional impact with its fans. How would you compare the two experiences that you’ve had with these finales?
JACKSON: There are oddly a lot of similarities. Clearly, I’m a decade, or maybe even more, older than I was when we finished Dawson’s, but I’ve had the good luck, on both of the TV shows that I’ve worked on, to know, going into the last season, that it was the last season. That gives you an opportunity on set to properly say goodbye to the people that you’re working with, and it also has a really good way of focusing the mind on trying to make sure that, no matter how hard it is and no matter how tired you are, you give everything that you have to those last shows because there is no tomorrow. You want to make sure that you go out on the highest note possible. So, the feeling on set, both times, was quite similar. It’s an almost carnival-like feeling, as you get towards the end of this huge experience in everybody’s lives. It’s a very cathartic thing. At the end, you look around at this group of people who you’ve spent 70 hours a week with, for nine months out of the year, for the last four or five years, and you have a chance to just take stock and go, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe we did this!” And at the same time, creatively, because you know it’s the end, you have the opportunity to finish it on your own terms, which is not often the case in television. With Dawson’s Creek, I wasn’t a fan of 90210 and that wasn’t particularly my genre of show. Fringe, on the other hand, is right up my alley. I probably have more of a personal stake in the climax of this show and making sure that it is a satisfactory end to the journey the audience has been on. I hope we achieve that.
JACKSON: I’ve been asked that question before, and I have a couple of pat answers, but the truth is that there’s no specific episode that would jump out to me because the experience of making this show is so different from the experience of watching this show. The things that I will take from the experience are not specific episodes or even specific scenes, but storylines and great days at work. The thing that is probably the most cherished piece of the experience for me is the ability to have this long-form story with John Noble, and the work that we did to try to make that father-son dynamic work.
This show has always been critically acclaimed, but hasn’t received the level of viewership that it deserved. How do you think will Fringe be viewed, in the future? What will its legacy be, in television history?
JACKSON: This is a topic that I could talk about for a couple of hours because I find it really fascinating. A brief version of my answer to that is that I feel like Fringe and its afterlife is a test case for the new way that television works. Fringe, in an odd way, started its afterlife while it was still on the air. The community of the show is currently strong and vibrant, and I have a funny feeling that the afterlife of this show, as much as we who have been making it for the last five years are finishing our portion of it, will live on in that community. How that manifests itself, I don’t know. I think there will probably be a lot of fan fiction. Maybe there will even be some sort of filmed addendum to this show, whether television or podcast, or however it manifests itself. But, I feel like the afterlife of Fringe is the test case for how modern cult shows are going to live on, after they go off the air.
What would you like to see happen with Peter, in the future beyond the end of the series?
JACKSON: The proper ending that for the Peter that we’ve known on screen for the last five years actually happens in the finale. I love the ending. I think it makes really good sense and it wraps up his story in a way that is intertwined with all of the characters around him, but specifically with Olivia, Walter and Etta. I think it is a proper ending to the person and the story that we’ve been watching for the last five years. And I feel that way, truthfully, for Olivia, Walter and Peter. Olivia and Peter end in a proper space. Olivia, Peter and Walter end in a proper space. And Peter and Walter get to the place that they need to be. So, for our story, it ends tonight. But, the beauty of what Wyman has done is that he allows the space for people to live on with these characters, should they desire to. I know that’s a pretty fuzzy answer, but I don’t want to give away any of the plot details of the finale.