This Top 20 was created from votes cast by readers of this website, all of whom were asked to vote for their five favourite episodes of Fringe . We think, looking at the results, that SFX readers have exquisite taste…
Walter, Peter and Olivia track down a hairy September, who explains what the plan is that Walter has forgotten, reveals the origins of the Observers and how the anomaly, Michael, fits in with everything. Michael gives himself up to the Observers. And for the first time we see the future of 2609, with the Observers triumphant.
Walter – high on the drug “Black Blotter” and hallucinating all over the place (including a mighty tribute to Monty Python) – Peter and Olivia track down Michael, a taciturn Observer who is stuck in the body of a boy.
The episode that could have been the show’s finale if Fox hadn’t picked up the show for a fifth season – and you know what? It would have been a very satisfying end, despite leaving quite a few plot threads dangling (many of which were still dangling after the real finale, “An Enemy Of Fate”, anyway). The Fringe team finally defeat William Bell and his plan to create a whole new universe for himself.
With David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) using former Cortexiphan subjects in each of the parallel universes to create simultaneous earthquakes across both universe’s globes, Walter hypothesises that the end of the worlds is near. The only solution is to close the bridge between the universes. A solid episode all round, but made even more memorable by a piece of tour de force acting from John Noble as both Walter Bishops discussing the possibility that closing the bridge may cause Peter to blink out of existence.
The Fringe team go to investigate weird happenings in a small town in Vermont – strong electromagnetic fields, car engines cutting our, a plane crash, people with duplicate organs. So far, so far X-Files megamix. But it turns out to be a crucial turning point in the arc plot when Walter realises that the oddness is all the result of David Robert Jones experimenting with pulling the two universes together. Better yet, it climaxes with some stunning FX of the town being destroyed – pure disaster movie stuff.
When Thomas Jerome Newton pulls a building from the parallel universe into this one, Walter theorises that a similar-sized building from our universe will have to be dragged to the parallel universe in its place to replace the mass. He believes that Olivia may be able to “see” which building this’ll be if he can trigger her Cortexiphan-induced abilities again. So he takes her back to Jacksonville where he originally experimented on her, and we learn in flashback what a traumatic time it was for the young Olivia.
The third season finale, where Peter, having activated the doomsday device in the previous episode, wakes up in 2026 to discover things are not peachy in the future – amber and wormholes all over the place and Brad Dourif being creepy in the way only Brad Dourif can. So he manages to get a timey-wimey message back to himself before the used the Doomsday device convincing himself to make a different decision – to use the Doomsday device to pull the two universes together and form a bridge between them. Oh, and then he blinks out of existence. C’est la vie .
In which our Olivia has been captured and imprisoned on Liberty Island in the parallel universe, and Walternate is putting her through psychological treatment to try to convince her that she’s actually Fauxlivia. Meanwhile the real Fauxlivia (are you following this?) is in our universe pretending to be our Olivia and getting fresh with Peter, to his delight. The bitch!
The first episode to spotlight the shadowy Observers, with August breaking Observer protocol and interfering with time to save a girl’s life. The other Observers are not happy. But the audience is. All these new revelations about the Observers are great! (And it’s the earliest evidence that not all Observers have the same agenda.)
Few Fringe episodes are more emotionally crippling that “The Bullet That Saved The World”.
It opens with Peter purchasing a necklace buying a new chain for Etta’s bullet necklace in a pawn shop. There he’s cornered by an Observer who sees an image of Etta in his mind.
After escaping back to the lab he gives the chain to Etta, who restrings her bullet, which we learn is the same bullet Walter pushed out of Olivia’s head in the season four finale “Brave New World”.
Walter and Astrid discover another tape pointing towards a subway in Observer-controlled Manhattan, but before they can act a Resistance mole being interrogated by an Observer gives up their location in the Harvard lab.
Etta is alerted by Broyles, and the group manage to re-amber the lab before the Loyalists arrive.
Making their move, Peter, Olivia and Etta use David Robert Jones’ orifice sealing substance to suffocate any Loyalists in their way and reacquire a physics equation. But while making their getaway a loyalist is able to place a tracking device on their car.
During a meeting with Broyles, where they discover he is part of the Resistance, Observers and Loyalists converge on their location. The group is split in an abandoned warehouse and Etta is cornered and killed by Widmark after determining the reason Peter risked his life to get a necklace for Etta was love.
Peter, Olivia and Walter find Etta near dead, and attempt to take her away. Etta knows it’s hopeless however and arms an anti-matter device, shortly after giving the bullet necklace back to Olivia. The trio make their getaway and Etta dies in the blast, along with a number of Loyalists and Observers. It’s far and away the most shocking moment in Fringe history.
In which Fauxlivia tries to get back to her universe, while Walternate considers removing our Olivia’s brain to see if he can work out how this universe hopping shtick happens. Peter is onto Fauxlivia, but ultimately both Olivias escape and make it back home – our Olivia enlisting the help of alt-Broyles. Fauxlivia only manages this, though, at the cost of alt-Broyles, whose mutilated body arrives in our universe to balance out her departure.
The Fringe pilot is still great fun today, and really well made with some great visuals (Nina’s arm! The gore effects!). It served as a smart introduction to all the main characters. But, bizarrely, it also feels like the pilot to a completely different show. You watch it now and they’re all wibbling about “The Pattern”, and you’re thinking, “What pattern?” Still, a great 95 minutes of telly, and it launched a show we all came to love. And Walter had “cult icon” written all over him from the moment he first appeared on screen, despite the Robinson Crusoe beard.
Episode 19s became infamous on Fringe for the being the weird episodes, and season three’s number 19 was no exception. This was the animated one. Not that things in season three weren’t bizarre enough already at this point. In case you’d forgotten, William Bell was currently resident in Olivia’s body, while Olivia’s consciousness was dormant. Anyhoo, in “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” Walter attempts to reawaken Olivia’s consciousness by an LSD-enhanced trip inside her brain – where everything goes a bit Hanna-Barbera – while Bell’s consciousness is downloaded into a computer. (We never did learn, though, who that guy in the T-shirt with an X on it was – remember him? He rips a hole in a Zeppelin?)
The first part of the two-part season two finale. Peter has decided to cross over to the parallel universe to be with his real dad, Walternate, who is finally revealed in this episode as the Secretary of Defense in Over-The-Rainbow-ville. However, the Observers warn Olivia that this is A BAD IDEA. So Walter assembles a team of superpowered Cortexiphan test subjects as a kind of universe-hopping proto-X-Men so that Walter and co can cross over to the parallel universe. Cue one hell of an action-packed episode and lots of dead Cortexiphan test subjects who had fulfilled their narrative function. (Shame… they could have made a good spin-off – well, better than Alphas , anyway. In case you don’t recall, there was the guy who could manipulate people’s emotions; a pyrokinetic woman; and a guy with healing abilities.)
With the race to thwart David Robert Jones's grand plan in full swing, the last thing we wanted was a standalone episode set a couple of decades in the future. Or so we thought. Then we realised that the Observers' motives weren't quite as benign as we thought, that Peter and Olivia would have a daughter who'd grow up to be a hero of the resistance, and that it was possible to give Anna Torv a week off.
As a one-off this would have been a lot of fun; that it became the basis for a brilliant gamechanger of a final season seals "Letters Of Transit"'s status as one of Fringe 's best.
The season two finale sees our Fringe team on the other side trying to convince Peter to come back to our side. But what you probably remember most is the Olivia versus Fauxlivia fight. Our Olivia wins then dyes her hair to pretend to be Fauxlivia so she can get to Peter. This turns out to be a BAD MOVE as everybody’s losing track of which Olivia/Fauxlivia is which – including the audience, who are totally blindsided by the twist ending: our Fringe team make it back to our universe with Peter, but also with Fauxlivia pretending to be our Olivia. Our brains hurt!
Sob. Walter wipes out an entire season’s worth of nastiness by banishing himself to an unknown future, and his son will never truly understand the sacrifice he’s made for him. Who cares if the timey-wimey stuff makes Moffat’s plotting look watertight? It was emotionally epic. Oh yeah, and there was a great scene with Gene the cow in amber.
The episode which made us all think, “Hang on, this show is definitely not just X-Files -lite… this is getting really interesting.” Possibly the only thing you really remember is that ballsy, game-changing final image, with Olivia in the parallel universe for the first time looking out the still-standing Twin Towers. And, to be honest, that would be enough to secure the episode its high placing in this poll. But there’s so, so, so much more: the first appearance of William Bell (OMG! IT'S… LEONARD… NIMOY!); David Robert Jones opening inter-dimensional portals all over the shop then dying horribly when he’s only halfway through one when it closes; Walter looking at a gravestone marked “Peter Bishop 1978-1985”. This is almost an unofficial second pilot, and it’s an absolute corker!
One of Fringe’ s finest hours, “White Tulip” begins with Walter struggling to give Peter a letter confessing how he came to be in our universe and the death of a train-full of passengers in mysterious circumstances. Only it’s not the first time they all die…
Noticing all the electronic devices on the train have been drained of power, Fringe division trace the man responsible – astrophysics professor Alistair Peck (guest star and former RoboCop Peter Weller) – and enter his home, finding writings on time travel. Peck shows up mid-search, suspiciously early in the episode and activates a time travel device on his body, reappearing back on the train, where the passengers die all over again.
The episode follows a Groundhog Day format, with the team discovering new clues during their second search of the train that lead them to the conclusion Peck is attempting to travel back in time several months in order to save his fiancée from dying in a car crash.
The next time Fringe division find Peck’s lab Walter opts to go in alone and speak to Peck as a fellow man of science, discovering Peck has mutilated his body to become one with the time travel mechanism. Peck’s plight echoes Walter’s – a man pushing the boundaries of science in dangerous ways to regain the thing he loves most in the world. Walter pleads for Peck not to travel back so far, calculating the loss of life to be huge; but Peck isn’t a monster. He plans to emerge in an empty field near the site of the collision. Walter further tries to dissuade Peck from his path by explaining his own inner turmoil over having taken his son from a parallel universe and how it’s led him to believe in a higher power, hoping for a sign of forgiveness in the form of a white tulip. It’s a testament to the quality of the writing and John Noble’s impassioned performance that there’s no doubt Walter, a man of science, could even believe in god.
Peck can’t be dissuaded, however, and travels back a few hours to make some final modifications and send Walter a letter. When Peck activates the machine again he finds the modifications have worked, appearing in a field surrounded by dead grass. As Alistair makes a dash for his fiancées car all sound drops out of the episode except Michael Giacchino’s twitchy score. Peck makes it to the car with seconds to spare and, desperately short of breath, is able to tell his fiancée that he loves her one last time before they both die in the collision.
Back in the present, the events of the episode never having happened from Walter’s perspective, we find him struggling once again with the decision to give Peter the letter of confession. Guilt getting the better of him he decides to toss it in the fire, but moments later receives another letter through the mailbox containing nothing but an elegant white tulip, a moment so poignant it was echoed in the very final shot of the show.
We already suspected that Peter Bishop wasn't of this world when this flashback to 1985 showed why Walter was driven to abduct the Walternate's son. There's plenty here for aficionados of Fringe lore – we see how Nina lost her hand, and learn that it was Walter who opened the first gateway between universes – but it's "Peter"'s emotional core that put this episode top of your chart.
An ingeniously de-aged John Noble puts in arguably his best ever performance, revealing the ruthless, driven scientist Walter was pre-lobotomy, and making sure you sympathise 100% with a man who'll do anything to save his (or his doppelganger's son). If you didn't get a tear in your eye when the original Peter dies, you really do have a heart of stone. And we didn't even need to mention those wonderful ’80s-style credits – the icing on the blueberry pancakes.