By John Keegan
If there was ever any doubt that the producers and writers were preparing for possible cancellation, this season finale erases that doubt without a hint of hesitation. Not only does this episode wrap the vast majority of plot threads from the fourth season up with a bright, shiny bow, but elements going back to the first season are addressed or referenced along the way.
This is easily the most we've seen of William Bell, and there's good reason. Bell, dying of cancer and sustained only through the miracle of Cortexiphan, has decided that it's time to take the two universes, collapse them together, and bring about a new genesis as a result. Knowing he will die, he took all the products of the work that he and Walter conducted in the past and prepared them to populate the new world. (Oh, and he's willing to let Peter and Olivia go, too, once they arrive on the scene, since they are "special" in their own way.)
Ever since "Letters of Transit", there's been the question of whether or not those pieces of Walter's brain original excised were related to what was revealed in the second season. Apparently, in this timeline, Newton never found Walter's missing pieces, so they are still out there. But instead of being all about how to cross universes, Walter's memories were the concepts behind the universal collapse, an idea borne of his tremendous personal loss. Walter wanted those memories gone, so Bell removed them. But Bell remembered, and eventually came to believe it was the right thing to do.
What's most interesting is that the plan had nothing to do with the impending threat of an Observer invasion. Bell had clearly been studying the Observers, since he knew how to trap September, but he wasn't trying to create a new world to prevent an invasion. If Bell does become involved, it won't happen until the fifth season. It's somewhat ironic to think that saving Fringe Prime from Bell's plan actually keeps that Observer invasion on the table.
The key to Bell's whole plan is Olivia. As suspected, using the other Cortexiphan subjects to initiate the process of collapse was only the start. Taking the Machine out of play was another. Jessica Holt (Rebecca Mader) turns out to have been a setup as well, designed to influence Olivia into using her abilities. Jessica turns out to be working for Bell, and shoots September to drive Olivia to even more powerful usage. This neatly ties into September's role this season, while leaving him alive enough to play a part in the eventual resistance, as hinted at the very end. (A scene that likely would have been excised, had the series been canceled.)
Jessica's interrogation was one of the creepiest things ever seen on "Fringe", and that's saying something. Touching back on some of the bizarre post-mortem experiments by Massive Dynamic seen early in the series, Jessica is "revived" to answer some questions. The resulting twitching of her eyes in various directions, along with a bit of Joker-esque grinning, was fairly horrific. That the CGI used to pull off the effect didn't look entirely natural in tone or size just added to it.
That scene was challenged by Walter's excision of the bullet that killed Olivia. It turns out that Walter is "Mr. X" (despite the strong hints that it might be September or Bell), and killing Olivia was necessary to save the world. But thanks to the regenerative powers of Cortexiphan (and the sheer amount in Olivia's system by that point), all it took was making an exit wound for the bullet and letting the regeneration take its course. It's a bit predictable, since the moment was foreshadowed to the hilt in the first half of the finale and Astrid survived right at the start of this half, but it was still a nice way to tie up several loose ends. (And this is where, one would presume, Etta's bullet pendant came from in "Letters of Transit"!)
The "epilogue", as one might call it, was the most obvious nod to a potential series ending. Broyles is promoted to General, Nina is brought on to head the now-massively-funded Fringe Division's science department, and all seems warm and fuzzy. And Olivia wants to talk to Peter, which can only mean one thing, since "Letters of Transit" told us that Etta was born in 2012. (She was four the last time she saw her parents in 2016.) Olivia is indeed pregnant, which is probably the least shocking news to come out of the episode, making the practically interminable hemming and hawing by Olivia one of the few frustrations of the finale.
The fifth season is only 13 episodes long, so I'm hoping that means that we will skip Etta's actual presence as a baby. Olivia's pregnancy could have a stifling effect on the final season, if the writers allow it, but I have faith that they will cover the final season arc with the same amount of inventive grace that has marked the series to date.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.