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'Fringe' finale: Great sci-fi series ends

THE SHOW "Fringe" series finale

WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 8 on Fox/5

CATCHING UP It's 2036 and the fedora-wearing, follically challenged Observers have taken control of the world, and -- worse -- control of little Michael, son of September (Michael Cerveris). He is also the "observer" boy with a genetic anomaly that could end the Observers once and for all.

Can Walter Bishop (John Noble), son Peter (Joshua Jackson) and special agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) save the kid? As Walter says, "I have stolen time and cheated fate" -- but will his plan to save mankind prevail? A final titanic battle should answer that question tonight in the series finale (the episode was not available for review).

MY SAY Well, that was quite a five-season ride, no? In sum: Mild-mannered mad scientist Walter Bishop snatches son Peter from an alternate universe (to replace his dead son in the primary universe), thereby ripping a fabric in the membrane of reality, and setting off both now (a relative term in "Fringe") and in the future (also relative) a series of events that could extinguish all of existence. (We haven't even begun to talk about the "observers' " role in the end times.)

And yet . . . it was all so often weirdly beautiful and -- at the most unexpected moments -- moving. As true-blue science fiction fans know too well, great science fiction isn't just about the "science" or the "fiction," but mostly about the triumph of the human spirit, or at minimum an exploration of its true essence.

Over five loopy seasons, "Fringe" never once lost sight of that mission -- hunting down an answer to the question of what makes us "us." That's what it all comes down to tonight, when the journey of Bishop et al wraps for good. In fact, over the years and after all those glorious sci-fi tangents -- teleportation, precognition, AI, "multiverses" -- it really does end with Bishop, which is testament to the actor who portrayed him. Australian-born Noble created a wonderfully nuanced, complicated, exasperating and endearing character. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences never recognized his achievement. One can only hope that in time, its members will realize the error of their ways.


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