In the end, 'Fringe' was all about identity
This undated image released by Fox shows, from left, Jasika Nicole, John Noble, Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson in a scene from the two-hour series finale of "Fringe," airing Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 at 8 p.m. EST on Fox. (AP Photo/Fox, Liane Hentscher)
As the Fox alternate-universe drama "Fringe" ends its five-season run, let us pause to praise John Noble's textured performance as Walter Bishop — and his talented potrayals of Walter Bishop, Walter Bishop and Walter Bishop. And Anna Torv? Her work as Olivia Dunham, Olivia Dunham and Olivia Dunham has built a one-dimensional character into a genuine, multifaceted sci-fi heroine.
This is the situation in which "Fringe" fans find themselves ahead of the final, two-hour conclusion that airs Friday. So what on Earth — or, given that it's "Fringe," what on Earths — are we talking about here?
Only the fact that, unlike any other show in recent memory — or, perhaps, in television history itself — "Fringe" has required something of its troupe of actors that is both daunting and utterly captivating to watch: It forced them to play several different versions of their characters, sometimes all at once, and define unique characteristics and emotional memories for each one over time.
This has been the case since the first season, which introduced the notion of multiple universes with a finale called "There's More Than One of Everything." By and by, the multiplicity produced dialogue you wouldn't find anywhere else, like the time when Noble's Walter Bishop says to Jasika Nicole's Agent Astrid Farnsworth: "You're not you, are you?"
For the past five seasons, "Fringe" has chronicled the exploits of Olivia, forced to collaborate with licorice-chomping, soft-hearted, guilt-ridden mad scientist Dr. Bishop to explore "fringe events," weird occurrences that suggest a nefarious plan is afoot to threaten the world. Joining them is Walter's adult son Peter (Joshua Jackson), who has played a special role in all that's unfolding.
Jackson, though, ended up the only main character in the show who wasn't regularly playing different versions of himself.
Actors playing multiple roles isn't new. Alec Guinness did it in the 1949 movie "Kind Hearts and Coronets," in which he portrayed a whopping eight roles, including a woman. But those were all different characters. Soap operas have been replete with people undergoing plastic surgery to resemble others and evil agents replacing good characters. Mike Myers, of course, perfected the comedic version of this in the "Austin Powers" movies, in which he plays multiple characters including the title role and the villain, "Dr. Evil." Comedians from Jerry Lewis to Eddie Murphy to Tyler Perry have both prospered and flopped while dabbling in this kind of duality.
Rarely, though, is a performer called upon to develop the same recurring character in two similar worlds. Leonard Nimoy did it with a memorable turn as a goateed, ironfisted Mr. Spock in an original "Star Trek" episode that sent the Enterprise crew into a more bloodthirsty parallel universe. (No coincidence, perhaps, that a chunk of the team that makes "Fringe" is also behind the new "Trek" movies.)