Fox’s sci-fi drama “Fringe” experiences a major reset after events in the third season, but the show maintains its high quality storytelling and character development throughout the fourth season. The Blu-ray release features an impeccable presentation, though its collection of bonus material shows a noticeable reduction in quantity and depth.
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Studio: Warner Brothers Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Four-disc Blu-ray case with slipcover
Running Time: ~16 hrs.
Video: 1080p high definition 16x9 1.78:1
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1
Subtitles English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
The Season: 5/5
With the war between the prime and parallel universes approaching a state of mutually assured destruction, Peter Bishop (Josh Jackson), using the doomsday device in a last-ditch effort, creates a neutral environment where the two sides can begin to heal their literal and metaphorical rift. The gambit pays off, but the unexpected result is Peter’s apparent elimination from both worlds. Not death, but non-existence, with neither side remembering anything about him, other than the outcome of a brokered peace.
The exact implications of, and reasons for, Peter’s disappearance remain unclear. Some key points in prime universe history remain the same, namely the seven-year old Peter’s death and the desperate actions his father Walter (John Noble) takes to save the parallel world counterpart. But that young Peter does not survive either; without the intervention of the Observer September (Michael Cerveris) the child drowns in Raiden Lake immediately after his arrival in the prime universe. Understandably, this does nothing to change the intense animosity the parallel Walter feels towards the prime, which in turn precipitates the cross-world conflict.
However, significant changes exist in the characters’ personal histories. Without his adult son to calm and anchor him, Prime Walter never ventures from the lab, performing any Fringe Division field work through Astrid (Jasika Nicole) and various communication devices. Olivia, not having known or fallen in love with Peter, is distant, terse, and struggling to find a connection with someone. Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) is also just a run-of-the-mill FBI agent, once more oblivious to the existence and work of Fringe Division, that is until he has a run-in with an apparently new breed of human, not android, shapeshifter. Their purpose is unclear, but the parallel world claims no involvement, suggesting the presence of a new threat with its sights set on both worlds this time.
Meanwhile, Peter’s disappearance proves incomplete, shadows of his existence bleeding through in appearances to those most meaningful to him. Given their ignorance, Peter’s physical return would cause nothing but confusion. For Walter in particular, it might prove destructive, pushing him back into the madness he barely manages to control. For Olivia, Peter would merely be a stranger, though if he can return to the world despite everything that’s happened, there’s a good chance other things can too.
Not many “Fringe” viewers knew what to expect coming into the fourth season, the reset button that was Peter’s disappearance having all manner of possibility given the nature of the show. Fortunately the writers kept things pretty grounded (well, as grounded as a show like “Fringe” can be), making adjustments to the established mythology that at first seemed minor, but would come to illustrate “the butterfly effect” in story elements down the road. Looking back over the season, it’s easy to see how the show could have gone too far too quickly, but each episode built on the work of the other, properly earning the payoff in the fantastic and mind boggling season finale. The only area that seemed a bit under-developed at the time of broadcast was the evolution of the Observers from largely neutral, quasi-benefactors to controlling, would-be fascists (Episode 19: “Letters of Transit”). It’s a shift that still catches me off guard after a second viewing, though no doubt the change can be explained by separating the inimitable September from the rest of his bald-headed cohort. It also helps to know the forthcoming, 13-episode season will be delving into this shift in greater detail, ending the series with another sort of narrative reset, but one that holds plenty of potential.
"Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season" on Blu-ray includes all 22 episodes that aired in 2011 and 2012. The episodes are spread across four Blu-ray discs in the following arrangement:
Disc One: Episodes 1-6
Disc Two: Episodes 7-12
Disc Three: Episodes 13-18
Disc Four: Episodes 19-22
"Fringe's" fifth and final season is scheduled to premiere Friday, September 28th at 9/8c on Fox.
Video Quality: 4.5/5
The series episodes are correctly framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The transfer exhibits inky black levels and fine shadow detail, though there are moments when contrast can look a touch flat. Colors are similarly deep and beautifully saturated. Fine object detail in fabrics, and skin textures in particular, are excellent, though scenes in higher contrast environments reveal slight edge haloing. Grain structure is often visible, as is a touch of noise at times, though there's no obvious signs of excessive noise reduction. There's slight softness in some shots, but are likely the result of focusing errors.
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, clear and intelligible. Support for the score in the surround channels is balanced and seamless, as are the sometimes aggressive atmospheric and directional effects. LFE is deep and robust, particularly in the more action-oriented final episodes.
Special Features: 3.5/5
The extras continue to diminish as the series progresses, this time amounting to just a handful of video pieces on the fourth disc. Hopefully the final season will have a more robust set of bonus material.
A World Without Peter (12:25, HD): The cast and crew talk about the season’s major arcs and narrative themes, alongside some footage from behind-the-scenes.
The Observers (11:48, HD): The cast and crew discuss the evolution of the mysterious Observer characters, from their appearance in the early episodes to the season’s latest revelation. Unfortunately, there’s really no deeper explanation or analysis given the length of the piece.
Beyond the Comic Book (3:39, HD): Josh Jackson and the producers talk about the impetus of creating a comic book tie-in and the experience writing for the medium.
Beyond the Fringe – Peter and the Machine Comic Book Excerpt: Thirty-five sample images from the comic book that shows what happened to Peter between the end of the third season and start of the fourth. The “Beyond the Fringe” trade paperback, which includes other stories related to the “Fringe” universe, was released on September 11, 2012.
The Culture of Fringe (29:42, HD): Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jensen moderates a roundtable discussion on science and philosophy with “Fringe” showrunners J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner, actor John Noble, USC physics professor Nicholas Warner, and USC philosophy professor Shlomo Sher. The group covers topics like technology and the human condition, and various conundra arising from the rapid pace of technological development.
Have You Seen Walter Lately? (2:11, HD): Quirky Walter moments from the fourth season, many having to do with various body parts.
Gag Reel (2:11, HD)
Ultraviolet Digital Copy: Redeem by September 4, 2014.
The Season: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 3.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
Warner Home Video delivers an excellent high definition presentation for the fourth season of Fox’s endlessly compelling science-fiction drama. The bonus material on the Blu-ray release is noticeably reduced, though fans of the show – and particularly of the season – should still consider the title a must-buy.