Mysterious and horrible deaths were a cornerstone of Fringe since the show’s very first episode, when a biological toxin crystallized the bodies of an entire planeload of people — and we were introduced to Fringe Division, a government task force that investigates strange phenomena, including the existence of a parallel universe much like our own … and yet very much not.
With the release today of the Fringe complete series box set on DVD and Blu-ray (as well as the box sets for the final season), you can relive five seasons’ worth of icky weirdness as FBI agents Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), mad “fringe scientist” Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son/handler Peter (Joshua Jackson), along with Fringe boss Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) and other allies, deal with such gruesome demises as people suddenly dissolving into ash, getting consumed by flesh-eating skelter beetles, or becoming horrific mutants after a bad guy merges a building on This Side with one from the Other Side using technology created by Walter and his former lab partner-in-crime, William Bell (Leonard Nimoy).
But along with the stomach-churning deaths of unfortunate unknowns, show creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci gave us deaths that were gut-wrenching in a whole different way, sprinkled with some truly well-deserved demises. Pretty much every major and supporting character on Fringe eventually met their ends … and even though a lot of them came back, thanks to an ever-shifting mythology and timey-wimey plot shenanigans rivaled only by Doctor Who, these are the deaths that made the biggest impact. (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE SERIES.)
10. Olivia Can Kill You With Her Brain, Part 1
Thanks to series of experiments Walter and William Bell did on Olivia as a child, involving a drug called Cortexiphan, her brain can do remarkable things. She can cross between the parallel universes without any special equipment, start fires and control electricity, and move objects — and even people — with her mind.
Olivia’s abilities have come in handy many times, but rarely more gratifyingly than at the end of Season 5, when the Fringe team finds itself in the year 2036 battling the Observers, a group of bald, suit-wearing, mind-reading time travelers from Earth’s distant future, who have taken over the world. With help from a friendly Observer named September (Michael Cerveris), Walter develops a plan to defeat the invaders, and Olivia and Peter’s adult daughter, Etta (Georgina Haig), works beside them in the fight.
But Observer leader Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) is viciously determined to hang onto his prize — and at the final hour, it looks like he’s going to keep it. His troops have the resistance pinned down, he’s nabbed the strange Observer child who is the key to Walter’s plan and he makes short work of our heroes when they attack him.
“You never know when to give up,” Windmark sneers at Etta earlier in the season. Unfortunately for him, neither does her telekinetic mother. Rarely has evil been so satisfyingly crushed.
9. Olivia Can Kill You With Her Brain, Part 2
In Season 4, the team finds out that Walter’s mad-scientist pal William Bell is the true mastermind of a plot by evil genius David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) to merge the two universes and create a new world, where Bell will rule. Jones has a highly inflated sense of self-importance, so when Bell shows him a chess game he’s been playing for 40 years and says he will need to sacrifice the bishop to win the game, Jones naturally assumes that Bell means the “Bishop,” as in Peter or Walter.
So when Jones takes on Peter in a brutal rooftop smackdown while Olivia watches helplessly from atop a nearby building, he wallops the Bishop with the kind of confidence that comes from knowing the game is rigged. Too bad for him that (a) Olivia has telekinetic powers and has apparently found time in her busy life to play some videogames, and (b) William Bell actually didn’t mean “Bishop” with a capital “B.” The game was indeed rigged. Just not how Jones thought.
8. Destiny Is a Bitch
When the Observers sent advanced scouts back to the Fringe team’s time, they never dreamed that those agents could go native (possibly because Observers don’t dream). We learn in Season 5 that all 12 members of the original Observer team had been affected by their exposure to “primitive” humans, but none more than September. Right from the start, he becomes hopelessly tangled up with his subjects. He’s an accessory of sorts to Walter’s central crime of abducting Peter, the son of his doppelganger “Walternate,” from the Other Side — an act Walter commits to save this other Peter after his own son dies of the same condition, but which causes serious damage to the fabric of reality on the Other Side.
September is so fascinated by the father-son relationship that it affects his own relationship with Michael, the Observer child he helps the Fringe team hide from Windmark. His sense of responsibility grows more human-like, in parallel to Walter’s sometimes paralyzing feelings of guilt over causing havoc across two universes and his need to somehow make up for it. By the end of the series, September embraces the chance to experience fatherly love.
All of that just ratchets up the angst when the time comes for Michael to play his part in Walter’s plan, and September steps up to help him through it. He accepts his fate, but, sadly, fate has other plans.
7. Shot by Both Sides
Nothing stops a raging evil scheme in its tracks better than a well placed bullet to the head. That’s probably not what Walter was thinking when he found himself on a ship with Peter, Olivia and his crazy old partner William Bell at the end of Season 4. Bell plans to use Olivia’s Cortexiphan powers to jump-start the collapse of the two universes and create his new personal paradise — and nothing can stop the process. Nothing, that is, but a bullet to the head. (Thankfully, Olivia gets better.)
This shocking sequence is a nice parallel to the Season 3 finale, where, in a future timeline created by Peter, a vengeful Walternate shoots Olivia in the head, and we get the most heart-shattering funeral scene ever. Until the timeline is reset and Olivia returns to life … but Peter disappears from everyone’s memories.
6. Count the Ways
Peter Bishop dies a lot in Fringe — in a lot of different ways. In one of Walter’s flashbacks (shown above), we see his original son quietly succumb to his terminal disease after cutely bequeathing his lucky silver dollar to his dad. When the timeline is reset in Season 3, and the adult Peter we knew more or less dies, or technically disappears from existence, we learn that Walternate’s son died too — drowning in Reiden Lake after Walter abducts him.
Even in the wacky cartoon episode “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide,” Peter can’t manage to avoid getting killed. In the surreal, shifting landscape of Olivia’s mind, Peter sacrifices himself to save the cartoon child Olivia while helping to free her from the influence of William Bell.
5. Biggest Bummer
On the Other Side, Olivia’s double — aka Bolivia, Fauxlivia or Altlivia — is good pals with her boss, Captain Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel), a field-hardened veteran with mad tactical skills and a deep unrequited love for Bolivia. On This Side, Agent Lincoln Lee is a mild-mannered field office drone who literally stumbles into his position on the Fringe team … and develops a deep unrequited love for Olivia. The two Lincolns are nothing alike — yet, strangely, their personal histories have more parallels than most of the other prime/parallel universe characters.
So of course, in the diabolical minds of the writers, that meant one of them was expendable — and alt-Lincoln, being the more well-adjusted and happy-with-his-life guy, was the obvious choice. Well, it wasn’t obvious at the time: During a relatively routine activity, he gets shot. Which is upsetting, but big deal, right? The Other Side has a lot of problems, but it also has way better medical tech, and at that point we’d already seen Captain Lee come back from being basically torched alive during an earlier showdown with the prime Fringe team.
His actual death happens offscreen, but when his teammates learn he didn’t make it, their quiet despair gives us one of the rare moments on Fringe where we really felt the toll of the tragedy.
4. A Surprising Sacrifice
Even before we found out about William Bell’s insane scheme to collapse both universes and create one where he could be God, the guy never seemed like much of a team player. The founder of sprawling tech company Massive Dynamic, Bell got rich while Walter was locked up in an asylum for 17 years. His motives were always murky, and his right-hand woman, Massive Dynamic COO Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), was only too willing to further obscure them.
Thanks to Bell’s secret travels to the Other Side, it was pretty easy to believe he was in cahoots with Walternate. So it’s a nice twist when, at the end of Season 2, Bell helps Walter and Olivia get away from the alt Fringe team, and even helps Walter set up the equipment he needs to get his people home. He can’t go with them, because he’s crossed back and forth so many times that he’d simply break apart if he tries it again. Instead of just staying put and walking away, however, Bell offers himself as the power source to make sure Walter and co. get back to their side. It may be the most noble thing he ever did … which is not to say it didn’t turn out to be just as self-serving as everything he ever did.
3. Most Unfair
When the Observers invade in 2015, Olivia and Peter are enjoying an idyllic day at the park with their young daughter, Etta. They’re separated from her in the chaos of the attack, and all attempts to find her afterward prove futile. The loss of Etta drives a wedge between Olivia and Peter, who goes a little bit crazy for a while.
Flash forward to 2036, when Peter, Olivia, Walter and Astrid emerge from suspended animation thanks in part to the efforts of … Etta. Now all grown up, Olivia and Peter’s child, like her mom, is blonde, has special abilities and is basically awesome. She’s a Fringe agent, but secretly she’s part of the human resistance to the Observer occupation. Her most valuable skill is her ability to resist being “read” by the Observers — a talent that she can teach to others, although it takes time to learn. Even Captain Windmark can only see what she wants him to see.
For four whole episodes, Etta is the Fringe team’s bright spot of hope in a horribly bleak world. Then, as suddenly as she was returned, she’s yanked away after an agonizing confrontation with Windmark, in which she gives not. One. Single. Inch. But when Windmark strikes her down, Etta becomes a symbol of resistance more powerful than he could possibly imagine (probably because Observers don’t imagine).
2. Don’t Look in the Van, Agent Broyles. Seriously. Don’t.
When William Bell sacrifices himself to send Walter and the gang back home, nobody realizes that Walternate has swapped Olivias. He keeps Olivia Prime and brainwashes her into believing she’s her doppelganger, right down to the neck tattoo, so he can continue his Cortexiphan experiments on her. Meanwhile, Bolivia infiltrates the prime-universe Fringe team and steals Olivia’s boyfriend, Peter.
Luckily, the conditioning doesn’t totally take, and Olivia soon remembers who she really is. Also luckily, even though Bolivia’s boss, Colonel Broyles, realizes that Olivia knows, he doesn’t rat her out, because she saved his son. When Bolivia’s cover is blown, Walternate plans to return the two Olivias to their proper sides — except Olivia will be missing her brain, which he’s letting his scientists keep.
Col. Broyles helps Olivia escape, and she uses her Cortexiphan abilities to cross back to her side. But Walternate’s minions cut Broyles down — and then cut him up, to use parts of him as the equivalent mass they need to bring Bolivia back. Walter and Peter’s shock when they look inside the paddy wagon supposedly holding Bolivia is nothing compared to the jolt the normally unflappable Broyles gets when, against their warning, he takes a peek.
Dude, they told you not to look!
1. Most Badass
In the bleak 2036 future, Nina Sharp is older, wilier and even tougher than the younger version the Fringe team left behind. Now a white-haired lady in futuristic wheelchair, she heads the Ministry of Science … and secretly helps the resistance. Which is why she finds herself alone in a secret resistance lab, protecting Michael the boy Observer from Windmark and his minions.
And in that crucial showdown, before the absolutely stunning final moment, we get all the best parts of Nina. Her snarkiness. Her razor-blade tongue. Her unwavering dignity. And her mind-blowing ability to act like she has the upper hand when all the cards are against her. All in the service of something, as she says to Windmark, greater than herself. It’s hard not to feel a rising sense of triumph when she delivers a classic Nina lecture to Windmark, demonstrating how much a determined human can learn about the Observers’ behavior, and underscoring how clueless the invaders really are about what a random individual can do to fight them. I mean, it’s like Windmark really thought she meant to shoot him with that stolen gun. Hahaha. Right.