How Tasteless Was Fringe's Twist-Ending?

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Try, for a moment, to conceive of an alternate reality, where events as we know them unfold in completely unpredictable patterns due to creases in the time-space continuum. Now picture this being explained to you by a facially obscured figure who, in a dramatic reveal, winds up being Leonard Nimoy. If that sounds like Star Trek, you are correct. But it also describes the fantastically perplexing Season One finale to the best supernatural detective show since The X-Files, Fringe. It's no coincidence both were brought to you by the powerhouse creative team of J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, who -- like the viral video that liquefies the brains of anyone who watches it in the episode called "The No-Brainer" -- refuse to let up until your neural circuits are turned into a plate of runny scrambled eggs.

Spoilers ensue: In an episode that featured such goodies as the return of an amazingly creepy, oozing Jared Harris (our interview with him here), wormholes that slice unsuspected soccer players in two, and the revelation that Peter Bishop actually died at the age of seven and is living on borrowed, alternate-reality time, came a final sequence so utterly mindblowing, it kind of blew my mind.

Special Agent Olivia Dunham is summoned to a building in Manhattan by Nina Sharp, the robo-armed executive director of Massive Dynamic played with shifty flair by Blair "Molly Dodd" Brown. She's told she'll finally meet the mysterious corporation's president, William Bell. Olivia assumes she's been stood up for lunch, enters an elevator, some flashy effects ensue, and then she finds herself in a blindingly bright office occupied by the pointy-eared V-man himself. (Suck it, Shatner.)

But the real WTF moment is yet to come, as we pull out to reveal his office occupies an upper floor of the former World Trade Center. In the following video (via EW.com), Fringe EP Jeff Pinkner acknowledges that the standing towers are "an image like no other," but that their inclusion represents "a wonderful symbol for [a better alternate reality] than the world we live in." We're not really sure we follow that, completely. What makes it better? That the towers didn't fall? Can't the towers still fall in Bizarro America? What, beyond the standing towers and a living Joshua Jackson and JFK -- you have to look real close on the fake NY Post cover to notice that one -- makes the mirror world better?

At least Pinkner finally admits what's really at play here: It's an homage to the final shot of Planet of the Apes -- that butterflies inducing image of an epic monument standing where that monument should not be. But let's remember something: The world never evolved into a planet run by simian warlords, but those towers did fall. Hard. There's a big difference there, no matter how hard you try to justify it. As always, too soon.

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Comments

  • rj77 says:

    As someone who watched the towers fall from about 15 blocks away, I did not find this tasteless at all. We still don't know the context of this parallel world in which they still stand. Pinkner says it 'may' be better. Who knows where they will take the story?
    (And yes, I thought the finale was fantastic.)

  • Chadams says:

    It didn't seem to me to be as tasteless as was more out of line with Fringe's M.O. - it didn't keep with that outre-science tone. (Maybe if the WTCs were upside-down...)
    All I could think of was Brian K. Vaughan's "Ex Machina" WTC reveal at the end. The finale may have also borrowed from a few other obvious places, but I just hope that the level of intensity and overabundance of stimuli from the end of this season set a tone for a more sure-footed 2nd season.

  • Smurf Face says:

    It's too soon to imagine an alternate reality where the twin towers didn't fall? I don't follow your reasoning.
    The image of the WTC towers makes sense as an iconic way of demonstrating that the character is in a different reality. What makes less sense is to treat the image of the towers as a literal icon, acting as though its use here is sacrilege. The show was not making a joke or making light of the tragedy; it was recognizing the impact of the image to make a dramatic point.
    As always, creating taboo images and words only give those images and words the power to offend. In this case, I find it distasteful that you should aid in creating a taboo of a tragic image that belongs to us all.

  • Mortimer Sanderson says:

    All of your opinions, as well as mine, do not matter, as to whether it's alright to invoke the images of the towers; to determine whether it's 'too soon,' only someone who lost someone there can really say. Imagine if you were the spouse or child of one of the victims of the shuttle Challenger disaster, and in a 1993 episode of Star Trek TNG, the Challenger appears through a wormhole in front of captain Picard's ship?

  • Michele McGowan says:

    I have to somewhat agree that it was a bit tasteless to use that image. I lost my aunt who I was very close to on 9/11 and I have to say, the shock that I felt when I saw that had nothing to do with the plot. I LOVE this show and I watch it religiously. I also avoid looking at the news or newspapers close to 9/11 because it's hard to see pictures of the day my aunt died. In a show that constantly pushes the boundaries of reality, pushing that painful reality was a bit too much. I know for those not directly affected, it seems like I'm being overly sensitive, but I can only say, I hope you never feel what I do. I think it is way too soon to use the WTC for entertainment purposes. Not just for Fringe, but for all shows. This is just my personal opinion.

  • Seth Abramovitch says:

    Here's how I see it: There are many, many hundreds of office buildings in Manhattan where Massive Dynamic might have housed its headquarters. But only one would make your stomach drop in a final reveal. There was no reason to bring the WTC into it beyond that. Just my opinion.

  • Daniel says:

    How is it tasteless? It's not an alternate reality where the towers didn't fall, it's one where they weren't attacked in the first place. I thought it was a remarkable finale and a powerful way to show that she had been transported to a parallel universe. I noticed the headline about JFK as well. It wasn't exactly a shock ending, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing next season.
    Also, get over yourself. Are you really so fragile as to be unable to handle this? I knew it would get this reaction, kudos to the team for having the guts to do this.

  • Alex says:

    "Imagine if you were the spouse or child of one of the victims of the shuttle Challenger disaster, and in a 1993 episode of Star Trek TNG, the Challenger appears through a wormhole in front of captain Picard's ship?" In 1994, I actually wrote a short story about the Challenger re-appearing on the launch pad and blasting off the day NASA was to shut down the shuttle program (in 2011, not that far off). The people on the ground witnessed what would have happened had the Challenger not exploded. It was printed in a NASA publication and I was told that it got favorable response from members of the Challenger families.
    The point, people aren't as delicate as one would think. And if you happen to be, there's a wondrous thing that can shield you from the world. It's called an off button.

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    I was in working downtown NYC on 9/11 and lost a friend in the towers on that day, but I didn't find the image disrespectful at all. Yes, it made me gasp, but I kind of LOVE the idea of an alternate reality where those towers still stand and my friend still lives and Obama is in a new White House. God bless a scripted show that can be weird, brave, and most importantly, scheduled for another season.

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  • spaceotteradam says:

    Not tasteless at all. We've become such a PC humanity that we'd rather stick our heads in the sand than use our brains.
    Lower functioning pansies.

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