Top Five Standalone Fringe Episodes

by Amy Yen

With Fringe finally, FINALLY returning this week (unfortunately, that’s the only good news), I thought I’d do my top 5 standalone episodes to go along with the mythology episode guide that I recently posted. Fringe is one of the few mytharc-based shows where monster-of-the-week episodes can be some of its most compelling & engrossing stories, & although, as I’ve mentioned before, the mythology is what makes the show what it is, many of the standalones are definitely worth checking out.

PS: Regarding the bad news out of the FOX TCAs, I still think there’s a chance Warner Brothers works out a deal for a 13-episode final season, but I do think we need to be realistic. This is the first time Reilly & FOX have been so candid about the financial hit the network is taking on the show & while I think part of it is a negotiation ploy to put the ball (& the blame for the cancellation if it comes to it) in the WB’s court, I also think Reilly is trying to prepare us for the inevitable. I mean honestly, it’s a miracle we’ve gotten four seasons with the ratings being what they are.

I think the bigger issue is, if there really are only 15 episodes left, whether the producers can wrap this thing up in a satisfying way. I’m as big of a fan as there is, but I think there’s a lot of validity to the criticisms about the Peter storyline from the beginning of this season. For the show’s status being what it is, with this in all likelihood being the final season, the amber-verse storyline just hasn’t paid off nearly enough for all the time that has been spent setting it up. It just feels like we have a limited time left in this world & I just want toย  spend as much of it as possible with the characters we’ve grown to care about the most, that being the blue-verse & red-verse versions of these people.

For all we know, the payoff is still to come & the promo for this week’s intended fall finale does look incredible, but if this is the end, I desperately hope this thing goes out with a bang & not a whimper. It’s a great story that deserves a great ending.

Still catching up? Here’s my top five standalone Fringe episodes:

Note: This post contains spoilers for aired episodes.

Honorable Mention: Northwest Passage
This episode didn’t work for everyone because it lacked the defining “team” dynamic that’s at the heart of Fringe, but I really liked it. It’s a moody Twin Peaks-esque episode that features an appealing guest spot by Martha Plimpton & just enough mythology tie-in, in the form of our old friend Thomas Jerome Newton, to keep things interesting.

5) One Night in October
An extremely clever exercise in how to execute a cross-universe adventure, this story also crystalizes the main idea of the multi-verse premise of the series: that little changes, the smallest of differences, can change who you are drastically. John McClennan from the red-verse is a serial killer who steals people’s happiest memories, while John McClennan of the blue-verse has the same impulses but learned to control them after he met a woman named Marjorie, one night in October. Fauxlivia’s mom is still alive, so she didn’t have to live with an abusive stepfather who she was eventually forced to kill, so she’s more carefree, more happy, than our Olivia. And Fringe once again proves to be the gold standard when it comes to actors acting against themselves. (Whatever, Ringer.)

4) Marionette
This is cheating a bit because if you go back & look, I actually included “Marionette” on my mythology episode list. But in actuality, it’s more of a standalone dealing with the emotional fallout of all the mythology episodes preceding it. This is a particularly good example of something Fringe does extremely well, which is tie the themes of a standalone story in with what’s happening with its main characters. Olivia’s “She’s taken everything” speech to Peter at the end is heartbreaking & you feel awful for both of them at the same time & it’s just devastating.

3) And Those We Left Behind
Besides that both deal with time travel, this episode shares a common theme with my top pick, “White Tulip”: the lengths people will go to to be with the ones they love. It’s that theme that also makes Peter’s dilemma in season 4 so tragic. (I would argue Peter’s realization of not belonging to the world he’s found himself in reflects our feelings that the amber-verse is not quite the show we’ve all loved for three years.) There are lovely guest spots from real life husband & wife, Stephen Root & Romy Rosemont, and a very cool execution of Lost-esque plays with time. Like many of Fringe’s best standalones, the strength of the episode lies in its ability to build very complex, textured one-off characters whose stories we become invested in very quickly.

2) The Plateau
From a pure narrative standpoint, this is one of the most riveting stories the show has ever told. Michael Eklund makes a brilliant guest spot as the one-off “monster-of-the-week,” Milo comes off, like many Fringe antagonists, largely sympathetic, even as he is killing innocent people. I also love the clever mytharc tie-in where the fact that Olivia, brainwashed into thinking she is Fauxlivia, isn’t from that universe that saves her life & allows her to capture Milo. Plus, it’s just fun watching all the Rube Goldberg scenarios Milo sets into motion using a pen (another fun red-verse detail).

1) White Tulip
This episode manages to tell a poignant and deeply romantic story using probably the most sci-fi device Fringe has ever touched (besides, you know, the whole alternate universe thing), time travel. Peter Weller’s terrific Alistair Peck’s tragic story mirrors Walter’s own overwhelming guilt over the grief-induced mistake he made all those years ago & their conversation is the highlight of the episode. Even more than usual for Fringe, which has feature-level cinematography, this episode is beautifully filmed & scored. I especially liked how there wasn’t sound in the scene when Alistair finally makes it back in time to his fiance & you realize (as is a theme with many Fringe “monsters” of the week), this man isn’t a monster at all. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone & he is, in fact, acting on the most human of instincts, to find where belongs. He know it’s not where is he now, in a world without his love. He’s just trying to right a wrong, to go with her when he should have. He even gives Walter the sign he so desperately needs, a tremendous act of kindness. “White Tulip” isn’t an alternate universe story, it doesn’t involve Observers or Cortexiphan or Massive Dynamic. In fact, it’s standalone story in the ultimate sense: by the end of it, it’s like it never happened at all, at least to our main characters. But it actually has everything to do with the emotional condition of our beloved characters & their relationships with each other at this point in the series, & that’s what makes it excellent.