As the Fox alternate-universe drama “Fringe” ends its five-season run at 8 p.m. today, let us pause to praise John Noble's textured performance as Walter Bishop — and his talented portrayals 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. 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. 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.
Actors playing multiple roles isn't new. Rarely, though, is a performer called upon to develop the same recurring character in two similar worlds.
“Fringe” was an unusual acting challenge for sure, largely because of its slow burn. The show has spent five seasons engineering crossovers to alternate universes, rebooting universes entirely and generally exploiting the entertainment potential of quantum theory to produce slight variations on characters who were subtly different based on the experiences their circumstances forced them to endure.
“Fringe” dug into the very unplugged notion that we all contain multitudes — that while our identities contain certain core components, the challenges and triumphs and tragedies we face can propel us in utterly different directions that sometimes even we don't recognize.