"Fringe" has always been something of an outlier when it came to network television, but what the show is doing in its fifth and final season has to be considered its most daring experiment yet. It's also in a way made the show ratings-proof; it's not going to be canceled if it gets bad ratings and its not going to be extended -- or even emulated -- if it gets good ratings.
When "Fringe" premiered four years ago, it made an immediate splash, but settled into a routine of being a sci-if procedural with a connected-but-loosely-addressed backstory. Ever since, the show has made a habit of reinventing itself annually, but never so drastically as it has in Season 5. "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" is a continuation of Season 4's "Letters of Transit", which jumped ahead to the year 2036 and a world ruled by The Observers.
Based on what we saw in this first episode, filling in the gap between the end of Season 4 and the world of 2036 isn't going to be a priority, nor should it be. The show knows its no longer a traditional show that needs to bring in new viewers or have "jumping on points". Season Five is for the longtime viewers of the show, the ones who can fully accept that the events of the first four seasons, in some way, led to this reality. The goal of our heroes isn't to "go back" and fix things; it's to make things better from here on out.
Unlike "Letters of Transit", this episode features large doses of the characters who dominated the show for the first for seasons. The episode answered the Olivia question early, getting her right back in the mix with Peter, Astrid and Walter. Once again, John Noble absolutely shines. It's a crime he hasn't won an Emmy for this series, and if this episode is any indication, he'll deserve one again for this season. Noble plays Walter with so many nuances that even without the Walter/Walternate dynamic it can still feel at times like he's playing different characters.
The Walter we see for much of this episode isn't the same Walter we saw, for example, in Season 3. He's hardened, more vicious, more direct, at least until his run-in with Widemark, the main Observer authority of 2036. After that scene, he's much more like the Walter of years gone by, with an added hint of sadness and frustration. Noble's nuance makes these shifts work, and really overshadow a solid job by the entire cast. Joshua Jackson in particular does a great job mixing just the right amount of confusion at this new world with confidence that he can set things right. His reunion with Olivia was probably the one down note of the show, not packing nearly the emotional punch I thought it would.
Georgina Haig holds her own as Etta, the now-grown daughter of Peter and Olivia. Her reunion with her mother was understated and powerful, and an example how how good this show can be whether you're a sci-fi fan or not.
Fringe's final season has 12 episodes left, and if this episode is any indication, it's going to be a treat for the fans who've been watching the show and engrossing themselves in its mysteries since Day 1.