The Story So Far: The World According to Fringe

Welcome to my entire series summary of Fringe, for the new, the uninitiated, and those in need of a refresher. There’s a new episode tonight (that you should watch!), but it can be intimidating to jump into it this late in the game. This series summary will give you the story so far over the past four seasons – and, trust me, there’s a lot of ground to cover.  Grab a Walter-approved snack of your choice (pastries or fudgsicles will do nicely), sit back and immerse yourself in the crazy world of Fringe!


The FBI’s Fringe Division exists to track instances of The Pattern, aka Weird Science and Technology That Shouldn’t Be Running Amok But Is.  If you watch the opening credits, there are all sorts of words flying around like ‘teleportation’, ‘psychokinesis’, ‘nanotechnology’, ‘cybernetics’ and the like. There are also shapeshifters, let’s keep those in the back of our minds. It’s all very X-Files minus the aliens.  Fringe eventually abandons The Pattern when the Fringe Division realizes that The Pattern = instances of another universe breaking through (which we discover at the end of season 1) and the problems that arise because the proverbial ‘wall’ between the universes is breaking down, creating all sorts of havoc in space, time, and physical matter.  This leads to Over Here (the universe we currently inhabit) and Over There (which is similar but still very different in new and interesting ways). [Note: everyone we see Over Here has a counterpart Over There, whether they are living or dead. This is very important to grasp.]

Fringe cast, L-R: Astrid, Broyles, Walter Bishop, Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, Nina Sharp, Lincoln Lee

Over Here


Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick, of Lost fame): director of Fringe division. We see him on a provisional basis, to assign cases and step in when things get a little crazy or beyond general jurisdiction. He is much like X-Files’ AD Skinner.

Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv): assigned to work in the Fringe Division. Olivia is a very solid investigator, with good judgement and deductive abilities, excellent ass-kicking skills, and a very boring wardrobe. At the age of 3, she was a participant in a drug trial in Jacksonville, Florida for a brain-enhancing drug called Cortexiphan. ‘Cortexiphan kids’ from this share similar traits, including a desire to blend in (hence the dull wardrobe), but their residual psychic abilities often manifest in different ways.  These mental abilities will come out later in Olivia over the course of the show. This drug trial was run by Dr. William Bell and Dr. Walter Bishop…

Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble): Walter is your basic mad scientist.  He and Bell (or “Belly” as he calls him) were basically given free reign by Harvard in the 1970s to do all sorts of experiments involving the paranormal, psychic abilities, and many other areas of fringe science. Walter is utterly hilarious – he’s definitely a little unhinged, his dietary whims are notorious (he loves Red Vines, which is why I rate the episodes on a Red Vine scale), and his conversational skills are of the too-much-information variety. He was in a mental institution for a number of years before Olivia and the Fringe Division recruited him to make sense of The Pattern, since much of it was connected to his and Bell’s work. Olivia needed a family member to bust him out of the institution and promise to be his caregiver while he worked with the FBI, which brings us to…

Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson): Peter was very sick as a little boy, but Walter managed to find a cure (much more on this later). Peter’s mother, however, did not fare well during Peter’s childhood and eventually took her own life, leading to Peter and Walter’s estrangement, as Peter blamed Walter’s obsession with his work over his family as one cause of her death. When Olivia finds Peter, he’s engaged in some pretty shady black market technology and weapons trading, but manages to convince him to help the FBI out. Peter and Walter very slowly try to rebuild their relationship, welcoming Olivia into their weird little family. Peter and Olivia begin to fall for each other, making for some very nice romance!

Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole): Astrid assists the Fringe team as a junior agent, mostly helping Walter around the lab and in the field. Walter can never get her name right – he’s always calling her Astro, Asterisk, etc. The fans would always like to see Astrid have more to do, and while we’ve gotten little glimpses into her life, she is fairly underutilized.

Dr. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy): Bell left Harvard to found the multi-billion-dollar technology corporation known as Massive Dynamic. In Walter’s opinion, he sold out and is all very commercial now. With all of MD’s resources at his disposal and thousands of scientists available to conduct experiments, Bell and MD have gotten up to some shady stuff over the years. When season 1 begins, no one has actually seen Bell for some time. More on this later. Helping run MD while Bell is mysteriously away is…

Nina Sharp: She of the red hair and robotic arm (that Bell crafted for her), Nina is a shrewd businesswoman who keeps Massive Dynamic up and running. She’s got a fairly shady past and many ties with interesting individuals.  She takes quite an interest in Olivia and her abilities as they manifest over the course of the show.

The Observer(s): These bald, hat-and-trench-coat wearing gentlemen are always present at important events, and show up frequently around the Fringe Division, since the collision of the universes is a Big Deal. We just found out in the last ep of season 4 before the break that they are a team of scientists from humanity’s future that have achieved the ability to move throughout and outside of time, seeing history unfold and trying to make sense of human history.   One Observer in particular, September, made a mistake involving Walter and Peter years ago that changed the course of history. That mistake has led all the crazy that is happening right now.

David Robert Jones: a brilliant scientist put into prison for his unethical experiments at his former company, Massive Dynamic, Jones has figured out the secret of the two universes and wants to get back at Bell for firing him.  This revenge eventually spirals out of control, as he is the primary villain in season 4.

Auxiliary players
Agent Charlie Francis: Fringe division second-in-command, he is killed by a shapeshifter and replaced for unknown, nefarious purposes.  The Fringe team eventually discover this and kill his shifter replacement. Alive Over There but afflicted with gross disorder involving bugs. Don’t ask.

Agent Lincoln Lee: Fringe agent, cocky daredevil Over There, cautious and nerdy Over Here.

Over There

Fauxlivia (Olivia): also a Fringe agent, but never Cortexiphan-enhanced and never growing up in the abusive home that our Olivia did…she is much more relaxed and sarcastic, and wears color! She kicks more ass but is less awesome at the investigation aspect of things.

Walternate (Walter): cruel, calculating, still brilliant Secretary of State. He is headquartered on Liberty Island, where much of the action takes place.

Peter: there is no other Peter. See why below!

Agent Astrid Farnsworth: also known as Asperger’s Astrid (AA) she is nothing like her normal, Over Here self and is basically a human computer/Rain Man able to quantify vast amounts of data and predict various outcomes.  She is a valued member of the Fringe Division.

Colonel Broyles: head of Fringe Division on this side as well. Colonel Broyles dies, sacrificing himself to save others.

Captain Lincoln Lee: gets very badly burned in his first appearance, but we later see he is a very smart, capable agent (just like Over Here) but he’s much more confident.  He is also sweet on Fauxlivia, despite the fact that she has a live-in boyfriend.

Agent Charlie Francis: see above; pretty much the same except for alive and has gross bug disease!

Where: anchored in Boston, but cases occur all over the Eastern Seaboard

Color Symbolism: Over Here is typically represented by blue (the opening credits’ color will indicate what universe we are in) and Over There is red.  They also use this to great effect on the show, changing the colors of clothes, coffee cups, shelves, pretty much anything that falls into the color symbolism department.

September the Observer

Timeline and Story

Over Here, Peter was very sick as a boy, as I mentioned above. Walter tried and tried to find the cure but failed and Peter died. Using a ‘window’ he and Bell had developed, Walter turned it on one day to see if there was a Peter Over There to assuage his grief a bit.  He saw that Over There Peter was sick too, and his counterpart, who he amusingly calls Walternate, is also feverishly working on a cure.  Walternate almost has it!  But then, suddenly, an Observer (September) appears in the lab and distracts him (Observer mistake #1).  Walternate turns away from the experiment to ask just who the hell are you and why are you in my lab, and he misses seeing the liquid in front of him turn blue, indicating there is a match for Peter’s disease and thus, a cure. By the time he turns back, the blue color has gone away and the liquid appears unchanged, so he thinks he failed yet again. But our Walter sees that it worked.  So he concocts the cure in his lab and decides to cross Over There to give the cure to Peter, thinking that at least this Peter will live a full life. He takes another invention of his and Bell’s up to Reiden Lake, where he has a vacation house, and breaks down the barrier between the universes. Nina tries to stop him, saying he doesn’t know the consequences of this action, and as the portal closes, it slices off her arm. Walter arrives Over There, unharmed, but finds out that the vial of the cure he brought over is broken. Instead, he wakes the sleeping Peter and brings him back Over Here.  Once back, however, Peter and Walter fall through the ice on the frozen Reiden Lake. An Observer (September) pulls them out, saving both their lives (Observer mistake #2). Walter administers the cure in his lab and Peter recovers. However, Peter’s mother sees him and it is then that Walter realizes that he can’t bring Peter back Over There.  He just can’t lose him again.  Therefore, who we consider to be our Peter is really the only Peter, born Over There but raised Over Here. Olivia discovers Peter is not from Here when, in the season 1 finale, she visits Over There, as her Cortexiphan-enhanced brain allows William Bell, who has been ‘away’ in the Over There universe, to bring her over and show her what is really going on.

Walter saving Peter has permanently changed life in both universes, particularly for Over There.  Because Walter broke through on Reiden lake, he weakened the proverbial wall between the two universes, causing weird events over here but causing full-on black holes over there that can only be plugged with amber.  The Fringe Division Over There is a task force charged with keeping the public safe from these tears in the fabric of space, and Walternate is now the bitter Secretary of State.  Where our Walter is mostly harmless, Walternate is cold and calculating.  Both men realized that the universes are slowly colliding, and only one can survive, and Walternate is bent on it having be his universe. He kidnaps our Olivia and replaces her with Fauxlivia. Walternate wants to move between universes too, and decides to use the Cortexiphan floating around in Olivia’s brain to help him do it. He does lots of painful tests on her before implanting her with Fauxlivia’s memories and dropping her back onto the Fringe Divison (Colonel Broyles knows the truth). Meanwhile, Fauxlivia is prancing about Over Here, wooing Walter with pastries and tricking everyone, including Peter.  He (adorably) thinks their newly budding relationship has made Olivia a happier, more positive person, but that is not the case.  He has the sex with her, and she conceives a baby boy (which he also doesn’t find out about for ages), Henry.  Our Olivia figures out a way to bust out of her Walternate-imposed prison and manages to get a message to Peter when she briefly hops back Over Here via her Cortexiphan powers. She eventually returns for good and Fauxlivia goes back Over There, gives birth, and realizes that Walternate is an evil and bent on destroying the other universe to save their own.  Fauxlivia’s time spent Over Here has made her realize that the other side isn’t out to destroy them and they don’t know how to stop the universes tearing apart either. Fauxlivia is imprisoned on Liberty Island.

Here is where it gets pretty confusing (hopefully up til now, you are with me!), because the timelines start to be messed with.

At some point in the far future, a Machine of unknown origin and power has been devised (we are thinking by either one or both Walters). This Machine’s pieces were scattered throughout time and space.  There is one Over Here and one Over There. The Machine only responds to Peter. Both sides are looking for pieces, and they each assemble a Machine. When Peter climbs into The Machine Over Here to prevent this universe’s destruction at the hands of Walternate, his consciousness jumps forward in time (and we flash forward with him).  He and Olivia are married, but it’s a pretty grim world, full of black holes and many Fringe task forces trying to hold it all together. Walter is in jail for starting the whole thing. Over There is dead and gone, having been the universe that didn’t survive when they both collided – Peter’s presence in the machine allowed Over Here. Walternate, angry at all that has been taken from him, shoots and kills Olivia to hurt Peter. Peter is devastated, but Walter says that he can go back in time, go back into the machine, and make a different choice.  It’s a paradox – you can’t change what already happened, but you can make a new choice and create a different timeline.  Peter does exactly that, and creates a bridge between the two universes at Liberty Island rather than destroy Over There entirely.  Now he thinks they will have to work together. In last season’s finale, the bridge is created, but Peter’s presence goes unnoticed by everyone in the room.  He shouts but no one sees him.  He has been erased from the timeline by the Observers, who have realized that he never should have lived at all, instead having died in childhood in both universes.

Peter gets into The Machine while Olivia looks on

This season, season 4, shows us what life is like in a Peter-less world.  The credits are amber in color, and denote a shift in the Fringe world. Walter is a shut-in at the lab, having been at the mental institution much longer than in the original timeline. Peter died in childhood on both sides, meaning he was not kidnapped from Walternate and thus, Walternate is not bent on destroying Over Here. 3livia (as I called her, as she was the third incarnation of Olivia we’ve seen) ran away from the Cortexiphan trial, escaped her abusive home, and was raised by Nina. She’s kind of a sad person (having never known true love! Sigh!) 3livia is still in the Fringe division, but cases have gone differently or not occurred at all without Peter’s presence. Suddenly, this weird blue energy starts following Olivia around, and Walter starts hearing and seeing Peter in the lab (who he doesn’t recognized because his son died in childhood). With the help of Walter and another Cortexiphan kid, Peter very suddenly appears (naked!) in Reiden Lake, surfacing in this strange new timeline where no one remembers him.  He’s super sad, and wants to get back to his Olivia, his Walter, his life.  3livia starts acquiring new memories in his presence – memories of Peter’s original Olivia. David Robert Jones (bad guy #1) kidnaps her after he and Nina have been plotting and shooting her up with Cortexiphan, and she does some crazy awesome stuff with her mind. Peter triggers this psychic energy outburst and she starts losing almost all memories of her Peterless life. Meanwhile, Peter has been working very hard to try and return to the correct timeline (he even sought out Walternate’s help, who is not evil in this new Over There), but in last week’s episode the Observer appeared and told Peter that he was, in fact, in the right timeline all along. This was his Olivia, his Walter, etc. Their love for him pulled him back from oblivion…by all accounts, he should have been erased, but he lived. Where we go from here, Nina and DRJones’ purpose for the Cortexiphan enhancements to Olivia, why DRJones is trying to destroy the universes, and many other things are unknown at the moment. William Bell has not yet been seen, Olivia has not crossed between universes with her mind yet, and we don’t know the extent to which both sides must work together to stop Jones.

Click for a larger version of the Fringe Universes graph, made by yours truly! Download the graph here.

There we have it!  Yes, it’s long and complicated.  Fringe, in my opinion, is one of the most original, inventive shows I’ve seen on television, with many hidden clues and Easter eggs in each episode (for example, the images at the start of each commercial break are a code that spell a word each week; there is an Observer in every single episode whether you see him head-on or he’s in a background shot somewhere).  The show is at its best and strongest when it focuses on the mythology it has created, rather than a fringe science freak-of-the-week. Hopefully the last seven episodes of this season will be chock full of universe-ripping action and drama! And say a prayer that Fringe gets renewed for a fifth season!

**A very special welcome to Open the Fridge for all my Sistahs from my Henry Ian Cusick fan group!  Ian’s upcoming guest spot on the show will be introducing some very lovely ladies to Fringe, and I’m happy to catch everyone up. Cheers!

Written by: Amy Imhoff

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