With “Fringe’s” ratings leaving the show on the fringe of cancellation, Joshua Jackson says he’s confident the producers have a plan in place to satisfy the otherwise acclaimed sci-fi show’s faithful core audience if a forced finale comes this season.
Jackson, who plays timeline-lost Peter Bishop on Fox’s critically hailed cult favorite, tells PopcornBiz that as the more obtuse and enigmatic elements of “Fringe’s” ambitious but occasionally impenetrable Season Four are finally coming to light and putting higher stakes storylines into play. And while he’s hoping for more “Fringe” in the future, Jackson says he’s got every reason to believe that if low ratings bring the series to a close – as Fox executives have suggested in reluctant terms – the creative team will be able to execute the endgame they’ve always had in mind.
Season by season, “Fringe” has just got more ambitious, taken bigger risks, and they always do pay off within the context of the show. But ratings don’t always equal the creative successes. Are you guys at a point where maybe you’re starting to think about the ending of the show, so we can all have the satisfaction of getting there, before the ratings make us say goodbye?
The truth of the matter is, we already had that conversation last year. I think sort of we peaked ratings-wise, in Season Two – it was our most solid year. And I actually think creatively that was our most consistently solid year. But it wasn’t our most ambitious year – I would say Season Three was an extremely ambitious year, and a lot of people tuned out last year. So we were prepared that last year might’ve been the end. I’m not involved in those conversations, frankly, but I think [the producers] are prepared for it, if that was going to be the case, how they would implement that ending. And they’ve always said – and I believe them – that there is an ending to the show. I’m guessing you heard what [Fox programming president] Kevin Reilly said, and I don’t think you can be any more honest and upfront and still be a network executive. So if this is going to be the end of the show, if we are not making the money or they’re losing money on us, I just want to believe him when he says that he will give our guys enough time to implement whatever the end game is. Because as much as I don’t want to lose my job, at this point the thing that we have to do as a show, and as a network supporting the show, is satisfy the people who have so passionately stuck with us, and been so rabidly and passionately involved in our show. We cannot just go out in blink. It has to finish, whether it’s now, whether it’s next year, whether it’s five years from now, it just has to get to its end.
What can you say at this point about where the current season is heading?
This is the first time on ‘Fringe’ – and I’ve said this before tonight – where we’re this deep into the season and I have absolutely no clue where we’re going. Because there was sort of a natural place that the show had to go last year to satisfy the story that had been introduced. But there’s no necessary ending to the story we’ve introduced this year – It could go a bunch of different ways. So I have no clue.
Do you feel that in a way, even though you were absent in much of the beginning of the season, that this is gradually turning out to be Peter’s season?
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Not really. I feel like the function of the Peter character, beyond who he as a man, is to reflect the other characters back – and this is a constantly changing thing, so this is my opinion today! – but it seems to be, getting two-thirds of the way into Season Four now, that what this season and last season really are, and I think ultimately what this show is about now, is a woman finding herself. I feel like this show is about Olivia Dunham coming to know herself. In Season One and Two I really thought it was about the family, right? This Bizarro family. But as we’ve gotten out of the family dynamic and definitely more into the romantic dynamic between Peter and Olivia…Last year the entire season was about us, as an audience, coming to understand what Olivia was, by seeing what she wasn’t – that whole Olivia/Bolivia dynamic. And this year I think, as an audience but also for her character, it’s her coming to know herself, in the grand sense, who the real Olivia Dunham is. So I think that that’s what this season and ultimately the whole show is about. So every prediction I’ve ever made on this show is wrong, so we’ll see.
How do you envision Peter now, overall?
Peter has been kind of a boy hero right from the very beginning. Peter is the one that gets brought into the world from the pilot on, but as that character, he’s the boy hero. He’s the thing that makes the machine go, but he’s not the central story of the show.
He’s like a living MacGuffin, in a way.
And we talk about that all the time. He was definitely the MacGuffin for the first two seasons. And then the last half of last season he was the MacGuffin as the battery of the machine, so definitely we’ve used him as that. But in his dynamics with other characters, what he seems to have always served, is in the ‘Fringe’ world that we’ve created, we don’t need to get to know Peter’s story, because it’s NOT Peter’s story. We need to get to know how people relate to Peter, and it sort of shows them back to themselves. In the beginning it was just Peter with Walter, right? We would never have been able to know Walter if he didn’t have Peter there to allow him that view inside. And I think that’s a lot of what Peter serves with the Olivia relationship as well: you get to see the human side of her, because of her relationship with Peter.
Peter’s developed a dramatically different dynamic with his real father, Walternate, in the alternate timeline.
Totally, and what’s interesting is Peter is carrying the baggage. You know, in every other relationship, Peter has been shifting his dynamic as he comes to understand that these are not his people. But Peter is clearly carrying the baggage of not trusting Walternate at all. So even though we’ve been criticized – and legitimately I think – this year for some of the things that haven’t worked and it’s been a bit of a bumpier season this season, one of the really cool things that has come out of this new timeline is that we have, you can redo all of the dynamics between the characters. And I think that’s actually a great opportunity for the show. It forces Peter to be honest with himself, that these are all new dynamics, and it opens up the possibility for the relationship thought he was getting at the end of Season Two.
You’ve also gotten to explore the relationship Peter has with his real mother, after his alternate world mother took her own life.
I just feel like in a different version of this show, where Peter’s emotional storyline was more central to what ‘Fringe’ was, it’s such a crucial and kind of underexplored relationship: the guilt that this guy feels over his mother – who in his timeline committed suicide – pretty directly links to the fact that he ran away from home. To have this woman present in his life again, that would be a watershed moment. And we’ve explored the father-son bond, but that motherly bond, that sort of love that can maybe…cross a universe, say. Or cross a timeline, say. To have her be the first person to actually see him, I think is a really big deal for him.
The Observer’s put it into Olivia’s head – the Olivia of the current timeline – that she may be facing an imminent and unavoidable death. How is Peter going to react when he hears this news?
I think if any Olivia Dunham – potentially even any ‘Bolivia’ Dunham – was in real jeopardy, Peter would be there for her. I don’t know that one precludes the other, and if you really listen to what the Observer says, it’s incredibly ambiguous.
You’ve written a storyline for a “Fringe” comic book – What was the fun for you in doing that?
I did, it’s already published online. I think the actual physical comic book comes out in March, I believe. Creatively, it’s fun to just be able to tell a story, that’s what I like doing as an actor. But because the Peter character, as I understand him now in Season Four, is mostly a device that reflects the other characters back to themselves, I feel like there’s so much interesting stuff that we’ve introduced about Peter that we’ve never really explored. We never really get inside Peter’s emotional life. He’s the guy that other people talk to, but he doesn’t have a buddy to be like, ‘Oh dude, I’m so screwed up because I just went through da-da-da...’ So, that being the case, the comic book was a chance for me to sort of write the big Peter story that I would want to write.
"Fringe" airs Friday nights at 9 PM ET on Fox