I like shows that split the difference between well-characterized, well-shaded genre TV and drama: Lost in parts, pieces of Buffy and Angel, and above all BSG. (It’s one of the reasons I have a hard time getting back into Trek– the relationships are pretty wooden.) And it’s really one of the things that I had really liked about Fringe. From the mid- to late first season until the end of the third season, Fringe has this great narrative arc (even if some of the episodes along the way are a little weaker, esp. the MOTW ones in season 2).
And while the narrative driving the story forward is great, the characters and drama in the story are pretty good, too. Like everyone says, Anna Torv is really phenomenal as Olivia and Fauxlivia, in a way that brings out nuances in both characters, and much could be said for John Noble (though Walternate is a bit of a caricature at times). It’s really one of the best alternate/mirror universes I’ve seen. The show isn’t _that_ great at drama, however– certain developments are just sketched or tacked in– Peter and Walter making some sense of their relationship after Peter finds out what’s been going on, for example; and there was something forced and quick about Peter and Olivia finally getting together after she returns from World-2.
But something goes missing in season 4, and I’m hard pressed to say what it is. The return of Peter feels strange and awkward, in part because it has to be resolved at some point– there isn’t any real question of him not returning, and there isn’t any question of the timeline not being restored in some way or another. There’s something stilted, dramatically, about the world without Peter: we’re supposed to think that Olivia and Walter would remain more or less distant without Peter (with some belated opening up in “Subject 9”), but the relationships in this alternate world seem geometrically derived rather than organic, airless and forced (like the weak, early parts of Season 1). (Peter’s response to the whole thing is very Peter-like, though.)
I wonder whether some of this is because the show, intentionally or not, deprives us of one of the pleasures of watching a show like this, which is the human pleasure you get from interacting with the same set of characters week after week. The human, or dramatic, elements of Fringe are what make it enjoyable, in the end; it’s not as intellectually satisfying as Trek (with time travel and time paradoxes, for example); though it’s more scientifically sophisticated at points than something like the X-Files, a lot of the “science” just ends up being jibberish-y. The show loses much of its attraction by (temporarily) scrapping this human dimension of the show.