Science fiction has dealt with time travel and it’s implications for decades. It was popularized in television shows like Star Trek, and Doctor Who in the 1960’s.
The most recent sci-fi show that delves into the science and technology involved in time travel is Fringe.
Fringe is a show that deals with the realistic and terrifying truths about the world, and the experiments that took place in the 1960’s. Through out the cold war, ethics weren’t viewed in the same way and experiments went on morphing, destroying, and altering the human mind and body in a way that the human race had never seen or experienced before. Fringe delves into this idea of what would the world be like if these experiments had never ceased. What would happen if the scientists still continued their work and managed to mutate the human genes to become monstrous or even give them abilities that have never been seen before? Through multiple different elements, the Fringe team – Olivia Dunham, FBI agent, Peter Bishop, Walter Bishop, scientist who performed multiple experiments on children and people and is familiar with most forms of technology and experiments performed during the cold war, Astrid, FBI agent and assistant to Walter, and Broyles, the teams boss – explores these anomalies and place scientific explanation and solutions to the problems they face. But it’s not just these theories and ideas that Fringe explores. The show also deals with the heavier dilemmas of sci-fi.
The exploration into time travel and alternate dimensions influence many of the events that take place. The exploration and conceptualization of an alternate universe has caused a lot of rather strange events to take place that lead to a dystopian world. While time travel is dealt with in the earlier seasons, it’s not quite as big of an impact as it is in the final episodes of the series. Instead, in the beginning, the biggest dilemma was Walter crossing over to an alternate universe in order to save his son Peter, and the repercussions of this action. When time travel is first introduced it’s through the technology that has come from the Observers, who seem to move flawlessly and effortlessly through time and space. At first, no one knows who they are but they seem to randomly appear during the biggest events in Earth’s history. They are later revealed as the evolution of mankind. With time travel being explored in the final episodes, the Fringe team realizes the only way they can save the world from this “alien” take over is if they steal technology from the future and bring it back to 2036, so they can send a child observer named Michael and another human to the year 2176 when the Observers are first created.
The Observers are essentially the evolution of the human race who are devoid of emotion and run purely on logic. With the tech in their brains they are able to understand time lines and the way people think. They can also read minds and travel anywhere they want in time. Needless to say, they do not experience time or events in the same way humans do. So naturally, this concept of time travel is really quite amazing.
Time travel is seen as a positive and a negative. J.J. Abrams harnesses the possibility of what technology would exist in the next 20+ years based on theories and advances that are relevant now. Through this, the writers used everything they knew about time travel, which naturally provided some holes in the story and several questions to arise. But why wouldn’t it? Yes it makes sense for a series to wrap up without questions, but if our understanding and conception of time travel isn’t fully developed and therefore impossible to really truly grasp in reality, then why wouldn’t there be flaws? If we are unable to fully comprehend the reality of what time travel would do, and what is possible with time travel without the hundreds of theories that have been presented through other forms of sci-fi literature, then how can we guarantee and offer a happy ending with all loose ends tied up, when we can’t know for certain that everything we believe to be possible is actually possible?
These are several things that I believe the writers thought of when they wrote about time travel in the final episodes. It was difficult to determine whether or not time travel would be mastered in the future if the Observers were created in a different way – like the child, Michael, as opposed to the adults that took over the world. It is difficult to determine that Walter would have access to that kind of technology and be able to do anything about it, since he travelled with Michael to the future. It is difficult to guarantee whether or not Walter would have been wiped completely from time or when the Observers first invaded. So while the writer’s deal with these theories, there are still several things that through modern technology and science that wouldn’t be explainable. The writers seemed to try to ground as much of their reasoning in logic, science, and technology in a “what if?” scenario to give the viewers the most realistic explanation available for the ending of the story.
This is much more than most other sci-fi shows explore. Some take the theory of time travel and play around with it so much it almost loses logic. Some try their best to ground it in reality but take away the true concepts of time travel by making it almost impossible to manage and develop the technology for. Some merely use the theories available to us through years of sci-fi exploration and assume that re-using these ideas is enough. None of them seem to explore the more realistic and questioning logic that Fringe delves into.