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Across the Universe: Will 'Fringe' finish on a high note?

6/11/2014 Don Gerard Kaye

By Don Kaye
Special to MSN TV

"Fringe" will finish its five-year network television run this Friday (Jan. 18) with the back-to-back airing of the last two episodes of the fifth season, which will serve as the series finale. It's a wonder that "Fringe" even got this far (100 episodes), considering that it consistently had ratings that would have killed a lesser program. But FOX, to its credit, believed in the show and its fans, and that relatively small but loyal contingent played a huge role in getting the show this far.

Bing: More on 'Fringe' | More on sci-fi TV finales

But now that the end is near, the question is whether "Fringe" can wrap up its twisty story line, with all its parallel universes, time travel, doppelgangers, shapeshifters and other entities, in a finale that is satisfying to fans and a worthy send-off for the show. The challenge is daunting, and as we prepare to close the portal to the "Fringe" universe forever, let's look at a few sci-fi series (the ones we remember, anyway) that either ended on a high note or fizzled like a wet firecracker.

Video: Joshua Jackson talks about 'Fringe' series finale

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" (ended 1994):
We're going to start with three of the four modern-day "Trek" shows, since they were probably the first sci-fi shows to actually get to have series finales (the ending of the fourth, "Enterprise," was so bad that it's not worth discussing). "ST: TNG" went out with the excellent "All Good Things ...," in which Q hurtles Capt. Picard into the distant past and the near future to stop the destruction of humankind. It's all a test, of course, which Picard passes, but not before taking us on an emotional and visual rollercoaster that ends with Jean-Luc making one final, beautiful realization.

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (ended 1999): Many consider "DS9" as the finest "Trek" series ever, and it was certainly the boldest, showing a darker corner of the "Trek" universe and being the first to employ stories that spanned one or more seasons. The war between the Federation and the Dominion dominated the last few seasons of the show, reaching its -- and the series' -- climax with "What You Leave Behind." As with the "TNG" finale, this one reached back to the show's beginnings and ended with a moving destiny for Cmdr. Sisko.

"Star Trek: Voyager" (ended 2001):
For seven seasons the USS Voyager made the long trip home from the Delta quadrant, and in the finale, "Endgame," it's established that it took the crew 23 years -- better than the 75 originally estimated. But that's not good enough for an aged Capt. Janeway, who wants to go back in time and shave another 16 years off the trip. "Voyager" was a mixed bag of a show, and the muddled finale summed up its strengths and weaknesses -- personified by Kate Mulgrew's Janeway, often as exasperating as she was courageous.

"The X-Files" (ended 2002): After nine seasons, "The Truth" was finally revealed in the series finale bearing that title -- and ended up being pretty much the same story we had been gradually given over the past nine years. A long exposition dump disguised as a courtroom trial for Agent Mulder (David Duchovny making a curtain call), "The Truth" really just explained everything we had already known and left the door open for future adventures on the big screen -- which, alas, only resulted in 2008's dismal "The X-Files: I Want to Believe."

"Lost" (ended 2010):
In "The End," all the questions posed in the six seasons of this convoluted and often mind-bending show were answered -- or were they? The fact is, a lot was left unexplained at the end of the show, annoying fans who had been promised answers about the island, the Others, the Dharma Initiative and much more for years. And the final sequence itself -- everyone in the church/limbo, ready to move on and sing kumbaya in the afterlife -- well, the less said about that, the better. Let's face it: The "Lost" crew didn't know how to end the story.

"Smallville" (ended 2011): Running for 10 seasons (the longest-running sci-fi series in North America to date), "Smallville" could end only one way: with Clark (Tom Welling) fully embracing his destiny and becoming Superman. And that's exactly what happened, but not before a tumultuous struggle with Darkseid and the return of Lex Luthor further tested our hero. Still, Clark came through, and the final scenes were a worthy payoff after a decade of "no tights, no flights."

"The Prisoner" (ended 1968):
One of the most baffling series ever aired, "The Prisoner" packed enough riddles into its brief 17-episode run to give the makers of "Lost" fits. Creator-star Patrick McGoohan didn't make it any easier in the finale, "Fallout," which found the imprisoned Number Six finally getting a chance to meet Number One. When we did meet the person in charge of the Village -- well, let's just say the revelation really monkeyed around with viewers' expectations. Did everything become clear? Not quite -- but "The Prisoner" was never about that in the first place.

"Battlestar Galactica" (ended 2009): Most of "Daybreak, Part 2," the second half of the two-part series finale of this beloved and often brilliant series, was pretty good, as the colonists finally find a place they can call "Earth" ... and it turns out to be our Earth, 150,000 years ago, with the surviving members of the fleet abandoning their technology and settling down to a simple life. Flash forward to the 21st century -- our 21st century -- and Baltar and Cylon Number Six are walking around a modern city unseen ... because they're angels? Not a bad finale, but that epilogue ... whew. And what the hell happened to Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff)?

"Babylon 5" (ended 1998):
One of the most intelligent and complex sci-fi series ever created for TV, "Babylon 5" even took a unique approach to its ending: Mastermind J. Michael Straczynski filmed the episode before shooting the rest of Season 5 in case the show wasn't renewed. As for that finish, it takes place 20 years after the end of the Shadow War; Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) is dying, and Babylon 5 is about to be decommissioned and destroyed. But Sheridan has one last mission to fulfill -- and begins a new phase of life.

"Quantum Leap" (ended 1993): Sam (Scott Bakula) makes a leap all the way back to the small mining town in which he was born and discovers that the people there are not what they seem. After struggling to figure out what it all means, Sam makes one last leap -- and is never seen again, while his friend Al is reunited with his wife and raises a family. A sweet ending to a jaunty series that people still remember fondly.

The series finale of "Fringe" airs Friday, Jan. 18, on FOX.

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