You know a genre TV show has made its mark on the pop culture consciousness when fans are rewarded with a reference book. In that case, Fringe fans, welcome to the big time. Fringe: September’s Notebook is a definitive resource and guide to the world of the cult series, which just ended its run in January. Far from being a quick cash-in, however, September’s Notebook looks and feels like a labor of love, and fans of the series will eat it up like Walter Bishop slurping a milkshake.
September’s Notebook is billed as an “in-world” guide to the series, and so it is. It is not a behind-the-scenes tell-all, or an episode guide; you get a brief list of episodes in the back, that’s it. You’ll hear no insights from the cast or crew. But the book is not an encyclopedia, either (it comes from the authors of The Lost Encyclopedia, Tara Bennett and Paul Terry). Instead, the Notebook seizes upon the series’ core conceit of the Observers, the sartorially dapper mystery men who exist outside of space and time. We know that September, the Observer played ably by Michael Cerveris, took exhaustive notes on the show’s settings, characters, and incidents, and now that material is decoded for our reading pleasure. Essentially, it is the entire backstory and history of the show, told from September’s point of view.
The early pages tie together the series’ pre-history of the Bishops, Massive Dynamic, cortexiphan subjects, etc., and then moves into September’s biographies and impressions of the Fringe team, which speak well for his attention to detail. We then delve into a rich and generous account of the series’ evolving mythology, divided into three sections: blue for our universe, red for the parallel universe of (B)Olivia and Walternate, and amber for the “mended” Peter-less world of season 4. It’s a canny method of keeping the series’ sprawling, convoluted timelines straight, but be prepared to do a lot of flipping back and forth between sections, especially during instances when the universes interact.
September’s notes are clear and concise, even though, by virtue of who the note-taker is, they tend towards the prosaic side. However, September has also added little annotations to his studies that subtly tell his own story. As the Observer with the most ties to humanity, September gradually gained more and more human qualities as the show progressed, and the Notebook has those sensibilities bleeding into his thoughts and opinions, slowly, over time. His clinical records on our heroes’ personal lives also further underline my belief that the notion of the Observers is profoundly creepy.
But the book, despite its emotionless narrator, is not at all a dry slog; it functions as a veritable Fringe museum. September’s interest in humanity means that he was keen on collecting “found items,” and so the Notebook is so stuffed with paraphernalia that it resembles a bursting-at-the-seams scrapbook. The Notebook is littered not just with photographs (there are hundreds of stills and HD screen captures), but also portraits, facsimiles of badges and ID cards, memos, crime scene evidence, sketches, schematics, posters, diagrams, gatefolds, “classified” FBI enveloped containing more goodies, etc. Let’s say you’re interested in a copy of Peter’s eulogy for Olivia, written in Peter’s own hand, from episode 4x22. It’s in here. Or how about an all-business FBI document about shape-shifters? Yup. How about a full list of Walter’s food obsessions? Yup. Also included is the official key to decoding those glyphs that the series loved to throw at viewers.
But the centerpiece of the book is the three color-coded file folders labeled as “declassified Fringe events,” which recount the individual cases that each universe worked on, summarized with official FBI documents that are delightful in their dryness (one can only imagine how an agent sits at a typewriter and arrives at the sentence “Agent Loeb returned from Frankfurt with a partially-organic, genetically-engineered parasite wrapped around his heart”). These case folders are also supported with photos and mementos, and some of the case summarizes are actually pasted onto the book pages, which nicely conveys the idea that each folder is a document constantly being appended and revised. There are also plenty of glyphs to review.
The show’s final season had our heroes under no FBI protection and separated from September, and so the final section of the book is more about life in the year 2036, September’s plan, Walter’s disappearance, and a full history of the Observers (as finally revealed in episode 5x11). The book ends, one can believe, shortly before Walter’s final appearance at September’s door, which makes sense since the book’s general conceit does not lend itself to summarizing the final episodes. But be warned, if you’re looking for more information on what that ending meant, look elsewhere.
For everyone else, September’s Notebook is a wonderful, bittersweet trip down Fringe memory lane. It makes a worthy companion to the series, and presents itself as the show’s final statement rather elegantly. It set me in mind to watch the entire series again, this time with September’s notebook in hand. And some red vines, of course.