|Fringe, courtesy Fox|
If you're new to Fringe, the first thing you need to know for the fifth and final season is that Walter is awesome.
Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) is the genius who has both caused the world to end and also saved it many times over. It's questionable whether you will need to know the intricacies of the Alternate Universe for this last season, though. He's also just a little bit crazy, but in an adorable way. Walter had his friend, William Bell, remove part of his brain to keep him from continuing his questionable research into, well, everything. He spent many years in a mental institution before Fringe Division had him released to help with their investigations.
Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) is Walter's son. Sort of. He's actually the son of the Alternate Universe Walter, affectionately dubbed Walternate. Walter's son died in our universe and he stole Peter from the Alternate Universe to cure him. He did intend to give him back, though. Only his little trip unbalanced both Universes. Those consequences took up most of season three and four. Peter ultimately chose to side with "our" Universe in the conflict over which one would survive due to his relationship with Olivia.
Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is an FBI agent in Fringe Division. She is responsible for bringing Peter and Walter back together to investigate the weird goings on called Fringe Events. These are events that can't be explained by normal means, or should be impossible. Most of these events have some direct connection to the research or technology of Walter and William Bell. Olivia was also a subject in their research as a child. She was involved in the Cortexiphan study and has the unique ability of being able to travel between Universes without aid as well as a few other abilities.
Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) is adorable. She is also an FBI agent. She is very good with math and tech stuff and has the unenviable job of assisting Walter with his experiments. Walter also continually gets her name wrong. It's their thing.
William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) was Walter's research partner and friend. He went on to found Massive Dynamic, a huge corporation with a finger in every pie from medical research to tech.
Bell has been both a friend and an enemy in Fringe's history, so it is unclear where he stands today. We are left with the distinct impression from Walter that he is not necessarily a friend any longer. Most clearly shown when Walter cuts off his hand, leaving the rest of him in Amber.
Henrietta Bishop was introduced in the final episode of last season. She is a Fringe Division Agent in the year 2036. In this time, Fringe Division works for the Observers and their new government. However, we learn that she is involved in the resistance movement and is searching for Walter Bishop. It is believed that Walter and other members of Fringe Division were encased in Amber fighting the Observers. The resistance is looking for them with the belief that they can free them from the Amber to continue the fight against the Observers. She does in fact locate Walter, Peter, Astrid, and William Bell. With the help of her Fringe Division superior, Simon Foster, she succeeds in freeing everyone except William Bell. Unfortunately, Simon was encased in Amber in the attempt. As you might suspect by the name, we learn that she is Peter and Olivia's daughter who was lost during the Observer invasion. Why they would saddle a little girl with a name like Henrietta has not been explained. Thankfully, they call her Etta.
September (Michael Cerveris) is an Observer who opposes the plans his people have for our world. He has repeatedly helped the Fringe Team in his own cryptic way. He was severely injured last season and it is unclear whether or not he is actually dead. But, since Observers can move through Time, dying may not stop him from helping them once again.
The Observers are strange characters. For much of Fringe's history we are unaware just who or what they are. All we know is that they are seen “observing” key moments in history time and time again. They are also frequently seen at the site of Fringe Events. Hence the name Observers. It turns out that Walter and Peter were saved by an Observer (September) when Walter first took Peter from the Alternate Universe. It turns out that they are actually just us. Our future selves in all of our environment destroying and technological glory. The world is apparently unlivable in their time, so they have come back in time to take ours.
Also for you newcomers, you will notice a graphic, or glyph, flashed on the screen each commercial break. These glyphs spell out a message.
Fringe has basically been rebooted again this season, and airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET, so don't feel intimidated by not knowing what's going on. None of us do. There are a bunch of new characters and it's even in a completely new time, the year 2036. So jump in there!