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I'm interested in getting into Fringe, but there seems to be a pretty universal consensus that it only starts getting good in season 2. How much of season 1 do I need to watch if I want the later seasons to make sense?

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    What makes you think it's going to ever make sense? ;) – Mark Beadles May 7 '12 at 20:12
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    personally, I'd say you don't want to miss a minute of any episode containing Walter Bishop. Plus there are plenty references in Seasons 3 and 4 especially, to events and episodes in Season 1 to make it worth your while. – Stu Wilson May 7 '12 at 20:38
  • @MarkBeadles It's already been announced that the next season, Season 5, will be the final one. Apparently the writers have found a way to tie it up. And as hinted at in my answer, I'm getting more and more sure that they have. – Izkata May 8 '12 at 1:27
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    @lzkata I've heard that "writers found a way to tie it all up" story with Lost. Guess how that worked out... :) – StasM May 8 '12 at 3:43
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    I finished watching Season 1 just last week. I would say suffer through it. You will appreciate season 2 better. – HNL May 9 '12 at 8:58
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Honestly, very little of Season One is needed if you go into Season Two with the following assumptions:

  • The existence of the Fringe Division of the FBI is accepted by the FBI, and
  • Peter and Olivia have completely valid reasons to believe Walter can basically do whatever he says he can do.
  • No, you're not crazy, those bald guys are super creepy.

Season One was very much a "monster of the week" season. Much of the early episodes were spent building up Walter's credibility, and integrating Peter back into his life after many, many years of no communication. There is one major season-wide arc that I'm not sure ever got really resolved, though recent episodes are hinting that it is "coming back up".

The second half of season one starts to introduce the primary premise of the rest of the show, particularly starting with "Bad Dreams" (s01E17). If you start there, with the descriptions of Olivia's and Walter's "origin stories" that are hinted at over the last few episodes, you should be fine. The season finale, in particular, sets up basically all of the key plot elements that we discover over Season Two

Having said that, there are a lot of minor plot points in Season One that get called back to later on, especially in this most recent season. And while I do agree that the show got better as that season progressed, even the earliest episodes were pretty good, and I would recommend you watch them anyway. If nothing else, you can occupy yourself with how many different ways Walter can mis-pronounce "Astrid".

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Season 1 is, as Michael Edenfield said, very much Monster-Of-The-Week, and not highly important to seasons 2 and 3.

However, at the end of Season 3/beginning of Season 4, a major shift happens, and knowing Season 1 will greatly help your comprehension. Without trying to spoil too much:

  • David Robert Jones (and his plan)
  • Cortexiphan (And everyone involved)
  • Usage of the ZFT
  • How the Observers were introduced
  • The Pattern (The cause and reasons for it now seem apparent in late season 4)
  • September's actions

Basically, almost all of the Monster-Of-The-Week episodes in Season 1 have been tied together into a cohesive whole. Only about 5 of the 20 episodes in Season 1, I can't immediately tie into the overarching storyline. And at this point, I'm sure I could if I re-watched those episodes.

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    And before anyone complains, no, I'm not saying that Season 1 is required, but I am saying you'll almost certainly enjoy Season 4 more after having seen Season 1. – Izkata May 8 '12 at 1:03
  • Thanks! That's good to know. It sounds like you're saying Fringe is more Babylon 5 (even if the early episodes are lower-quality, there's payoff for watching them) than Blackadder (no need to bother as they'll never come up again anyway). – Micah May 8 '12 at 1:47
  • @Micah Thinking about the comparison to Babylon 5 is actually what made me clarify with the comment. I think it's pretty apt, but it's difficult to explain why some people will disagree without spoiling the later plot. I haven't seen Blackadder, though. – Izkata May 8 '12 at 2:00
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This question was answered on io9. The suggested episodes are:

  • S1E01 "Pilot"
    (Introduction to the series)
  • S1E04 "The Arrival"
    (Introduction to the Observers)
  • S1E10 "Safe"
    (Introduction to David Robert Jones)
  • S1E14 "Ability"
    (First hint that there's more to Olivia than meets the eye)
  • S1E17 "Bad Dreams"
    (A bit of background of Olivia explained)
  • S1E19 "The Road Not Taken"
    (First glimpse at alternate universes)
  • S1E20 "There's More Than One of Everything"
    (Season's finale, first look at William Bell)

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