Noble’s performances, though, have been the show’s tour de force. He has played Dr. Walter Bishop as an addled old man, a misguided genius, a ruthless technocrat and a combination of all three — plus a younger version of himselves. What’s more, he played ‘‘Walternate,’’ the alternate-universe defense secretary whose motives are shadowy but whose methods are downright cruel. Some of the show’s most electric moments unfolded when Noble shared screen time with himself — not because of the differences in the characters but because of their similarities even under very different circumstances.
And that’s the point, really.
Science fiction though it is, ‘‘Fringe’’ has always been about universal themes: family, responsibility to community and, in the end, how our experiences shape our identities. Because even in our own universe, aren’t we all different people — each of us, every day, calibrating our identities slightly to fit an ever more complex web of moments and interactions? That’s what ‘‘Fringe’’ did. It examined how to be a father when you’re also a scientist, how to be human when you’re also very alien, how to be a parent when you’re also a child. Just like us, though we don’t have doppelgangers in alternate universes to compare ourselves to.
‘‘Fringe’’ dug into the very unplugged notion that we all contain multitudes — that while our identities contain certain core components, the challenges and triumphs and tragedies we face can propel us in utterly different directions that sometimes even we don’t recognize.
‘‘Must be nice to know who you are, to know your place in the world,’’ Peter Bishop says in one episode. But in ‘‘Fringe,’’ no one was ever really certain. And the show concludes with that powerful message: There but for the grace of God go I. And I and I and I and I.
Ted Anthony writes about American culture for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyted