The Wife:

I noted a couple of things right away about this week‘s episode of Fringe.


1. This was the most X-Files-y cold open yet. It was old school, too. Like a cold open from seasons two and three.
2. As soon as I heard that ill-fated kid listening to The Killers’ new single “Spaceman,” I knew that someone on the Fringe production team finally got some money. This theory was confirmed when, in the very next scene at Olivia’s house, she and her sister and niece are listening to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” really loudly FOR NO GOOD REASON AT ALL. I’m glad you guys have money for incidental music not composed by Michael “The Little Ice Cube” Giacchino, but let’s use it judiciously. A kid listening to The Killers in the background of his scene? Good. That makes sense, because the music is coming from his computer and he’s talking to his friend on the phone over it. That thing with “Single Ladies”? Bad. That’s not how we do incidental music on this show. This is not a show where you can just play a pop song over the scene because you want to.

Musical gripes aside, the cold open set me up for an episode that turned out to be very different in tone than I have previously experienced with Fringe. On the whole, it was a lot . . . lighter than anything else we’ve seen before. I said the cold open reminded me of The X-Files in seasons one and two, but the rest of the episode turned out to be more like a TXF episode from seasons four and five, when the show lightened up on the Syndicate conspiracy and started letting Glenn Morgan and James Wong write as many cool, fanciful MOTW episodes as they wanted. I really didn’t expect Fringe to produce something so very like those Morgan and Wong episodes, but they did. This episode didn’t feel like Fringe at all, but I enjoyed it. But I also don’t know if this sudden change in tone is necessarily a good thing.

In the cold open, a teenager suddenly becomes mesmerized by a series of hypnotic images that pop up on his computer screen. I made a lot of Chuck-related comments about the Intersect until the kid started tearing up uncontrollably and a hand reached out of his computer screen to, uh, melt his brain. It is generally bad when anything reaches out of your computer screen, by the way. Due to the brain liquefaction, Olivia gets called in to investigate and brings the computer’s hard drive back to the lab for Astrid to play with. Slowly, the show is making Astrid into an actual character with helpful skills, and I appreciate that. She’s a linguist with a minor in computer science. I really don’t know what gets hotter than that. As labrats Walter and Astrid work on finding out what happened to the hard drive of both the victim and his computer, another victim turns up at a car dealership. His brain and computer are destroyed in exactly the same way. Astrid is unable to work with the hard drives because they are so corrupted, but she does discover that both computers downloaded a very large file before blowing up.

I'm pretty sure I didn't go to college for this.

I'm pretty sure I didn't go to college for this.

In order to find out what that file is, Peter pays a visit to one of his old criminal friends, a gambler who owns a computer repair shop. For a couple of very rare, shiny gold coins, Peter buys the man’s help. Even he can’t figure out where the “virus” is coming from due to advanced source coding on the file, but he is able to figure out where it’s headed to next: Olivia’s apartment. Olivia is busy getting ultimatums from Harris about taking the case. He’s unhappy that she’s decided to work on something that he feels rightfully belongs to the CDC. Although she can prove that there’s no pathological component at either crime scene, Harris, like Skinner in the first three seasons of The X-Files, gives her twelve hours to solve the case before he takes it away from her. When Peter calls her to tell her that the virus is headed to her apartment, she immediately fears for Rachel and Ella’s safety. While Rachel cooks in the kitchen, Ella picks up a nearby laptop to play Paint-A-Pony, a game I wish I had at work. In the middle of her pony-painting extravaganza, Ella sees the same images we saw in the cold open, but luckily, Aunt Liv comes home before the evil computer hand of doom can stretch its way out of the screen and melt Ella’s brain.

It takes a few minutes for Ella to come out of her hypnotic trance, but a doctor’s visit reveals that she’s absolutely fine. She describes a “weird, scary, glowy hand” coming out of her computer screen, which her mother writes off as a result of making too many visits to Aunt Liv’s house. Has Olivia actually told her sister the kind of cases she works? I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do when you work on top secret stuff. I can’t even chalk this up to a predilection Olivia might have for the weird and the strange because, as far as we know, she doesn’t. I mean, she’s not Spooky Fox Mulder. She’s just a regular old FBI agent who used to be a lawyer and whose lover was involved in a massive global conspiracy to do weird and strange shit. And I assume that’s all stuff Rachel shouldn’t know.

Olivia thinks that whoever sent the virus was watching the recipients through the computer, a conclusion she draws by noticing that Ella’s computer camera was turned on, even though the little girl doesn’t know how to use it. (That’s hardly evidence. I’m sure Ella is extremely computer-literate, given that she was born after 2000. And, even assuming she doesn’t know how to use the camera function, there are umpteen ways she could have accidentally turned it on.) Peter is willing to buy the fact that someone is killing people with a computer virus, but he is baffled by why someone would do that. The answer to that question doesn’t really become clear until a third victim shows up in Evanston, IL. He turns out to be the stepfather of Luke Dempsey, whose best friend died in the cold open. Luke’s father and the first victim’s father once worked together, until Luke’s father got laid off. Based on this information, Olivia brings Luke in for questioning to get at his father. After telling Luke about his father’s potential crimes, Olivia lets the kid go, hoping that he will lead her right to his father. Being 19, he does.

So off Olivia goes to follow Luke to the warehouse, without any supervision or assistance. She arrives just as Luke is grilling his dad about killing people, and the murder admits that he’s merely trying to leave his mark on the world, in traditional mad scientist jargon. He’s intentionally hurting the loved ones of people who hurt him, although there’s still no word on how the car salesman fits into this at all. When his alarm is triggered, Dempsey sends his son to try to ward off Olivia, but she evades him easily, and then gets ambushed by Dempsey himself. He sent the virus to his own computer when he heard her come in, hoping to trick his would-be assailant into melting her own brain, but Olivia is wise enough to look away. Dempsey, however, holds a gun to his head after confronting Olivia and stares at his row of screens, eventually ending his life by pulling the trigger in a trance-like state.

A disapproving Harris is waiting outside when Peter, who rushed in at the sound of gunfire, and Olivia bring Luke out. Peter can’t understand why Luke would try to protect a murderer, but Olivia simply replies that Luke did it because the murderer in question was his father. This really hits home for Peter, who throughout this episode has been struggling with his urge to protect his father when Mary Beth Piel starts contacting him. Mary Beth plays the mother of the lab assistant, Carla Warren, who died during one of Walter’s experiments 20 years ago. Mary Beth contacts Peter, hoping to talk to Walter about her daughter. Finally, Peter relents and allows MBP to visit the lab and talk to Walter. She comes not with accusations, but only with a desire to remember her daughter. She asks Walter to tell her about Carla, and he goes on to lucidly explain that he remembers Carla’s beautiful smile, and leads MBP off to share their memories of the dead girl. Realizing that Olivia was right all along, he heads over to her house to apologize.

The things that really worked for this episode were the humanizing moments about how Olivia and Peter relate to their families. Both of them are in the position of protector, but the things they need to protect are different. Here, Olivia’s relatives are actually put to good use when their lives – or, at the very least, Ella’s brain – are put at risk by her work. I’m beginning to see this other side to Olivia as natural, although I still maintain my questions from last week about whether or not Rachel was affected by drunk stepdaddy in the same way Olivia was. Peter, on the other hand, is Walter’s legal guardian, and despite his begrudging earlier in the season, he has actually grown to love knowing his father. Mary Beth Piel is a threat to that relationship and Peter can’t handle the thought of losing his father again. I’m into these plots. Fringe really needs these humanizing elements to keep the stories and the characters grounded.

Next time, we should do more experiments!

Next time, we should do more experiments!


But as for the rest of this episode, I think it got a little too light. The policework and the science work in this episode were pretty shoddy, and, I believe, this is the first case in Fringe history that hasn’t had anything to do with one of Walter’s old experiments. (If he knew how to melt brains, I’d be very scared of him. I like wacky Walter better, with his love of car seats that warm your ass and his overwhelming concern with safe sex. I’m really glad that his eccentricities are starting to become running gags.) I also don’t know how I feel about this episode being completely outside The Pattern, either. I can get down with a MOTW, but I thought Fringe was going to have every MOTW be part of The Pattern, like my good friend and favorite Fringe villain so far Joseph Meegar. It just feels weird to have an episode I don’t really have to think about (you know, a no-brainer . . . heh . . . yes, I said that), even though I will always find things with melted brains to be amusing. It’s just such a drastic change in tone that I’m not entirely sure how to handle it.

Don’t get me wrong. I like many of the more fanciful MOTWs from seasons three and four of The X-Files. But I like them when they were on that show, and the MOTWs outweighed the mytharc episodes. I just don’t know if I like them on this show. You know, this show that is not, in fact, The X-Files.

My favorite Walterisms of the night:

  • Upon seeing the liquefied brain, Walter immediately assumes the first victim has really advanced syphillis.
  • “I hope she doesn’t notice the two thousand dollars for baboon seminal fluid I ordered.” –Walter, on Olivia requiring expense reports from the lab

The Husband:

I can’t entirely explain why, but this may be my favorite non-Pattern-related episode of Fringe yet. The villain wasn’t in it enough, but I dug the technological implications, and got a good mix of two of my favorite underseen silly supernatural horror movies – Brainscan and Hideaway, which both just happen to be written by Seven’s Andrew Kevin Walker.

I was also happy to get another unofficial TV reunion of several actors from the glorious HBO social drama The Wire, although none of the actors appeared in the same scene as far as I can remember. There is, of course, Broyles (Lance Reddick played Lt. Daniels), as well as computer hacker Akim (Gbenga Akinnagbe played high-level drug dealer Chris Partlow) and Brian Dempsey (Chris Bauer played Frank Sobotka, the focus of season 2’s dockworkers union scandal). There were so many people on The Wire that I’m surprised I don’t see more of them banded up together on television, but I’m happy enough to simply spy one every once in a while, even if it’s on the flailing Heroes.

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