I am starting to really, really like Fringe‘s MOTW episodes. I know that “Unleashed” was rather silly conceptually, but as far as Fringe‘s MOTWs are concerned, this one was its best written by a mile or two. I attribute this to the writing of Zack Whedon, younger brother of the great Joss, who really stepped up his game as a storyteller here. He also wrote “The Dreamscape” and “The Transformation,” so from at least one of those other episodes I can tell that he and I share an interested in bodies and mutation, but between “The Transformation” and “Unleashed,” I liked this one much better. “Transformation” was conspiracy-driven, and while I really enjoyed the scene where Peter lies their way to safety because it had great tension and great use of character, “Unleashed” did the same thing with two characters.
Chiefly, by surrendering Charlie Francis to the attack of the Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster, we were allowed to see Francis as dynamic and valuable to the other characters in this universe, not just as an archetypical G-man figure. We knew Francis and Olivia had been working together a long time, but giving her a reason to have to save him allowed us to humanize him in a way the show has finally successfully done with Olivia. I like Kirk Acevedo’s extremely expressive eyebrows, and that’s usually enough for me in these episodes, but now we know that he’s the kind of person who does such a dangerous job that he may not make it home to the woman he loves more than anything. Seriously, the scene where he’s trying really hard not to cry while he laughs at her lame-ass joke so that she doesn’t worry her that he might die in a very short time? That scene was great. Great for the story, great for the character and great for Kirk Acevedo as an actor.
And then there’s Walter, who was extra nuts in this episode, unusually so, which built up a really dynamic tension leading into the scene in the sewers where he, Olivia and Peter plan to catch the Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster so that they can kill it and harvest its mutant blood so they can transfuse Agent Francis with it and save his life, also killing the tiny Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster larvae he’s been impregnated with. Mmm. Sexy. (I really liked Walter’s off-the-cuff remark about Francis’ newfound expectant state: at least he wasn’t impregnated the traditional way. Can you imagine being raped by a Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster? Not cool. Not sexy.) I can honestly say that even though Walter’s behavior should have led me to expect the unexpected, I was thoroughly surprised when he downed that vial of stolen monster poison and locked Peter and Olivia behind a sewer grate (that’s a really advanced sewer, that has monster-proof grates with locks . . .) so that he could kill the monster himself. Even if he died while doing it, it would be a fitting sacrifice, as, per usual, Walter had once worked on a hybrid monster but never really got those plans off the ground. (He hadn’t accounted for super-immune bat DNA, the secret ingredient of sorts in this wicked Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster.) While the creation of the monster had nothing really to do with Walter’s research, the very notion that someone he’s close to could be hurt by his years as a mad scientist galvanizes him for heroic sacrifice. I like this side of Walter; the side that’s sane enough to realize when he’s made tremendous mistakes.
Even outside of Walter’s excellent character moment, I honestly didn’t expect the larvae twist and was extremely excited to see those corpses burst forth with thousands of wriggly little monster babies, and that’s why I’m so impressed by “Unleashed.” Even though it adds nothing to the mytharc of the show, it was surprising and unexpected – and that’s quite a compliment coming from someone who watches as much TV as I do. A bajillion kudos to Zack Whedon on this one. (Husband Note: Show co-creator J.R. Orci co-wrote the episode, but it’s always fun to inflate the brother of a TV game-changer than the dude whose brother co-wrote The Legend of Zorro.)
It was also an interesting episode for me because it is not only the second Fringe episode to deal with hybridity, but also the second to deal with pregnancy. As I previously wrote, the pregnant body is site of contention regarding bodily autonomy. So, too, is being a host for incubating larvae. Having the role of the impregnated fall on a male character instead of a female one was an interesting reversal, and I like the idea of creating a male body that reads similarly regarding issues of autonomy and the self. You might say that because of his monster-incubation, Charlie is somewhat feminized in this episode, and, indeed, he is reduced to a state of powerlessness, which is traditionally the female role in a monster narrative. The irony is not lost on him that he and his wife had been thinking about having children prior to this incident. I liked the revival of this show’s narrative concern with the genesis of things, and while I am wholly disturbed by it, I hope Fringe continues to throw me these little thought-nuggets that I might somehow be able to use in my research. There’s something very problematic about pregnancy, genesis and gestation in sci-fi narratives, and I find that extremely interesting. Way more interesting than any commentary on hybridity and animal research that this episode may have also contained.
Freaky-ass episode, to be sure, but also extremely funny.
Funny Thing #1: The monster-vs-the-child game of cat-and-mouse at the playground, where the child’s mother represents the ultimate in parenting fail. Girl, your instincts are way off if you don’t realize there’s a Giant Hybrid Gila Bat Monster in a playground tube with your cute young boy.
Funny Thing #2: After they try to put poison into Charlie’s bloodstream in order to destroy the tiny little larvae, they become worried when Charlie’s bloodstream shows signs of being poisoned. Uhm…yes. You put the poison in there.
And if you were wondering who played Charlie’s wife, like I was, and was racking your brain as to who this chick-who-looks-like-Dreama-Walker-plus-ten-years was, and why did I feel such sympathy when I saw her face, a little research clears up everything. Her name is Kiersten Warren, and she played Nora Huntington, Tom Scavo’s pre-Lynette baby mama on Desperate Housewives. You may recall Laurie Metcalf ending her life with a bullet to the chest during the supermarket hostage situation in s3, leaving the Scavos with her terrible and conniving daughter. But she was far more annoying then and had black hair, so I’m not surprised it took me a while to figure out who the actress was. (She was also apparently a regular on Saved by the Bell: The College Years, which I didn’t watch, and also a regular on Life Goes On, which I did watch but don’t believe I can name one actor on that show…[research research] What? That was Patti LuPone who played the mother on that show? Man, was my seven-year-old brain tiny back then. That’s something I think I’d remember. And it totally explains why she has always seemed eerily familiar to me over the rest of my life.)