After several MOTW episodes, it took Akiva Goldsman to steer Fringe back toward its mytharc. And even though it was Akiva Goldsman both as scribe and helmsman, I think this episode admirably got us back on track. The only thing I like about Akiva Goldsman, Oscar-winning scribe of A Beautiful Mind, is that he wrote Paul Bettany’s imaginary English major, who speaks one of my favorite lines in all of cinema: “I was at a cocktail party for the English department. The cock was mine. The tail belonged to a lovely little piece of work with a penchant for D.H. Lawrence.” (I also like I, Robot and I Am Legend, but those are adaptations of prior works that were already great to begin with, so I can’t really give Goldsman full credit for making those awesome.)
(Husband Note: Besides, since I, Robot has three credited screenwriters, rumor is that Akiva was only brought on board to Will Smith-icize the screenplay [making it “hipper” and “funnier” and “sassier,”] which ultimately ended up being the major problematic element of an otherwise awesome sci-fi film.)
In any case, I was impressed with Goldsman’s work on this episode. He wrote Olivia back into that tough-as-nails corner she was in for the first half of the season, which worked fine for the episode, but simply proves to me that he has no idea how to write women. (If you want proof, note the absense of female roles from the films he writes. And note the sparse text Jennifer Connelly was given in A Beautiful Mind that she somehow managed to win an Oscar off of.) But that’s really my only qualm with it, because he was able to create such a good, spooky atmosphere filled with a number of haunting images as well as tie in the show’s mytharc. Sci-fi is definitely Goldsman’s wheelhouse, and he should keep working in that genre.
As far as plot is concerned, Olivia starts killing people in her dreams, and then finds that the people in her dreams are turning up dead in real life. And what’s more, they’re people she’s never met. After two murders, Olivia finds that one man has been at both crime scenes, and he, Nick Lane, used to be a resident of St. Jude’s mental hospital, where he had admitted himself voluntarily to protect himself and others from his paranoid delusions about being experemented on as a child and trained to be a soldier in an army to fight against the denizens of a parallel dimension, when the time came. Clearly, that stirkes a chord with the team, who realize that Nick has been quoting directly from ZFT for several years.
Like Olivia, Nick is from Jacksonville, FL and Walter believes that the two of them may share a kind of psychic connection because when he and Bell were doing their wacky experiments with Cortexefam on children, they often paired two children together, to help them cope with the experience. Nick and Olivia may have been such a pair. Nick, it seems, is hyperemotive; the opposite of an empath. His feelings are so extreme that he can infect others with them, which could be the reason the first woman jumped to her death in front of a 7 train and the second woman stabbed her husband in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Olivia undergoes hypnosis so that she can tap into Nick and track him while she’s pseudo-dreaming, during which we get to see her-as-Nick makeout with a stripper and then slit her throat after fucking her. After which, Nick returns home, so Olivia knows where he lives and she and the gang head off to investigate his home. There they find a giant conspiracy board covered in newspaper clippings about experimentation on children and track him to a building downtown, where he planned to kill himself and, due to the strength of his emotions, coerced others to do so along with him. Olivia, as Nick’s psychic other half, is immune to his emotional strength and heads up to the roof to stop him. He begs her to kill him, but she refuses, so he screams and sends one of his potential jumpers to her death. Olivia still refuses to kill him, instead shooting him in the kneecaps to incapacitate him, which causes the other potential jumpers to fall back onto the roof along with him.
Nick spends the rest of his days in a drug-induced coma deep inside the Boston Federal Building, and Olivia and Walter both go looking for secrets of their past. Agent Francis brings Olivia Nick’s file, filled with clippings from his conspiracy board, and Walter digs through his tapes until he finds one of young Olivia, post-experiment-where-something-went-wrong, where he calls the scared young girl Olive, the same name her psychic other Nick called her on the rooftop.
I know that by the end of this season we will meet William Bell, played by Leonard Nimoy (!), and so I’m happy to return to the scientific conspiracy mytharc, and happy to do it in a visually disturbing way. Was this a great episode? No, but it was necessary to get us to where we need to be in the story, and it was filled with enough memorable images to keep it interesting.
1. Balloons have never been creepier, and the extended sequence of the first dream-death certainly filled me with a sense of dread. I kept waiting for something to happen, and appreciated the nice misdirection with the woman nervously singing the circus song as the man in the train station approached her. I also kept following the balloons, the one bright bit of color in an otherwise completely neutral scene. And when that red balloon drifted upward and she fell in front of the train? That was pretty stunning. This sequence was creepy and evocative and I will never look at balloons the same way again.
2. The second death, where Olivia watches happy couples in the restaurant, was also really interesting to watch, as that couple’s fight escalated from absolutely nowhere. Also some great misdirection here when Olivia leaps up from the table, shattering her coffee cup (which we thought from the previous scene in which she buys No-Sleep caffeine pills that she was staying up to avoid murdering in her dreams) and heading over to the couple, I was sure she was trying to stop what might happen, but instead was taken aback to see her hand guiding the woman’s knife.
3. Nothing is more disturbing than seeing a group of people posed on a rooftop like zombie gargoyles, waiting at the precipice to dive to their deaths. Although, a similar scene occurred in The Happening, and it was very much not creepy then. Way creepier use of a recycled idea on Goldsman’s part here.
4. Watching someone slash their own throat with a razor blade is also unsettling, and just as haunting as any of these other deaths.
I liked those images better than the plot itself, which is why this one isn’t one of my favorite Fringe episodes ever, but it was surprisingly good, and certainly one of the better Fringe episodes as far as visual storytelling is concerned. But even then, still some levity, most of which comes from Walter:
- “I thought you might have teleported to New York in your sleep and killed her. Wouldn’t that have been wonderous?” – Walter
- “You don’t take your kid to the circus and then give them a front row seat to watch you kill yourself.” – Olivia, being much more dark than usual, which came off as oddly funny
- “What if you weren’t dreaming about yourself, you were dreaming about him, Mr. Unsub?” –Walter, which made me really want Garcia on Criminal Minds to start calling people Mr. Unsub
- “Where’s the fire? I always thought that expression was curious . . . since my lab assistant was killed in a fire.” – Walter
If you want to see an underappreciated 90s horror shlock film based off of the same general concept, I suggest that you pick up the goofy but oddly effective 1994 film Brainscan starring Eddie Furlong and T. Ryder Smith. In it, a young teenager plays a mysterious video game where he murders people, only to find out the next day that they were murdered in real life. But by then…it’s too late!
I would normally have recommended Hideaway as well, but I believe I’ve already mentioned that on this blog…
[checks previous entries]
Holy fuck. I’ve already recommended you all watch both Brainscan and Hideaway already on this blog. I basically just restated the exact goddamn thing. What the fuck is wrong with me?
Shit, I have to write something about the actual episode.
[brainscan brainscan brainscan]
Okay. I really liked how Anna Torv played Nick when he was at the stripclub. It was oddly convincing, masculine without being too broad, and just the right amount of creepy in portraying somebody who’s just a little too into the illusion of strippers.