Before I get into the meat of this episode, let me just say that I’m super glad Fringe films in NYC and tosses in Tony Award winners and Broadway vets whenever it gets the chance. There’s something of a de-emphasis on theatrically trained actors appearing on film and television these days, and I find that, because of that, I have an extreme preference toward actors who cut their teeth treading the boards. I can really tell the difference between actors with stage training and actors without, because those with stage training seem to have so much more depth to their performances, like there’s always a rich inner life stirring behind them. A lot of actors who lack that kind of training end up being a little bit dead in the eyes at times, and that totally kills a performance. I’ve already talked about how happy I am to have Michael Cerveris as the Observer (who was perhaps his most observable tonight as he got an extended walk-on in a club scene at the beginning of the episode), who currently works in Sondheim shows. And I cannot fully explain my delight in seeing Jefferson Mays as a featured player in this episode. Mays won a Tony in 2004 for Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, a one-man show about a German transvestite and the historical relevance of her antiques (which I regrettably didn’t see when it was here at the Curran in 2004). (Husband Note: I saw it, and he was fantastic, while the show is more of a B/B+.) So my delight in his appearance on my television screen last night essentially came down to my husband and I gleefully trying to insert the phrase “I am my own wife” into any scenario in which it would fit during the course of the show. Considering the nature of the episode, in which Mays’ character tried to stop his diseased wife from killing young men and drinking their spinal fluid all over Boston, we managed to work that in a lot. (Why isn’t she in the Chinese restaurant basement? Because she doesn’t exist, as Mays clearly is his own wife.)
So Nicholas Boone’s wife Valerie is running amok, seducing young men at clubs so she can drink their spinal fluid, which is what she needs to live, considering she’s been dosed with a ZFT-created drug (with a syphilis base) that has turned her into a monster. She can unhinge her jaws like a snake, exposing razor-sharp fangs which allow her to snap a victim’s head clean off, allowing her to suck all the spinal fluid right out of his body. That drug, whatever it actually is, causes her to lose spinal fluid faster than her body can produce it, hence the need to get it in any way she can. It also makes her eyes freakishly blue. No one knows why ZFT would do such a thing, other than creating monstrous women who eat spinal fluid seems like it aligns with their goals of global destruction through the advancement of technology.
I’ve got to say that I truly, truly loved the freak meet in which a sleazy guy with a terrible Australian accent (couldn’t Anna Torv have coached him?) picks up Valerie at a club, citing, “You’re my kind of girl,” and takes her home, where, in the heat of a kiss, she snaps his neck with force befitting a Slayer. From then on, each of her kills is punctuated with a callback to that line, “You’re my kind of man.” Dude, I’ll tell you what. My kind of girl can definitely, definitely snap a dude’s neck with her bare hands.
Walter finds an extinct strain of syphilis on the first victim’s neck, which they trace to a drug company called Lubov Pharmaceuticals, based out of Nicholas Boone’s home. They arrest the wheelchair-bound Boone and he agrees to tell them everything he knows about ZFT (which he used to work for) if they help him save Valerie. He says she’s been kidnapped and held in the basement of a Chinese restaurant (that, naturally, is actually a laboratory), but when she can’t be found, he tells Olivia that he needs to retrieve some vials of a contagion, XT43, which he believes will cure the person who’s out killing – his dear wife Valerie, whom he says was intentionally infected by ZFT to punish him for leaving the fold.
Amongst the things in his home laboratory, Peter finds a video camera with a recording as recently as three weeks ago in which Valerie is perfectly healthy, happy and normal and Boone himself is able-bodied. One of my favorite parts of Mays performance was the rhyme he creates for his wife on the videotape: “Valerie Boone, you turn March into June.” Not only am I sure that their happy videotape was entirely improvised, but that tape and that rhyme in particular served to ground and humanize the Boones and make their story exceptionally tragic. Olivia asks him why he’s in a wheelchair now if he was fine just a few weeks ago, and he reveals that he had been carefully measuring out portions of his spinal fluid to feed to Valerie in order to keep her alive while he tried to find a cure, but he could only give so much without killing himself and partial paralysis was as far as he could go to personally save her. And so she ran off, desperately fighting to survive. I love this kind of monstrosity (see my previous affections for Joseph Meegar), and that little rhyme really worked to make me completely sympathetic to Boone, Valerie and their plight.
Olivia and Peter try to track down where Valerie might be headed by following Boone’s stolen car (where they turn up more victims), while Boone stays in the lab with Walter to work on a cure for his wife. When Olivia and Peter call to say that they know where Valerie will strike next, Boone tells them that he can’t make the cure in time and begs them to bring his wife in alive so he can still try and save her. He asks Walter to remove another 25 ml of spinal fluid, assuring him that he has carefully measured each previous withdrawal so he won’t die if he loses just a little bit more. Astrid warns against it, but Walter proceeds anyway, trusting his new scientist friend. But by the time Peter, Olivia and Charlie bring Valerie in, it’s almost too late for Boone, who has had a stroke due to the loss of spinal fluid. And as Valerie is administered the antidote and returns to the Valerie Boone who turns March into June, Nicholas slips away into death.
He does, however, uphold his bargain with Olivia and records a message for her on the very video camera that holds the final images of him and Valerie together before the contagion in which he tells her some names involved with ZFT, the only one we are privileged to hear is, perhaps, the one we all knew was coming: William Bell, alias Gordon DeBoone, is ZFT’s biggest funder.
For me, this one was a really ideal episode – sympathetic monsters that actually contribute to the mytharc and move the story forward, and a lot of that is anchored in Jefferson Mays’ performance. Good times, Fringe. They’re really come around to some good stuff recently, and I’m pleased with where they’re headed. Now if they could only get Raul Esparza to guest star . . .
And some funny bits:
- “You know what this reminds me of, Peter? Shrimp cocktail.” –Walter
- “It tells me you’re hot. And you’re definitely hot. But I’m looking for someone with syphillis.” –Peter, when being hit on by a girl at a club and reading her with his thermal heat sensor.