The Wife:

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.

Well, at least I'm not as dead as that guy.

Well, at least I'm not as dead as that guy.

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.

The Husband:

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.)

The Wife:

First of all, I realize that Zeljko Ivanek’s character in this episode is technically named Jason, but I think we can all agree that Jason is not as cool of a name as Zeljko, so I will only refer to him as such throughout this post. That said, I think this extended episode was a really nice addition to the House canon: it used the formula, but shook it up by making it have to work within a high-stakes hostage situation; it utilized all of House’s fellows (at least a little bit); and it ultimately gave us a new character arc for Thirteen to follow (so maybe now the writers can focus on someone they’ve ignored . . like Kutner).

Zeljko was this week’s POW, who has become so frustrated with the state of healthcare (seeing an endless string of doctors who just don’t know what’s wrong, as well as being financially buried in medical bills) that he believe the only way to get someone to take his pain seriously is to take some doctors and hostages at gunpoint and force them to work on his case. This is just what he does when, hoping to take only hospital administrator Cuddy hostage, he catches House in Cuddy’s office and rounds up ten or so hostages and Thirteen to join him, forcing them to remain in Cuddy’s office with him until someone solves his case. He’s lucky House happened to be the best diagnostician on staff, otherwise he’d have been SOL.

“You really think re-enacting Dog Day Afternoon is gonna get you diagnosed faster?” – House

House does a quickie diagnosis and tells Zeljko that he needs to administer a test drug to prove that he has pulmonary scleroderma. Zeljko will only agree to the test if Dr. Cuddy brings in the medicine, alone. He then demands that the drug be tested on one of the hostages first, all of them except Thirteen and a nurse amounting to nothing but a handful of sick people who, if given the wrong drug, could be getting even sicker. House administers the drug to one of the beefier patients, who passes out. Thinking it’s a trick, Zeljko shoots an investment banker Patrick Bateman-looking patient in the leg as a warning.

This shot of Zeljko reminds me far too much of his guest spot on The Mentalists pilot episode.

This shot of Zeljko reminds me far too much of his guest spot on The Mentalist's pilot episode.

Realizing how serious the situation is, House does a conference call differential with all of his fellows, past and present, to help solve the case. During this process, a SWAT team from the outside lurks outside the windows, which House realizes Zeljko could hear from inside the room. Assuming his hyper-sensitive hearing is a new symptom, House assumes that he has a nerve problem, which Thirteen confirms when she notices that Zeljko has trouble moving the muscles on one side of his face. House convinces Zeljko to trade two hostages for the test to prove neuralgia. He then asks for another drug guinea pig, a position for which ready-to-die Thirteen immediately volunteers. The test is incredibly painful for her, but shouldn’t be for Zeljko if he does indeed have neuralgia. Nerve disorders are ruled out when the injection causes him pain, and in the lab, Foreman and Cameron find out that Zeljko’s white blood cells are normal, thus ruling out an infection. The team is now left with a either a cancer diagnosis or a heart defect.

Zeljko allows Thirteen to leave the room to get the heart-slowing drugs House requires to make the man’s heart return to normal speed, which, when injected into her normal-beating heart slows it down considerably, while Zeljko’s heart reduces to a normal speed. But then he starts sweating only on one side of his face, leading House to believe he has a lung tumor that’s pressing on his sympathetic nerves. Zeljko decides to trade three hostages for a trip to radiology and ties the two doctors, the nurse, and the remaining two civilians to him to journey to radiology. In the CT scan, he refuses to unhand his gun, which causes a sunburst over the image. House convinces him to give up the gun in order to get a proper diagnosis, at which point the nurse and one civilian hostage decide to make a break for it. The youngest hostage stays, just to check out what’s going down. When the CT scan does not reveal a tumor, House returns Zeljko’s gun, an act which prompts House, Zeljko and Thirteen to discuss the nature of cowardice and the need to be right. (For the record, both House and Zeljko have a destructive and violent need to be right, and Zeljko and Thirteen are both cowards about facing their own deaths.)

House now thinks that because of Zeljko’s wonky hearing (he now appears to be deaf in one ear), that he might have Cushing’s Syndrome. The hostage negotiators agree to get the drugs for him if he lets the boy go and stops testing drugs on Thirteen, an agreement upon which Zeljko immediately reneges. Thirteen gets incredibly sick, and Zeljko remains unchanged from the treatment. In a last-ditch discussion with the diagnostics team, all signs point to a tropical illness like Meliodosis, which Zeljko discounts because he’s never been anywhere south of Florida  . . . apparently not realizing that Florida is a tropical climate. Zeljko agrees to let House go for getting the answer, but wants to keep dying Thirteen to test the next rounds of drugs on, despite House’s warning that any additional strain on her body would fully shut down her kidneys and kill her. She agrees to take the last round of drugs, knowing that in eight years, she’ll be dead anyway.

“Who’s the martyr now? Either the drugs kill me or he kills me.” – Thirteen.

But when the time comes, Thirteen is unable to give herself the fatal dose, declaring, “I don’t want to die,” just as Zeljko steals the syringe from her hand and injects himself as the SWAT team blasts through the wall. When the smoke clears, the SWAT team arrests Zeljko, who seems to be at peace, finally, knowing that he’s actually gotten an answer for all his trouble. Jail, it seems, is worth that to him. Thirteen goes on dialysis to flush out her kidneys, and finally consents to some clinical trials for Huntington’s Chorea, her near-death experience giving her a renewed appreciation for life.

The Husband:

I was not looking forward to this episode. Hostage episodes are usually very desperate ploys to get viewers tuned in, story be damned, and usually result in most of the characters not acting like themselves in any capacity. It can be done right, however. I point you to “Bang!” from Desperate Housewives season 3, which is more than the sum of its parts.

Every single hostage situation episode of a TV drama usually gives center stage to the hostage taker and they rarely disappoint, so much like Laurie Metcalf’s wildly successful performance in the aforementioned DH episode, Zeljko was in it to win it.

The result was just okay, a gimmick that thankfully gave us more than one location – man, how big is that x-ray room? – and some resolution with Thirteen’s recent b-story arc (one that many viewers have been complaining about, but not me). My wife’s right, though – it’s time to give Kutner some focus. Nobody underuses Kal Penn and gets away with it. Nobody!

Special shout-outs for several of the guest actors. First, one to Natasha Gregson Wagner for actually blending into the story that I barely noticed her. (I dig on the actress quite a bit, but she has a tendency to overrun any scene she’s in, whether it’s in High Fidelity or Another Day in Paradise.

Another to Evan Peters as the young teenage hostage, who just makes me miss the show Invasion even more.

And one to Wood Harris as the SWAT negotiator, a far cry from playing Avon Barksdale, the king of all drug lords, on HBO’s The Wire. His presence made me realize that whenever I see a talented African-American actor on TV and turn to my wife and say, “Hey, I know that guy,” it’s always somebody from The Wire. That show was apparently filled with every single fairly unknown African-American actor in the country. I didn’t even bother mentioning it last night, because I’m sure the conversation would have been this:

Me: Guess what I know him from.

Wife: The Wire. Shut up. I’m watching Zeljko.

The Wife:

This episode was so far my favorite, most quotable episode of the season that exploited character traits in a good, constructive way (unlike the “Sheldon can’t drive” episode, which you all know I hated). Sheldon and Leonard are recruited to speak to incoming graduate students to in turn recruit more candidates for the theoretical and applied physics departments. (Thought: shouldn’t these students have already chosen if they are to be theoretical or applied physicists? I have to choose in my personal statement if I’m interested in Renaissance Drama or feminist critical theory or the body in literature, so they clearly should have had to make that choice, too.) Sheldon’s advice to the prospective students is to give up now because they will never be as great as he is:

“I was 14 and had already achieved more than many of you could hope to, in spite of my nine o’clock bed time.”

After the recruitment lecture, a cute strawberry blonde approaches Sheldon. She has memorized his work and wants to spend more time with him. Once she agrees to buy him a meal on one of his designated eating nights (Mondays are for Pad Thai, for instance), Sheldon effectively invites a stalker into his life. Ramona Nowitski (Riki Lindhome), however, is a somewhat benevolent stalker, acting as Sheldon’s pesky muse, bringing him food and groceries and trimming his toenails so that he can constantly work on his new, unfinished theorem about neutrinos. When Leonard sees Sheldon without his customary breakfast, working in the cafeteria, he asks:

Leonard: Are you experimenting with nutritional suppositories again?
Sheldon: Not in these pants.

No one but me has deigned to touch your omelette, master.

No one but me has deigned to touch your omelette, master.

And then Ramona appears with an omelette, prepared by gloved professionals only, just the way Sheldon likes it. Unfortunately, Sheldon learns, Ramona’s loyalty and persistence can also have negative effects: she refuses to let him participate in his ritual Halo nights and paintball Saturdays, citing his own work as incentive to keep going. Eventually, he turns to Penny to help rid himself of Ramona the Pest. (This surely is an intentional Beverly Cleary joke, yes?)

“Apparently, I’m in some kind of relationship and I understand you are an expert at ending them” – Sheldon, to Penny

Sheldon, for the last time, Im not a prostitute.

Sheldon, for the last time, I'm not a prostitute.

Penny is unable to help Sheldon free himself from Ramona, and he turns to Leonard, desperately tapping out Morse code on the wall between their rooms while Ramona sleeps on the couch. (By the way, Leonard doesn’t know Morse code.) Sheldon attempts to invoke “The Skynet Clause” in their relationship, which Leonard shoots down because Ramona is not a suddenly sentient race of killbots that Sheldon designed. Sheldon then attempts to invoke “The Body Snatchers Clause” in their friendship, which Leonard also shoots down because Ramona is not an alien pod person (or so we think). Finally, after Ramona has been awakened and drags Sheldon back to his room, he tries a last-ditch effort with the “Godzilla Clause,” to which Leonard replies, “She’s not destroying Tokyo!”

Eventually, Sheldon finishes his paper and inadvertently discovers the only way to get rid of Ramona. She suggests that, because she pushed him to finish the theorem, it should be named “The Cooper-Nowitski Theorem,” which Sheldon instantly refuses. As he should. That bitch didn’t theorize about shit. And so the grad student runs out of the building ashamed that her cheap ploy to get her name on some actual good research failed. (Honey, ain’t nobody with a Doctorate wanna share they credit with someone who doesn’t even have a Master’s.) Sheldon doesn’t seem to learn much about people, however, as the stalker process begins anew at the end of the episode with yet another cute redheaded grad student. (So, Sheldon has a thing for redheads, eh?)

A hypenated theorem name? Simply put, no.

A hypenated theorem name? Simply put, no.

Two more bits I liked from this episode:

1. Sheldon’s fear of going to unknown restaurants because he is terrified of running into a three-tined fork.

Leonard: Sheldon lives in fear of the three-tined fork.
Sheldon: Four tines is a fork. Three tines is a trident. One is for eating, one if for ruling the seven seas.

Legit, Sheldon. Legit.

2. The gang’s discussion of Sheldon’s sexuality. Penny asks the boys what Sheldon’s “deal” is, and they inform her they always assumed he didn’t have a “deal” and that he was asexual in some manner. I liked Wallowitz’s theory the best:

“Over the years, we’ve developed many theories. I personally am a fan of mitosis.”

Apparently, Wallowitz and I are correct, as the coda to this episode showed us what would happen if Sheldon ate too much Thai food: he would simply divide into two complete Sheldons, fully formed, prompting Leonard to declare, as he wakes from his nightmare, “No more Thai food.”

The Husband:

I think we’re finally starting to see a show my wife and I are completely split upon episode-after-episode, because I thought everything with Ramona was repetitive and pretty lame, leaving most of the good bits to Leonard and only Leonard. I prefer my Big Bang Theory episodes to stay firmly planted in the main cast – unless, of course, you have an actor that’ll transcend their underwritten role, much like D.J. Qualls or Laurie Metcalf last season – otherwise you run the risk of the show exposes its very tense seams.

I did appreciate Sheldon’s problems with three-tined forks, as I too think they completely suck. I’d prefer to use a plastic or potato-based four-tined one than something that looks like it’s designed to spear hay.