I’m not sure any “Fringe” fan expected the show to continue on the level exhibited in last week’s return, but the awkwardly titled follow-up “Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver.” largely spun its wheels, content to let the “will Olivia tell Peter” tension simmer over a bland freak-of-the-week case. But what transpired wasn’t part of The Pattern, at least in the way that the show defined it last season. It was perhaps the start of the next phase of the War of the Worlds.
[Full recap of Thursday's (April 8) "Fringe" after the break...]
But more on epic, universe-collapsing warfare later. Let’s start with Olivia, unable to sleep thanks to her newly acquired information about Peter’s true nature. Counting sheep doesn’t help for this cortexiphan-enhanced agent, so she returns to the site of her therapy earlier this season: Sam Weiss’ bowling alley. The “Fringe” dude still abides there, dispensing sage wisdom while watching customers navigate 7-10 splits. He senses, correctly, that she’s made a decision that she regrets. She owns up to agreeing to maintain a secret, but gets called away before revealing the nature of that secret. Weiss assures her that she’s a good person, and she must have a reason for agreeing to said silence.
What calls her away? A nasty case of cancer, distributed by touch and almost instantly lethal. Peter seems oddly skeptical that cancer could be contagious, which is interesting given the things he’s seen over the past year of his life. That would be like Jack Bauer having the nerve to be surprised when a CTU agent turns out to be a mole. An investigation of recent deaths in a similar vein all eventually point back to the day care center seen in “Jacksonville,” where Olivia and a host of other children were experiments for the Bell/Bishop combo.
One such child, James Heath, contracted cancer as an adult. It’s unclear if the cancer resulted from these experiments, but nevertheless, he did receive a visit from a mysterious man that suggested his time in Jacksonville might lead to a type of holistic therapy that could put GNC out of business. Instead of curing him, however, such attempts only made the cancer worse, and thanks to the effects of cortexiphan experiments, made him much more susceptible to a two-way transfer of energy with another biological host. “Just like tantric sex!” cries Walter, which makes me think that the mystery man that visited James in the hospital must be Sting.
James’ path leads him from former day care student to former day care student, allowing “Fringe” to dip into its rogues’ gallery and bring back people like Nick Lane into the narrative. It’s fitting that Nick was name-checked in tonight’s episode, in that Sam Weiss noted Olivia’s drab outfits as the two played “Clue” in her apartment. As Nick Lane told Olivia in “Bad Dreams,” black and grey clothing is the uniform of a “recruit” in the upcoming war between the two worlds. The agent/recruit Olivia, of course, now realizes she’s partnered with this war’s equivalent of Helen of Troy.
There was little tension in the final standoff between James and Olivia, even though my general aversion to contagion made the fight semi-squeamish for yours truly. (Don’t get me started on zombies movies or The Borg. Shudder.) What WAS riveting, however, were the implications held in a short conversation between Broyles and Sharp over James’ coma-induced body. They reveal a second, and I believed heretofore unmentioned, former test facility. Housed in Worcester, MA, it has three times the number of previous test subjects currently uncounted for when compared with Jacksonville. Neither seems to know the identity of the man that essentially “woke” James up to his innate ability, but fear that he might try to activate those as well.
So, an old Pattern potentially falls to the wayside, already cobwebbed and largely forgotten by the show once it started to focus on Peter’s identity. In its place: a search for 42 adults that might turn into walking, talking biological weapons to pave the way for invasion from the other side. My instinct is that the man is either Thomas Newton, head shapeshifter last seen in “Grey Matters,” or perhaps the Walternate himself, poking around and using his doppelganger’s experiments against him before striking at the prize most precious: Peter himself.
Circling this entire week, as mentioned at the outset, was awkwardness between what Peter describes as the “odd little family.” Walter and Olivia can barely make eye contact, and Peter thinks her coldness towards him derives from their almost kiss. Olivia continually seeks out reasons not to tell Peter the truth: she declaims her desire to reveal the truth again and again so people perpetually can strike her down. Walter, Sam, and even Nina all assert what a bad idea such a reveal could be. By episode’s end, she seems to finally agree, noting, “Not all Pandora’s boxes should be opened.” I’d argue that NONE of them should be opened, even if there were more than one. But horrific analogy aside, her decision doesn’t even matter: Walter’s ready to make amends for the sins of the past, starting with telling Peter the truth. So all her hand wringing? Apparently unnecessary.
Some bullets about tonight’s mediocre ep:
*** Anyone else disappointed that Peter didn’t include Astrid in the “odd little family”? I know I was. And what about the Gene the cow, Peter? Huh? HUH?
*** Enjoyed Walter essentially “baking” a handprint from the first victim of the episode. It felt like a forensic application of Shrinky Dinks.
*** I’m not a fan of mysteries in which we, the audience, have far more clues about the case than Olivia and Company do. It tends to make them look a little slow, especially when “Fringe” gives Peter unnecessarily cynical lines about contagious cancer somehow being too weird to believe. At this point, shouldn’t anything be fair game? Like Walter tells his former student in a Providence medical lab, “When you open your mind to the impossible, sometimes you find the truth.” Spoken like a true LSD user.
*** Seems a bit weird that the government would simply lose track of those people from the Jacksonville/Worcester experiments. Maybe, with the exception of Olivia, they exhibited no extraordinary signs at the time and only now can Broyles and Sharp see their value.
*** The Olivia/Nina conversation felt like a missed opportunity. Olivia has major leverage going into that conversation, and yet didn’t ask anything about Bell’s relationship with Walter, background on how the two split, or why her former day care compadres were being systematically hunted. I suppose we’ll have to wait for sweeps to get another showdown between the two that yields satisfactory answers.
*** Next week: RoboCop is a time traveler! It’s like “Fringe” read my childhood journal or something. Can’t wait.
Into this week’s return to serial form? Or did the show seem to be spinning its wheels? Finally: what’s your over/under on number of episodes until Peter learns the truth?