Sunday, March 13, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe “Os”

Did Fox buy up all of the expired contracts from the entire cast of Lost or something? Monday’s Chicago Code brought us the familiar face of Dharma instructional videos, and this week brings us the pleasantly familiar face of Hurley, passing the bong with Walter and eagerly telling him he’s the best boss he’s ever had (and with good reason: Walter appears to be finishing a story about waking up in bed with Yoko Ono and he’s apparently used Massive Dynamic’s resources to invent the tasty new frosting flavor of “bacon berry”). It’s one of the more fun openings of the season; with the possible exception of Walter cooking breakfast in his underwear it might be my favorite, actually. It’s especially effective because it plays nicely into the master story (Walter discovers Bell’s office, which had escaped his attention until now and provides a huge key to the conflict with Earth 2) and it manages a nice bit of commentary regarding one of the show’s oldest themes as well (that men are just sophisticated machines, programmable, predictable and controllable) when Walter observes the monitors and says, “Look at them, moving through the halls, there’s a rhythm to it. Each monitor is its own movement, blending together like a symphony.” Ever are you clever, Fringe. But the best mystery of the week is set up by the end of scene one: Is Hurley going to become a regular guest? Fingers crossed.

The “Freaks of the Week” this week were something of a pitiable bunch, not for their disabilities (all of them are muscular dystrophy sufferers) but for their easy victimization by Dr. Krick (played expertly by Alan Ruck, who seems to hit home runs with every guest role he takes—see also season 1 of Justified), who promises them something that he might be able to deliver on, but not without a few deaths paving the pathway to success.  It was nice to see Fringe writers take the time to handle this plotline the right way.  Krick’s son ends up being a strong willed and self-confident individual who has nothing but disdain for his father once he realizes Krick viewed him as having a flaw instead of simply as a son leading a life his father should be proud of—without asterisks.  More notably, I thought it was phenomenal of the writers to use a murderball league as Krick’s bottomless pool of volunteers (if you aren’t familiar with the game, the documentary “Murderball” is two hours VERY well spent).  Watching the brief snippet of a game as Krick surveys the scene for a new test subject, we get to see a vision of what Krick’s son, Michael, has to explain to him through bars at the end of the episode:  these aren’t people who need to be “fixed”; they’re people leading fulfilling and rewarding lives.  It also allows for an easy explanation of how individuals confined just days before to a wheelchair would be scaling walls and performing break-ins at well defended facilities (murderball earned its name, trust me). 

Unfortunately, because of its violent nature, murderball isn’t for everyone.  Vince, a disheartened young man watching from his wheelchair in the bleachers, isn’t healthy enough to play the game, which makes him more than eager to take Dr. Krick up on an offer too good to be true.  Before he knows it, he’s floating to his feet, and then right off of them as the hybrid osmium-lutetium molecule flows through his bloodstream.  The special effects used to create the gravity-defying nature of their bodies this week was exceptional—when one of the thieves is shot in the opening sequence and floats from his grappling line like a balloon, it was a truly eerie effect.  As Walter and Peter pull him to the ground, the effect is maintained, even enhanced; it’s a body which appears to be filled with helium (which was apparently an unappealing approach Walter and Bell once tried to achieve the same effect).  The care to make the effect work well pays off especially well in the climactic scene as poor Vince is abandoned in the museum by Dr. Krick (more like Dr. rhymes-with-Krick-but-starts-with-a-D, am I right?) and begins to float towards the open roof.  Peter makes a dive for him and their return to the floor is something remarkably believable between freefall and floating which looks so realistic that I’m still not certain how they pulled it off (yeah, it’s probably wirework, but the fact that they look to be floating and not merely “resisting” gravity via the pull of wires is impressive). 

Krick’s work in this episode was a subtle parallel to Walter’s efforts to save young Peter, and it was especially clever that the episode didn’t throw this on our plates until after Krick was in custody.  But when Krick tells Walter, “It should never have worked; it was an accident…a miracle” we can’t help but think about a young Walter Bishop defying the odds—and the laws of physical reality—to save his own son.  Walter is reminded of the story of Daedalus and his son, Icarus, and points out that Daedalus was playing God, which often works out in very unfortunate ways (Icarus’ wings melted and he plummeted to the sea; the aftermath of Walter’s self-deification is the very source of Krick’s success).  It’s a thematic idea that at this point is practically swirling in upon itself like a black hole, in the manner of modern visualizations of black holes which spew gorgeous streams of light and energy from their centers.  Because, you know, the theme has lent a lot of energy and beautiful moments to the season.  Not my best metaphor…

Though of less immediate importance, I think the development of Peter and Olivia’s much more open relationship tonight is of great significance in the long term.  They play a little game (who actually plays this?  People on TV shows never know how to have a real relationship) called “full disclosure” in the car and Peter finishes it at the end of the episode by revealing to Olivia the, uh, “work” he’s been doing with the memory devices from the shifters he’s killed. The look on her face when she realizes what she’s looking at is perfect (oddly Torv’s best and worst moments of acting this episode come back-to-back in this scene):  She’s both frightened and disgusted by his devotion to learning the truth and his callousness in taking “lives” to get the answers he wants.  Leading up to this moment, though, are a lot of little touches which lend some odd importance to their relationship (I know his choice has already been cited as the deciding factor the war between universes, but that leaves a lot of questions as to why).  Walter is predictably elated to see them together, and he’s adorable in trying (a little, anyway) to conceal his glee, while Nina’s behavior is much more suspicious.  She certainly presents herself as overjoyed when she bumps into them in the hallway at Walter’s lab, but if you were paying attention throughout the episode, their loving interactions seemed to elicit more than one worried look on Nina’s face.  Without offering a coherent theory, mark me down as suspicious that Nina knows something about one or both of them that has nothing to do with their horoscope compatibility. 

What caught me completely off guard with this episode is just how carefully it situated itself into the broader story of the universe beginning to come unraveled.  I guess I should’ve been a more alert viewer (though it took me just a second longer to figure it out than Walter, so there’s that), but it never occurred to me that the reason Krick’s impossible manipulation of elements into new molecules that should neither exist nor adopt properties opposite their constituents (and the laws of nature to boot) is not because he’s brilliant but because the laws of our natural world are coming unraveled.  The new molecule—a metal alloy—melts when liquid nitrogen (an incredibly cold substance, for those who skipped chem class a lot) is applied to it.  It gives the episode the ingredient that, for me, makes for some of the most enjoyable episodes:  pseudoscientific conjectures and discoveries that sprinkle in just enough real scientific knowledge to make them feel weighty and “possible”, if only in the show’s upside down universe. 

Whether it caught you off guard or if you saw it coming (feel free to brag about when you figured it out in the comments section), the reveal that Krick’s work is evidence of our universe splintering apart at the molecular level is a great twist this week that injects even greater urgency into the Fringe team’s work.  As Nina finally tells Walter tonight, she knows he won’t fail to fix the universe because, quite simply, “You can’t.”  Luckily he won’t have to work alone, because in the show’s big surprise ending, Bell is back, thanks to Walter ringing the soul-magnet bell to call him forth where he’s hidden himself…inside Olivia!  It was a fun final twist, which I hope plays itself out cleanly and quickly next week.  I’m excited to see what Bell has to say about the latest goings-on in our world, but I don’t know how much of Anna Torv doing “possessed-voice Olivia” I can take, because it sounded embarrassingly silly.  Here’s hoping Bell is as eager to get out of Olivia as I am to have him out of there.  Even if he continues to use her as a mouthpiece (I keep trying to reword these lines; it sounds weird no matter how I describe it), he’ll have my full attention until he’s said his piece.  It’s sort of amazing to realize that for all we’ve witnessed this season, changes in direction, redefinitions of the central crisis, it still seems like the most revelatory moments of the season are barreling towards us.  I can’t wait.

Overall Rating:  9.6/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, Whatnot, and Occasionally What-have-you:

The research Walter finds in Bell’s office:  Animal ESP, morality detector, powdered water, and viral dreaming.

Walter twice references the Daedalus/Icarus myth; it’s nice that this show understands that it represents the modern version of myth making and takes the time to make these nods to the originals.  It also plays smoothly into a reference to the motif of parents trying to save their children, even when the cost is meted out on other people (“Other parents aren’t so lucky,” Walter tells Krick). 

Dialogue of the night:
Walter:  Belly was in search of the perfect bowel movement.
Astrid:  Charming.
Walter:  Everybody poops, dear.

I thought they did a nice job making Krick monstrous and yet quite human and understandable (though not quite sympathetic).  He is never quite monstrous in his on-screen actions, but the quick angle we get of his freezer, with mummified bodies decomposing on shelves tells us all we need to know about what a monster he actually is capable of being in devotion to his cause.

Olivia’s reaction is great when Walter asks “Do you think the perpetrator is from outer space?”

The interplay between grounded-in-reality Nina and space cadet Walter is perfect for the moment when Walter rings the bell and thinks Nina, in her silence, is now possessed by Bell’s soul.  Their reactions to one another are hilarious.

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