Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fringe 2.03: "Fracture"

“Of course, you never would have found Busby’s apple fritters if you hadn’t gone the wrong way down the street.”


This week’s episode of Fringe again compelled me to call my mother. At least she wasn’t on vacation this time. I believe my exact words were, “If something creepy and gross happens in Baltimore in next week’s episode, I’m going to start taking this personally.” Overall, this episode was kind of lackluster. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t especially memorable, either. Scheduled in the most competitive timeslot in television, Fringe is going to have to step up its game and consistently produce episodes of late season 1 quality to survive.

The reason I found myself calling my mother during this episode was that in opened in Philadelphia. For the first few seconds, everything was cool. The cop car looked like what I remembered from news reports when I’m home visiting family. Even though Fringe is filmed in Vancouver, the street scene looked plausibly Philadelphian enough. There’s even a mention of Suburban Station, one of three SEPTA regional rail stations in the city. When we cut to the actual train station, however, that’s when it all fell apart. For how fancy the station was, they really should have said it was 30th Street Station. Suburban Station is SEPTA Regional Rail, not AMTRAK. It’s dark and dingy and mostly underground. 30th Street, however, handles both SEPTA and AMTRAK. It doesn’t really look like the station from this episode (the real 30th Street looks older), but it would have been nice to know that the writers bothered to look at the AMTRAK website to determine the major train station in Philadelphia.

Anyway, what’s more important than inaccuracies is what happens inside that train station. A police officer stops a man with a brief case. All the arrival/departure screens start flickering. The police officer grabs the suitcase and immediately appears to be in pain. The hand holding the suitcase starts to look strange, and then there’s an explosion. The fact that, once investigated, there were no traces of explosive materials at the scene alerts the Fringe crew to something strange going on that’s probably right up their alley. The crew goes down to Philadelphia, and Walter brings the body of the police officer back to his lab for analysis.

At the lab, Walter makes a pretty grisly discovery. What he thought was a stone of some sort turned out to be the police officer’s ear. Walter also discovers a bunch of injection marks around the police officer’s toes. Olivia and Peter go to visit the police officer’s wife. While there, Olivia starts to experience more side effects from her trip to the Other Side. She gets a massive headache and asks to use the bathroom. In the bathroom, Olivia discovers a loose panel, behind which just happens to be some odd injection paraphernalia. Walter is eventually able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The police officer had been injecting himself with a serum that would make his body explode if he came in contact with radio waves of a certain frequency. Research into the police officer’s background leads to a secret military experimental medical procedure, and Olivia and Peter are on their way to Iraq to investigate further.

I really like the scenes of Olivia and Peter in Iraq, because it is good Peter and Olivia bonding time. I like seeing the two of them work well as a team. Because neither of them are really used to trusting other people, it’s a big deal that they work as well together as they do. They manage to track down an Iraqi doctor who helped administer the experimental program. Through the doctor, Olivia and Peter find out that three soldiers were treated with the serum, and all three soldiers served under the same Colonel.

Meanwhile, we see a woman in Illinois meet with someone she calls Colonel, who gives her instructions to go to DC and asks if she’s been injecting the serum like she was supposed to. We see Broyles addressing FBI agents in DC. He tells them that one of the two remaining soldiers is still out there and headed for DC. Everything is supposed to go down at a Metro station. Although they should have probably just said Union Station, because the place they went to was way too fancy to just be a Metro station. But I digress. Again.

Just like in the opening scene, the woman walks into the station and seeks out a man with a briefcase. This time, however, the Fringe team and FBI backup are on the case and ready to make sure nothing…and nobody…explodes. The Colonel starts to broadcast the radio signal, and Peter and Olivia use it to try to track him down. As you expect from a TV show, it gets pretty down to the wire (the signal can broadcast for 30 seconds before a serum-treated person goes ‘splodey), but between Peter wailing on the Colonel and Olivia smashing the broadcasting device with her cane, they manage to save the day. When being interrogated, however, the Colonel reveals that he was using these soldiers to try and stop spies from taking information about our world back to the Other Side. Although I didn’t find the episode overall especially exciting, I liked the moral ambiguity of the end. Here the Fringe team thought they were stopping some evil plot to use human bombs to blow up train stations, but in actuality, they might have helped the Other Side prepare for war against our world. Oops.

There were also some personal stories that deepened characterization in this episode. One is Olivia’s continuing visits to the bowling alley to visit the guy Nina Sharp recommended. Olivia is getting frustrated by the fact that the bowling alley guy isn’t affirmatively doing anything to help her, but by the end, she can walk without her cane. The second is that Peter desperately wants to move to a new, bigger apartment (understandably, he doesn’t want to see his father doing naked jumping jacks in the morning…neither would I, Peter, neither would I). Walter, however, is a creature of habit and doesn’t want to move. Eventually, Astrid helps convince Walter that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Walter suggests an acceptable new apartment to Peter. Once again, I think it is the relationship between Walter and Peter that really keeps me watching Fringe. It’s so complex, and it can be so funny.

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