Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fringe 2.09: "Snakehead"

“Considering your new pet, I think Mother Nature’s a real bitch.”


Although “Snakehead” didn’t advance the mythology of Fringe overall, I enjoyed it significantly more than most standalone episode. I believe that is because it had some wonderful character development, especially for Walter. Seeing Walter try to act like an adult, fail, and be utterly humiliated, was really compelling television. It’s not comfortable, but the emotion was real. All of this came from a plot that evoked the feeling of the “Alien” movies, and that’s not the first time that plot’s been used on Fringe. It’s at least the second time that gruesome monsters have been growing inside of people. I think the character work gave the episode enough of a unique spin to be worthwhile, though.

The episode opens on an Asian man lost in Boston’s Chinatown. He finally finds the place he’s looking for, and at first it seems like he’s found some sort of safehouse. The proprietor offers him dry clothes and restroom facilities. Things get sinister quickly, though, as the man complains of severe stomach cramps, and the proprietor starts to go all mad scientist, putting on gloves, and taking out sharp surgical instruments. A strange looking parasite with lots of tentacles starts to come out of the man’s mouth. He would be the very first person to survive the parasite “birth.”

The fringe team is investigating the wreckage of a horrible boating accident. A boat of people immigrating from China has washed up on shore, and everyone appears to be dead except for one woman. Many have disgusting parasites protruding from their mouths. Walter arrives at the scene in his own cab. Peter explains that Walter is practicing “self actualization.” Walter wants to prove that he can function on his own. I assume this is at least partially motivated by guilt over kidnapping Peter from the Other Side when Peter was a boy. The prospect of investigating something gross cheers somewhat gets Walter out of his funk.

Peter and Olivia go to the hospital to speak with the survivor, whose name happens to be Mei Lin, just like in the White Collar episode “All In” that just aired a little over a week ago. I’m never quite sure what to make of these crazy TV coincidences. This scene is really just all exposition. We learn that everybody on the ship was given a “seasickness pill” except for Mei Lin. Her father was a fisherman, so she was used to travel by water. That leads the group to realize that the “seasickness pills” probably carried the parasite. Also, time is of the essence, because there’s a second ship on the way, and Mei Lin’s husband and daughter are aboard. Oh, and Peter speaks Cantonese Chinese. Not really surprising, considering his history.

The investigation leads Peter and Olivia to try and interrogate a member of the Triad gang who is in FBI custody. The gang member has smuggled in a razor and uses it to commit suicide before they can get any useful information. They are, however, able to follow a bank transfer from Triad to the house of Elizabeth Jarvis, where they are greeted by her son, Matt. Elizabeth claims her financial advisor told her she was just investing in Beijing construction. Peter is looking around the house, though, and he finds evidence of what looks like a severe germophobe.

Walter is quite enjoying working with the parasites in his lab. Even when he’s bitten by one, he’s not phased at all. At first, the working theory is that the parasites secrete some sort of narcotic, but Walter notices that his white cell count is up- he’s receives a huge immune system boost. Walter connects it to the practice in certain Chinese medicine to use hookworms to treat asthma, and he wants to go to Chinatown to find some hookworms. He wants to figure out from which type the big parasites are derived from. And most importantly, he doesn’t want Peter to come with him.

Peter gets Astrid to covertly follow Walter, but he finds her anyway. After lecturing Astrid, Walter agrees to let Astrid tag along as a friend. While at one particular shop, Walter mentions seeing hookworms “four feet long.” This turns out to be a really bad move, because there are Triad people listening. As Astrid is getting the two of them something to drink, Walter disappears. Peter isn’t especially concerned when Astrid tells him about it. Walter has money for bus fare home, and he was probably just trying to make a point. Astrid returns to the lab, only to find Triad already there and taking away the parasites.

After hearing about the immune boosting theory, Peter and Olivia decide to head back to Elizabeth’s house. It makes sense considering all the germ-fighting stuff that was there. Somebody in that house probably has some sort of immune deficiency. Elizabeth’s not home, but Matt is. Peter gets Matt to spill some information over a basketball game. Matt’s the one who is sick, not Elizabeth. He has treatments once a month with an herbalist from Chinatown. Otherwise, he’d be a bubble boy.

It turns out Walter wasn’t as on top of the Chinatown situation as Peter hoped he’d be. He can’t remember Peter’s phone number, and he has spent all his bus money calling wrong numbers on the pay phone. When his pockets are empty, Walter sits at a bus stop by an older Chinese woman, despondent. She can’t understand what he’s saying, but she can tell that he’s very upset.

Peter and Olivia find Astrid back at the lab, still pretty shaken up. Astrid claims she doesn’t need to go to the hospital, though. The damage to Walter’s lab seems to be extensive. All of the parasites are gone. There isn’t much time to be upset, though. Peter gets a call and starts speaking Chinese to the person on the other line. Walter is in Chinatown. Peter goes to pick him up at the house of the woman from the bus stop. Walter is only mildly embarrassed until Peter lets slip that Astrid was followed back to the lab. That gets Walter’s attention. He’s horribly upset that his own childish games got Astrid hurt.

Olivia and an FBI team raid the second boat, but nobody is there. Olivia finds a child’s toy and knows they were at least somewhat on the right track. Peter is one step ahead of the FBI. He gets Walter to take him to the last herbalist shop he visited, and what do you know, a whole group of people are rushing inside. Peter tells Walter to stay in the car while he goes and checks out the building, and Walter must be the only TV character to ever have actually followed those directions. Peter gets caught by Triad henchmen while trying to free Mei Lin’s daughter. The herbalist tries to feed him one of the parasites, and the FBI comes to the rescue just in time.

The immigrants are all sent to the hospital, and Olivia gives the toy from the ship back to Mei Lin’s daughter, but the most poignant part of the end of the episode is Walter’s journey. First he apologizes to Astrid, and then to Peter. He tells Peter that he has put a GPS tracking chip in his neck. Because that’s what love is in Walter’s world.

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