Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fringe 2.10: "Grey Matters"

“In theory, he shouldn't be able to. But in theory, he should still be a frozen head. So in the department of how to make impossible things possible, what would he need to do?”


“Grey Matters” was one of the better episodes of Fringe this season, no doubt because, like “Snakehead,” it focused heavily on Walter. John Noble never fails to give an excellent performance. In this episode, we learned a lot more about why precisely Walter is the way he is, and we see just how much he means to the rest of the Fringe team. Walter is also forced to confront his past demons, and we get a glimpse of what he was like before be was institutionalized at St. Claire’s and became the Walter we know today.

The episode opens on a typical Fringe gross-out scene. It wouldn’t be Fringe if the set-up for the episode wasn’t gory and made me cringe. Before the gross-out though, my reaction was more like “Hey! It’s Thatcher Grey!” Also that guy who Sawyer mistook for “Original Sawyer” and killed in Australia on “Lost.” In other words, the episode opened on veteran character actor Jeff Perry. He is in some sort of medical facility (it turns out to be a mental institution), and some pretty shady characters are doing something to the back of his head. One of these shady guys goes out into the hallway to stand watch and ends up shooting a passing security guard. They high tail it out of there, and the camera pans to reveal that the back of the patient’s skull has been removed, and his brain is exposed.

This guy, Joseph Slater, had been admitted to the institution for schizophrenia, but following his impromptu brain surgery, he was cured. This draws the attention of the Fringe team. One of the great things about John Noble’s performance in this episode is that you can feel how visiting a mental institution has Walter on edge due to his time in St. Claire’s. Walter, having insight into these types of matters, wants to know what Slater was like before he was cured. The team is shown video of Slater mumbling about a girl in a red dress.

Later, when looking at some security footage, Olivia recognizes one of the shady guys who had been operating on Slater. He’s the guy whose head the shifters from the Other Side had been looking for. Apparently, they found it. And reanimated it. Creepy. His name is Thomas Newton. Some research into “Dr. Paris,” who had been responsible for Slater’s admission into the institution, also turns up two more patients. The team visits one of them, a woman who had become obsessed with the number 28. She has a fresh scar on the back of her head, likely from a similar procedure to whatever they did to Slater. It looks like Dr. Paris had been using these three brains to store small pieces of foreign brain tissue. A later phone call from a doctor at the facility makes the scope of the investigation even larger- Dr. Paris visited Walter while he was at St. Claire’s. It just so happens Walter has a very old scar on the back of his head, too.

Walter needs an MRI to figure out just what exactly was done to him. He’s terribly afraid, no so much about the procedure itself, but what it might reveal. He self-prescribes a much larger dose of Valium than he should have. Astrid takes him home after the procedure, and he’s really feeling the effect of the drug. Walter sends Astrid over to the lab to pick up a particular record album that he claims helps him come down from a Valium high. Why doesn’t it surprise me that Walter has specific music for this purpose?

Meanwhile, Peter and Olivia find out the very interesting results of the MRI. Walter has had three pieces of his hippocampus removed. This is part of the brain that stores memories. It turns out that the empty spaces in Walter’s brain match up perfectly to the pieces of extra brain the three other patients had been housing before their recent, impromptu surgeries. It stands to reason that somebody wants to put Walter’s brain back together. Which means Walter is most definitely in danger.

Before Astrid can get back to the house (she was on her way to fetch that album when Peter called her to let her know what was going on), Walter is taken by Newton and his cronies. First they try to use picture association to help Walter remember things. They show him four pictures, three of which make him think of Peter. The final picture (one of the three that make him think of Peter) is a coffin. It’s a stark reminder of the circumstances that led Walter to go so far as to open a door to the Other Side all those years ago.

Peter’s first instinct is to use the GPS tracking chip Walter implanted in himself the week before, but if he had watched the recent Dollhouse episode “The Left Hand,” he’d know that was a plan that was never going to work. Like Cindy Perrin and her minions, Peter and Olivia and the FBI team only find a bloody tracking chip in a bathroom sink. All hope isn’t lost, however. Peter realizes that to jog Walter’s memory, Newton and his goons probably took Walter to the place where Walter first had the idea to open a door to the Other Side. Peter’s childhood home, which happens to be across the street from 2828 Green St., a house where a little girl lived while Peter was growing up.

Newton, the goons, and Walter are indeed at the house where Peter grew up. They essentially hook up Walter to the missing pieces of his brain. They want to find out how he created that door to the Other Side, because, as William Bell said earlier this season, that’s the goal of the Shifters- to open a door. You can see the change in Walter’s demeanor as soon as the procedure takes effect. He’s not the gentle soul we now know. He loudly demands his wife and son, and his face is defiant. It doesn’t seem like whole Walter was a very pleasant person to be around.

By the time Olivia and Peter get to the house, it’s too late- Newton has just left, and Walter has been disconnected from the missing pieces of his brain. Olivia sprints out the back door and catches up to Newton, but there’s one more surprise in store. Newton has injected Walter with a toxin, and he will only tell Olivia the antidote if she lets him escape. She struggles with her choice momentarily, but desperate pleas for help from Peter over the phone help her make her choice. She runs back to the house, and Newton tells her the instructions for saving Walter. The Fringe team may have lost the battle, but the war isn’t over yet, and with Walter still around, they have a fighting chance. Oh, and Dr. Paris? He was actually William Bell. Which was kind of surprising and not surprising all at the same time.

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