Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fringe 2.11: "Unearthed"

“Well, you know me. You tell me that the U.S. Government is covering something up, I’ll tell you it must be Tuesday.”


“Unearthed” was actually filmed for season 1 of Fringe, but for reasons I’m unsure of, it never aired. Because of that, it’s unclear exactly where it fits in Fringe continuity. It could be a look back in time, or it could be a parallel universe. Either way, it was a compelling story. It was especially appropriate that I watched this episode on the night of the penultimate episode of Dollhouse, as “Unearthed” deals with questions of identity and transfer of personality. It was much more self-contained than current episodes of Fringe. By the end of the episode, we know exactly what caused the phenomenon of the week to happen, and it’s not beings from a parallel universe.

This episode also has a different visual style than current episodes of Fringe. There were lots of odd angles and quick cuts. It was much more interesting visually than any episode of Fringe I’ve seen in a long time. The feel overall was grittier- like the viewer is in the middle of the action. It was similar to episodes of Dollhouse from “Epitaph One” on when they started shooting the show in digital instead of on film. Another difference I noticed (besides the huge elephant in the room, which I’ll get to in due time) was in some of the characterization and interactions between characters. Walter was more assertive and surly than the troubled, almost child-like person we now know.

Clearly trying to set up a conflict between religion and Walter’s fringe science right from the get-go, the episode opens on a Last Rites sacrament for a teenager, Lisa Donovan. She appears to be brain dead and is about to be an organ donor. To satisfy the “must have something creepy and/or gross in the teaser” requirement for Fringe, Lisa somehow comes back to life just as the surgeons are about to start the organ harvesting procedure. She screams out a seemingly random combination of numbers and letters from the NATO phonetic alphabet (like the code names for the LA Actives in Dollhouse).

Beyond it being strange that somebody essentially came back from the dead, Lisa’s case comes to the attention of the Fringe team because the letters and numbers Lisa screamed out were nuclear missile launch codes. What is especially troubling is that Andrew Rusk, the petty officer to whom these launch codes were assigned, is missing. When talking to Lisa at the hospital, all it takes is Olivia saying “Andrew Rusk” to set off another episode. This time, Lisa starts speaking in Russian.

So the big elephant in the room I mentioned? Charlie randomly appears in the episode (which makes sense, considering it was filmed to be part of season 1). He’s helping out with the investigation, doing interviews and such. I can almost feel the breeze from thousands of Fringe fans rushing to their computers trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Interviewing Rusk’s wife Teresa turns out to be quite useful. It turns out that part of the Russian phrase Lisa said was Rusk’s pet name for Teresa. Rusk learned Russian for his job with the Navy.

Two things cement Walter’s thoughts about what could be going on with Lisa. First, he mingles with coma patients at the hospital. He’s convinced there’s still something there in the coma patients, and that they can hear everything around them. Next, the team views video of some of Walter’s old experiments where he was trying to prove that electric manipulation can make a person psychic. This part of the investigation gives yet another glimpse of just how ruthless Walter was before his brain was operated on and he ended up in St. Claire’s. The video they’re watching is of the sixth subject in the experiment, and subjects 1 through 5 “settled out of court.” I suppose some of that old tenacity is still present in Walter as we know him now, he just doesn’t have the ability to hurt as many people with it. Anyway, Walter’s theory is that Lisa is somehow psychically linked to Rusk.

Olivia and Peter are having a lovely conversation about some of their research when Olivia gets a call from Lisa. Everything is definitely not okay. The team finds Lisa at a car lot. She says she sees Rusk and another man with a gun. That man killed Rusk. Peter finds a shell casing, which lends some credibility to Lisa’s rambling. Lisa is even more vindicated when the FBI back-up find Rusk’s body in a car trunk. Lisa can’t feel that vindication, though- she started seizing as soon as the trunk was opened.

Walter now has a new theory- he thinks Rusk’s murder and Lisa’s “rebirth” during the organ harvesting were simultaneous. Here’s where the religion/science conflict really comes to a head. Lisa’s mom is very religious, rarely seen in the first half of the episode not accompanied by her Priest. The Priest thinks Walter’s theory is crazy, and Walter completely goes off on him. Lisa’s mom doesn’t want her daughter to be sick anymore, though, so she asks for Walter’s help despite the opinion of her Priest. Privately, Walter admits to Peter that he doesn’t really know exactly how to help Lisa- he just said what he said because the Priest made him so angry.

After some more digging, Olivia finds out the truth about Rusk. He served aboard a nuclear submarine that was in a very bad accident. Rusk himself was subjected to high levels of radiation. The Navy, trying to keep the whole thing secret, gave Rusk highly experimental treatments for radiation poisoning. Something about these treatments are responsible for Rusk’s memories still hanging around following his death. Olivia wants to use Lisa, who is still harboring Rusk’s memories, to find out who killed Rusk.

Unfortunately, Walter’s theory still isn’t perfected. While Lisa is strapped down and pumped full of drugs (would you expect anything less of Walter?), Rusk fully manifests himself. It’s not just his memories hanging out in Lisa’s brain- it’s his entire consciousness. Rusk, through Lisa, says that he doesn’t know the name of the man who killed him, but he knows that man has an injured left arm, because Rusk managed to get in a few good hits of his own before he was finally killed. A bit of quick research on Olivia’s part turns up a man named Jake. He was recently treated for an arm injury, and he’s Navy, too. Charlie, surprisingly spry for someone who was incinerated, finds Jake at a boxing gym and tackles him. Once interrogated, Jake has some important information. He knows that Rusk abused his wife. The team is able to put the pieces together pretty quickly- Teresa hired Jake to kill her husband.

Lisa awakes from her treatment seemingly back in control. Peter catches her up on what’s happening, then he leaves to get her a glass of water. This turns out to be a very bad idea. Rusk is actually still in control, and he’s out for blood. When Peter gets back to the main lab room, Lisa is gone. I called that one before it happened- I guess I watch too much Dollhouse.

Lisa!Rusk finds Teresa at home, and s/he predictably begins to terrorize her. S/he’s got a gun and gasoline. Peter figured out the situation first, so he’s on the scene quickly. He tries to stop Lisa!Rusk from murdering Teresa by appealing to Lisa herself. He wants to coax Lisa’s consciousness out from under Rusk’s control. It’s hard to tell how much he succeeds. I think it has at least a minor effect- enough to delay Rusk’s plans. Thankfully the FBI arrives right behind Peter, and Charlie shoots a well-aimed tranquilizer dart at Lisa.

Walter thinks that because Rusk has sort-of completed his goal, he has left Lisa’s head for good. This is a pretty lame theory, considering Teresa is still alive, and I’d bet Rusk most definitely wanted her dead. Walter uses some creative Bible quoting to convince Lisa’s mom that everything will be fine if she takes it on faith. In actuality, he doesn’t really care if the problem is completely solved. If more Navy guys had the same thing happen, Walter is delighted with the idea of starting an exorcism business. Lisa’s good-bye to the team is pretty sweet. She tells Olivia not to wait to make her move on Peter- she’ll go after him herself once she turns eighteen. I do love the Olivia and Peter moments we’ve been getting in season 2- they really do share a lot with each other, but I kind of wish one of them would make a real move, too.

At the end of the episode, it seems like Walter may get his wish. There’s been a horrific car accident in Times Square. The imagery is kind of reminiscent of Olivia’s accident from earlier this season. It was so similar that I wondered if this was a scene that the producers tacked on to try and establish some continuity by making this episode have taken place on the Other Side. It wasn’t Olivia in the car, though. A man opens his eyes from within the wrecked car and starts speaking Russian.

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