Friday, January 29, 2010

Fringe 2.13: "What Lies Below"

“I can’t let Peter die again.”


“What Lies Below” was my favorite “Fringe” episode of the season thus far. The stakes were higher than they’ve ever been. Sure Walter, Peter, and Olivia have all been in mortal danger before, but this felt different. First of all, Walter being in danger, which has already happened twice this season, most seriously in the fall finale, isn’t ever quite as emotionally affecting as Peter being in danger. Walter is so intensely connected to Peter and invested in Peter continuing to live that watching him cope with Peter being in danger always means watching one of John Noble’s best performances. Peter has also been in mortal danger this season, but the situation he found himself in this time around seemed much more serious. Perhaps that’s because Peter himself was completely unraveling and not in control. The episode itself had a lot of similarities to one of my favorite creepy movies, “The Andromeda Strain.” It was definitely a great way to spend an hour.

A courier runs into an older man in the elevator of a fancy, high-rise office building. The man seems disoriented, and he ends up stumbling into the same office as the courier’s destination- the office of an oil company. The man ends up collapsing in the reception area, and the courier tries to administer CPR. His efforts are in vain, and tragically so. The man spontaneously spews blood all over the reception area, spraying some of the horrified onlookers.

The Fringe team is on the case, and Walter is, as usual, enthusiastically curious to find out what could make a man spontaneously spew blood. The true seriousness of the situation, however, is quickly apparent. The courier approaches the front door and begins to spew blood. The door is the only thing that keeps Walter from being infected. Now the CDC is involved, and Peter and Olivia have quite a tough task ahead of them keeping the office workers calm. Things go from bad to worse when yet another person, this time the oil company receptionist, starts to show signs of being infected.

Despite the chaos, Olivia does manage to get some good information out of Mr. Ames, one of the executives at the oil company. The first man to die had told Mr. Ames that he had something he wanted to sell. Nobody knows just what secret or item the man had in his possession, so the investigation goes on. Soon, however, the receptionist is starting to show wandering tendencies. Peter chases aver her, which is a very bad move. Surprisingly, she does spray blood on him (she jumps out the window and smashes in the roof of a nearby van), but what actually happens is no better. Peter slips on the blood of the first man who died.

Completely freaked out, Peter rushes to the rest room, Olivia following behind. Olivia’s reaction seems to be a mix of shock, grief, and resignation. Peter keeps scrubbing himself at the sink, as if he rubbed hard enough, the blood and whatever it is that is killing people would be gone. Peter pulls it together and decides to do something kind of rash. He goes back to the dead guy’s body and starts searching his pockets. He figures he was probably already infected, so he might as well try to help solve the mystery of what the guy was selling while he still can. Peter finds car keys and guesses that whatever the guy was trying to sell is in the car that belongs to those keys.

There’s a suitcase in the trunk of the car, and the contents are materials from a drilling operation. A competing oil company drilled deeper than anyone was meant to, and they have unleashed something horrific. I thought this was the biggest comparison with “The Andromeda Strain.” In the movie, a horrible virus is brought back to Earth via satellite. Here’s it’s dug up from within the Earth. Walter posits that the virus that has been unearthed is what killed off most of the creatures from the Ice Age.

Now that he knows what the virus is, Walter can at least make a test for it. The solution Walter develops will turn black if it comes in contact with the virus. Walter and Astrid don biohazard suits and begin the task of screening all the oil company employees for the virus. It’s pretty obvious by this point that Peter is infected. He uses a little slight-of-hand to make his test show up negative. He tries to get out of the building with the first group of people who have been cleared, but luckily, a guard notices that Peter’s nose is bleeding, and they don’t let him out. He screams at Olivia, who has already escaped, to open the door, but she holds strong.

When Walter finds out that Peter has been infected, he becomes a man on a mission in his own kooky, freaked-out way. He’s right to have a sense of urgency. The CDC has decided that the threat of this virus is too great to leave any possibility that an infected person will get outside. They’ve put in a request to the Army to completely destroy the building once all the non-infected people are safely out. Walter refuses to leave, I guess he figures he can work more quickly if he stays where he is, and Astrid decides to stick by him.

Walter comes up with a cure pretty quickly – sulfur- but the suspense doesn’t stop there. They still have to eliminate the threat of contamination long enough to administer the cure. The CDC is only willing to wait so long. The plan is to bring in a truck to administer gas throughout the building. This will eliminate the threat without killing the people who have been infected. The only problem is that for the gas to spread, the building’s ventilation system needs to be turned back on. Olivia volunteers for the job.

Unfortunately for Olivia, Peter finds her as she’s trying to make her way to the ventilation controls. He is most definitely not himself, completely controlled by the virus. Olivia fights him, but she doesn’t win. Peter gets Olivia’s gun, and Olivia is left cowering under a car in the parking garage. This was a seriously painful scene. Olivia has already been betrayed once by an important man in her life (John Scott, way back in the pilot), and now here’s Peter attacking her. She pulls it together, though, and gets the ventilation system up and running just in time. Once cured, Peter is, understandably, horrified at how he acted, but Olivia forgives him. He wasn’t himself.

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