Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fringe 3.04: "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"

“We all draw our moral lines in the sand. And unless you can put yourself in another man’s shoes, I don’t think you can really judge their situations.”

I loved the title of this episode, although I think you can probably guess from my past posts that I wasn’t thrilled with some of the events that occurred. The episode certainly raised a lot of really interesting questions and possibilities, though. I’m very anxious to see where things go after baseball hiatus (a moment of silence for my dear loser Phillies). This episode had a theme that actually seems to run though most of the “our universe” episodes this season at least a little bit. That theme is people taking their surroundings and loved ones for granted to the point where they don’t recognize when something is horribly wrong. It’s either not recognizing, or going into denial. Or maybe some of both. Peter is arguably in that mode right now, and some of the other characters we met this week were, too.

The episode opens with Alt-livia and Peter on a date. They’re making friendly banter, and Peter’s bringing out his con man skills, impressing Alt-livia with his ability to read their fellow diners. Peter makes a comment about how you can always tell when a couple is getting close to deciding to sleep together, and Alt-livia just looks uncomfortable. Obviously she’s not prepared to cheat on Frank for the sake of the mission…yet. In fact, it makes her so uncomfortable that she has to go in the bathroom and compose herself before they leave the restaurant. It was an interesting parallel to our Olivia having to compose herself in the gas station bathroom over on the Other Side in “Olivia.”

We next get our introduction to the case of the week, and for once that introduction isn’t especially creepy and gross. Or at least it’s pretty tame on the “Fringe” spectrum. Senator van Horn (who debriefed Peter following the team’s trip to the Other Side), is driving home after a long day at work. He stops at a lemonade stand run by some neighborhood kids and buys a cup of lemonade. He seems like a generous guy. The kids were selling that lemonade for $1.00 a cup. Seems mighty steep to me, but I’m a child of the 80’s. What do I know? Anyway, just as the Senator pulls away from the lemonade stand, another car crashes into his car. He winds up in the hospital with no pulse but still breathing. I knew what was up immediately. He’s a shapeshifter.

Apparently the real Senator van Horn and his wife, Patricia, were friends with Broyles, so he shows up at the hospital to provide some comfort, and maybe get Patricia some answers. And there’s the little matter that the Senator’s current condition (how does one have a pulse without breathing) makes the whole situation Fringe fodder. The hospital hadn’t told Patricia much of anything, so Broyles growls at an orderly for an explanation. The hospital staff turn out to be scared of him, so they let Patricia see her “husband.” Broyles isn’t the only person who has come to see the van Horn’s, though. Newton’s there, too. There’s a big shoot out where Newton kills a bunch of doctors and other hospital staff before escaping. He doesn’t succeed in recovering van Horn’s body, though. That ends up with the Fringe team.

Meanwhile, Walter is at Massive Dynamic, giving a speech to his new employees. His speech gets stranger and stranger, and the employees are really not feeling it. You can tell they’re wondering why Walter is their boss and not receiving medical care. It turns out Walter was tripping, which isn’t really surprising. He always deals with stressful situations by taking hallucinogens. When Walter is told of the Senator van Horn incident, he asks for the body to be brought to “his lab.” Only this time he’s not talking about the Harvard basement, he’s talking about Massive Dynamic. I’m wondering what this means for the future of the show. Are we going to be phasing out the quaint, eccentric Harvard lab for the sleek Massive Dynamic? I’d guess at this point even Walter isn’t quite sure exactly what he wants his transition to head of Massive Dynamic to look like. He’s scared about the responsibility (hence the drugs), but excited about all the new toys. Alt-livia is conspicuously absent through all this. She is paying a visit to Newton. Newton is messing with her head, saying Peter doesn’t trust her and that she will probably fail at her mission.

Walter is working on van Horn’s body in one of Massive Dynamic’s labs, and Peter suggests they try to “fix” the shapeshifter. It could be useful to find out what he knows, after all. And, of course, this is meant to get the audience thinking “Yay! They’re going to find out about the Olivia switch!” Walter manages to get van Horn to twitch just as Alt-livia walks in. Walter plans to map van Horn’s brain in an attempt to find his memories. Meanwhile, Peter and Alt-livia search van Horn’s office. Peter finds some very informative files. There’s a little fake out at first where Peter shows Alt-livia a file on Olivia. We’re supposed to think for a second that the jig is up. Not quite, though. It turns out that van Horn had files on all the members of the Fringe crew.

After their reconnaissance is over, Alt-livia pays yet another visit to Newton. She tells him exactly where van Horn’s body is being stored. Newton, then, has to go get an assassin to try and solve this problem. He goes to the home of a police officer who appears to be a happy family man. He’s really a shapeshifter, though. This is where we really start to see the theme of the episode. It’s all about how shapeshifters fit into our world. This particular shapeshifter is content in his adopted existence and doesn’t really want to give it up. He especially loves his “son,” and makes sure to tuck him into bed before leaving on his mission, possibly forever.

We also see the other half of what a shapeshifter integrating into someone else’s life looks like. It’s the perspective of the victim’s loved ones. van Horn’s brain is triggered when the real van Horn’s wife is mentioned. Walter figures the shapeshifter must have developed an attachment to her, and he wants to get her involved in the investigation. Alt-livia protests mightily, but she gets overruled by the rest of the team. Patricia arrives at the lab, and after she has a chance to gather her thoughts and process the magnitude of what has happened, she starts to cry. She tells van Horn she is so sorry she didn’t realize he (the real van Horn) was gone. She had been living in denial. Like the assassin, we can see this shapeshifter was attached to his adopted life, too. In response to Patricia’s voice, he spouts off some random addresses. They were hotels he was considering for their anniversary getaway.

Alt-livia gets a text that the assassin is coming, and gets everybody out of the lab (except for van Horn, obviously) by suggesting food. Walter gets some inspiration in the cafeteria line when he and Astrid talk about animal crackers. Walter thinks it would be fun if they made animal crackers in the shapes of dinosaurs. Walter and Astrid start naming dinosaurs, and when Astrid says “stegosaurus,” it gives Walter an idea. He goes back up to the lab, and we know he’s in trouble. The assassin is in the elevator, too. Walter is finally interrupted by the assassin at probably the most inopportune time. He had just taken an electronic chip of sorts out of the base of van Horn’s spine. The chip is the shapeshifter’s “second brain,” much like the stegosaurus’ second brain. Walter actually fights back, which is pretty awesome. He stabs the assassin, then the assassin knocks Walter out and takes the chip.

Back in the cafeteria, Peter tells Alt-livia that he understands Patricia. He has noticed major changes in “Olivia” since they returned from the Other Side, but he’s chosen to ignore them, and he’s accepted her excuses. It’s hard to tell from this scene whether or not Peter really, truly knows what’s going on. Has he gone into con man mode, or not? Peter’s thoughts are interrupted when he realizes Walter is missing. He and Alt-livia head up to the lab as the shapeshifter is coming down. They see mercury on an elevator button and know things are bad. Alt-livia says she’ll go after the shapeshifter, and Peter stupidly agrees to that. Peter finds Walter in the lab. Walter is injured, but he’ll be okay. Walter lets Peter into the computer system so he can do some investigation.

Newton catches up with the assassin outside the assassin’s house. He’s disappointed that the assassin didn’t follow orders to take another form before beginning this mission. He realizes that the assassin doesn’t want to give up his “family,” so he kills the assassin. Peter and Alt-livia show up at the scene just as Newton is trying to put the assassin’s body into his car. The result is a pretty epic (for television) car chase. Interestingly, Peter drives while Alt-livia shoots out of the passenger side window (and misses pretty deliberately). The chase ends when Newton crashes in a tunnel. Alt-livia pockets the van Horn disc while Peter is distracted on the phone.

Newton is now in jail, but that doesn’t stop Alt-livia from paying him yet another visit. She gives him a very small chip, different from the “second brain” chip. Newton tells her that the fact she has lines she’s unwilling to cross will be her undoing. I’ve got to kind of agree with Newton here. I think without his help, this mission is going to be going downhill fast. And that can’t happen quickly enough for me. Alt-livia is rattled by this, and next thing you know, she and Peter are having sex, something that she was not at all willing to do at the beginning of the episode. This is intercut with Newton putting the new chip in his mouth. Apparently it’s some sort of suicide device. RIP to a very interesting villain.

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