“Fringe”: The Same Old Story

Posted by SH

You know, the more this episode went on, the more I was reminded of an episode of that short-lived WB series Birds of Prey. And that’s never a good thing.

But among the detritus of that failed Batman spinoff, there was a surprisingly effective story about a rapid-aging human who burns through his life span in a matter of days. He was bred to be an assassin, one who does not have to wait a couple of decades before being ready for battle. OK, it also sounds a little like Blade Runner and Attack of the Clones. Have we already run out of ideas by Episode 2, J.J.?

Nah. Like some wise man once said, there are only about seven original stories out there. So let’s judge on the telling if not the content. Starting things off in a dank motel room with a chatty hooker and a nervous guy filling up hypodermics in the bathroom is a smart move. But before he can do whatever it is he does, the girl starts convulsing with what looks like an alien trying to get out of her belly. (She’s also in nothing but bra and panties, mirroring Anna Torv’s outfit in the pilot, which confirms my early theory that Fringe will find a way each week to get at least one woman in her skivvies.) He drops her off at the hospital, where she proceeds to give birth and die. And whatever it was she birthed was worthy of a scream-cut to commercial by the medical professionals.

Olivia and the Bishop boys are summoned to the hospital where they see a giant man-baby lying dead on the floor, umbilical cord still attached. He lived about four hours. After tracking down the girl’s previous whereabouts to a motel room, Olivia and Peter look for clues, and Olivia makes a horrifying realization that this case has links to an unsolved serial killer case she and her departed lover John worked on 12 years ago. I have to break here for a moment. 12 years? How old is Olivia supposed to be, exactly? Anna Torv is 30, so that would put Olivia at about 18 when she was working this case, and one would only presume that it wasn’t her first case out of the academy. Did I just hear this wrong, or is this a silly boo boo?

Anyway, apparently the killer likes to drug girls with a muscle relaxer then extract the pituitary gland from their brains. Turns out there is a method to the madness, however. Walter links the killer to some experiments with rapid aging he did long ago, which aimed to build an army of age-appropriate soldiers. The problem was, they could never stop the aging process at the right time. Enter the pituitary. He needs it to stave off old age. Helping him is a former colleague of Walter’s from the research days, a dodgy professor who when questioned by Olivia claimed to have abandoned the project because of moral objections. But with a cool name like Penrose, you know he’s not just a one-scener.

Just as the killer (who is never named) is about to claim another victim, Olivia and Peter track him down to an abandoned warehouse where Penrose has been helping him and calling him “son.” The victim is saved, thanks to some MacGyver-type resuscitation from Peter, Penrose escapes to menace Fringe viewers another day, and Olivia tracks down the killer as he ages out and dies.

But then the episode goes on for another five to 10 minutes. This must be what J.J. Abrams has in mind when he says Fringe will focus on more self-contained episodes, and not require viewers to be steeped in its mythology … oh, but there is a mythology, and it’s only getting more intriguing. While Massive Dynamics was built up to be an Evil Corporation in the pilot, we see that it’s pretty much in cahoots with the FBI in investigating The Pattern. Nina Sharp even offers Olivia a job, because she’s wasting herself in private service. Then there’s Walter, who seems to take a step back from the normal-ish guy he became toward the end of the first episode. Looks like a steady dose of the crazies, alternated with well-timed bouts of clarity, will be his MO. The juiciest comment he makes is to Olivia, mistakenly believing she knows something about Peter’s medical history that even Peter doesn’t know. When Olivia says she has no idea what he’s talking about, he’s like, never mind. Yeah, right. The very last shot shows a row of bodies in some kind of sleep chamber. They appear to be clones. Are there more of these pituitary-starved killers out there? Was that Peter?

All right, you got me. I’ll tune in next week.

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