They kept us waiting a month, and there’s not so much of a “Previously on Fringe” to catch us up. Oh well. Nobody ever said it was a conventional show. And they did get to the rewind a little later in the episode, making for some clunky-ass exposition. Overall, though, it was nice to have Fringe back.
Olivia wakes up to find herself strapped to a table and about to undergo a spinal tap. She notices a white speck on one of her tormentor’s shoes. Think that will pay off later on? She asks why they’re doing this to her, but nobody answers. She escapes using the old “can I just get some water?” trick, then smashing the glass into her kidnapper’s jaw, before proceeding to kick some royal butt on her way out. She takes some mysterious vials with her and buries them for safekeeping before her rescuers arrive. But her rescuers decide it’s easier to bring her in after tranquilizing her. Olivia wakes up strapped down again, this time to a hospital bed, and the man sitting by her side is Sanford Harris, a dude she helped put away for sexual assault some years back. His conviction was overturned (How, you ask? Sorry, no dice.) and now he’s a security consultant given the task of reviewing the Fringe task force. Hey, I didn’t even know it had a name.
Now, I know it seems silly to call B.S. on a show that regularly features people’s heads exploding and teleportation, but the idea of Harris being assigned to monitor and evaluate a woman who put him in jail seems beyond ludicrous. When Harris says he suspects Olivia is unstable, Broyles accuses him of having a vendetta. Ya think?
Besides, this Harris guy is coming off like a big red herring. He falls short of being totally evil, since he eventually puts doing the right thing above his animosity toward Olivia, and it doesn’t appear that he’s going to be a good guy anytime soon. So where does that leave him? In the jerky boss role, the police captain yelling at his renegade lieutenant — the kind of thing we’ve seen in every cop show since Andy Griffith. (Hey, if Barney Fife woulda had his way, Otis the drunk would have been booted out of Mayberry!)
On top of all this, Olivia’s sister and niece are in town. The sister, Rachel, is played by Ari Graynor, who made quite an impression last year as the drunk girl in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It helps that the two really do look alike, and it’s refreshing that their relationship seems loving and uncomplicated. Rachel is painted as a ne’er do-well whose sole redemption in life is her daughter, Ella. Olivia basically makes them wait at her apartment while she investigates her abduction.
The building she leads the FBI to has been abandoned, with no sign of any kidnapping or medical procedures having taken place. Her only lead is that vial, which she gives to Walter and Peter for testing. They find it linked to a parasite that formed inside a college professor who was on his way to a top-secret job as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control. When you add it to water, and the person ingests it, the parasite forms and metastasizes quickly into a deadly, spiky monstrosity that works its way up the esophagus and out of the mouth. All the better to scare unsuspecting students during a lecture.
Olivia picks up the other Boston-area college professor who was offered that post at the CDC (I marvel at how Boston is apparently the center of the weird-science universe) and takes him into protective custody. As she is pleading with Harris to not turn the guy out just to spite her, Harris agrees, but nobody notices that tricky double agent Loeb is spiking the guy’s drink with the parasite. Spiky, deadly monstrosity ensues. Walter diagnoses the creepy-crawly as a supersize version of the cell that causes the common cold. OK, that’s pretty cool.
Olivia realizes Loeb is the bad guy after noticing — say it with me — a white speck on his shoe. She enlists Peter’s help in setting up an illegal wiretap of Loeb’s home while she goes to investigate. Loeb’s wife surprises her, and innocently invites Olivia in for some tea. While Olivia heads to the restroom, a.k.a. snooping around in their den for clues, the wife calls Loeb and asks what she should do. Loeb says to kill her, because they can make it look like Olivia was the unstable aggressor. But Peter is able to intercept and alert Olivia, who guns down the wife.
After they pick up Loeb, who has yet to learn that his wife has been killed, Olivia interrogates him. In a wicked bit of character development, she pulls out all the stops, even taunting Loeb with pictures of his wife with a bullet hole in her head and telling him she’s the one who put it there. He confesses, but says she has no idea what’s going on, and starts talking about there being two sides and that everything they were trying to do is ruined. Most surprisingly, he tells Olivia that he didn’t abduct her but rescue her. From whom, we still have no idea. But it stays with Olivia.
After that extremely eventful day at work — killing at least two people, battling overgrown parasites, confronting a man you once put away — she heads home and cooks dinner for Rachel and Ella. After falling asleep on the couch with Ella in her arms, Rachel comes and puts a blanket over them. I thought for sure she was going to take off, sticking Olivia with the kid, which made me think, come on, it’s too early to resort to the cute kid shtick. I mean, she and Peter haven’t even done the deed yet (though that moment seems to be getting closer). But she doesn’t, and the episode ends on a rare tranquil note with no last-second twist that throws everything out of whack.
Not sure I could say this was worth the wait. I mean, a month? Really? But hopefully this will kick-start the rest of the season. Next week’s episode involves melted brains, so that’s a good sign.
BTW, apparently some people out there take issue with how the FBI agents on Fringe conduct themselves. While they may be a bit inaccurate on the staffing issue, the rest of the gripes are pretty spot-on.