By Stacey Harrison
It was only a matter of time before Fringe produced a monster-on-the-loose episode. As far as those things go, this one delivered all the requisite chills and sense of awe at a creature largely left unseen. More memorably, it also provided a much-needed showcase for the Charlie Francis character, played by the wonderful Kirk Acevedo.
The trouble starts when a group of do-gooder animal rights activists — who apparently have never seen 28 Days Later — break into a testing facility to release the doomed critters. But one of them just can’t resist looking behind that big door in the back, and something big and nasty is released that claws them all to shreds. When the Bishops and Olivia come to investigate, Walter notices odd things like the size of the claws that must have been used, and also some marks that appear to have been made by fangs. Like some kind of lion-snake. He theorizes that there might be some genetic engineering afoot.
Poor Charlie later happens upon some animal control guys who didn’t know what they were up against and have become the latest victims. He confronts the creature himself, getting a shot off and scaring it away, but not before it puts a stinger in him. This is about the time Walter starts getting that “oh, s#$%” feeling, recalling some of his old work involving crossbreeding different animal species in order to make a new monstrosity. His efforts never panned out, but he fears an old colleague might have picked up the torch.
More troubling is when one of the prior victims is discovered to have a bunch of maggot-like thingies popping out of his corpse. Apparently that’s the larvae, which the creature likes to leave in its victims. Hundreds of them, from the looks of it. They connect this back to Charlie, who is just heading to bed with his wife when he gets the bad news. You’re pregnant, man. With lots of lots of little Frankenstein creatures who will bust out of your gut and spread your insides everywhere. You got about 24 hours.
Walter’s prescription is putting poison in Charlie’s body to kill the little guys. While that works to some extent, it also causes Charlie’s organs to fail. So the only alternative is to get some of the creature’s blood to fool the larvae into … well, does it matter, really? The upshot is, Olivia and the Bishops have to go confront the creature and kill it. It’s what we all want to see anyway.
They find out more about the creature after learning that one of the animal rights activists had a tie to the lab. His dad is the head of it, in fact. Talk about rebelling against the family business. The dad breaks down and reveals that in addition to testing products, the lab is also Frankenstein-ing them. This particular model also has a bit of bat in it. Bats are nocturnal, which means it likes the darkness of the sewers, and they’re very maternal, which means it can be lured into a fight by sensing its larvae nearby.
Olivia and the Bishops head underground to wait for the beast. Walter is increasingly agitated by his perceived role in this creature’s existence — “I didn’t create it, but I could have” — so much so that he hatches a daring plan that puts his life in critical danger. He sequesters himself from Olivia and Peter, drinks some poison so that if he is eaten, the creature will die as well. There is an antidote back in the lab, which must be taken within the hour. Joshua Jackson delivers some of his best moments in the series, pleading with Walter to not sacrifice himself. It’s a mixture of anger, disbelief and dread at the prospect of losing his loony old father.
The creature gets up close to Walter, who shoots it just as it turns toward Peter and Olivia. This is where you realize the decision to keep it hidden for most of the episode was wise, not just from a suspense angle, but it also hides some not-so-impressive CGI. I know I’m probably just spoiled by now, but this was the first time I remember being noticeably underwhelmed by the effects work on Fringe.
Walter and Charlie both survive, and Charlie is able to go home to his wife, Sonia, played by the lovely Kiersten Warren (Desperate Housewives), who has no idea of her husband’s flirtation with death. Olivia tries to sleep, but realizes she needs the light on. If only she could have someone read to her and assure her that monsters weren’t real, as she did with her little niece at the beginning of the episode.
Highlights: Finally, we get to see Charlie as more than an offshoot of Olivia. The scene where he’s on the phone with his wife, trying to say goodbye without her knowing it’s a final goodbye is one of the best of the season. Acevedo hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he can do beyond point a gun and spew exposition, so it was nice to see the actor who was so good on Oz get his chance. Walter also had a pivotal moment, realizing that he conducted many of his experiments without considering their consequences. That he was willing to give up his life to try to amend that is a new wrinkle for him.
Not sure why they’re still keeping Olivia’s sister and niece around, other than to show that she is a wee bit uncomfortable seeing Rachel and Peter get closer. When Peter calls late one night and asks to speak to Rachel, that’s unmistakable jealousy on Olivia’s face.
Best line of the night is when Astrid is describing the characteristics of the monster (big claws, reptilian mouth, nasty disposition) and Walter says, “Sounds like a woman I once knew in Cleveland.”
Photo: ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Craig Blankenhorn/FOX