“Fringe” recap: Snakehead

By Stacey Harrison

©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Michael Courtney/FOX
©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Michael Courtney/FOX

First off, coolest episode name ever. Just had to say that.

We start off in Boston (which looks nothing like Vancouver, no sir, not one bit) where a man is frantically wandering the streets of Chinatown. He makes it to see a man and they start to discuss strange, oblique subjects like “the others” and taking something and “they’re all dead.” Then the frantic man lays down and proceeds to have a parasite bulge through his body, working its way out his mouth with its gaggle of tentacles showing. Ewwww. The man he came to see is not scared or surprised. He was expecting it. And more.

There are others with this affliction, but they didn’t make it as far. A cargo ship from China runs aground elsewhere in Boston and several corpses are on the shore in various stages of parasitic expulsion. Walter says it is similar to a creature found in livestock, but of course they’re not that big, or usually in humans. There is one survivor, however, a woman who it turns out is carrying no parasite. Like all of them, she came to find work and a better life. She says that everyone on board who was given a medicine for seasickness ended up with the squid. She was experienced at sea, so she didn’t take it. Olivia and Peter also learn that there’s another boat on the way, most likely packing the big uglies.

A quick investigation leads to a suspect who might know something about the apparent smuggling operation, but — as Peter, who can read and speak Cantonese (of course), points out — he is a Chinese Triad gang member and has a strict code of not complying with authorities. This proves to be an understatement when the guy whips out a razor blade he’d been hiding and slices his own throat before he can be interrogated.

So the best they can theorize up to this point is perhaps the parasites are naturally secreting some kind of opiate, one that can be harvested and sold as a street drug. They just need human incubators to grow. This is bolstered by a scene of the mysterious man in the apartment extracting something from another squid, which was provided by another unfortunate survivor who wandered into his place. Walter and Astrid are studying one of the creatures when it suddenly latches on to Walter and begins sucking down his bodily fluids. Astrid immediately works to remove it, but Walter stonewalls her for a bit, getting a taste of what the drug might feel like.

Peter and Olivia get a lead on who might have financed the smuggling operation, and it turns out to be a shell corporation run by the Triads. They track down the address of the main investor and end up at a plush suburban address where a non-Chinese widow lives with her teen son. She says she invested innocently, hearing the construction company could make her some good cash, but Peter is somehow suspicious of all the signs around her house — hermetically sealed windows, filters around all the air vents, lots and LOTS of hand sanitizer — that she’s an obsessive-compulsive germophobe.

Walter is able to connect the dots a bit when he reveals that the parasite doesn’t carry a narcotic, but an immune-boosting wonder drug. Something someone really afraid of germs might want to get a hold of. It’s very similar to a hookworm used in Chinese medicine for various treatments. Walter has done some of his own detective work and assembled a list of shops that sell the worm. He insists he go and get some worms to collect some samples — alone. He just needs Peter to float him a few bucks for bus fare. Independence comes in baby steps, my friend.

The stakes are raised a bit when the surviving woman’s daughter and husband are seen aboard that other boat, feeling awfully seasick. The little girl sees a man lying close to her in the room start to writhe in pain. Then she sees the strange movements his stomach is making. Uh oh.

Peter and Olivia, meanwhile, go back out to the suburbs to talk to the investors. The mother is not there, but the son eventually reveals that the treatments are for him. He has a rare immune deficiency that should make him a bubble boy, but instead he’s able to run outside and live a normal life.

As Walter is out “self-actualizing” in Chinatown, he spots Astrid tailing him. While he gives her a bit of grief, insisting that he can live his own life — and that he could even join a gym if he wants to! — he lets her tag along. At the last herbalist shop on his list, though, he lets slip that the worms he’s buying look even better when they’re 4 feet long. That would be fine if the guy behind the counter weren’t the same dude who was collecting the specimens from the unlucky travelers. Outside the shop, Walter gives Astrid the slip, and by the time she gets back to the lab, some Triad thugs are there stealing the worms, and looking downright menacing while doing so.

While we immediately begin to worry about what happened to Walter, it appears the Triads might not be the ones posing him the most danger. He didn’t give Astrid the slip deliberately. He wandered off after becoming enthralled by a shiny object or something, and he ends up trying to call Peter on a pay phone (they still have those?), but he’s unable to remember the number. He ends up spilling his guts to a woman sitting next to him on a bench, and while there is a language barrier, she ends up feeling sorry for him and taking him in. She calls Peter and he retrieves him, although from the looks of it, he might have been OK staying there a bit. He can rock a kimono with the best of them.

Peter learns that Walter spilled the beans about the worm to the last place he visited, so they head there while Olivia and a group of Feds head to the new boat that just docked. They get there too late, though, and all the passengers have been moved. It’s Peter and Walter who come across them being unloaded in the alley of the Chinatown herbalist shop.

Peter calls in Olivia and the cavalry, but still decides to go it alone first. Alone, Walter. Stay in the car, old man. Peter manages to save a woman from being cut open, but gets caught himself and almost force-fed a worm larva. They have it in his mouth when the good guys bust in and save the day, shooting the evil herbalist and his minion.

In the coda, Walter wakes Peter up to tell him he’s implanted a tracking device in his own neck to prevent him from getting permanently lost in the future, and he hands Peter the transponder. Thing is noisy.

So this would be one of those standalone episodes that contribute absolutely nothing to the mythology. I suppose that’s OK once in a while, and I’m sure that tracking device will come in handy on several occasions, but I sure am looking forward to next week when we get back into the inter-dimensional war stuff.

Odds and ends:

— “Did you eat?” “Yes.” “That’s unfortunate.”

— Walter and Astrid have a touching reunion scene at the lab when Walter realizes that his maneuvering for independence got his friend hurt. They share a tender hug and you get the sense that it will be a while before he calls her Asterisk again.