A-

Fringe: “Ability”

 
Does it still qualify as a Freak-Meet if we already met the freak a while back?
 
Specifically I'm talking about the mysterious David Robert Jones (played with maximum oil by Jared Harris), whom we met back in Episode 7, in the appropriately titled “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones.” Tonight, we followed up on his journey from Germany to Boston, which he accomplished via teleportation (or as Olivia explains it, he managed “to Star Trek himself”). Now he’s threatening to set off a bomb containing a biological terror agent—because this is Fringe, after all—unless Olivia can prove her mettle.
 
And if she doesn’t? Well, in our secondary pre-commercial Freak-Meet, we learn the stakes. Tommy The Paperboy accepts a $2 bill, and in less than a minute, his skin begins to melt around his orifices, causing him to choke. Later, when the FBI storms Mr. Jones’ safe-house, another agent touches a $2 bill, and suffers the same fate. (Though Olivia tries to save him with a tracheotomy tube, only to discover that the flesh continues to crawl, covering up the tube as well.) As Walter warns, Mr. Jones is threatening to loose a plague of orificelessness.
 
For those of you who’ve been impatient with the case-of-the-week structure of Fringe and eager to move forward with the master-plot, “Ability” had to be a satisfying episode. (It was for me too, though generally speaking I approve of the case-of-the-week concept.) A lot of the major elements of Fringe mythology were in play, including Massive Dynamics, which we learned owns the patent on a (reportedly unsuccessful) mind-expanding drug called Cortexifan, which was tested on a young Olivia Dunham when she was living on a army base in Florida as a little girl. (This information was retrieved by Nina Sharp from her glowy handheld polygon… or as I like to call it, the Kindle 3.)
 
We also found out a lot more about Mr. Jones’s organization, and their code word “ZFT,” which refers to a self-published manuscript called (in translation) Destruction By Advancement Of Technology. This book predicts a series of strange events (not unlike “the pattern,” surely), and an army of unwilling recruits who will fight to affect what’s happening. One of those recruits is apparently Olivia, thanks to her Cortexifan dose, and thanks to Jones’ intense interest in her. He promises to help her stop his bomb if she can solve a simple puzzle, which involves switching off lights in a light-box just by looking at them. Olivia gets Peter to help her cheat, then she arrives at the bomb site and finds a larger version of the light-box puzzle awaiting her. To defuse the bomb, she has to switch off the lights—for real this time.
 
Even though I saw this twist coming—thanks to Fox’s promotional materials, mainly—it was still a neat one, because it underscored the idea that the characters in Fringe can’t duck their fate. (There is a pattern, after all… and patterns repeat.) And it didn't hurt that the light-box bomb climax was only the first of three kickers. After Olivia works her latent magic and saves the city, she goes to see the apparently dying Jones in his hospital room, and finds a massive hole in the wall where Jones has… escaped? (Walter explains that the process of teleportation “does something horrible, but doesn’t kill you”… so I presume Jones has transformed in some way.)
 
And in the final “gotcha,” we see Walter back in the lab, slipping a blank piece of paper in his typewriter in order to examine the typography and confirm something he already feared: that he is the author of Destruction By Advancement Of Technology. He’s the one intending to pull apart reality itself. He may be the change he’s been waiting for for.
 
Okay, now that’s pretty cool.
 
Grade: A-
 
Stray observations:
 
-“Did they check his anus and penis?”
 
-I like the artful cutting between Walter reading from his book and Olivia picking up the games at a run-down storage facility. But I wasn’t as wild about the scene between Olivia and Harris that takes place entirely in silhouette. Sometimes the artsy touches work; sometimes they don't.
 
-“Walter, put the cow away, would you?”
 
-I’ve grown to love the way Olivia says “fine” whenever she's asked to do something absurd.
 
-I’d like to see more of the eccentric bookseller who tracks down the ZFT book, and tries (and fails) to guess what’s on Olivia’s nightstand.
 
-When Jones tells Agent Harris that, “If I wanted to harm you I would have… long ago,” do you think the implication is that he would’ve messed up Harris back in time? (And given what’s going on with Lost lately, do we need another Abrams show that’s all time-cocked?)
 
-Great exasperated comeback from Olivia to Harris after he asks her why she needs two hours alone: “To get a massage.”
 
-Despite the wonderfully creepy Walter business at the end, I was a little annoyed by him tonight. I thought his obsession with coffee cake (“tiny pebbles of cinnamon and sugar”) was an uninspired bit of Walterishness. But I did like this nugget, regarding the ZFT book: “I was just reading it while sitting on the crapper.”
 
-I hope the customer’s horrible experience with Tommy The Flesh-Faced Paperboy doesn’t keep her from checking out Charade. It really is a good movie.
 
-Looks like we’re going to be Fringe-less until April.
 
Filed Under: TV, Fringe

More TV Club