Fringe: “Johari Window”
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Fringe: “Johari Window”

How many times on Fringe has the Freak-Meet featured an actual, circus-quality freak? Well, tonight’s episode wasted no time in trotting one out: a little kid named Teddy who reveals himself to be some kind of a hideous troll creature after he gets picked up a state trooper patrolling near Edina, NY. The policeman takes Teddy back to the station, where his colleagues debate whether they should alert the media and confirm the oft-spread rumors of troll-creatures in the area. Before that can happen though, Teddy’s people storm the station, shoot all the “normal” folks dead, and free Teddy.

Meanwhile, back at Fringe Division, Walter is still reeling from his recent abduction, such that he’s crazier and more skittish than ever. He refuses to go into a grocery store, and when the team arrives in Edina and notices a strange hum in the town, it inspires Walter to begin singing a nonsense song to the tune of “The Torreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen

If you’re starting to think that maybe Walter is every bit as freaky as the freaks he’s pursuing, well good. You’ve gotten the point. Moreover, the Fringe creative team—tonight represented by writer Josh Singer and director Joe Chappelle—really, really want you to get the point, so they include a moment where Peter and Olivia talk about how much they feel like outsiders in normal society, and Olivia chuckles, “Ever get the feeling that doing this job makes you less and less normal?” Over-explanation was a major problem with “Johari Window.” Even one of the better jokes of the night—Walter saying, “I’m learning to appreciate cowardice. The lion had a point.”—became a little less funny when Peter asked Walter what he was talking about.

The one thing the episode didn’t explain was the meaning of the title. A “Johari Window” is a way to compare the way people see themselves to the way others see them, by having a person pick a handful of adjectives off a list to describe themselves, then having his or her friends pick adjectives off the same list, then mapping the areas of overlap. (Or at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.) In this episode, that pertains because, as it happens, the entire populace of Edina is like Teddy: in the right light, and with the aid of special equipment that generates the aforementioned low hum, the Edinans look normal. Out of range of the hum—or when the light shifts—they look like the Elephant Man.

In fact, the reason the reason the Edinans look as they do is because of a botched Army experiment called Project Elephant, which was supposed to lead to a new way to disguise soldiers, but instead turned the test subjects and all their families into misshapen lumps. Naturally, Walter was involved with Project Elephant, though it takes some time before he’s able to dredge those memories up from his addled pate. And naturally, Walter’s connection to the community saves the Fringe Division from getting shot to death by the Sheriff and his “don’t let the sun set on outsiders” posse. 

What can I say? I was hoping, after that dud of a leftover on Monday night, that Fringe would be back on its game with an actual Season Two episode. But despite some good makeup effects and a few emotional moments, I found “Johari Window” distressingly average. And, again, a little strained. The episode ended nicely, with Peter trying to build Walter’s confidence by praising him for standing up to Broyles and keeping the government away from Edina. But then the writers got their highlighters out again, and killed the moment by driving the point home. “I’m glad you choose to see me the way you do,” Walter said. Do you get it yet?

Grade: C

Stray observations:

-Walter still has a scar on his neck.

-Walter believes in sasquatches. And flying monkeys. And talking lions. And werewolves.

-Walter thinks he remembers seeing a kid like Teddy before, but he’s just recalling Deliverance.

-Walter finds an old box of Devil Dogs in his library hiding space.

-Olivia and Peter continue their tradition of having heart-to-heart conversations in the car, only with Walter in the backseat this time.

-I downloaded the photo above earlier this week. Apparently, it's from a scene that didn't make the final cut, but is referred to by Olivia in her conversation with Peter. (It's her meeting an old friend on the street.)

-Peter also kills someone tonight, but the episode kind of throws that plot point away too.

-Teddy’s reading a Robin comic back at the old homsestead. I’d imagine he’d identify with a kid who was raised in a circus and now hangs out in a secret cave.

-“Well done, Asterix.”

-As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never really watched The X-Files, but surely “Johari Window” was ripping off an old episode from that show. I’m relying on y’all to let me know which one.

-I'll be off at Sundance next week, so someone else will be covering Fringe. If tradition holds, it'll end up being one of the best of the season.

Filed Under: TV, Fringe

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