In preparation for tonight’s Fringe I finally got around to reading Jeff Jensen’s Entertainment Weekly’s cover story on the new season (which had arrived while I was in Toronto), and by the time I reached the end I was more excited than ever about this show’s possibilities. The spoiler-averse may want to avoid the article because it spills the beans on some future guest stars, but Jensen does a good job of summarizing exactly what the revelation of parallel universes means for the future direction of Fringe. We’ve already gotten hints that one Earth may be staging attacks on the other. But might these attacks be motivated on a more personal level? Is the Walter of Earth-2 angry at the Walter of Earth-1 for swiping Peter-2? And if a war is coming, which side will Peter-2 be on? The more we learn about the nature of “The Pattern” on Fringe, the more it seems like something epic may be afoot.
But not yet. Not tonight. No, “Night Of Desirable Objects” was primarily a Monster Of The Week episode, with some master-plot progression occurring in the margins, and a few successful shots at larger thematic resonance. And it worked well for me, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost? The monster was cool.
It seems that in the town of Lansdale, PA, citizens have been disappearing, apparently yanked into the ground by a beast with a blue hand. The local lawman, Sheriff Golightly (played by nebbishy character actor Charles Martin Smith) has been unable to crack the case, probably because he’s too busy recording which of the disappearees can bake the tastiest apple pie. So our Fringe Division pals swoop in and track the various clues back to Andre Hughes, a tragic figure of a man who lost his wife and son years ago—and may in fact have killed them. “Finally some good news!” Walter exclaims—because now he gets to exhume the bodies. When they dig up the gravesite they find a female corpse who tests positive for Lupus, and thus would’ve been incapable of bearing children. And under the child’s headstone they find… a tunnel, deep into the Earth. (Causing my wife to shriek, “Aaah! Zombie baby!”)
Mr. Hughes seems to know what the Fringers will discover, because while detained he gnaws the wire out of a fluorescent light fixture, and hangs himself. But even without Andre’s help, Walter is able to determine that the gentleman farmer studied reproductive biology and gene replacement, and tried to give his wife a baby by splicing their DNA with that of scorpions and mole rats. (If I've got the details of that wrong, I apologize. When it comes to pseudo-scientific explanations on this show, I tend to listen carefully, nod my head, and then say, "Uh-huh, I see. Magic.")
Is the significance of what one man will do for his family lost on baby-stealing Walter-1? Hard to say, but it sure wasn’t lost on me. The title of this episode refers to a night-fishing lure owned by both Sheriff Golightly and Peter Bishop, and the lure in question serves two functions in the script. First, it’s an echo of how Baby Boy Hughes traps his victims, by getting them to lean down to investigate something on the ground, before he grabs them and drags them into the dirt. Second, it sets up a sweet and funny moment where Peter holds up a Night Of Desirable Objects lure and tells Walter about a boy who once got that lure in hopes that his Dad would go fishing with him. Walter’s reply: “And then the young man gave this to you?”
Walter has another of the key lines of the night, when talking about Andre Hughes’ experiments with mutations. “We’re all mutants,” he mumbles. Certainly Olivia would have to agree. Since returning from Earth-2, she’s discovered that she has hearing so acute that she gets distracted if there’s a fly in the room. Nina Sharp, who had a feeling this might happen, tells Olivia that when she had cancer, her own body felt foreign to her (there’s that mutation theme again), and that she was helped immeasurably by a man named Sam Weiss. Olivia finds Sam working behind the counter in a bowling alley. And we find out that he’s played by slacker character actor Kevin Corrigan. (It was a good night for character actors.)
I’m intrigued by the idea of a super-powered Olivia, especially given that she’s currently partnered with the super-powered Evil Charlie, who’s been instructed to stay in this body for the time being and monitor Olivia until she recalls what she learned while visiting Earth-2. Evil Charlie gets this instruction in the usual place: a typewriter shop backroom that looks a little like one of The Hostiles’ temples on Lost. I’m intrigued also by the addition of this conceit, which has now been used two weeks in a row. Each of these little quirks: a clueless copy from another universe, a typewriter that transmits messages, a guru in bowling shoes… it all accumulates, to give a show its own flavor.
But the quirks would mean nothing if they weren’t in service of something. Last season, many of the plots had to do with the notion of human bodies as a kind of retrofittable biotech. This season we’re seeing mutants. And duplicates. All these concepts are facets of a single driving question: What makes us us?
Like I said, exciting stuff.
-What’s your take on the new intro? Not quite a “previously on,” but a concise way of summing up the series so far. I wonder they’ll do that every week. In other oddities, the credits began before the first commercial, and finished immediately after. Also, the score tonight didn’t seem very Fringe-y to me. The electronic pulses and beats and things sounded more like a standard procedural soundtrack.
-On the other hand, the visual motif of the out-of-focus faces continues into a second week. A good-looking episode tonight, courtesy of Fringe all-star director Brad Anderson.
-Walter is busy early in this episode trying to figure out how Olivia traveled between dimensions, which he tests on a miniature scale by putting a frog in a toy car, flashing strobe lights at it and seeing if the amphibian disappears. I love Walter.
-I also love the way Olivia smiles gently when Walter’s explaining parallel universes to her yet again. As always, kudos to Anna Torv for bringing so much more to her character than she initially seemed capable of.
-Kudos also to Kirk Acevedo, whose puzzled expressions as Evil Charlie were appropriately hard to read.
-Some good shocks tonight, between Olivia nearly blowing Peter’s head off and Olivia nearly getting chomped on by Baby Boy Hughes. I appreciate that this was a viscerally exciting episode, even as the writers were imparting necessary information.
-Last week’s song: Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.” This week’s: Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Did someone on staff get a Steve Winwood box set over the break?
-I’m planning to urinate in 23 minutes.