After last week’s explanatory, emotional, unusual Fringe, we had a return to normalcy this week, with an old-fashioned Fringe Division case marked by a host of familiar moments:
-Olivia confronting Nina Sharp in her high-tech penthouse office, demanding answers that Nina claims not to have.
-Olivia feeling out of sorts and seeking counsel from Sam The Sage Bowling Alley Manager. (Or as Zack H. once aptly dubbed him: The Magic Lebowski.)
-Walter craving junk food. (“Get some blue food coloring. Since we’re baking, we may as well make some taffy.”)
And of course, one peach of a Freak-Meet. We begin in Providence, where a shaky, sickly James Heath is seeking legal advice from an old friend, Miranda Green. They reminisce about mutual acquaintances, and then James gives Miranda a grateful grasp on the wrist. And after they part, Miranda contracts immediate, eruptive, all-over skin cancer. In rush-hour traffic, no less.
In comes the FD, and specifically Walter, who with the help of a blacklight determines that Miranda’s sarcomas—or at least the ones around her forearm—are overlaid with an oddly pinkish hue, in the shape of what looks to be a handprint. After some time to study on the matter, Walter proposes that Miranda was the victim of some kind of “touch of death,” which he relates to Tantric sex in that it involves a biochemical transmission. He thinks that Miranda was killed by a cancer patient who was temporarily staving off his own demise by passing the disease along.
While Walter bakes Miranda’s skin (and taffy!) in order to raise the handprint to a point where it can be scanned into the FBI database, Olivia hunts for clues to Heath’s identity in the files of what turns out to be a string of people he’s cancer-fied. Ultimately she realizes that the victims are all connected: they were all Cortexifan test subjects when they were kids, just as she was. And then Olivia figures out that James Heath is the man they’re looking for when she determines that the “J. Heath” on her private list of The Jacksonville Children is not super-sarcoma sufferer Julie Heath, but her brother James, who was in the hospital with cancer when Julie became Victim #1.
Little does Olivia know though that James is also looking for her—sort of. He’s actually looking for anyone he can find from Jacksonville, because he’s hoping ultimately to track down the people responsible for his condition. He's getting there one name at a time: Miranda tells him about Lloyd Becker, then Lloyd (before his sudden demise) passes him on to another of their pals, Nick, whose aunt tells James about Olivia, and so on. And so we arrive at the moment where James knocks on Olivia’s door, his quivering hand reaching ever-closer to her face.
What made “Olivia. In The Lab. With The Revolver.” work I think was that the case-of-the-week was both creepy and relevant to the overall story. It turns out James Heath may have been “activated” by the same shadowy organization who’s turned past Fringe Freaks into living weapons, as part of the coming inter-dimensional war. And there was real pathos too in the moment where Heath stopped his attack on Olivia when he saw the photos of their old Jacksonville classmates—the ones he killed. James tells Olivia that his kill-spree all began when a man arrived at the hospital and tried to teach him how to use his Cortexifan-enhanced gifts to control his cancer, only to find those methods both made the cancer worse and turned him into a carcinogen-gun. Is there any more Fringe-y irony than that? A man takes steps to save his life, and ends up taking others’.
I mentioned up top that this episode represented a return to normalcy, but a large part of it had to do with the one thing that was not back to normal: the relationship between Olivia, Walter and Peter. Even when Peter tries to use his time in the car with Olivia for one of their usual heart-to-hearts, she can’t bear to look at him, because she knows he’s Not Of The Earth, and she’s not sure whether she should tell him the truth. She tells both Walter and Nina that she’s going to spill the beans, but Nina calls her bluff, saying that Olivia won’t do anything that could drive Peter away.
That was something else “Olivia. In The Lab.” had spot-on: the way a secret eats at people when they can’t bring themselves to air it out. There’s a great scene early in the episode where Peter walks in while Olivia’s talking to Walter and then Peter and Olivia get called away on the case. Walter has a look of panic in his eyes, worrying about what Olivia might say to Peter while they’re away from the lab and away from his control.
But then the situation is reversed at the end of the episode, when Olivia tells Walter that she’s decided not to tell Peter anything, and Walter responds that he’s decided he has to tell. And so we’ll soon see if the two of them can do what seemed inconceivable just days before, and thus prove what Walter says to one of his old students: “When you open your minds to the impossible, sometimes you find the truth.”
-This episode was written by Matthew Pitts, who near as I can tell is a novice screenwriter and longtime Bad Robot p.a., and it was directed by my favorite Fringe director, Brad Anderson. Nice work by both.
-The tell-tale lens flares—the ones that usually hint at some kind of connection with Earth-2—popped up twice in the conversation between James and Miranda. First when she talked about “when you were exposed,” and then when he suggested “the only explanation that makes sense.” Make of that what you will.
-I loved the efficiency of the cut from Neil shaking Lloyd’s hand to an ambulance pulling up and Broyles saying, “Victim’s name was Lloyd Becker.”
-I also liked the quick shot of James wincing when Nick’s aunt said of the now-dead Lloyd: “Such a sweet boy.”
-The title of this episode springs from a cute moment of Sam and Olivia playing Clue. I hope Sam sticks around. I like Kevin Corrigan.
-Sam, meanwhile, speaks for the fans regarding his long absence from the show: “I thought you’d quit bowling.”
-The return of Sam also means the return of The Fringe Classic Rock Song Of The Week! This week: The Velvet Underground, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”