B+

Fringe: "The Dreamscape"

B+

Fringe

"The Dreamscape"

Season 1, Episode 9
B+

Fringe

"The Dreamscape"

Season 1, Episode 9

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Butterfly attack!!!!

AAAAAAAAAH!

This week's Freak-Meet wasn't about getting to know a person–or at least not for very long. We're only briefly introduced to Mark Young, a harried young executive pitching a product–or service?–called ExtenzaLife to a group of businessmen irritated by his tardiness. After Young turns their mood around with his presentation, he's alone in the boardroom when he spots a butterfly. Then the butterfly slashes Young's skin. And then another razor-edged butterfly flaps at him. And then a whole flock. Justifiably wigged, Young leaps through a plate-glass window and plunges to his death, while butterflies flutter around him and beautiful music plays on the soundtrack. Finally, the big reveal: Young just jumped from the upper floors of the Massive Dynamic building. Maybe this week's Freak isn't Young, or the butterflies. Maybe it's Massive Dynamic.

"The Dreamscape" wasn't quite what I expected it to be based on last week's tease, but I was fairly satisfied with it regardless. Last week I got the impression that this episode was going to be all about Olivia allowing herself to plug into with whatever brain-net–or "Matrix," if you will–that Walter had inadvertently left her connected to after the pilot episode's sensory deprivation tank experiment. And indeed that was part of the plot of "The Dreamscape." But I thought we were in for one of those classic sci-fi head games where we're led to believe that Olivia's subconscious experiences might be the real world, and that everything else we've been experiencing is a simulation. Or something like that.

Instead, the whole "What is real?" question being asked by the Fringe teaser's gravelly voiced narrator had to do with those killer butterflies, which may well have been figments of Young's imagination. As Walter explains, just like our hairs can stand on end when we get scared–or just like Walter can get spontaneous erections when he thinks he has to pee–our bodies sometimes manifest physical reactions to mental stimuli. How that equates to Young's skin rupturing into hundreds of tiny slices is, well, more than a little odd. And it happens again later in the episode, when a suspect that Olivia tracks down with the help of her dead ex-partner John's memories–more on that in a moment–imagines his throat being slit, just as his neck actually does open up and bleed out. Pretty neat. Unlikely, but neat.

Much like Fringe fan favorite "The Arrival" (not a favorite of mine, sorry to say), "The Dreamscape" is an episode more involved with insinuation and mythology-building than with telling a complete-in-one story. But perhaps because I've come to trust Fringe more over its recent run of entertaining episodes, I enjoyed it fairly well, and found myself trying to figure out what kind of thematic connections I could make using the notion of the body reacting to mere thoughts. How does this relate to Peter responding to his old friend's warnings that his past is coming back to haunt him? Or to Olivia regretfully but determinedly wiping off her lipstick when Broyles calls her to say that a case is about to get in the way of her date? Since this is a show largely about human beings as machines made of meat, it naturally follows that the machines would respond to programming, even when they're unaware they're doing so.

So that still intrigues me. And though I no longer think we're going to find out that Olivia's subconscious is actually reality–and thank goodness for that, honestly–I'm still intrigued by her lingering connection to John's dormant subconscious. I loved it when John suddenly looked at her while she was observing her own memories. And I thought that after such a kick-ass opening, the episode ended on a high with Olivia receiving that unnerving ghost e-mail from John: "I SAW YOU. IN THE RESTAURANT."

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-Sorry about the delay in posting this. Had to watch The Shield finale.

-Did you note that Young's flight to Omaha was on Oceanic Air?

-Coffee yogurt?

-Man, if I were Olivia, I would never want to spend any time alone. Creepy shit happens when she's by herself.

-This episode was co-written by Zack Whedon, who worked on Deadwood and John From Cincinnati, as well as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with his brother Joss. He's apparently on staff at Fringe and is a name to watch.

-Good use of music this week too. And effective lighting.

-There is little that makes me happier than taking drugs. Or administering them. I'm rarely, if ever, opposed to such things.

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