Watching Fringe immediately after watching House really drives home the procedural structure that Fringe is holding to, especially in the first few minutes, when as with House we have to figure out what's significant about where we are, who we're seeing, and whatever freaky shit is about to go down, pre-credits.
This week on Fringe, the freaky shit involves a city bus, and a curious chemical compound that comes out of a gas canister then solidifies, turning all the bus passengers into mandarin oranges in the world's biggest, grossest Jell-o salad. Ah, but that's only half the freaky shit in the cold open to Fringe Episode Three: "The Ghost Network." The other half involves a pudgy, frizzy young man who's plagued by visions of horrific disasters–including a vision of Jell-o Bus and, as we learn later, pretty much every awful incident that the FBI's Philip Broyles is trying to fit into "The Pattern."
The visionary is named Roy (and played by Zak Orth, an actor who's kind of creeped me out ever since he played Freddie Prinze Jr.'s porn kingpin college roommate in the godawful Down To You). Called to the scene by Broyles, our favorite mad scientist Walter Bishop quickly sets himself two tasks: to recreate the Jell-o Gas (something he achieves with the help of his ne'er-do-well son Peter, who contributes by playing the piano) and to figure out why Roy is so prescient. The answer? Roy was a participant in an experiment run by Walter over 20 years ago, to see if the injection of an iridium-based compound would enable people to transmit and receive brain waves... sort of like a human internet. (Or as Walter calls it: "The Ghost Network.")
Walter has a funny line when he realizes that the experiment has borne fruit without his participation: "Someone else it seems–and I'm somewhat jealous of this–has managed to perfect our ghost network." He has another funny one when he explains his plan to use Roy to help track down the person who gelatinized the bus. When Peter asks if Walter seriously thinks he can tap into Roy's brain and "pick up who he's communicating with," Walter replies, "That's preposterous! But I may be able to intercept them."
This week's Fringe was much more fun than last week's, perhaps because it was Olivia-light. Outside of a mopey opening funeral scene, the FBI's moodiest agent mostly contented herself with legwork, making sure she was wherever her bosses and team-members needed her to be. Meanwhile, we got a lot more of Peter, who's starting to round out more as a character–or maybe it's just that Joshua Jackson's starting to look like he's enjoying playing a lout trying to turn a corner. (I confess though that I'm getting a little weary of the hint-dropping about Peter's past, from the mystery person tailing him in the café this week to his blowing off of Olivia's question about his mother with a curt, "That's a story for another time." I know J.J. Abrams and company are trying to keep Fringe's continuity simple, to keep it from getting in the way of the mysteries, but so far the mysteries haven't been super-amazing, and the dribbles of continuity are drip-drip-dripping like a kind of water torture.)
Of course, this week Fringe also returned yet again to its bread-and-butter: rooms full of crazy-ass equipment, and Walter interrupting his fidgety knob-twiddling with warnings like, "You may experience an involuntary bowel movement." Because the climax of "The Ghost Network" was so exciting, with signals being relayed through Roy's head while Olivia closed in on a suspect who ends up getting shot at the last minute by a silent sniper, I'm going to forgive the fact that this is the third week in a row that Walter's big idea has involved some kind of communication with the unconscious. But I will note–non-judgmentally, I promise–that the title of last week's episode, "The Same Old Story," could just as easily apply to this one.
-Or maybe all the repetition is just part of "The Pattern." I don't mean that in a smart-ass way. In pre-Fringe promotional interviews, Abrams implied that there are mind-blowing switcheroos in store for the series' master-plot, and between all the first episode whispers about "someone performing experiments on the world" and throwaway business like Peter stimulating Walter's mind with an impromptu concerto, I'm starting to think I should be looking more closely at this show for what it might be doing on a meta-level. Are we being run through the same maze every week for a reason, like psychological test subjects? Are we being communicated with subconsciously? More thoughts on this next week, maybe.
-In the meantime, the drip-drip-drip continuity added a few more drips in the closing minutes, as has been Fringe's wont. Apparently Broyles and Massive Dynamic's Miss Sharp are in some kind of cahoots, and manipulating Olivia. And Miss Sharp's experiments with corpses in blinding white rooms continues unabated. (To quote the exchange with lost students in Bishop's lab this week: "Is this PoliSci 101? "Not remotely.")
-Hey, has anyone ever seen that duck/rabbit psych test before? That was cool.
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