Fringe: “Inner Child”

Fringe: “Inner Child”

Hey, remember Fringe? That wacky sci-fi/horror/detective/conspiracy show that started out with a cool premise, quickly got repetitive, and then suddenly developed a consistent narrative drive and sense of whimsy just before Fox stuck it on a shelf for two months? Yeah, well, it was back tonight. Finally. And maybe it’s just that I’d missed the show more than I’d realized, but even though “Inner Child” was a plugger episode with very little new intel on The Pattern or any of the show’s overarching mysteries, I still quite enjoyed it.

I especially liked the opening, which began with a burly demolition crew finishing up the wiring on a job. As they’re leaving, one of the dudes, Dennis, begins to worry that maybe they haven’t done a good enough job sweeping all the bums out of the building. So he halts the countdown and heads back inside. And then he notices that one of the concrete floors sounds hollow. Then he falls through that floor to an underground lair, and meets himself a freak.

The C.H.U.D. in question is a little boy, bald and pale, who Walter surmises has been surviving on rats and bugs (“maybe millipedes”) in a chamber that’s been sealed shut for 70 years. Because I don’t want to keep typing “the boy” over and over in this write-up, I’m going to call the kid “Lil’ O,” for reasons that will be obvious if you were lucky enough to see this whole episode. And if you didn’t catch the end of the episode… well, I’ll explain the name in a moment.

Anyway, Lil’ O’s amazing ability to thrive in impossible conditions fascinates the covert wing of our government, who sends out a “social worker” named Eliot. It took me a moment to recognize that Eliot was played by Erik Palladino (who was suspiciously absent from all the ER retrospectives last week), but I started to pick up on his Palladino-hood when he responded to Olivia’s dismissal his petty civil service job by revealing that he’s actually a spook. (“But you didn’t have clearance to know that,” he sneers.) Now that’s the smug asshole I remember from ‘90s TV dramas!

Eliot wants to seize Lil’ O, but Broyles convinces him to let his Fringe team hold him for 24 hours, partly so Walter can study the kid, and partly because Lil’ O has taken a shine to Olivia, and has picked up psychic vibrations related to case she’s working. A serial killer known as The Artist is apparently operating in Boston again, kidnapping women and sculpting their bodies with his knives before putting them on public display. And Lil’ O, through some strange process (that Walter thinks might involve pheromones), is able to feed Olivia names and locations of victims and potential victims.

The serial killer stuff in “Inner Child” was fairly pat—with elements swiped wholesale from Thomas Harris and Michael Connelly—and the “keep Lil’ O away from Eliot” operation struck me as a little sloppy, if not actively implausible. But the episode was fast paced and creepy, with a few good Walter lines (my favorite being a tie between “Agent Dunham knows what a penis looks like” and “obviously I was sitting on the toilet”) and the return of his wonderfully ridiculous mad scientist device, “the neural stimulator.” In classic Walter fashion, he can’t recall which wire goes where on the stimulator, so he has to run through all his mnemonic tricks until he remembers “she’s a bad mamma jamma.”

After the FBI catches The Artist—with very few kinks or complications—Olivia and Broyles conspire to set Lil’ O free, sneaking him into some kind of underground foster care program. (He should be safe there, right? I mean, the CIA’s not capable of locating a freaky mute hairless albino boy in a typical middle class American neighborhood, are they?) Then Olivia returns to her apartment to play with her niece, just as she did at the top of the episode, and for a moment I thought that the Fringe writers were going to tie Olivia’s weird niece—who I’m still convinced was affected by her viewing of Dempsey’s Death Montage back in Episode 12, “The No-Brainer”—to Lil’ O in some unnerving way. Which would've cool, from a thematic perspective, making the episode all about the "little creatures" that grow in the dark, in places we don't look.

Instead, the writers had a bigger reveal in mind. In the final scene, Lil’ O, sitting in the back seat of a car, spots The Observer on the street, and the two share a meaningful look. I’m glad the writers haven’t forgotten the master-plot on Fringe. Heck, I’m glad they haven’t forgotten to keep making the show.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-It’s a good thing I watch American Idol, so I was able to hurriedly add 10 minutes to my Fringe recording and make sure I didn’t miss the end. Hope none of you out there got hosed in that regard. But on the upside, Fringe will probably get its highest ratings ever.

-The Observer was on Idol tonight too. Is Adam Lambert part of The Pattern? Because that would actually explain a lot.

-Is it a good idea to feed M&Ms to a kid who hasn’t eaten any solids in days? For that matter, why would a C.H.U.D. boy automatically enjoy Bugs Bunny? Or G.I. Joe?

-I don’t recall the Fringe score being as awesome as it was tonight. Was it always so awesome?

-I’ve got a weird feeling too. It’s called “I don’t want to die looking at Dennis.”

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