Fringe: “The Transformation”

Fringe: “The Transformation”

Okay, first things first: Best Freak-Meet yet. And I feel justified in reverting to my old term here, because freaks don’t get any freakier than Marshall Bowman, an airplane passenger who’s going about the usual airplane passenger business—scrawling notes with words like “technology” and “dangerous” and “avoid capture”—when suddenly his nose begins to bleed. He rushes from the lavatory to the flight attendants’ station, hissing, “There’s something happening to me that I don’t have the time or the permission to explain.” When one of the stews threatens to taser him, Bowman warns, “A taser won’t do anything; it’ll just piss me off.” The he heads back to the lavatory, doubles over in pain, and bursts back out in the form of a hairy, roaring beast. And I thought to myself—and not for the last time in this episode—“Hell. Yes.”

Of course it shouldn’t be so surprising that “The Transformation” was one of the better Fringes—and one that I’d eagerly show to Fringe-doubters as evidence that the series has found its legs—because it was written by top-tier Fringe scribes J.R. Orci and Zack Whedon, and directed by skilled genre technician Brad Anderson, who previously helmed the very good episode “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones.” I wouldn’t say that “The Transformation” broke any new ground. If anything, it recapitulated pretty much every previous Fringe element—bio-weapons sales, telepathic communication, Massive Dynamics, airplane crashes, etc.—but did so in a way that was energetic, tense, and even a little emotional.

After the opening, Fringe returns with the crash of Bowman’s flight in Scarsdale, NY, and the arrival of Fringe Division at the crash site. Once Walter gets Bowman’s hairy corpse back to the lab and pulls a familiar-looking glass disc out of its… paw?… Olivia begins to piece the case together in her head, relying once again on the memories of her mostly dead ex-partner and ex-lover, John Scott. (It was a lot of fun watching Olivia try to explain to Charlie how and why she knew what she knew about Bowman’s business.)

This was a good week for Walter weirdness, with him holding up a watermelon he was using “as a control group” (and as a snack), and him proceeding through almost an entire scene with a grain of rice stuck to his lip. And it was a good week for Peter, with him planting doubts in Olivia’s head about the motives and veracity of her ghost pal John, and with him accompanying her on her ultimate mission, saying “Shady deals with shady guys in shady hotels is my M.O.” (By the way, I still don’t really buy it when Peter says things like that, but only because the character’s backstory is still mostly on paper, not fleshed out. Still, I thought Peter handled the shady hotel deal very well, with his improvised answers about Thai food.)

But once again Olivia's the rightful star of her show, demonstrating a drive and ruthlessness that's both admirable and a little nuts. After using John’s memories to track down importer/exporter Mr. Hicks, she actually withholds a sedative from him while he’s in the middle of transforming into a monster, just so she can get him to tell her who he’s working for. And when Hicks gives up the name—“Conrad!”—Olivia  muscles her way into a transaction for the monster-making virus, and rebuffs the bad guy’s suspicious “Who’s he?” (directed at Peter) with a curt, “Who’re they?” (directed at two hired goons).

Eventually, after almost getting her and Peter killed, Olivia brings down Conrad and his men, and the F.B.I. takes possession of the blue glowing lightbulbs Conrad was attempting to sell. Then at the end Olivia returns to Walter’s sensory deprivation tank to say goodbye to the fast-fading memories of John Scott. But despite the uncharacteristically sentimental ending, I still felt a lingering sense of unease to this episode. These monsters that lurk within—like the memories that aren’t ours, and the covert operations within the government—always seem to be on the verge of taking over. But who put them there? And why?

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-Understatement of the year: “We have a passenger who’s having a hard time.”

-I can’t hear an airplane ding—in real life or on TV—without thinking, “You are now free to move about the country.” Stupid effective advertising.

-So Mark Valley and Anna Torv are married, huh? Maybe that’s why her acting has gotten so much better. She’s content.

-I agree with Peter about Walter: “I hope I never have to hear him say the word ‘nipple’ again.”

-Was this a thing? When Walter talks about the normal human litter being one (maybe two), he gives Peter a funny look. There’s still much about Peter’s childhood yet to be revealed, obviously, but does that mystery have to do with him being part of a litter of more than two?

-Will Charlie ever become a substantial character? Or Astrid for that matter? They both get plenty to do each week, but I’d like to see them have more of a showcase.

-Another understatement: “Tissues won’t help.”

– Massive Dynamic returns! Aside from introducing Olivia to the frozen near-corpse of John Scott, our fair Nina Sharp didn’t have much to do this week, but I’m glad to see she’s still hovering in the background, in the shadowlands between heroism and villainy.

-Peter holding Olivia after he pulled her out of the tank was very sweet. At some point the writers are going to have to push that relationship forward, but I’m glad they’re taking their time. If they’d rushed it, it’d be very contrived.

-Olivia might just want to start packing a swimsuit when she goes to work each day, just in case she has to go in the tank.

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