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TV Review: Fringe – “Of Human Action”

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What at first seems to be a relatively simple corporate espionage kidnapping and extortion scheme turns out to be a brilliantly intricate tale of family deception. Paralleling the lie that Walter Bishop and his son are living, James Carson, a top Massive Dynamic scientist, has been telling his son an alternate version of the truth. And as the episode concludes, we find out that the truth that Tyler thought he had found out was not even close to the real truth — i.e. the Massive Dynamic truth.

Many, including myself, have understood from the beginning that while Fringe held a lot of potential, it had to get over a couple of initial hiccups to become awesome. Some have been dealt with, and others not. I seem to not be the only person very happy to see it blooming wider open with every episode (even if it seems to somewhat stall at times). In my opinion, "Of Human Action" demonstrates how far the show has already come, and gives me great hope for the end of this season.

The opening scene is very reminiscent of yet another X-Files episode, "Pusher" (season three, episode 17). Police officers drive, hellbent, to a parking lot, where three individuals are in a car: two adults and a teenager. The adults are forced outside of the car – and this is where things become a little "Pusher"-ish. One police officer starts walking backwards until he falls off the parking lot’s ledge, and another one shoots her fellow officers before turning the gun on herself.

But this is where the similarities end, for where "Pusher" was about an individual with a brain tumour who had acquired the ability to control others, the person to control other’s actions here is courtesy of none other than Massive Dynamics’ scientists. And once again, we realise that Nina Sharp is in on it, far more than she lets on.

I am now convinced that Nina Sharp is using everyone for her own agenda. While it seems that she is only doing it out of loyalty to William Bell, I’m certain she will end up betraying him, too, because while her own agenda is probably intricately linked to that of William Bell’s, it will somehow be different because of some fundamental yet seemingly small difference.

"Of Human Action" really was a great episode. The plot was advanced indirectly, a brilliant ploy making the experience all the more interesting. We don’t know how Peter will react when (if) he finds out he’s from the other world, but we have an idea of how Tyler reacted when he found out about what he thought were his real origins. We don’t know what her role is, but we do know that Nina Sharp is incredibly good at lying and manipulating, even to Broyles, with whom she is romantically involved. We also know that her connection with Bell, who is in the other dimension, isn’t solid; some sort of interference has occurred which makes the messages she sends him all the less certain to reach their destination.

The pacing of the action increased substantially from the previous rather slow ones, and the writers had more than one trick up their sleeves. The visuals were great — from the first shot from above of the police officer and Fringe Division looking down to the shot of Peter and Walter at Massive Dynamics, we were treated to both typical and atypical visuals. One particularly striking scene was that of the FBI agents moving in on the abandoned hangar. We were tuned into what the agents and Fringe Division could hear wearing the headphones, and it lent an air of tension and slight confusion to a scene which was otherwise visually simple.

This episode makes me wonder what else Massive Dynamics is up to, since their blatant lack of respect for human life is made all the more apparent in their creation and use of the Tylers. This particular storyline has great potential for more than one interesting ethical dilemma concerning the needs of the many versus the rights of the few. For example, the Tylers (brief X-Files flashback here – remember when Mulder walked into a room filled with clones in tanks?) had to be created to experiment if mind control would work so as to prepare our side for the imminent invasion promised a couple of episodes ago. Does it warrant such  horrific, lifelong experiments (and necessary lies)?

Of course this episode of Fringe wouldn’t be complete without a couple of Peter/Walter and Walter moments:

Peter: Walter, remember that conversation we had about personal space?
Walter: I’m bored.

Walter [briefing the FBI agents]: Do not remove them under any circumstances. If you do, you may die a gruesome and horrible death. Thank you for your attention, and have a nice day.

Walter: That was quick thinking. You proved to be more resourceful than I give you credit for.
Peter: Is that supposed to be some sort of compliment?

Walter: Don’t be ridiculous. You were abducted. Of course you need crepes.

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  • Flo

    I liked this episode and while, I too, think the experiments with the Tylers are interesting for the reasons you wrote, I think it was a little bit too X-Files-ish too me.

    “brief X-Files flashback here – remember when Mulder walked into a room filled with clones in tanks?”

    Yes I do remember and I thought this reference was too much. It was practically a plagiarism.
    It is not a problem to want to do an SF TV show with great respect and tribute to another but it begs the question: where is the limit between reference, homage and copying?

    “Fringe” needs to distance itself from “The X-Files” if it wants to become the great show the creators seem to expect.

    Otherwise, yes interesting episode even if, I suspected the kid almost immediately and rightly so.
    It led to some good scenes with him and Peter. I don’t care about the lie about his mom, this kid is no victim. The scene with him wanting Peter to kill his mom’s new husband without listening to what she has to say, is enough proof that he actually began to like what he had become. he liked the power it gave him.
    That’s interesting because who can say what we can become when given so much power? What’s gonna happen with the other Tylers? how will they act?

    The scene in the hangar was indeed great. The soud was like a heart beat and it added to the rythm of the scene.
    The episode had a good rythm in general, it was nicely written. Good dialogues.

    I also liked the scene with Walter and Peter at Missive Dynamic. Walter measuring how far Bell and him ended from each other and from what they were younger.
    One created a powerful firm while the other just spent a lot of time in a mental institution.
    The thing is, like you pointed, Bell has no respect for human life and his conception of science is as cold as the hallways of his firm.

    Also, yep, What the hell is going on with Nina Sharp? She is extremely mysterious. That’s what makes her a good character. it is possible than she is only pursuing her own agenda. I guess, it’s wait and see.

  • Always nice to hear from you, Flo 🙂

    I really like your question: what is the difference between a reference, a homage and copying?

    Fringe definitely looks a lot like The X-Files, but I think there are enough unique elements to it for it not to be considered a copy-cat of The X-Files. I think I would flip if a cigarette smoking man and/or little gray aliens appeared, but for now, I’m happy to sit for the ride and see where it’s going to take us.

    You suspected the kid immediately! Good job. I didn’t. And I don’t think the kid being a victim or not is black or white. He was lied to, and he was a test subject, so a lot of things could have ‘gone wrong’. But on the other hand, he is not only a victim – he has a brain and has to be held accountable for his actions.

    I’m looking forward to Thursday, that’s for sure!

  • Flo

    Yes it is not a copy-cat but I think that the writers should be careful with the references. I can’t even imagine a cigarette smoking man lool!

    You’re right the kid story is not black or white that’s why it was good. I like the fact that it begs the question of what human would become, being given a great power aver others. It is an interesting issue. I don’t hink Bell really asks himself that kind of questions though.

    Yeah, looking forward to Thursday too! For the episode and for your review 😉