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TV Review: Fringe – “Snakehead”

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Another week went by, another episode of Fringe, and hope increased that this show is definitely working its way up to the level of awesomeness it potentially can achieve. On the one hand, it seems like Fringe writers have been reading the complaints about how the episode is so slow sometimes, as the pace has definitely picked up in this one; it packed a lot more in its 42 minute run than it usually does. We had the main plotline, yes, but on top of that we had a satisfying exploration of the changing dynamics between Peter and Walter – all the more so that, in just a few scenes, the writers managed to convey a lot.

On the other hand, we were treated to a relatively simple yet very intriguing (and extremely disgusting) monster-of-the-week episode that tickled my brain and probably tickled that of millions of other viewers, an episode that was well-written, with no obvious plot holes or moments of utter confusion. Everything fit and everything made sense, which is a big deal.

By the way, I have to warn you: if you haven’t seen this episode yet, do not watch it while eating. I made that mistake. And unfortunately enough, I was eating calamari. Yes, I know — quite unfortunate. I don’t think I’ll be able to ever eat that again.

Peter: So how many are there? Is it bad?
Olivia: Did you eat?
Peter: Yes.

Olivia: Well that’s unfortunate.

The plot was, at the end of the day, refreshingly simple and terribly sad. Desperate Chinese people were smuggled on two big boats for a certain sum of money to be taken to the United States for what they thought was a chance to build a new life. Oh, how wrong they were.

The first of these two boats runs to ground and consequently we have a grueling collection of bodies lying on the shore of individuals who died while swimming to safety. But a couple of them display signs of trauma that are not congruent with the above mentioned cause of death – and when a huge, snakelike parasite is spotted lying beside some of them and poking out of the mouths of others — well, it becomes obvious that the expertise of Fringe Division is required.

Thankfully, there is one survivor, and they soon discover that she isn’t infected. We also find out that, on the boat, they were given pills that were supposedly against seasickness, and that this survivor, who didn’t suffer from it, never took the pill – hence the lack of infection. So therefore, the pills hold the larvae of the organism that infected and killed all the individuals on the first boat. Fringe Division soon finds out that all these individuals have been used as incubators to a parasite from which a potent medicine can be created. And it takes a lot of parasites (therefore, a lot of human incubators) to treat one sick person. The episode becomes a race against time to find the second boat and treat all the individuals on it.

While the case in this episode is quite an extreme case, I find that, yet again, it bears a fearful symmetry with what is going on in the world today, as the health (and lives) of millions are put at stake for the sake of an elite few. Be it these fictional individuals whose lives are sacrificed to create a potent medicine that only a few can afford, or be it the millions that work in terrible situations right here in North America because corporations need to increase their profit margins and so cut at the level of social security, health benefits and vacation time – it’s the same type of dynamic that is at stake.

Another interesting arc in this episode was the exploration of the relation between Walter and Peter, and how the latter is trying to become more fatherly and independent. It was amusing on the one hand to see the roles reversed – the father trying to prove to a worried son that he is trustworthy and the son sending out Astrid to check up on the father. But even more interesting is when we place this in the larger context of the show, in that Walter’s son from this world passed away and the Peter we know is from the parallel world. This could be Walter’s own way of finally growing up and getting ready to be a father to Peter. Could this evolution be necessary to what could be the mother of all confrontations (pun intended) when Walter does finally tell (or admit) the truth to Peter?

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  • Flo

    Finally, another review!!

    well, I’ll have to watch this episode again but I found it interesting and cool. The teaser was really gross. It was as disgusting as the thing coming from the mouth in the episode “Travelers” of “The X-Files”.
    Yeah how unfortunate that you were eating!!! I feel sorry for you!

    The parallel to the social world we’re living in was really obvious but I liked it. I wonder what the political and social ramifications will be after what the Fringe Division discovered in this case. Surely this medicine will interest a lot of people.

    You have interesting thought on the Walter and Peter relationship.
    “This could be Walter’s own way of finally growing up and getting ready to be a father to Peter. Could this evolution be necessary to what could be the mother of all confrontations (pun intended) when Walter does finally tell (or admit) the truth to Peter?”
    That’s a good question. Anyway, Walter is really trying to be a better father.

    I don’t have much to say, it was a while since I’ve seen it, it is not fresh in my memory.

    Looking forward to your review of the last episode of the year (“Grey Matters”), and I wish you happy holidays. Merry yule!!!

  • Flo, hi! Sorry the review took so long – it’s been one crazy week after another and I didn’t want to post anything less than a thoughtful (albeit shorter) review 🙂 I’m already working on the next one; it will take a little longer because I do have more to say about it 😉

    You raise a great point; I didn’t think of the ramifications of such a discovery, and now I can’t stop wondering if this will come back to haunt Fringe Division. Great two-part potential though 😉

    And I also was reminded of Travelers – although I found Snakehead way more gross than the grafts in Travelers!

    I’m going to talk about this in the review for Grey Matters, but we got quite a load of information concerning Walter’s change of parenting style. Did you notice the 180 about fact he did when he was ‘reconnected’ with the other parts of his brain? Scary.

    Happy Holidays to you too – and hopefully I’ll have the review to Grey Matters up while it’s still relatively fresh in your mind 🙂

  • Flo

    Okay, finally watched this episode again and liked it.

    The main story is well written and the action well conducted. I also like the Walter story. There is a lot to say about Walter and Peter’s relationhip but also about Astrid and Walter’s one. It’s a very emotional and caring relationship that is emerging here.

    I thought, watching this again, that the episode is good because there was a good balance between the two stories. Walter trying to independent offering a great counterpoint to this main social, gross story all while being related: the chinise victims and Walter both want to improve their lives. That’s why The first ones went on the boat to America and the second tries to recover his independence.

    It is a good stand alone but it may suffer from the fact it is between two important myth-arc episodes.

  • Flo, you make a couple of excellent points: both Walter and the Chinese illegal immigrants are seeking to improve their lives. And I will definitely keep an eye out for Astrid more in upcoming episodes. Of all the cast, I really feel the actress portraying her and John Noble are doing the best job quite honestly. And also, the fact that it’s a stand-alone between two important myth-arc episodes definitely might make people forget about it.

    Although the one with the shadow is still one of my favourites this season 😉