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TV Review: Fringe – “Unearthed”

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It was rather amusing, watching this episode of Fringe and simultaneously reading the reactions of viewers on online forums and in chat rooms. Apparently they hadn’t done their homework, for most of them didn’t know that this was an unaired episode from Fringe’s season one, rather than a new episode from season two – which explains why Charlie makes a couple of appearances in this episode.

You might think there are negative reasons which explain why this episode wasn’t aired last season: bad writing, bad acting, stupid plot, etc. However, after watching this episode twice, I have to admit I still don’t understand why it wasn’t aired last season. It’s a great standalone episode, well thought out, well written, and very well acted.

A brain aneurysm kills 17-year-old Lisa, but just as her organs are about to be harvested for organ donation, she comes back to life, uttering an alphanumeric sequence that ends up being a top secret, classified military launch code. It soon becomes evident that Lisa has become something of a conduit for Andrew Rusk, one of the very few military men who knew that code. Lisa brings the agents to an old car junkyard where the agents find the body of Rusk in the trunk of a car.

But the link between Lisa and Rusk seems to be more than a sharing of memories or a matter of seeking justice from beyond the grave. Lisa’s physical health has been deteriorating since she started channeling Rusk, and it seems that the latter had a condition that the military had stricken from his official records.

In an attempt to rid Lisa of Rusk’s presence, Walter Bishop runs an experiment that seems at first successful. However, upon further analysis of the data, Walter comes to realise that not only have they not managed to get Rusk out of Lisa’s body, but that Rusk has actually taken control of Lisa’s body and fooled them all by pretending to be her.

The agents soon figure out that Rusk, while staring down the barrel of a gun, was told by his killer the reason why he was being killed by a hired assassin. Realizing that Rusk is seeking revenge, they head to the house of the person who paid the killer off lives and sure enough, Rusk/Lisa is there.

This episode of Fringe reminds me yet again of a couple of X-Files episodes. In season one’s 21st episode, "Born Again", in which detective Charles Morris is reincarnated in Michelle and seeks justice for his murder. In "Lazarus" (season one, episode 15), FBI agent Jack Willis and bank robber Warren Dupre are shot at the same time. Taken to the hospital, Jack Willis is eventually revived, but a dead Warren Dupre’s body also reacts to the defibrillator shocks applied to Jack Willis’ body. And so Jack Willis becomes Warren Dupre. There is also season three’s eighth episode, "Oubliette", in which Lucy Householder, herself the victim of the same kidnapper, lives the effects of Amy Jacobs’ abduction by the same man. Although the reasons behind this connection weren’t explored in the X-Files episodes, the fact remains that they were in the same being. Which is perhaps this is why this episode of Fringe wasn’t aired. After all, the resemblance between the two series has been time and again pointed out, and perhaps the producers decided to give the audience less reason to solidify yet again this resemblance. However, I think this episode of Fringe serves not to emphasize the resemblance between the two TV shows, but rather show how Fringe is taking it to a higher level.

While I’m glad we got to see this episode, it was a little odd to be going back in time (literally). This isn’t because Charlie was back (which was nice, actually). Rather it has to do with the difference a year makes in some of the actors’ performances. It was really striking how much they have grown into their characters. The one actor whose difference in performance was the most striking is Anna Torv, as last season she seemed almost uncomfortable playing Olivia Dunham. Seeing the contrast between this episode filmed last year and the ones filmed this year make me give her two thumbs up.

Mrs. Donovan’s anguish at the death of her daughter was heartbreaking, all the more when we find out, a little into the episode, that she had fought with Lisa before she collapsed. While this mother had a second chance, many of us don’t. One of my dear friends – and pardon me for keeping this anecdote vague, what you read is what she has approved me to share with you – had a fight with her Mom; her Mom left the house and, you guessed it, never returned. It was a freak accident, and over 10 years later, my friend has yet been able to even start getting over it. “I know she’s out there and can hear me,” my deeply religious friend tells me time and again, “but somehow, I can’t seem to get over the fact that the last thing I told her was ‘I’ll never talk to you again’. I know I was a tween at the time, but it still hurts.”

I guess this is the wisdom of bringing yourself into account every day; I think it also gives a glimpse of the rather complicated and sometimes lengthy process of doing so. Before watching this episode, I used to think that bringing yourself into account every day was simply reflecting on what you did right and what you did wrong so that tomorrow you can become a little better. But perhaps it’s a lot more than that. After all, you never know when you won’t have a tomorrow to deal with things. But does it mean talking to people you are angry with?

There was another exchange that made me reflect on yet another topic. This one happened in the lab, after Mrs. Donovan agreed to have Lisa looked over by Walter and was told Lisa would be given some drugs:

Mrs. Donovan: What kind of drugs?
Walter: Benzodiazepam […] Your daughter is 17, I’m sure she’s sampled far worse by now.

At first this comment made me smile. It’s something very typically Walter and Mrs. Donovan’s responding facial expression made it all the more amusing. But it then made me think: it this really the way we think about the generation of tomorrow? Isn’t this a terribly dis-empowering way of thinking of them? Especially since, according to Project Teen Canada, teenagers today are drinking less, smoking less, and having less sex (well, at least in Canada they are).

Obviously the main conflict of interest in this episode in the seeming differences between science and religion. I say ‘seeming’ because science and religion are meant to work together; without the former, we sink into superstition and without the latter, we take science to horrific levels. It isn’t coincidence that some of the great scientists of the past such as Newton and Galileo were also great philosophical thinkers and were spiritual.

When asked what he thinks about Lisa’s rather miraculous revival, Peter admits that he doesn’t believe God did it. He continues on to say that in his opinion, while people are free to believe in what they want, he is not going to believe anything until he sees it for himself. His brand of ‘healthy scepticism’ seems to be the healthiest position for a doubter to have. On the one hand, Peter isn’t swayed or convinced by a mere desire to believe in something, which makes us vulnerable to liars, deceivers, and illusions. Staying open-minded and looking for proofs is the safest way of investigating the truth. However I do believe that there are some things we can’t hope to understand (the nature of a force greater than us that created us, whether you want to call it God or Mother Nature, is too big for us to understand), and healthy scepticism is best served with a dose of humility.

Mrs Donovan’s initial defensiveness and her change of heart out of desperation was also a very interesting arc to observe within the story.

Mrs Donovan: Are you a religious woman, Agent Dunham?

Olivia: No, I’m not.

Mrs Donovan: Then I imagine you sit in judgment of those of us who rely on our faith to guide our decisions about what’s best for our loved ones.

Sometimes I have the impression that the way we think others perceive us is but a reflection of the way we perceive them. Mrs. Donovan’s concern at being judged by those who don’t have faith makes me wonder about her position towards those who don’t. And however spiritual the person, this cannot be a healthier attitude than Peter’s healthy scepticism.

Mrs Donovan then turns to Walter for help when, after praying and praying for Lisa, nothing has happened to help her daughter. While her sudden and total change of attitude could have taken some viewers by surprise, I find it rather realistic, in that someone so defensive usually feels conflicted about said topic, and that their faith not being strong, they can change under enough pressure.

Mrs Donovan’s change of opinion was also interesting in that I find it reflects something I have oftentimes noticed. We are so intent on finding a solution that brings instant results that we often don’t take heed of the entire portrait. We also don’t really believe in something; we believe in whatever will work to help us achieve our aims. At first, Mrs. Donovan turns solely to her faith. But it doesn’t work, and so she turns to Walter to help her daughter.

Walter brings it all together beautifully near the end of the episode. When Mrs Donovan asks him how can they be sure that Rusk is truly gone, he answers her by quoting Isaac 7:9 : “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” Then he admits that “even as a scientist, I sometimes I have to rely on faith.”

There were a couple of details in this episode that I really appreciated. One was Lisa’s crush on Peter, which was just enough to be adorable without being over-the-top or uncomfortable. I also loved the direct way she approached the topic of Olivia (“So is agent Dunham like your girlfriend?”) and, when she was leaving at the end, she encouraged her – albeit indirectly – to make her move: “I’ll be 18 in a year. Don’t wait too long to make your move.”

Speaking of which, the actress who portrayed Lisa is really amazing. I’m glad this episode was aired, if only to discover her acting abilities. I also loved the ending of this episode, how it leaves the door open for a Rusk part two (although I highly doubt it will happen).

And finally, as always, there were a couple of great Walter moments, my favourite being this one:

Walter: But you say her mother has refused [letting him examine the girl].
Astrid: After watching Walter’s scariest home videos, who can blame her?

 

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About Sahar

  • Flo

    I don’t understand either why this episode wasn’t aired last year but I honestly didn’t find it really good.

    I found that the story of the girl possessed by a guy’s soul or whatever, was poorly done. All of this just for an infidelity issue. I mean really, who cares? I know, I don’t.
    The scene between the widow and Lisa/Rusk was ridiculous, I laughed.

    The teen actress was indeed really good. It was great to see Charlie again even though he had nothing to do in this episode.

    The religious conflict wasn’t that great. It wasn’t as deep as it could have been. They just skimmed the question over.
    I think the debate on science/religion confrontation was better in “The X-Files” for example or in TV shows like “House”.
    I’m a total atheist and how people can really stand by and act on irrational beliefs interest me. It’s a big issue on “House” just as it was in “The X-Files”. in the latter it even was really fascinating because it was the ‘battle’ of one person.

    Watching this first season episode now just emphasizes just how better the second season is doing.

    Some good scenes and good dialogues (especially with Astrid and Walter) but all in all not a good epi.

  • http://saharsblog.wordpress.com Sahar

    I think I’m the only person who liked this episode :) Lisa/Rusk didn’t want to kill the widow because of infidelity; he wanted to kill her because she paid a hired gun to have him killed.

    The debate over science and religion can’t be done over a 40 minute episode. The reason why The X-Files did it so well isn’t only because that show was fundamentally awesome (ahem, ahem, a little biased I am!) but also because they had the debate over a couple of seasons. It was definitely over-simplified in this episode of Fringe.

  • Flo

    “Lisa/Rusk didn’t want to kill the widow because of infidelity; he wanted to kill her because she paid a hired gun to have him killed.”
    I’m sorry, you’re right. Still boring though.

    “The debate over science and religion can’t be done over a 40 minute episode. The reason why ‘The X-Files’ did it so well isn’t only because that show was fundamentally awesome (ahem, ahem, a little biased I am!) but also because they had the debate over a couple of seasons.”
    I agree that it was a recurring thing in TXF but when Chris Carter and co. did an episode with that theme, they brought really deep questions and thoughts. After seeing this, I just feel like TXF did better in one episode than “Fringe” could ever do. Don’t worry I’m biased too! :)

    “Science and religion are meant to work together; without the former, we sink into superstition and without the latter, we take science to horrific levels.”
    I actually disagree with this. Maybe it’s because I’m an atheist but I really don’t believe that it is the lack of religion that makes some scientists to take “science to horrific level”. I think that’s BS. A convenient explanation for horrific science experimentations. There is no reason to believe that an atheist who doesn’t believe in God or even in a higher powerful entity can’t be a good, moderate and wise scientist.
    You may be right about Galileo and Newton but they lived in periods of time when religion was a State Religion (do we say that in english?) and people didn’t really have a choice (you couldn’t be an atheist at that time, at least not openly). There is also no proof that their spirituality came only from religion. After all, you can be spiritual AND atheist.

    That is why the ‘seemingly’ subject of this episode is not good. The differences between science and religion are already obvious and not as interesting as the real confrontation of the two and the difficult cohabitation of these in one person’s mind (hello Dr Scully).