A man walks into the offices of a petroleum company; first, his nose starts bleeding, then he starts sweating profusely, soon he becomes disoriented; a few moments later, he falls to the floor, dies, and before anyone around him can react, what looks like blood sprayed out of his mouth, falling on all those gathered around him.
Just another typical case to come across Olivia Dunham’s desk.
It does smell of contagion from the moment the mist came out of the man’s mouth, and a certain bouquet of bioterrorism was lingering as soon as the word petrol went by my screen, and yet this episode kept me guessing until the end. Soon after Olivia and Peter step into the building to interrogate witnesses, a second person dies, thus confirming one of my suspicions and sealing half of the Fringe team inside the building.
And so Walter goes on a frantic search for the cause and a cure to the contagion, as once again, Peter’s life is in danger. Thankfully all is well that ends well, as a last minute inspiration helps put Walter on the path to a cure.
The pace of this episode was intense, and the plot manages to seamlessly blend various elements that make for a great episode: intense emotions typical of such a situation (the look Walter and Peter exchanged through the window right after the courier died and Walter ordered a lock down of the building, Olivia talking about her sister, the gradual panic settling amongst the office workers); ‘normal’ police procedural work; the politics of big business; and of course, fringe science. It makes for a disturbingly realistic episode, something that could happen one day were the wrong people to develop the right technology.
And all of this is despite the fact that yet again, the idea behind the plot isn’t the most original. It’s basically a reimagining of an X-Files concept, one central to its mytharc. The concept of an old virus brought to earth by a meteorite first made an appearance in the episode "Ice" (Season 1, Episode 8), when Mulder and Scully fly to the Artic Circle to investigate the deaths of the members of the Artic Ice Core Project. Their last transmission included one of the team members stating: “We are not who we are,” which tonight is reflected in Olivia’s reassurance to Peter: “You weren’t yourself”.
The concept was further developed later in the series with the introduction of the Black Oil in Episode 15 of Season 3, "Piper Maru." Fringe’s virus comes from a drill core sample performed on from an oil rig; the Black Oil got its nickname from its basic appearance. Both virus’ are sentient and both are thought to have had an effect on the evolution of life on earth.
While some fellow X-Philes have been complaining about these similarities, I’m part of the few on public forums who are happy. The concepts from "Ice" and the Black Oil mytharc are very elegantly weaved together in this episode of Fringe, making it a great tribute and a worthy reimagining.
The plot doesn’t sacrifice character study, as Olivia, Peter, Walter, Astrid, and Broyles each share something with the viewers.
It is interesting to watch the battle between the old Walter (which we last saw when Thomas Newton ‘reconnected’ pieces of Walter’s brain) who in this episode arrogantly proclaims that he used to be chairman of the Harvard Biochemistry Department of Harvard, and the new one, the concerned father who wants to contribute his genius in finding out what is going on. The love Walter has for his son is reflected twice in his hand shaking while holding test tubes. Astrid’s calming presence and constant support of Walter is embodied by a simple gesture: holding Walter’s shaking hand in both of hers to steady it.
Both Olivia and Peter show rather uncharacteristic breaks in their usual calm and affable selves, responding humanely to an extremely stressful situation while still managing to remain true to themselves. Peter shows the strength of his feelings for Olivia; while they might not be romantic, there is a strong friendship between the two, strong enough for Peter to fight of the virus’ urge to have him shoot Olivia in the underground parking lot. Olivia’s constant concern for others, even at the expense of her own well-being, is again demonstrated when she first refuses to seek solace by calling her sister, and then by her volunteering to go back into the building to turn the ventilation system back on.
While Broyles’ sometimes expressionless replies might make some think he’s detached and removed from his team, his reply tonight dismisses those ideas for good: “I understand you have operational authority, but I have people in that building that are like family to me”.
It’s all wrapped up together quite neatly at the end, when Peter opens his eyes, cured from the infection, to find Astrid, Olivia and, of course, Walter holding vigil. The unit isn't all smiles and sunshine though as when Astrid asks Walter what he meant by: “I can’t let Peter die again,” he immediately shuts her out, calling her Agent Farnsworth instead of Astrid (or Asterix, Asteroid or whatever he calls her when in a good mood).
I really loved this episode, and am looking forward to see what next week’s episode is going to bring.