I’m liking Fringe more and more. And no, it’s not a case of me trying to delude myself into making the task of reviewing it less tedious. Quite the contrary in fact — reviewing Fringe is becoming more and more fun.
Wouldn’t Walter be proud. I have to admit that, during the first minute or so of this particular episode, my jaw dropped open and I wasn’t really happy; for a moment, I seriously thought this episode was going to be a ripoff of an X-Files episode, "Folie à Deux." The beginning of the story seemed quite similar, in that a man was seeing people around him at work as monsters, of which he had to kill the head monster. But then the story took a turn — and it was definitely not for the worse.
Fringe Division’s Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, and Walter Bishop are sent to Seattle to investigate a case involving a man who attacked his boss. You might think that not so abnormal, considering how many terrible bosses are out there, but no, it didn’t really have anything to do with that kind of boss killing. The poor man seemed to be having hallucinations that made him think that many people in the office were creatures with insect-like heads, and that his boss, a horned creature leader of sorts, was an evil he had to rid the world of.
Sound familiar, fellow X-philes?
But, like I said, that’s about all this episode had in common with "Folie à Deux." During the subsequent autopsy of said man, Walter discovers a microchip embedded in his thalamus, the part of the brain which, among other things, controls sleeping patterns, including REM sleep during which dreams happen, and also controls motor activity.
While the potential to use such a device for mind control is great, and this was Walter Bishop’s initial theory, it soon comes to light that the doctor who pioneered this chip had developed an addiction to his subjects’ dreams. He would access his subject’s consciousness at various times of the day and download the dreams into his brain, causing a sort of high state akin to that achieved with hallucinogenic drugs.
The plot is delicately twisted a little more when we find out that the doctor has a double personality. The kind doctor who truly wants to help his sleepless in Seattle patients (oh, the joy of puns) and the Jekyll-ish personality who is addicted to dreams.
This is the part that gets a little bit muddy. Somehow, the kind doctor figures it out – and although his Jekyll-ish personality threatens him, he helps Olivia and Peter with their investigation. Then he sets a sort of trap for himself, leaving a threatening message on his own answering machine. Then he sets himself up for a huge dose of dreams from a particular subject, and died from an overdose.
This episode saw the return of Sam Weiss, who seems to have a knack for developing therapy techniques that seemingly make no sense yet get the job done. Olivia is having a hard time accepting Charlie’s death (then again, so am I), and so she turns back to Sam in the hope of being ‘fixed’ again. I really hope this becomes a reoccurring pattern, ensuring that Sam comes back again and again – and hopefully not only when Olivia needs fixing, but also when she needs a sympathetic ear.
I touched on the following topic a couple of times in past Fringe reviews, and would like to touch on it again to bring yet another perspective: ethics of medical research on human subjects. I think we can all agree that what Walter did to agent Cashner was wrong – funny, but wrong. But what about people like Rebecca, from last week’s episode, who were willing to have experiments done on them? Where do you draw the line, if the subject is willing to go very far? Let’s face it – if the subject is willing to go very far, we might get some amazing data that could help carry forward the medical establishment without the moral dilemma of doing something to the subject that might harm them, as subject accepts (or even embraces) the possibility of being harmed.
What if we were to consider the body as a temple to the soul, the interface of which creates the human being? Then the way we treat the body will be very different from the way we would treat it were we to consider it as simply a flesh and bone machine. With such a premise, treating the human body with respect becomes the aim of both researcher and the subject. While the question of how far the experiments can go before the human body is being disrespected still remains, with such a premise, a personal thing, it becomes one with standard much higher that currently exist.
And who knows? Trying to figure out how to answer a certain scientific question without disrespecting the human body might be challenging enough that a few, if not all the questions will be answered.
A great moment came at the very end. Peter has a nightmare, in which he, as a young boy, is sleeping in his bed, only to be awakened by his father. Little Peter asks his father if everything is okay, only to start screaming – at which point Peter wakes up (for real this time). Walter is watching him, looking distraught – he has heard Peter talking in his sleep, and most probably fears that the truth of what happened to him is emerging.
The question is this: Is Peter remembering a past he suppressed, or is the placement of this particular scene in this specific episode meant to hint that Peter’s dreams are also being stolen? And also, if this Walter stole the Peter from the alternate world, why hasn’t alternate Walter come to this world to fetch him back?