Weddings are stressful enough already without having something kill off 14 guests and bridal party members. Unfortunately, this is what happens to the Milton-Staller couple in the beginning of this episode of Fringe.
The only clue we have as to the identity of the perpetrator of the crime is a young man, somewhere in his late 30s, whom an old woman recognizes. And her reaction is less than welcoming; she stands up, frightened, shouting, “It’s him! It’s him!” Almost immediately, she turns grey and falls dead to the ground. Thirteen other people in the crowd pressing around her to help also turn grey in the matter of seconds and die. Lovely.
Of course Fringe Division is on the scene within hours. While Olivia arrives on her own, Walter Bishop continues his quest for emancipation by driving the family station wagon over, with Peter in the passenger seat, clinging for dear life. As the latter tells Olivia, it was either let him drive or let him have flying lessons, which is obviously a frightening idea. God only knows what ideas Walter has for his plane!
Fortunately enough, Walter’s mind remains keen as always when it comes to working a case, as are Olivia’s, Peter’s, and Astrid’s. Soon, enough salient facts are known to help the investigation take off. First off, the victims all died of asphyxiation. Second, the victims are all on the groom’s side.
The groom himself is found alive in a back room by Olivia and Peter, in the midst of an asthma attack. Interestingly enough, right after they open the door to the room, he also turns grey and passes away in a matter of seconds. And so the total number of victims becomes 15 blood relatives. The first victim, the old woman, was a Holocaust survivor.
Walter being Walter, even the most gruesome of deaths doesn’t take his mind off the fact that they are working a case involving a wedding. He must first reminisce about his own. Then, in a typical father-son moment, he tells Peter that he kept his tuxedo in the hopes that one day he would have a son to wear it at his own wedding. Peter points out that tuxedo styles change, only to have Walter retort, "Nonsense. Purple never goes out of style."
Walter Bishop got married in a purple tuxedo? I love him even more now, especially after his rumination regarding his future daughter-in-law:
Walter: Do you think she’ll call me dad?
Walter: Agent Dunham.
Peter [laughing]: My guess would be no.
I would be really interested to know how many other viewers’ eyes popped open and jaws dropped at what seemed like a tacit admission of feelings for Olivia. I know it could have also just been Peter’s easygoing personality at work too, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
Back at the lavender-scented wedding, Peter finds a candle smelling like cinnamon, which turns out to include hydrogen cyanide in its composition. (I always knew it was Colonel Mustard in the Hall with the Candle!) Fringe Division realises that it has the murder weapon in its possession, one that makes perfect sense considering that the blood of the victims had turned blue.
And so the question becomes: how did the candle fumes only kill some people and not everyone who had been exposed? Was there a form of genetic tag on the toxin that made it only target the groom's family? And if so, why had this family been targeted? Who had a vendetta against them?
Walter comes to recognise the signs of a scientific experiment that had been run on an unwilling public. An absolutely terrifying and horrible concept that quite unfortunately has already been used many times in our collective history — governments and corporations using an unknowing public as test subjects. Walter can’t help but wonder at the irony of the fact that the elderly woman survived the Holocaust and Nazi experiments, only to fall victim to the same type of experimentation.
The talk of Nazi experimentation always makes me think of the ethics of using groundbreaking data obtained in such a horrific manner. Many people don’t realise that we have been doing this for years. For example, most of the information clinicians have on treating extreme hypothermia comes from the Nazi experiments at the Dachau concentration camp.
I will spare both you and myself the details of these experiments. Rather, I’m curious about points of view regarding the use of the data. On the one hand, it was obtained in the most horrific and thus unethical of conditions. On the other hand, not using this data makes the deaths even more tragic. While using the data doesn’t condone the experiments, it may serve to remember the Holocaust victims, while at the same time honouring their deaths.
Whatever our history, it doesn’t change the fact that you would expect humanity in the 21st century to have learned its lesson and refrain from using an unknowing public for such reasons. Don’t we wish; unfortunately, Walter is right, and someone is running a scientific experiment. Soon enough, the Mad Scientist (and I don’t mean Walter) releases the toxin using a hot cup of tea in a street café, killing more innocent people.
But this time, there is no blood relation between those who died, be it those who died at the café or between those who died at the café and those who died at the wedding. However, there is another genetic connection between all those who have been killed: they all have brown eyes.
Another lead turns up — the molecular structure of the toxin turns out to have the signature of the scientist who developed it. Walter Bishop recognizes the signature, shaped like a seahorse, immediately: it was that of his father, the late Robert Bishop. Peter is relieved to find out that his grandfather worked in Berlin as a spy for the allies, leaking them information on the scientific advancements of the Nazi scientists (again, ethical dilemma on the use of unethically produced data) as well as a saboteur of said Nazi experiments.
Walter: Whoever created this was apparently proud of his work although I don’t know why he should be. I mean, apart from the genetic targeting, the toxin itself is quite rudimentary.
The best way of finding out how to stop a toxin is figuring out how it’s made, so Walter turns to his father’s German fiction books, in which he would write down the formulas to smuggle them out of Germany. Unfortunately, the books are not there anymore. Peter sold them about a decade ago when he needed money, infuriating his father, who accused him of putting back into the world what Robert Bishop had risked his life to keep safely away.
It would be interesting to see how Walter would have reacted had Olivia asked Peter in front of him if the real reason for selling the books was only for money. Since she has the decency to respect his privacy, Walter doesn't hear Peter admit that he did it to hurt his father, knowing how much the books meant to him.
Peter and Olivia manage to trace some of the books back to an artist who used one to make a collage of Hitler. I have to admit that I really liked this artist's concept of "the banality of evil", particularly the Hitler collage made from a book filled with formulas developed for the unethical Nazi agenda, as well as the collage of puppy pictures that form a swastika flag. I would even take this further; we tend to think that ‘evil’ is necessarily as big and as bad as Hitler and the Nazis. However, evil can be banal, and its accumulation can tip the scale in the wrong direction. While this makes every single one of us responsible for not letting it accumulate, it also makes it a lot more difficult to face, as its banal nature makes it rather unnoticeable.
A couple of rather obvious clues were left as to the identity of the Mad Scientist which surprisingly enough, Fringe Division didn’t even seem to attempt to follow. One of them is that the Mad Scientist found the formula in a place other than Robert Bishop’s books; I don’t think the formula would have been copied in very many places, and that perhaps only high officials and the original lab members could have a copy of it. The second clue is that the DNA from the fingerprint on the Mad Scientist’s cup had a high telomere degradation, indicating that the person was more than 100 years old.
Fringe Division finally is able to link the Mad Scientist to an address where he has left a gift for Walter. On a previous, unannounced nighttime visit to the Bishop household, he had stolen a sweater, from which he retrieved some of Walter’s DNA to create a toxin for him. Thankfully, Olivia and Peter react fast enough, getting him out of there in a nick of time.
Ever the awesome team (hint, hint), Olivia and Peter also figure out, with the help of a plastic ID case left behind, where the Mad Scientist is heading: to the annual World Tolerance Initiative, which of course would have upset any Nazi scientist brainwashed to believe in a superior race.
His plan is deviously simple. He concocts toxins targeting people with ‘lesser’ genetic traits, placing them in the candles used to keep buffet food warm. Thankfully, Peter stopped the waiters from lighting even one.
The ending poses an ethical dilemma of its own. Walter's use of the very same toxin to kill the Mad Scientist seems like poetic justice. Yet it also has a whiff of vigilantism. It isn’t for an individual to seek justice, but rather for all individuals to act with justice and for the institutions of society to reinforce it. Hopefully, Broyles’ decision to let Walter Bishop off without any consequence to his murder of the Mad Scientist will not make Walter do something in the same vein anytime soon. And I have the impression that, had Walter not killed the Mad Scientist, Fringe Division would have been able to get their hands on something that could have helped them in their upcoming face-to-face with parallel earth.
There is something else at the end of the episode that tickled my brain a little. After bringing his father what’s left of his books, Peter and Walter sift through some of the stuff while reflecting on the case. Peter is still wondering how the Mad Scientist got his hands on the toxin’s formula, but Walter tells him that some things are not meant to be discovered, right before the camera pans to one of the pictures and we see, in a picture of Robert Bishop’s lab sometime during the second World War — the Mad Scientist, looking exactly as he had during the entire episode. Had Walter seen this picture but never told Peter? Or has he really no clue? It’s a question worth asking, since the least Walter would do for his family is to lie.
Walter: Family is important to me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do [for them].
I have to say that I am quite impressed yet again with this week’s episode of Fringe. The proof is in the review: I usually only talk very briefly about the plot, but this week, I couldn’t stop myself from almost breathlessly recounting it all. I have been reviewing this show since it first aired last year, and although many people I know have stopped watching it, I did hope it would rise up to its potential. And, if the last two episodes and the preview to next week’s show are any indication, it has.
Unfortunately, next week’s episode is going to be the last one before the show goes on winter break. I would like to take the opportunity to remind FOX that "winter" ends on March 21, and not on April 1, which is the date of Fringe’s return (and no April Fool’s jokes, I promise). It seems like we are going to have to wait a little longer for Fringe to confirm its commitment to awesomeness.