On the Brink of Extinction
Fox Network, Fridays, 9 PM
Written by David Wilcox & Ethan Gross
Directed by Brad Anderson
“Bugs had eaten their way from the inside out.” – Lincoln Lee
To paraphrase Indiana Jones: Roaches. Why did it have to be roaches? The creature I most abhor on Earth, on my TV screen, in my favorite program. I thought nothing could top the liquid-brain episode of Fringe, but I was wrong. Yech. But then, all good horror exploits our deepest fears, so finding roaches pop up in a TV show dedicated to fear was inevitable. In this episode, a Mad Scientist slips insect eggs into the food or drink of some stranger, then hangs around until the fast-growing critters eat their way out of their host, killing him. All this is happening in the Other Universe, which may explain the strange biology at work: the Mad Scientist believes he can cure avian flu using the innards of a roach.
“They all died off when the sheep died.” – Lincoln Lee
Among the many (and always interesting) variations on our world that we see in the Otherverse, one is that avian flu killed millions of people, as opposed to the WHO estimate of 306 people in our world. The idea is that the roaches Dr. Armand Silva (Alon Aboutboul, The Mentalist) is culturing were symbiotic with sheep, and that something killed off all the sheep on Earth ten years ago. Naturally, parasites adapted to feed only off of sheep all died as well. Silva, convinced that his fame and fortune lie in finding a cure for avian flu by bringing back the extinct beetles, tries to develop a strain that can live in human tissue without killing it. This is not working, as several corpses can attest. Apparently in this Otherverse, no one thought of freezing sheep cells for future research, so Silva uses humans, with whom sheep share a significant amount of DNA. (But then, humans share a significant amount of DNA with just about everything, including cows, which is why Walter keeps Gene the Cow in his lab). We did get a good scene of the weary Silva conducting, recording and analyzing yet another in a long line of failed experiments in bug research.
FauxLivia: Bug girl’s got a crush on Charlie.
Charlie: Bug girl has a crush on the fact that I got spiders in my blood, kiddo.
FauxLivia: Come on, everybody’s looking for someone who’s gonna like them for who they are inside, right?
Meanwhile, the AltFringies are looking into this matter of death by bug. Since AltCharlie is still carrying arachnids in his bloodstream from Season One, he becomes the butt of every bug joke his teammates can contrive. The tables turn when the team consults an entomologist, Mona (Julie McNniven, Stargate Universe), who finds Charlie fascinating on every possible level. The AltFringies are still trying to accustom themselves to the loss of Colonel Broyles, and the elevation of Lincoln Lee to their superior. The camaraderie and team spirit remain better among this version of the Fringe Division than in our world, with more humor, more warmth, and a lot more can-do attitude. Of course, the AltFringies don’t have to hide their existence or mandate from their society, so I’ll grant they have an edge. Still, it’s sometimes more fun to watch them at work than Our Olivia and Peter; there’s almost no friction, just friendly cooperation. And of course, it’s always a treat to see Agent Charlie again, with his wry humor and his world-weary eyes.
“I don’t know what they pay you here, but I definitely need you in my life.” – Frank
For this biological threat, the AltFringe team calls in a biological expert: Frank Stanton (Philip Winchester,Crusoe), FauxLivia’s boyfriend. Just now returned from several months fighting an epidemic in north Texas, Frank joyfully reunites with FauxLivia. He is happy to join the Fringe team, and is delighted to meet the alternate version of Astrid, who spews calculations, observations, factoids and trend analyses with her usual cool detachment. Frank tries to recruit AltAstrid for the CDC, with no success. Frank tells Linc he’s going to propose to Olivia, and asks for some time off for their wedding. Linc, who clearly still carries a torch for our alternate version of Olivia (who seems to have a thing for romancing her co-workers in whatever universe she is in), is not pleased, and immediately breaks his promise and tells FauxLivia. Clearly Linc has some leadership issues to work out: not only does he doubt himself on more than one occasion, but his ambivalence towards FauxLivia may blind him to some issues he needs to see more clearly. However, he is still the cool and smart operative he’s always been, when things get tight. Locked into a freezer in Silva’s makeshift lab, he uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the lock and break it. Of course he gets a little freezer burn in the process, but by now – having been incinerated once – Lincoln Lee’s skin probably resembles Teflon.
“There are lines I simply cannot cross.” – Walternate
In the middle of all this, AltBrandon and Walternate continue to try to figure out a way to make the Doomsday Machine work. AltBrandon shows Walternate a video of an adult male who has been given the synthesized Cortexiphan they derived from Olivia’s brain. The man is able to levitate objects, but then falls to the ground and dies. The Fauxcortexiphan (to coin a phrase) kills its hosts. AltBrandon claims that they need to give the drug to younger subjects, even children. Walternate violently rejects the notion, calling it evil and unethical. What a contrast to the Walter of our world, who left in his wake a host of damaged children with extraordinary abilities, because he would cross those lines. Nor is the parallel between Silva, killing subjects to find a cure, and AltBrandon/Walternate, killing subjects to find an answer, lost on me. Walternate may have some lines he won’t cross, but he was not above putting Peter, his own son, in the Doomsday Machine, nor was he averse to having AltBrandon vivisect Olivia. He’s not the hero he thinks he is. He isn’t even the hero his girlfriend, Reiko (Joan Chen, Twin Peaks) thinks he is.
“You’re not infected. You’re pregnant.” – Frank
Matters come to a head in a fast-paced confrontation between the AltFringe team and Silva. FauxLivia is knocked out and falls into a nest of roaches; when she awakens she is tied up and Dr. Silva is assuring her that “the queen is ready”. Fearing that she is the next host, she struggles to escape. Linc busts his way out of the freezer, calls for backup, and as Olivia begins to gag and retch the AltFringe team arrives. On the way to the hospital Frank desperately prepares to inject her with an anti-parasitic drug while Linc threatens to kill Silva if he does not reveal how to save Olivia. As it turns out, however, she does not need saving. Even as an ultrasound is revealing that Olivia is pregnant (did I call this, or what?), Silva reveals that the actual host for the queen is himself. The final version of the beetle emerges from his neck, killing him; his only dying wish, having finally perfected his anti-flu bug, is that history spell his name right.
“You are the mother of my future grandchild.” – Walternate
I liked Frank Stanton’s final scene, where he confronts FauxLivia in the hospital with the evidence of her pregnancy. He’s no fool—he’s been gone for months and she is only six weeks along. When he asks her if she loves the father, she cannot answer—perhaps FauxLivia does not even know the answer. She comes home to an empty apartment, and a visit from Walternate. I cannot imagine a more sinister idea than having Walternate as the grandfather of one’s child. And the tug-of-war that will ensue between the worlds as soon as Peter (and his father) learn of FauxLivia’s pregnancy will be nothing short of titanic. It should make for some interesting drama, perhaps even allowing the show to get past the inevitable mawkishness of most pregnancy stories. The X-Files had to go through a Scully pregnancy, so I guess this re-boot of that series has to do the same. At least we get a twist on the idea, however, with two universes in play. Will Peter Bishop follow family tradition, and cross over to kidnap his son? Will Walternate use the child as bait to lure him back? I wouldn’t put anything past this cosmically dysfunctional family.
“They look the same but they’re not the same.” — Charlie
Fringe is in free fall in the ratings, having fallen from a 1.9 rating in the 18-49 demo a couple of weeks ago to 1.4 for this episode. This is down 12.5% from last week. Oddly enough, the show was in second place in its timeslot in the first half hour, but fell to fourth place in the second half hour. Maybe this is a hint to producers: beetles eating their way out of living humans is just too much. This is not, or was not, Fear Factor. I hope the producers can back away from the desperation tactics of throwing gore in people’s faces just to get a reaction. The reaction they’ll get from me is changing the channel.