Fringe: “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”

Altered States, Take Two


NBC, Tuesdays, 9/10 E/C
“In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”
Written by  JJ Abrams & Jeff Pinkner
Directed by Brad Anderson

So, Dr. Bishop used to hook little Peter up to car batteries? Is it any wonder he’s a little wary of his father’s experiments?

Special Agent Loeb (Chance Kelly, Generation Kill) collapses in Philip Broyles’ office during a debriefing, and the doctors crack his chest to restart his heart. They are aghast to discover something wrapped around his heart, growling softly. I’ll confess, this parasite was a stunner. The fact that it seems to consist solely of teeth, with no eyes or other organs, somehow makes it even more creepy. Walter persuades the FBI to release the patient into his custody and takes it to Frankenstein’s castle, excuse me, his lab, for further study.

But a heart-chomping parasite isn’t strange enough for Fringe, not by a long shot. DNA analysis of the parasite reveals a code embedded in its genome, a code which links to a Pattern cell Loeb was investigating. Broyles knows that this ZFT cell was run by a man named Jones, now residing in a German prison. Olivia flies to Germany to question him, only to learn that he will give them the “antidote” to the parasite only if he can speak to Mr. Smith, one of his partners in America. Trouble is, in a parallel investigation, Mr. Smith has just been shot dead by the FBI.

Walter, of course, considers this a mere inconvenience. Having long since established a procedure for talking to people in comas (see the pilot), he thinks it’s no trick at all to talk to the bullet-riddled brain of a man in a coma. He mentions in passing that he once tried to interrogate a dead Jimmy Hoffa. He taps Peter as listener, since Olivia is out of the country, and Peter learns that his father used to test his threshold for pain by hooking him up with electrodes. Peter’s reaction on learning this is, well, priceless. More jolts to Peter’s brain ensue (following the ones he endured a few weeks ago, which makes me wonder how Peter Bishop’s brain can take all this abuse without leaving him at least with a slight tremor), the clue is discovered, the parasite killed and agent Loeb’s life is saved.

Naturally, Loeb turns out to have an agenda of his own, which is to have learned the clue Olivia went to Germany to get. Plans within plots. There’s also a minor detour into Olivia’s personal life, as she reconnects with a former lover in Germany, but predictably and virtuously passes up his offer of a renewed affair.

Fringe has evolved into a mature strange-science show with its own mythology–thankfully not as complicated as Lost’s–but with some of the flaws of that paradigm. For example, the chops-busting boss. Broyles is becoming downright annoying. First he tells Olivia some crap about how she’s not ready to know something, then later calls her out for trying to push an investigation, trying to find out more, and says she’s immature for not letting go. Say what? What kind of FBI is this, anyway? Could Broyles get any creepier, with the sepulchral delivery, the unblinking stare, the stony, humorless expression? Worse, we’ve seen all this before, in half a dozen TV shows. This characterization — the unsympathetic, possibly duplicitous, hard-ass boss — was old when Jack Lord perfected it on Hawaii Five-O.

Walter, usually the most entertaining character on the show, was just foolish last night. Crabbing about being unable to work for the FBI because he had bad breath? Babbling about a fruit cup? I kept waiting for these eccentricities to pan out into an important plot twist, but they never did. Nor did they cast Walter as a charming eccentric–not a guy who has wired his own son to a battery.

One thing I liked about this episode was the fact that, for once, it had nothing to do with Walter’s old experiments, the Pattern, or Massive Dynamics. I hope the writers keep it that way. It’s getting down right claustrophobic, not to say boringly predictable, when every single case can be solved with a trip to Blair Brown’s office. I also continue to be amused by some of the names on this show: David Robert Jones, the German prisoner, shares the birth name of rock star David Bowie, and his dead partner Joseph Smith is named for the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Are there clues in those names, for those of us obsessed with The Pattern? Even if there aren’t, it’s fun to guess. The code embedded in the genome sequence, the horrific parasite, and Joshua Jackson’s continued presence as the calm, rational, lovable Peter added immensely to the entertainment factor. Overall, this was a good episode marred only by some developing flaws in characterization.

Fringe garnered a 3.9 share/8.8 million viewers for the evening, winning the demographics races for the 9 PM timeslot. These numbers are solid enough to keep it on the air for the rest of this season. It’s not The X-Files, but it’s sometimes worth coming back to.