Fringe: “Of Human Action”

Teen Angst

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Stegall

Thursdays on Fox at 9/8 E/C
“Of Human Action”

Written by Glen Whitman & Robert Chiappetta
Directed by Joe Chappelle

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been abducted. Of course you need crepes.” —Walter Bishop

I’ve never been one to complain when one of my favorite TV shows gets resurrected; just as one can appreciate both the Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet and Baz Luhrmann’s kaleidoscopic version, one can appreciate both Fringe and The X-Files. It is with complete respect for both efforts, therefore, that I point out that this episode recapitulated not one but two X-Files, and did them very well.

Called in to help out on a bizarre hostage scenario, Walter, Peter, and Olivia try to figure out why four police officers killed themselves as they were confronting two men who had kidnapped a young boy, Tyler (Cameron Monaghan, Three Rivers). As the traumatized officers turn their weapons on one another and themselves, fighting their own bodies, it is immediately obvious to anyone who saw the 1996 X-Filesepisode “Pusher” that the real mastermind is the victim, not the “kidnappers”. He’s using his mind to manipulate the people around him, starting with the used car salesmen whom he forced to kidnap him.

It doesn’t take long to identify the “victim” as the son of a top-rated scientist at Massive Dynamic. Nina Sharpe pledges her full cooperation in the investigation, which immediately alerts my spidey senses. Never trust that woman. Dr. Carson flagellates himself for his failures as a parent, even as Tyler is surrounded by cops wearing special headphones to block Tyler. The headphones don’t work, Tyler takes Peter hostage, and Walter has to be pulled off of Carson bodily, screaming that Carson’s son has kidnapped his.

Walter and Olivia speculate that Tyler has appropriated some mind-control drugs Dr. Carson was working on for a hands-free military piloting program. Walter immediately gets to work on a device to counteract the effects, warmly supported by Nina Sharpe. Olivia figures out that Tyler is trying to find his “dead” mother, who is actually alive. Walter’s device works, Peter manages to crash their car into a tree, and Tyler is captured and sedated. All is well; Walter makes crepes for his son.

Except that of course there has to be a twist, and it’s a doozy: Not only is Dr. Carson not Tyler’s father, Tyler is not even his “mother’s” son. He’s a clone, and she was a surrogate host. As Carson wheels the comatose boy into a holding section filled with his clones, Nina writes a memo to William Bell, on an ancient (circa 1995) computer. All of this, of course, calls into question everything Carson and Nina told the FBI. I love a twist that turns everything that went before it on its head. It also means there’s another X-Filein play, the first season “Eve”, about clones gone rogue.

The most interesting part of this episode for me were the parallels. First, there were the similarities between Carson and Walter. Both of them are basically mad scientist geniuses. Both of them have “sons” who may or may not be their actual sons. Both of them have used those sons as guinea pigs in their “researches”. The difference is that Walter actually loves Peter, but by the end of the episode it was clear to me that Carson was, as his file states, merely a “guardian”.

Peter was telling more truth than he knew when he tried to establish a rapport with his kidnapper by talking about their fathers. The stark differences in their upbringing were played to the full: Tyler, raised without a loving parent, with serious abandonment issues, and a “weak” (i.e., absent) mother, acts out his fears and frustrations in violence. We have had hints of violence from Peter before, but for the most part he’s a stable, intelligent, and mature person whose center rests on a self-deprecating humor. There is no humor in Tyler and never will be. Which leads me to wonder, which is the saving grace for Peter—love? Or humor? Maybe it’s both. Either way, the science project named Peter seems to be more human than most of the other characters in the show.

One of the best features of this episode was the ensemble work. Rather than having a story dominated by Olivia or Broyles, all the characters got plenty of screen time. Broyles got shot, Astrid got a new tinfoil hat, Olivia faced off with Nina Sharpe, and Walter saved the day as usual. He also got the best lines:

“I’m bored. No cadavers at this crime scene. No food either.”

“Do not remove your headphones. If you do, you will die a gruesome and horrible death. Thank you for your attention, and have a nice day.”

Most of all, this episode threw into high relief the hole at the heart of the Walter-Peter dynamic: Mom. Walter reminisces about how William Bell introduced him to Peter’s mother, and remembers her as a strong woman. Peter can’t recall anything about his mother to help him defuse Tyler, however. Reuniting Tyler with his “mother” seemed to trigger some sadness in Peter, as his morose expression when Walter was making him crepes showed. I think the clues are piling up in Peter’s memory, as time after time Walter “remembers” a different childhood from Peter’s own remembrances. When Peter finally figures out that he is literally not from this world, when Nina perhaps realizes the significance of Walter’s “I can’t lose him again”, all hell is going to break loose. Will we ever see Mrs. Bishop? Is she still alive on the Other Side? How will Peter react to having been ripped from his mother to assuage his father’s grief? That episode, if we ever get it, will be titanic.

And seriously, Walter using Peter’s teddy bear to stop a homicidal mind-controlling maniac? Gold, pure gold.

Fringe bounced back from its all-time low last week, with a 2.1 rating in the 18-49 demo and 5.7 million viewers overall. Whether the World Series was to blame, or people lost track of the show, the audience came back in droves. These are still not great ratings, and the show finished fourth in its timeslot again, but it’s better than last week by a country mile.