Fringe: “Stowaway”

A Purpose-Driven Life


Fox Network, Fridays, 9 PM


Teleplay by Danielle Dispaltro
Story by J.H. Wyman, Jeff Pinkner, & Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Charles Beeson

“This may have been a little more complicated than I first thought.” —William Bell

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the role of William Bell, formerly played by Leonard Nimoy, will be performed by Anna Torv. And I think I owe her an apology. I said in earlier reviews that she was less than capable in her role; I was flat wrong. In the Fringe acting sweeps, Anna Torv just took the lead. It’s not enough that she has played two versions of her character—sometimes in the same scene. Other cast members—notably John Noble, Lance Reddick, and Jasika Nicole—have all done the same. (Poor Joshua Jackson; his character is the only one without a “double” in the Other Universe.) Now she takes on—and delivers, mightily—a third challenge: playing Olivia channeling William Bell. She captures Nimoy’s staccato delivery, her growling voice, even his trick eyebrow. Not since Zachary Quinto played a young Spock inStar Trek a couple of years ago have I seen anyone so perfectly sound and move like Nimoy. It’s getting to be a minor industry in Hollywood.

“Don’t you think my life is worth an extension?” —William Bell

Having dosed Olivia with “soul magnets” (which still sounds like a Motown group), Bell takes over her consciousness and begins working on finding a “permanent” host. No one is more eager to help this happen than Peter, who spends most of the episode scowling at Bell. Nor is Broyles all that delighted to find his agent “occupied”; he issues an ultimatum that he probably can’t back up—Bell has 48 hours to find a new host. Bell has a very definite list of pre-requisites, although a human body is not one of them. A machine would do, he muses, while searching websites for a suitably brain-dead “donor”. Like Walter, he combines a stunning ruthlessness with an avuncular warmth that can be as terrifying as the scowl of any Christopher Lee. No one but Peter seems to be bothered by the fact that Bell has essentially hijacked Olivia. Walter immediately accepts “William” as what he is, and even Peter is soon referring to Olivia as “he”. It’s a wonder Peter is not even more confused than normal; first his Olivia turns out to be a woman from Over There (Bolivia), and now his Olivia is a man from Over There (Bellivia?). Modern romance is so complicatedthese days…

“They’re doing that thing again where they don’t finish sentences.” —Astrid

The idea of Belly in a woman’s body could have been played for all manner of silly jokes, but for the most part the writers serve it up straight, no twists. Walter gets in a few giggles (stoned to the gills, mostly) but otherwise the only real fish-out-of-water moments are when Bell is trying to flirt with a very uncomfortable Astrid. Delightfully, we get a reunited Walter and William, playing off one another, working like Mulder and Scully on a case. From collecting tissue samples and body fluids at a crime scene, to working out the same equations on opposite sides of a glass board, they synchronize together beautifully. They don’t even have to speak; in one scene, Gene the cow moos, interrupting Bell’s speculation on a suitable host. He (she?) looks at the cow, looks at Walter, looks at the cow, and grins mischievously; Walter grins back, in perfect understanding. Next time we see them they are discussing the logistics of communication if Bell were to be transported into Gene. Although they believe they could work it out, the idea is dropped when Walter realizes that he would have to milk his friend every day. Which is too bad, because I would love it if this idea were incorporated into the show. Bill Bell could even have his bell back.

“Every drop of rain holds the promise of regrowth. Each holds a purpose, even if they don’t know it.” —Dana Gray

Our A-story (or is it the B-story?) involves a young woman named Dana Gray (Paula Malcolmson, Caprica) who apparently cannot die. The Fringe team is involved when she plunges from a rooftop to the ground in the embrace of a suicide—he dies, she walks away. Even as the Fringies are collecting blood from the scene, Agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel, Jonah Hex) enters, tracking the mystery woman. This is the first time we’ve see an Agent Lee in our universe, and of course he is nothing like the cocky, flamboyant counterpart in the Other World. How fortunate (for the writers) that Olivia’s consciousness is “asleep”, according to Bell, because otherwise she would doubtless recognize her former boss from Over There. Lee proves to be something of a nebbish in this incarnation, one who has been pursuing the mysterious Dana Gray ever since her body disappeared from a morgue after she was murdered 18 months ago. He has investigated several suicides afterward, where her fingerprints, image, or other evidence of her presence showed up, and is anxious to find the lady herself. He believes she cannot die, but is almost afraid to voice that conclusion for fear of being thought strange. Luckily for him, he’s talking to people who have an entirely different definition of “strange”. Not only do they believe this woman cannot die, they think she’s a soul vampire, stealing the souls of suicides.

“Who are you people?” —Lincoln Lee

Peter works very well with Agent Lee, and it doesn’t take long to hit Dana’s trail. Turns out that after Dana’s family was slaughtered and she rose from the dead, she took to working a suicide hot line. Her supervisor is awed at her ability to connect with the desperate: “Joan” has saved nearly three dozen lives in three months. Peter and Lee eventually realize that Dana is not trying to kill people, she’s trying to die. As Peter puts it, she’s trying to stowaway to Heaven. What they don’t realize is that the tables have been turned on Dana; the latest suicide she tried to help was actually a bomber, Brian (Jason Poulsen,Sanctuary), who told her where to find his bomb before he shot himself. At the scene, Lee and Peter try to puzzle out why she didn’t “hitch” a ride with him; what kept her here? What kept her from following the bomber over the edge was an odd mixture of despair and compassion. At first, Dana is content to merely find and hold the duffel bag containing the bomb, as the train speeds through the night. We can see the agony and tension in her face; but after talking to Peter, she gets off the train, stumbles into a field with the bomb, and dies—for real, this time—when it goes off.

“It’s best to try not to be reductive.” —William Bell

Of course, Walter et. al. are full of cockamamie “explanations” for Dana’s inability to die, for Bell’s inhabiting of Olivia, and so forth. Sometimes I wish the writers would resist telling us these things; the explanations are as absurd as the mysteries they do not explain. Soul magnets? Hypermagnetism of the molecular structure of the human body? Caused by a lightning strike? At the end, even William Bell tells Peter he’s not sure the answers to all these mysteries are scientific. You darn betcha they aren’t. More than anything else in this series, these “explanations” remind me of The X-Files. But on The X-Files, we usually had a Scully explanation (rational) and a Mulder explanation (not); here we get no explanation worth mentioning. Which is another reason I enjoyed the introduction of Agent Lee, and have to hope he comes back: we’ve been needing an Everyman in this mix for awhile, someone for whom immortality is not a commonplace.

“What I am is the only person this universe with experience in interdimensional decay.” —William Bell

The story nicely balanced the mirror theme of immortality/reincarnation, between a woman seeking death and a man coming back from it. It was so obvious a mirror, in fact, that I fully expected Dana to wind up as the “vehicle” Bell was looking for. That the story did not play out so predictably is a good thing, but it does rather leave Olivia up a creek. As it is, the story sort of petered out (ahem) with yet another explanation-that-does-not-explain: the bomb blast recalibrated the magnetism in Dana’s body? If she had that much gauss going on, wouldn’t she have affected the bomb, maybe stopped it? Weakest of all was the attempt to drag in religion: there is something seriously wrong with a concept of Heaven that would allow a believer like Dana to think she could gain admission through mass murder. Yeah, I think that would earn you a warmer seat, in a different location, nowhere near one’s murdered loved ones. And then to have Bill Bell come along at the end and try to convince Peter that it’s all to some unknown, perhaps divine purpose? Dana survived in an agonized state of limbo because she had some “higher purpose”? Please, make it stop. Get back to the interdimensional decay story and leave religion to the experts.

“Have you found your purpose?” —Jim

Fringe dropped to an all-time low with this episode, drawing only 3.8 million viewers for a 1.3 rating in the adult demographic. That’s a drop of thirteen percent from last week. Yikes. Fox already has three other SF shows in prep for the fall, and I have to wonder if even the fact that the suits like this show is going to be enough to keep it going. I would hate to lose it, but I may have to brace myself. The next few weeks will show whether the series can survive on Fridays and get a fourth season.