Fringe: “The Cure”

Stupid Science

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall


Tuesdays on Fox at 9/8 E/C

“The Cure”

Written by Felicia D. Henderson & Brad Caleb Kane 

Directed by Bill Eagles

This is beyond “fringe science”, even beyond “lunatic fringe science”. Tuesday night’s episode was so non-scientific that it qualifies as outright fable. “The Cure” is supposed to be about a cure for a rare disease which is exploited by shadowy, unscrupulous figures (to what end, no one ever explains). But there are two things wrong with this idea: the “weapon” that so frightens everyone in this story would never work, and the threat posed to the victims is unrealistic.

First things first: the MacGuffin. A young woman is dumped from the back of a truck, wanders into a diner, and within minutes everyone around her is bleeding from the eyeballs. Then her head explodes. (Sounds like me watching Seinfeld.). The Fringe investigators conclude that she was an unwilling test subject, who had been turned into a walking bomb, literally, by having capsules of Strontium-90 injected into her blood. The idea is that those capsules all dissolved at once when triggered by remote control microwaves, thus turning her into a radiation source which not only kills her but everyone around her.

Screeching halt. Suspension of disbelief aborted. What the hell?

Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope, a high-energy beta emitter whose rays can permanently damage nearby tissue. The women carrying Sr-90 in their bloodstreams would have been subject to massive, irreversible tissue damage from such close and prolonged contact. So the capsules would have had to block the beta rays–were they made of lead? Putting lead capsules into women’s bloodstreams, even if it could be done, would lead to massive lead poisoning. And then there’s the idea that microwaves could be used to somehow dissolve these lead capsules, releasing the radiation. But Sr-90 is a beta emitter, not a strong gamma emitter. The beta rays would not travel much farther than the woman’s skin, much less affect nearby humans.  The more I tried to explain to myself how this absurd idea would work, the less believable it sounded. Maybe Dr. Bishop could have mumbled some out-of-left-field explanation involving electron shell structures or some such. But no, he was too preoccupied with the smell of hyacinths from the exploded girl’s body to note such trivia.

The second problem with this story was the methods used to introduce the Sr-90 capsules into the victims. All the women in this story suffered from a debilitating, rare disease. All were receiving successful treatment from a doctor working “off the grid”, in the now-standard Converted Warehouse Clinic ™. The medical team had the complete trust of the women being treated. So why bother to abduct them to administer the drugs/capsules? The drugs/capsules could have been introduced at any time by the doctors, who would have the full support and compliance of their patients. Why kidnap and coerce someone who would be willing to cooperate with you?It’s just dumb, knee-jerk storytelling, violence as a substitute for thoughtful story development.

This is episode six of this series, and in every single one we’ve seen the involvement of mega-corporation Massive Dynamics. Talk about by-the-numbers plotting. While I enjoy Blair Brown whenever she’s on screen, do we really need Nina Sharp in every episode? If every single case tracks back to either Walter Bishop’s old DARPA research, or Nina Sharp’s Massive Dynamics corporation, I’d say there is no mystery left in this series. Why bother to investigate, when all you have to do is butter up Nina and she’ll hand you everything on a silver platter? Why work up suspects when you know that Massive Dynamics is behind everything? Why look for motive when crazy Walter can tell you how and why he was trying to invent talking ice cream back in the 80s, and that this case is that experiment gone sideways?

I really don’t want any more of this. I’m tired of this formulaic series. I’m tired of Anna Torv’s earnest, sad expressions–can we get this woman to laugh once or twice? Joshua Jackson and Kirk Acevedo are good supports and foils for Olivia, but there’s no there there when it comes to Agent Dunham. She gets called out for having too much “passion” in her work–where is this alleged passion? Telling us she’s out of control while we watch her deadpan delivery is a joke.

Well, the show is pleasing someone. The audience is showing slow but steady growth. Tuesday night’s episode caught the attention of 4 million viewers, for a 10 share. Fox has already picked up the back nine, giving Fringe a full season’s run. Here’s hoping that the quality of the writing–or at least the scientific research–improves a lot.