Fringe: “The Transformation”



NBC, Tuesdays, 9/10 E/C
“The Transformation”
Written by J. R. Orci & Zack Whedon
Directed by Brad Anderson

I know it indicates some kind of defect in my character, but there was a tiny part of me that found the crash of an airliner in the opening segment of “The Transformation” very satisfying. A passenger desperately pleads for help from indifferent airline attendants, is ignored when he warns them that he’s about to become something terrible. He locks himself in the bathroom in a futile attempt to contain his transformation, only to burst from it a few minutes later, having changed into something between a porcupine and Sasquatch. The plane goes down a few minutes later. I could not help but compare the attendants’ arrogant dismissal of the passenger’s warning with the arrogant dismissal by the airlines of most passenger complaints.

I’ll confess to having some difficulty accepting the rapid transformation itself. To change a grown man into a larger being, one with spines and fangs and so forth, is impossible in the short time span shown. For some reason, I just could not suspend my disbelief–maybe I’m getting too old and cynical. Still, as transformations go, it was suitably horrifying, amazing and ferocious. Between this episode and the liquefying of a planeload of passengers in the series pilot, I’m not sure I’ll ever fly again.

The only leads in this case come from Olivia’s recurring involuntary flashes of John Scott’s memories. She “remembers” meeting the victim (now being enthusiastically dissected by Walter) and then his associate. When the associate is called in for questioning, he starts to change. Walter is able to slow down the shape-shift long enough to concoct an antidote. Meanwhile, Olivia and Peter go undercover to meet up with an elusive bioweapons dealer called Conrad (Al Sapienza, Brotherhood). Just when it seems that the meeting is about to turn into a turkey shoot, with Peter and Olivia as the turkeys, Peter breaks out in a brilliant diversion, improvising an argument that distracts the bad guys long enough for Agent Francis to rescue everyone. Nice save, Peter. I love how Joshua Jackson’s baby-faced features can look so menacing when he discusses his undercover work in Iraq and other hot spots.

Meanwhile, we get some long-overdue closure on the John Scott story. Olivia sees his suspended corpse at Massive Dynamics, accesses his memories one last time, and learns that John really was not a traitor. And how sweet is it that the episode ends with a marriage proposal from John Scott, echoing the real-life recent marriage between Anna Torv and Mark Valley? The dock farewell was a nice, dignified exit for the John Scott character. I hope that this signals the end of Olivia’s excursions in to the sensory deprivation tank, which were threatening to become a crutch. Need help in a story line? Pop Olivia into some saline solution in her underwear and presto! She can talk to dead people.

There was a refreshing amount of resolution in this episode, beyond the John Scott dilemma. Olivia finally told Charlie about having John’s memories in her head, and in a refreshing departure from stereotype, he believed her! This is the only relationship outside her family where Olivia trusts someone implicitly, and has that trust returned. She doesn’t trust Walter, Peter hides secrets from her, and God only knows what side Broyles is on. But her sister, her niece, and her FBI partner take her at her word, giving her character a firmer foundation in the real and the now. The addition of her family members has warmed the otherwise cold Valkyrie that Olivia was threatening to become. Charlie Francis’ (Kirk Acevedo, The Black Donnellys) increasing reliance on her instincts, and her reliance on his, serves as the foundation for a believable Bureau partnership Olivia really needs if she isn’t to turn into as great a rogue as Walter himself.

Oddly enough, my favorite character, Walter, had very little to do on this show. Other than his gleeful cutting up of the PorcuSquatch, his main contribution was an avuncular speech to Olivia about the inevitable loss of her John Scott memories. These two contributions encapsulate the theme of the show, however–that even when we are treated as meat (on an autopsy slab, in a saline tank, in a cryo tank at Massive Dynamics), we are more than flesh, we are spirit and memory as well. Walter may seem to echo the faceless corporations that are treating humans as test animals, but his fundamental compassion counteracts his cold detachment. A guy who believes in souls, even as he is elbow-deep in decaying meat? No wonder everyone thinks he’s crazy.

Fringe swept the age demographics for the 9 PM hour, riding a post-American Idol wave of younger viewers: it scored a 5.1/12 in 18-49, 13.0 million viewers overall. This is its best delivery to date, according to Variety, “one of its best perfs [performances] yet”. With episodes like this one, mixing action, horror, and a few tender moments, it looks like Fringe is hitting its stride with viewers.