NBC, Tuesdays, 9/10 E/C
Written by Zack Whedon & J. R. Orci
Directed by Brad Anderson
“Walter, why is there an ear in the omelette?” —Peter Bishop
I was afraid “Ability” was a fluke. I was wary of getting my hopes up, after some of the disappointmentsFringe has unleashed this season. But this is the real deal, a genuinely creepy, scary story in the grand and noble tradition of The X-Files: The Early Years. Monsters, flashlights, shadowy conspiracies, and outlandish “science”. Oh, it’s good to be back, it’s good to be back.
A group of animal rights activists invade a research lab at night to free the animals, but one of the cages they open contains something out of a nightmare. It not only grabs the members who are onsite, it pursues them in their car and overturns it. For reasons never really made clear, the FBI is called in to investigate. The remains of the activists bear wounds from some kind of animal no one can identify. Walter’s wild speculations irritate Peter, who’s been quarrelling with his dad all morning.
Peter: We’re looking for Big Bird.
Walter: Don’t be ridiculous. Perhaps a pterodactyl.
While Olivia tracks down other leads, Charlie responds to a call for help from two Animal Control officers sent to investigate a sighting of a “monster” in the area. He finds the Animal Control officers dead… and the “monster” very much alive. He survives an attack and is take back to the lab (hospital? what hospital? We have a Dr. Frankenstein lab!). Back in the lab, one of the Animal Control officers turns out to be hosting a gallon or so of squirmy larvae; a scan of Charlie reveals that he, too, is infested with them, and will soon die if some way to kill them is not found. Walter speculates on the creature that laid these offspring. It appears to be a compound of several kinds of animal, of different species, indeed, of different biological classes altogether.
Astrid: So this thing had the claws of a lion and the fangs of a snake?
Walter: Reminds me of a woman I once knew in Cleveland.
The team finally concludes that their best bet is to track the creature to its underground (naturally) lair and lure it out with its own larvae, and then try to take a blood sample. The blood sample, injected into Charlie, will supposedly convince the larvae that they are feeding off their own mother and will cause them to self-destruct.
Say what? Yeah, I know, it’s better not to examine these premises too closely. Besides the obvious impossibilities of a chimera (a creature formed of several other creatures), there’s the question of treatment: modern medicine has been treating internal parasites for decades. Has Walter never heard of mebendazole? Not to mention the likely effects of injecting the blood of a chimera into a human being—humans have trouble with the blood of humans with different blood types, let alone the blood of a manufactured species. But no, I put these concerns aside. What counts in this story is not how “scientific” it is—none of these episodes are going to be featured in Science any time soon. What matters is how well they entertain, and this story delivers in spades. I’m willing to believe a setup like this as long as I get the payoff, and this episode delivers a fine payoff. There are creepy sewers, pee jokes, heroics, tears, laughter, scares, and finally a kill shot of a terrifically scary monster.
There is also some fine acting. The introduction of her sister and niece into Olivia’s life has warmed up this character immensely. Even the hint of a suggestion of a trace of jealousy on her part is warmer than I would have expected. Olivia is a much more approachable character now than at the beginning of the series; Anna Torv has done a marvelous job of opening her character up to the audience. Whereas Peter’s annoyance at his father sometimes seems forced, in this episode his argument with his father over the ear-omelette (yikes!) was completely natural and believable. But the real acting laurels in this episode have to go to Kirk Acevedo, who showed us several sides to Charlie Francis we had not seen before. I’ve always liked this character, but in this episode we get even more to like. First, there is the warm relationship with his wife—no standard issue cop-marriage troubles, no conflict, just a cozy familiarity and quiet love. Then, there is the understated courage Charlie shows, as well as his dry wit. (“You’re trying to tell me that I’mpregnant?” he asks Walter.) His partnership with Olivia remains, thankfully, on a professional level: there is no Mulder/Scully “UST” showing through the seams here. He’s a nice contrast to Peter, who shows us the tough guy underneath the buffoon now and then; Charlie is the softie under the tough guy image. They are excellent foils for one another.
Broyles: Whatever did this does not appear to be indigenous to the area.
Charlie: Well, wherever it is indigenous, I don’t wanna live there.
Since I’ve been quoting the dialogue throughout this review, you might think I like the writing. You’d be right. Zack Whedon and J.R. Orci come up with some of the fastest, wittiest, and most memorable dialogue we’ve heard in a while. The structure of the story is top-notch, every character is used to excellent advantage, and best of all, there’s not a breath of a hint of a suggestion that Massive Dynamics is involved in this story. Even Walter’s initial guilt that he may have had something to do with the creation of this murderous beast is resolved. All in all, “Unleashed” is one of the best X-Files… excuse me, Fringe episodes, I’ve seen so far. If matters continue in this vein, I’ll be a fan for life.
Fringe came in third in its timeslot on Tuesday night, garnering 6.7 million viewers and a 10 share. The numbers are slightly down from last week, but the share is the same. The show led the hour among adults 18-49, a coveted ranking that may ensure the show’s return. I confidently look forward to a renewal announcement next month.