We've moved!

Check out our new site at
and be sure to update your bookmarks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Episode 1: Skin Melting & Mind-Melding

FROM ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER KIMBERLY ROOTS: It’s probably best to start off this series on Fringe with a recap—setting up the mythology that will carry us through the show—and a disclaimer aimed at the science-and-religion purists out there: Take a load off, check your discussions of Schrödinger’s cat and panentheism at the door, and try to enjoy Fox’s newest sci-fi drama as it explores the unknown ... if you can. (More on that later.)
The episode begins aboard a flight from Germany to Boston, where an ailing man injects himself with an unknown substance and soon his skin is peeling away from his body. Yeah, it’s just as gross as it sounds. Minutes later, the entire plane is suffering from the same incredibly disgusting condition, and the jet eventually lands on autopilot in Boston with everyone aboard melted into piles of goo.
That’s when we meet Olivia Dunham, a radiant blond FBI agent who’s in love with fellow agent John Scott. They’re called in to take part in a CIA-FBI task force that's investigating the flight. But task force director Phillip Broyles already doesn’t like Olivia—she helped put away a friend of his during a case years before—so he sends her and John to sniff out a seemingly dead-end lead at a self-storage facility.
While there, Olivia and John stumble upon a secret lab in one of the units. To escape capture, the man running the lab (let’s call him Storage Scientist for now) blows it to bits, knocking both agents out in the process. Olivia wakes up in a hospital scratched and sore. John’s much worse: He’s beginning to turn translucent—much like the ill-fated airplane passengers—and is close to death.
So Olivia tracks down Walter Bishop, a scientist institutionalized almost two decades prior, who may have information on what’s killing John. But only family members can visit with him, so Olivia jets to Iraq and threatens Walter’s wiseass, shiftless genius of a son, Peter, into helping her. She explains his father’s secret work and sets up the premise for the rest of the show when she tells him about the “fringe” science the government commissioned Walter to explore years before: “mind control, teleportation, reanimation.”
Back at the institution, Walter says he can’t possibly help unless he sees John in person, so before you can say “contrivance,” all three are in Boston.
As Walter gets increasingly lucid, he suggests that Olivia mind-meld with the comatose John (OK, he makes the procedure sound more plausible, but only slightly), which requires her to strip to her undies, jump in a tank of water, and dope herself up with LSD. The effort is successful when she makes contact with John’s subconscious and “sees” the face of the Storage Scientist. Turns out, he’s the twin brother of one of the doomed flight passengers and he used to work for Massive Dynamic … the giant technology company run by Walter’s old research partner.
A woman named Nina Sharp stonewalls Olivia’s requests for information on Storage Scientist, but reveals that without Massive Dynamics’ work, she wouldn’t have survived the cancer that left her with a Battlestar Galactica-inspired robotic arm. She also lets slip a mention of “the pattern,” but refuses to answer questions about it.
Olivia’s team finds Storage Scientist and eventually gets him to cough up the info on how to save John. Walter synthesizes an antidote, which restores John to his formerly opaque self. Yay, right? Nope. The task force director is so impressed with Olivia’s work that he wants her to join him in investigating other mysterious incidents, the whole of which are known as, you guessed it, the pattern — “as though someone out there’s experimenting, only the whole world is their lab,” he says. She’s unswayed and affirms a desire just to return to John and do their work together.
Funny thing, though: Storage Scientist had help on the inside, and Olivia finds a recording that outs John as the dirty agent. Before she can get to him, John suffocates Storage Scientist and engages Olivia in a car chase that ends quite badly for him. “Ask yourself why Broyle sent you to the storage facility,” he gasps just before he dies. “Why you?”
A broken Olivia asks Walter and Peter to stay in town and help her figure out just what the heck is going on, and they agree. Meanwhile, in the bowels of Massive Dynamic, John’s corpse is wheeled in and Bionic Nina orders that he be debriefed ASAP. Ah, science.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fringe takes a lot from The X-Files and Alias, but doesn’t offer anything new for the sophisticated sci-fi fan. Those looking for a discussion of science and faith in the realm of the unknown will likely have to wait until later in the season.