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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Episode 2: Screaming & Bioengineering

FROM ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER KIMBERLY ROOTS: This episode’s title is “The Same Old Story,” which makes me think that even the writers know how derivative the premise of their new show is. The hour begins as an underwear-clad stripper lays in a Boston motel room and tries a little awkward pillow talk with the man she’s just bedded. While she babbles, he rises, takes a very scary-looking medical kit—including scalpels—into the bedroom, and prepares a syringe of orange liquid. But before Dr. Creepy can stick her, she screams and clutches her stomach. Her cries get worse as he drives her to the hospital and dumps her there, her abdomen grotesquely distended. She’s wheeled into a delivery room as doctors ask when her baby is due, but in between shrieks she claims she’s not pregnant. Just then, there is the most horrifying sound (like a wet sheet ripping in two) and she dies moments before the ER team cuts the baby out of her. But this is no normal child, as the docs’ sickened faces indicate.
When the team—Phillip Broyles, along with Olivia, Walter, and Peter—arrive at the hospital, they learn the baby grew rapidly after birth and died half an hour later “of natural causes”—the kid grew into an 80-year-old adult in less time than it takes to roast a turkey. As the elderly infant lays dead on the floor, umbilical cord still attached (nice touch, make-up department!), Olivia notes that this is likely part of “the pattern” of unexplained events referenced in episode one.
She and Peter track the dead stripper back to the motel, where it appears she was the victim of a serial killer that Olivia and former partner John nearly nabbed years before: He paralyzes female victims, then extracts their pituitary glands and kills them. Charlie, Olivia’s FBI co-worker and pal, reopens the case while Dr. Creepy picks up another unwitting victim at a southern Massachusetts strip club, brings her to a furniture workshop, and does his thing. Back at his Harvard University lab, Walter remembers that he worked on rapid aging with a Dr. Claus Penrose years before. Penrose later says he abandoned the research decades ago, but Peter is sure he’s hiding something.
Walter has another flash of lucidity when he recalls that his Vietnam War-era work was designed to “cultivate” soldiers who would mature from birth to 21 years old in 36 months. Problem was, though, the scientists didn’t know how to turn off the rapid aging process; Walter posits that the killer is a product of the program who needs pituitary glands to keep himself young and that the baby was an unforeseen circumstance of Dr. Creepy having unprotected sex with the stripper before getting down to extracting her gland. Cut to the workshop, where Dr. Creepy and Penrose meet up. Penrose calls him Christopher and embraces him in a fatherly hug. One more, Penrose says, and then his “son” will start feeling better.
In the bowels of Harvard, Walter suggests that the second victim’s optic nerve might still contain the last image she saw. Pushing aside all the reasons that this is ridiculous, Olivia fetches a special optical nerve camera from, you guessed it, Massive Dynamics HQ in New York. She barely has time for a bit of bonding with Peter—she feels guilty for not knowing John was a dirty agent, he feels guilty that his father’s work produced such horrors—before the camera yields the image of a bridge in Stoughton. Satellite images then lead Olivia and Peter to the furniture warehouse, where Christopher and Penrose are just about to extract their final gland. Penrose escapes as Peter rigs a makeshift defibrillator and shocks the final victim back to life. Olivia chases Christopher outside where, deprived of his last pituitary gland, he ages before her eyes and dies.
It’s only in the final scenes, after Olivia turns down an offer to work for Massive Dynamics, that we get even a hint of the science-and-religion dilemma. “It’s one of the inherent pitfalls of being a scientist, trying to maintain that distinction between God’s domain and our own,” Walter muses. But before he can elaborate, he turns the topic to Peter’s medical history, which he assumes Olivia read in his files. He asks her to keep it to herself, but when she reveals that she knows nothing, he smiles and says no more.
Just before the end credits, we get a shot of three Christophers sleeping in pods in an undisclosed location. Why do I have the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Penrose?
THE BOTTOM LINE: It would be nice to see science and faith as the centerpiece of an episode instead of a postscript—but in this outing, Fringe does play off some of the issues (and fears) surrounding genetic engineering, and sets up the age-old dichotomy of good v. evil.