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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Episode 6: A Cure & Ethics Blur

FROM ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER KIMBERLY ROOTS: With all the bad stuff on this show that happens in and around diners, you know good things aren’t ahead when men in biohazard suits dump a young woman onto a Milford, Massachusetts, street and she dazedly wanders into a nearby eating establishment. The marks on her arms and her foggy memory cause a passing cop to ask her to come with him, and when she fights him, he cuffs her. Before he can take her to the car, though, other customers in the restaurant begin grabbing their heads in pain and bleeding from the eyes, ears, what have you. This would be bad enough, but the music’s still mounting—and you’ve seen worse on planes and in hospital delivery rooms—so you know that Fringe won’t stop until someone pops … which they all start to do in vivid fashion. The agitated woman is the last one left, but she’s not immune, and as she backs up to the door, her skull bursts against the glass like a jelly donut hitting a speeding car’s windshield.
The next morning, Olivia, Walter, and Peter are on the scene. Olivia, extra snippy for reasons yet unknown, listens as Phillip Broyles informs them that the upset woman’s name was Emily Kramer, and she’d been missing for two weeks. Olivia and the Bishops put on radiation suits and enter the sealed-off diner. In the first of many awesome moments this episode, Walter jabs a nearby meat thermometer in what’s left of the dead cop’s ear to determine that his temperature—and that of all the other corpses—is still very high: They died of radiation, and Emily’s levels are triple what everyone else’s are.
After learning that the dead woman was suffering from an incurable disease that inexplicably went into remission weeks ago, Olivia asks Dr. Patel, Emily’s physician, for her records. Meanwhile, back at Walter’s Harvard lab, an examination of Emily’s body reveals that she was being held against her will (restraint marks on her wrists) and drugged (track marks on her arms). Walter theorizes that Emily was released as a kind of “field trial” and that there are likely others in the trial who are in danger—and that’s when Olivia gets a call saying another woman’s gone missing.
This one is Claire Williams, who suffered from the same disease as Emily and also recently went into unexplained remission. Olivia and Charlie go to interrogate Claire’s husband, Ken, who says he doesn’t know Emily and only wants to find Claire … who wakes up strapped to a table in a nondescript lab. A woman in a radiation suit tells a man in the next room that Claire is ready. “Let’s get started, then,” he says.
In the Harvard lab, Walter aims radiation at a papaya until it blows up, illustrating how radio waves likely excited the victims’ molecules until the friction got to be too much and they blew. The traces of radioactive isotopes that Walter found in Emily’s blood were treatment for her disease—“like time-release chemotherapy,” Peter adds—and an additive likely whipped them into a frenzy, basically making her a human microwave. Peter and Olivia visit Emily’s house, where Mrs. Kramer reveals that Claire and Emily were friends, producing a photo of the two women together with Ken.
Confronted with the picture, Ken confesses that Claire and Emily met at the hospital and had bonded over how little modern medicine could do for their disease. So they pooled resources with other sufferers and began an off-the-books experimental treatment … and Patel knew about it all. Ken gives them a sample of Claire’s medicines, while in the secret lab, the woman in the radiation suit injects a red liquid into Claire’s IV. “This makes you better,” she tells the freaked-out patient. “This,” she says as she injects a blue liquid into another IV, “will make you special.”
Patel sings like a canary when pressed, telling Olivia that he was giving a drug company called Intrepus updates on the experimental medicine’s effects. He pulls a gun on her and gives her the name she’s looking for—David Esterbrook—before placing the muzzle under his own chin and firing. Charlie later informs Olivia that Esterbrook is into some pretty controversial science: animal-human hybridization, prenatal gene therapy, viral warfare. She attends a lecture given by Esterbrook—the man from the secret lab, as it turns out, who later makes some sweeping statements about our imaginations being limited only by pesky ethics laws. His words anger Olivia, who vows to take him down. Esterbrook doesn’t seem scared as he threatens her with an odd warning about starting a family: “It would be a shame if anything got in the way.”
Broyles isn’t happy that Olivia confronted Esterbrook in public and admonishes her for being too emotional. Someone else who’s a little emotional? Claire, who freaks when the woman in the radioactive suit introduces a hairless rat into the lab. As the rat makes its way under the sheets on Claire’s bed, it bursts and Esterbrook is pleased. His assistant assures him that Claire can be controlled remotely. “I’ll call the client and schedule delivery,” he says.
By this time, we've learned that it's Olivia's birthday, and when Peter finally calls her on her short temper, she explains that her stepfather used to get drunk and hit her mother. One night, when he did it, the 9-year-old Olivia shot him with his own gun. He didn’t die, but he eventually took off without a word. He sends a birthday card every year, she tells Peter, “just to let me know he’s still out there.”
Peter switches topics and suggests she ask Nina Sharp about where Esterbrook might be hiding his secret lab; Massive Dynamic’s pharmaceutical branches, of course, are Intrepus’ biggest competition. But Olivia says Sharp would never admit corporate espionage, so Peter tracks down Nina at her equestrian club. There, she reveals that she knew him as a child—“Your father and I were quite close,” she says as Peter squirms—but then offers a deal: The location of Esterbrook’s lab for a to-be-announced favor from Peter in the future, no questions asked.
Peter arrives back at the lab just as Walter figures out what was injected into Emily’s blood to make her a walking weapon. He synthesizes an antidote while Peter lies that a friend with access to satellite reconnaissance picked Claire’s radioactive signature out to give them her location. Cut to that location, where Charlie, Olivia and a team storm the building. Olivia finds the assistant just as she’s activated Claire’s radioactivity, so she passes Claire a syringe full of antidote through a slot in the door and walks her through injecting it, even though Claire is seriously losing her grip on life. Crisis averted, Olivia visits Esterbrook to inform him that his assistant, Elizabeth Sarnoff, has testified against him. She frog marches him in handcuffs past the press, a move that invokes more of Broyles’ wrath, but Liv gives it right back to him. Emotion, she says, is what drives her. “I think it makes me a better agent.”
Olivia knows Peter got the lab’s location from Nina, and she tells him so; he tells her not to worry. Back at home, I’m primed for another dead John sighting, but all Olivia finds is a card slipped under her door. “Thinking of you,” it says inside, unsigned.
THE BOTTOM LINE: We get another lesson in the "evil" of scientists who disregard medical ethics and the horrors it can wreak. But let’s not forget that the disease victims also circumvented scientifically approved trials by seeking the experimental treatment … and paid for it in the end. It would be interesting to see a two-sides-of-the-coin discussion on-air: The same drive to explore the real of possibility fuels both bad science and good in Fringe. How useful would Walter be if he didn’t push the ethical envelope on a regular basis?