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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Episode 8: Math & Discovery's Path

FROM ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER KIMBERLY ROOTS: On a rainy night in Middletown, Connecticut, a boy named Ben composes music in the backseat of the family car as his dad notices a woman stranded on the side of the road. Dad pulls over and calls for a tow before lifting the hood of the grateful woman’s car and taking a look. Some pulsing green and red lights capture his attention, and the next thing he knows, time has passed and the tow-truck driver is tapping him on the shoulder. The woman and her car are gone—oh, and so is Ben.
In Boston, Phillip Broyles alerts Olivia, Walter, and Peter that Ben’s abduction isn’t the first of its kind. Three other people, all experts in math or science, report seeing the same woman and some funny lights before they went missing. All later turned up insane. The lights spark something in Walter’s mind: He later remembers that an ad agency hired him to figure out a way to use flashing lights to increase consumer susceptibility to their messages. The flashing pattern, he recalls, induced a trance-like state— which he re-creates, with a disbelieving Peter as his guinea pig yet again.
At Ben’s house, Olivia learns that Ben’s mom died when she and her son were hit by a car. Ben emerged from a six-day coma with the ability to play piano like a virtuoso, even though he’d never had a lesson. Weeks after, he started writing music but seemed “obsessed” with finding the end to a piece he’d started. In a cell somewhere, the roadside woman tells Ben his mom wants to see him, but he has to cooperate.
Charlie finds a name, Joanne Ostler, to go with the description of Ben’s captor: Problem is, she allegedly died in 1998, eight months before the abductions began. As Olivia chews on that, Walter remembers that one of his fellow inmates at St. Claire’s—the nuthouse from which Olivia and Peter liberated him in the pilot episode—had been abducted under circumstances similar to Ben’s, gone crazy, and killed his wife. The crime scene photos show a mathematical formula scrawled across the wall near his wife’s body. Walter translates an expression from the formula into music as Peter explains to Olivia that music is based on numbers. When Peter plays, the expression sounds just like the piece that Ben was writing.
Olivia wants to talk to Walter’s former inmate, Dashiell Kim, but the St. Claire’s staff will only allow him to be interviewed by a familiar face: Walter. So he sucks it up and returns to his former prison, but when there’s a melee in the meeting room, orderlies stick him with a sedative and hold him there overnight. In that time, Walter’s sanity comes very close to leaving him altogether once more—he even sees himself across the recreation yard—but he manages to get Kim to dredge up that the place he was held was a “dungeon in a red castle.” Thinking he’s failed, Walter is despondent when Peter frees him the next morning.
Meanwhile, in the cell, Ben can’t figure out an ending to the piece. This displeases Ostler, who tells him that he’s hurting his mother by refusing to help. Sure enough, his mom starts to bleed all over the piano from what looks like injuries from a car accident. Ben is understandably freaked out. “If you lose her again,” Ostler coos, “you’ll only have yourself to blame.”
Peter, Charlie, and Olivia figure out that Ostler is likely in or near Clarksburg, Massachusetts. While Olivia and Charlie are going door to door in that town with pictures of Ben, Peter calls to tell her about the red dungeon. She looks across the street, to where a large building stands, and notices that it’s red and has turrets. She and Charlie bust in to find Ben hooked up to some kind of brain-stimulating apparatus—hence the visions of his dead mom—and Ostler fleeing the scene. Olivia chases her into the hall, where Ostler manipulates the ceiling lights to blink red and green. Before Olivia realizes what’s going on, Charlie calls her name and she turns around. Minutes have passed, and Ostler is gone.
Back at their hotel, Walter tells Peter he wants his own space, and Peter genially says they can probably find him on-campus housing at Harvard. In another touching father-son moment, a not-crazy Ben and his pop are reunited at the FBI. Elsewhere, Ostler pulls up to a nondescript warehouse and runs in with the formula Ben has apparently solved. Guess who’s there? Mitchell Loeb, the secretly bad FBI agent from last episode! He plugs the formula into a computer, attaches wires to a metal box, then places a red delicious apple in another metal box on the other side of the room. He activates the machine, and the apple seems to transport from one box to the next (though it’s hard to say if that’s exactly what happens). He’s elated, and so is Ostler—until he pulls out a gun, kills her, and takes a giant bite of the fruit.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Memory continues to play a giant role in the drama; without Walter’s spotty recollections, Ben probably wouldn’t have been rescued. But this episode was rather light on the science—even the “fringe” science for which it’s named. An examination of memories, and how our interpretations of our own experiences shape our beliefs, might prove a suitable topic for the future.