10. Grey Matters
This show is always at its best when it tries to do two particular things. The first is driving the larger plot arc about the parallel world and the drastic consequences of those who move between here and there. The other is when it focuses on the personal interaction of the Fringe team, specifically their growing and developing relationships. Last week was something of a bonding exercise, but Grey Matters takes that to another level when everyone at Fringe gets very concerned about Walter.
Until now I’d just rather accepted Walter Bishop was intrinsically eccentric and forgetful, but this story actually gets into why he ended up in the mental home (to a degree) and what happened to him beforehand.
The weird opening has Thomas Jerome Newton, who was previously a frozen head that was stitched back onto a ‘spare’ body, making a late night housecall on mental patient for some ad hoc brain surgery. This wasn’t as odd as it was portrayed, because cranial procedures of the type he performs are often done while the patient is conscious, as it’s a very good way of knowing if you’re straying into the wrong areas.
What is peculiar is that after Newton removes a chunk of this brain, it appears that his mental condition goes with it. Soon the Fringe team finds two other patients who experience normality again after a slice of grey matter is removed.
The twist, and it’s Walter that works this out, is that the bit of brain these people had removed wasn’t theirs, which is why it had sent them bonkers once implanted into them. The lovely logic of this is that brain tissue is difficult to maintain outside a living body, but it can be kept alive inside another brain. Yes, this is one of the strangest Fringe stories, but also one of the most intriguing.
This revelation is rapidly followed by another, when Peter realises that Walter has had similar surgery, a scan revealing that it is parts of his brain these people once had.
Each Fringe story asks you to make a leap of faith, or logic, to stay with the unfolding drama, and what we’re asked to believe this week is that you can remove specific memories by cutting them out. Yes, I accept in very simple terms that’s true, as head trauma sufferers can have specific timeframes or events lost. But the idea that you can watch an electrical map of the mind, ask them to think about something and then work out where to cut is a big jump for me, not a little one.
In this instance we’re been pre-warned what that information is that Newton wants, and it’s the work that Walter did on creating a stable portal between the two dimensions. But to decode the slices of brain he’s taken from their living repositories, Newton needs the rest of Walter’s brain, as the exact way that each brain encodes is unique, apparently.
Walter is abducted and plugged into old bits of his brain, for something of a reunion. Before the end of the story Newton has his inter-dimensional door technology, and we find out who took the bits out of Walter in the first place – William Bell.
This last part all seemed a little curious, and in need of further explanation, which perhaps we’ll get further down the line. Mr Bell obviously has this technology already, as he used it to bring to and send back Olivia. So if it exists, why did Newton need to ransack Walter’s brain to get it from him?
What was successfully explained is much of why Walter is the person he is now, and that having those parts of his brain back might not have been a good idea. In terms of the performances, John Noble was as brilliant as he’s been from the outset and I’ve noticed a distinctive mellowing of Olivia’s persona, which is a positive change.
But it was Sebastian Roché as Newton who really sold many of the scenes this week. I especially enjoyed how charming his was to people he was performing brain surgery on. He could become a worthy nemesis for the team, who now know they must stop him opening that door to the other side, or witness global destruction.
The last few stories have really warmed me to this show and its characters, and I’m now looking forward to early February, when Fringe will return.
Read our review of episode 9 here.