Fringe season 2 episode 13 review

Fringe meets Outbreak, in a very satisfying standalone story, that brings Astrid rightly into the spotlight...

2.13 What Lies Beneath

The longer Fringe goes on, the more I like it, even if season two has been somewhat inconsistent in places. Last week we got a half decent monster-of-the-week episode, and this one a very sharp take on the classic Outbreak plotline.

A man walks into a office complex and dies dramatically. In doing so he releases a virus into the environment that infects people around him. Not very far into the proceedings, after a woman throws herself from a high window driven by the virus to spread itself, I knew exactly what the inspiration for this story was, and how not entirely fanciful the notion was.

In the real world, biologists recently have found a fungus that zombifies ants in the rainforest, which it does when the spores land on the insect and infect it. Once under the control of the ravaging fungus, the ant will head to a high leaf and die there as the fungus invades its body structures. Eventually, the fungus sprouts from the ant body and spores are released to rain down on other ants on the rainforest floor, starting the cycle again. What’s interesting in this is how the behaviour of the ant is modified by the fungus, and how it’s coerced into dispersing more spores more effectively.

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In What Lies Beneath, once people are infected, the virus can tell that its hosts are isolated and instructs them to escape, which is, admittedly, more complex. But it’s hardly a radical departure from the inspiring science.

The extra dimension to this story is that by the time that Fringe realises what they’re dealing with, both Olivia and Peter are trapped in the office building along with the staff, and the number of infections is growing!

The undoubted highlight of this week is the relationship between Astrid and Walter, which is marvellously subtle interplay between the uber-cute Jasika Nicole and John ‘mad-as-a-box-of-frogs’ Noble. Given the experiences they’ve shared at Fringe it might be entirely believable if Astrid didn’t really care for Walter. But in this they’re almost like a married couple who have been together for years.

The pivotal moment is when Astrid is told that the disease control people have decided to kill everyone in the building to stop the virus spreading, and she just replies that “Walter will figure something out” and ends the phone conversation there and then. She then decides not to share this with him, as she needs him to be thinking clearly to do exactly that. This brilliantly demonstrates the strength of their relationship, and her confidence in just how brilliant Walter can be, on occasions.

In return, Walter gives her a nugget of personal information about Peter having died before, something she doesn’t dismiss as crazy ramblings, and they return to at the end of the show.

There is a symbiosis developing between the personalities of Olivia and Peter, and Astrid and Walter, though, realistically, I think only one of these has any romantic potential.

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I’ve been asking for more Astrid in Fringe for a while, as she’s more interesting than Olivia is in many respects. Perhaps we need to know more about why she’s single, and where she was before joining Fringe. Her secondary character status seems under revision and the greater attention the writers are giving Miss Farnsworth seems more than justified.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable Fringe story, that, while it didn’t progress any of the larger story arcs, did move the characters on and the bonds between them. But Fringe needs to get back to those underlying plot elements soon, even if the last two stand-alone stories have both been good.

Read our review of episode 12 here.