The return of Fringe has been a somewhat uneven affair. The first new story wasn’t very good, yet last week’s monster hunt episode had some enjoyment. But Bad Dreams is actually one of the best Fringe stories in the first season, I’d contest.
Where this show works best is when it stops trying to relive the glory days of X-Files, and serves up its own brand of uneasiness. Having well established the characters, for the writers they now have the space to explore how they might react in any given circumstances. Personally, given how well we now know Olivia, Peter and Walter, I’d really like a story about Astrid. But this one is another Olivia adventure.
It starts in a slightly disconcerting nod to the stairs sequence from The Untouchables (or Battleship Potemkin if you want to be precise). A young mother struggles down the steps of Grand Central station subway with her child in a stroller. They’ve been to the circus, and the woman is singing Nellie The Elephant to the youngster.
The camera takes up the viewpoint of a stalker as they reach the platform, where will the danger come from?
Things are fine until the very moment that the train speeds into the platform, at which point someone moves forward and pushes mummy under the train. It’s then revealed that the killer is Agent Dunham!
Olivia then wakes from the disturbing dream, which becomes much more worrying when she discovers over breakfast that the woman did die in exactly the fashion she’d seen. Is Olivia a dream killer?
The answer to that is really complicated, and the show does a much better job of explaining how it isn’t her. Yet she experiences the deaths of multiple people in the story, than I can here. It relates to experiments performed on her and another child at an early age, that have the result of making this man project his emotions so that others near him are driven to murder or suicide.
The Olivia connection is that she too was part of the same experiment, and although she has no recollection of these events, she was a buddy with ‘Nick’, the mental patient whose dreams she lives.
Eventually, they catch up with Nick when Olivia is put into a hypnotic trance by Walter and they are able to tune her into him. The timing of this couldn’t be better as he’s entering a strip joint at the time, where he (or rathe, in the dream, Olivia) then seduces one of the pole dancers before leaving with them to have sex. Anna Torv’s passionate kiss with the dancer is pretty steamy stuff for mainstream TV, but then I think this show should push the envelope somewhat.
The conclusion of this plot comes when Nick, now horribly depressed, walks down the street collecting people as he goes. He then takes them to the top of a high building where they’re arranged around the edge like suicidal birthday cake candles.
The only person who is immune from his emotions is, conveniently, Agent Dunham, who goes up to negotiate with him. He asks her to kill him, even providing a gun, but Olivia won’t, even when he sends one of the public to the street using the express elevator.
Eventually, she shoots but not kills him, which is enough for the people around him to start acting normally. He’s put into a drug-induced coma, to remain there ‘indefinitely’.
This is all generally disconcerting stuff, and it’s not easy to predict what’s going to happen next, but the final scene really puts a wrench in the works. Walter is searching through some old video tapes, and sits to watch one. In it we see a six-year-old girl in the corner of a room. The corner she sits in is untouched, but the rest of the room looks like it’s been blasted by a blowtorch. The voiceover suggests that people might have died, and they’re also trying to get the little girl to calm down. The girl is ‘Olive’ – which is what Nick called Olivia.
That was a great ending, but what really made this story sing was, as usual, some superb Walter moments. The mention of New York is enough to illicit a musical performance, and he becomes entirely sidetracked by a new blend of coffee.
But at the top of my favourite Walter moments were one where he tried to say ‘Astral Projection’, yet was interrupted mid phrase by Astrid thinking he’s forgotten her name again, and another when the woman jumped off the roof in the climax. Her body smashes into a parked car only feet from Peter and Walter, to which Walter comments, “I do hope Agent Dunham meant to do that…”
It’s quite magic moments like those that keep me watching the show and has elevated my appreciation of John Noble to new heights.
Check out our review of episode 16 here.