Episode seven of Fringe didn’t exactly light my fire, so I was nervous this show might be going out; specifically it seemed to be losing its edge.
But the latest episode, The Equation, has entirely calmed my nerves, as it takes the characters into an entirely weird world, locks the doors and throws away the key.
It starts normally enough. A man and his gifted son are driving on a lonely highway in the rain, when they come across an attractive women marooned with her broken car. The man stops to help her and, looking under the hood, he sees a green and red flashing light. For him, time jumps forward, and his son and the woman are gone.
But in typical Fringe style, this is the first abduction, and previous victims have usually come back certifiably insane!
The trail leads back to the mental institution where Walter had previously resided, and a fellow resident, Dashiell Kim might hold the key to finding the boy and solving the puzzle. Except Dr. Sumner, portrayed cunningly by William Sadler (Col. Stuart in Die Hard 2), won’t let Dash meet anyone new, but curiously he’ll let old friend Walter back inside to talk to him. That isn’t an experience Walter wants, but he does want to help find the boy and so agrees to a visit.
Meanwhile, the child is being subjected to an extreme process, presented with an equation in the form of a musical piece, which he must complete. To encourage a conclusion, the boy is shown his dead mother, who is then mutilated when he fails to achieve the desired objective.
When Walter gets to Dash (Randall Duk Kim, who you might recall being the keymaker in The Matrix Reloaded), he discovers this is exactly what happened to him, something that ultimately drove him to kill his wife with a tyre iron when he couldn’t complete his equation.
More disturbingly, while in the institution Walter keeps seeing another calmer version of himself observing and talking to him. But that place has more than Walter’s self apparitions and bewildered patients; it also has the increasingly aggressive Dr. Summer who tells Peter that he’ll fight him for custody of Walter, who, in his opinion, should be incarcerated for the safety of others. The suggestion is that he’ll likely be a factor in a future story, if they ever get to make that story.
After an altercation with Dash, Water is held under Dr. Summer’s instruction, before Olivia and Peter use their influence to get Walter out. The only clue he’s got when he emerges is that Dash was held in a red castle, with a dungeon. A chance phone call to Olivia triggers her to investigate an old red fairground attraction near where she’s conducting house to house calls. She and handy FBI pal, Charlie Francis, investigate, and immediately split up. Olivia finds the boy but is attacked by Joanne Ostler, the abductor. She’s about to arrest her when the lights flash and Olivia blanks out.
The twist, and Fringe loves its twists, is that the boy solved the equation. We also see that what it does is provide a harmonic that allows solid objects to pass through each other. This is also the last thing that Joanne Ostler sees, because after she succeeds with this she’s immediately killed by Mitchell Loeb, the duplicitous agent at the centre of the previous story.
This wasn’t the best story of the season, but it had some of the best acting we’ve seen so far in Fringe. I’m in awe of what John Noble does with the Walter Bishop character, his blended personality shifting like desert sands between sanity, insanity, lucidity and delusion. It’s mesmerising to watch, and he approaches each scene like he’s waking into an entirely new reality. It’s the unpredictability that makes him so watchable, as you’ve got no idea with Walter Bishop you might get from moment to moment. He started out decidedly sinister, and there are still dark moments, but ultimately he’s a likeable crackpot, even if he’s not 100% there. Peter’s character has also grown. My only real character concern now is Agent Dunham, who needs to get a life!
There are only two more shows left pre-recorded. Can they spring surprises to make season one of Fringe a little more spicy? And if not, just more Walter will do nicely.
Check out our review of episode 7 here.