More than you needed to know about Walter’s gray matter.
It’s all brains, all the time, over at Fringe this week. We open at Hennington Mental Health Institute in Boston, where a man named Joseph Slater babbles something about a girl in a red dress with flowers in her hair while a thin-lipped man wearing rubber gloves and holding bloody surgical tools stands behind him, doing something unseen and ominous to the back of his head. In a soothing tone, he assures Slater there’ll be no pain. He then removes a chunk of brain from Slater’s skull and, with the assistance of a henchman, submerges it in a gel-filled beaker.From a van parked outside the institute, another henchman glances through the window, spots an orderly making his rounds, and calls his boss to warn him of activity. The first henchman ducks into the hallway and shoots the orderly, then tells his boss they have to hurry. The man, who was firing up some kind of hand-held laser-powered tool, apologizes to Slater, quite politely, for leaving him in such a state.
Speculation on the gel stuff: Dippity-Do? Mucous?
When a nurse enters the room shortly thereafter, she sees Slater with the back of his skull removed and his brain exposed. Slater pleads with her, “Help me.”
Opening credits. Ah, this episode was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who has ably helped provide many fine cheese-filled hours of network television (Smallville, Heroes, Bones). Nearer and dearer to my heart, he also directed the joyously awful 1984 Helen Slater Supergirl movie. Have you seen that one? For bad movie aficionados, it’s a keeper.
Olivia, Peter and Walter drive up to the security gate of the mental health institute. Olivia informs the security guard that they’re investigating the break-in. Without prompting, Walter pipes up from the back seat and assures the security guard he’s perfectly sane. The security guard doesn’t look sold on this idea, probably because Walter is exuding crazy from his very pores. Like, more than usual.
Inside the institute, Dr. West, who is played by that lady who used to be on Head of the Class lo these many years ago (do I have any pop culture references past 1987 in my repertoire? Not many, no), explains the situation: Slater has been institutionalized for the past fourteen years, suffering from acute paranoid schizophrenia… until last night. Peter asks for clarification: The men broke in, performed surgery on him, and made him sane? West confirms that this seems to be the case. Walter, who is visibly distressed and agitated just from being inside the institute, asks to see footage of Slater when he was still insane.
Walter, Olivia and Peter watch a tape of West interviewing Slater, who rambles on again about the girl in the red dress in a thoroughly demented manner. He flies into a sudden rage when West tells him the girl isn’t really there.
When they meet post-surgery Slater, however, the difference is obvious: He’s calm, thoughtful and lucid. He explains how the nurse who discovered him rushed him to the emergency room. He doesn’t remember much about the surgery or about the men who operated on him, apart from them being pleasant and polite. He just remembers feeling unburdened afterward, like he was suddenly… “Free,” Walter finishes, looking both wistful and optimistic.
Dr. West informs Slater his wife has arrived. Slater feels guilty, because he suspects he was horrible to her whenever she visited him while he was suffering from schizophrenia, but West assures him it’ll be fine. Slater, by the way, is played by Jeff Perry, who crops up here and there — he was a regular on Nash Bridges, and he played a role very similar to this one on an episode of the short-lived but excellent CBS series American Gothic. He’s a cofounder of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, along with Gary Sinise et al, and as is obvious just from this small role here, he’s just a damn good actor.
Walter sadly notes he never had visitors during his seventeen years in the asylum. Peter looks abashed, but Walter hastily claims he didn’t mention this to make Peter feel guilty (coughbullshitcough), he was just making an observation. Olivia asks if Walter has any theories about the situation. He doesn’t, though he remarks that he’s thought long and hard on the subject of a remedy for insanity.
Peter and Olivia stand in the institute’s security office and watch surveillance footage of the break-in. Walter hovers in the background, noshing on a pudding cup. Olivia catches a glimpse of the ringleaders’s face and asks the security guard to freeze the tape. She then (nicely) asks the guard to get lost while she uses his computer to access the FBI’s database. She pulls up her files on the cryogenically frozen heads that were stolen during the Laston-Hennings Cryonics caper, reminding Peter and Walter (and the viewers) that they never figured out which head the thieves were after. She’s been examining photos of the frozen heads for the past two months (yeesh, Olivia, you need some better hobbies), and she recognized the man who broke into the asylum. Peter notes, “Frozen heads don’t get up and walk into places and perform brain surgery.” Peter, my dear, have you seen this show? On the Fringe spectrum of oddity, that barely registers.
Quick poll: pudding or applesauce?
Olivia finds the specific frozen head she’s looking for, which belongs to one Thomas Jerome Newton. She pulls up a photo of the frozen decapitated head. Sure enough, it seems to be a match for the dude who performed impromptu brain surgery on Slater. Walter says, “Wow.” Indeed.
Olivia’s amazing observation skills: Impressive, or farcical?
Peter and Olivia share this information with Broyles. They haven’t been able to find out anything further on Thomas Newton, other than that the name appears to be an alias. Olivia mentions how William Bell told her a man with an omega marking — Thomas Newton, presumably — would try to open a corridor between universes, which could bring about global destruction. Broyles wonders what the other universe has to do with Slater’s brain surgery. Peter says Walter is trying to figure out what was done to Slater.
In the lab, Walter sorts through files on Slater. Slater’s referring psychiatrist was a man named Simon Paris; Walter asks Astrid to locate Dr. Paris, so he can question him about Slater’s medical history. He believes Slater was originally sane, and then someone intentionally made him schizophrenic. Astrid reports that Dr. Paris isn’t in the AMA database. She checks on the prescription medications he was taking when he was admitted and discovers Dr. Paris set up an ongoing prescription fourteen years ago. Two of Dr. Paris’s other patients at two other hospitals were prescribed the same medications in the same week. Walter seems to find this highly significant, probably because he’s already read ahead in his script.
Peter and Olivia investigate the other two patients. In the visiting area of Dunwich Mental Hospital, a woman named Mrs. Crampton chats with Peter and Olivia. She’s a patient, though she seems eminently sane. She suffered from an obsessive compulsive disorder for fourteen years. She had arithmomania, in which she was obsessed with numbers — in her case, specifically the number 28. She couldn’t get it out of her head… until a couple days ago, when her affliction mysteriously left her. The doctors have no explanation for her recovery, so she’s being kept at the hospital for observation. With the woman’s permission, Peter examines her scalp. Sure enough, there’s a fresh surgical scar across the back of her head. Only in the Fringe universe could people undergo major brain surgery and not even notice.
Peter entertains mental patients with his finest Jose Eber impression.
Olivia quizzes her about Dr. Paris. Mrs. Crampton said she only visited him a couple of times for mild postpartum depression. He prescribed her some medication and checked her into the mental hospital just for some rest. Her arithmomania began shortly thereafter. Isn’t it a big warning sign when a mental disorder strikes after you’ve been admitted to an asylum?
Newton and one of his henchmen do something strange and diabolical, which appears to involve hooking electrical wires up to brain pieces submerged in beakers of gel. Newton observes that the “nutrient bath” won’t keep their specimens alive for long.
More brain chunks!
Peter and Olivia drive around and discuss Dr. Paris’s third patient, Stuart Gordon, who was hospitalized with schizophrenia but had a full recovery two days ago. As part of his affliction, he thought he was Sydney Greenstreet. Peter, never missing a chance to make a Casablanca joke, glances at Gordon’s medical history and quips that he looks more like Peter Lorre. I’m starting to see why the encounter with Mr. Gordon took place entirely offscreen. It can’t be easy finding an actor who looks like Peter Lorre. Also, remember what I said last episode about Peter always making pop culture references he’s a wee bit too young to have at the tip of his tongue? Anyway, Olivia is not amused by Peter’s Casablanca-themed humor. She’s going through one of her ultra-solemn phases, so Peter shifts into compassionate mode and reassures her she’s not alone in hunting down evil. They both look fiercely determined yet adorable, like a pair of especially grim chipmunks.
Cornering the market in Grimly Adorable since 2008.
In the lab, Walter notes that Dr. Paris prescribed sirolimus, a drug only given to organ transplant patients, for Stuart Gordon. Walter, grinning widely, proclaims that he can’t decide if the mysterious Dr. Paris is a quack… or a genius. He shows Astrid, Peter and Olivia half of a human brain, which he keeps nearby in a jar as a handy visual aid for occasions such as this. He explains that the brain can survive for a short period of time in liquid suspension, but it needs electrical stimulation to remain alive. He theorizes that Dr. Paris stored chunks of brain tissue inside other brains to preserve them. He looks at brain scans of Slater, Crampton and Gordon. Sure enough, he spots scar tissue where a foreign substance — chunks of someone else’s brain — was stashed inside each brain. Dr. Paris placed the mental patients on a continuous regimen of anti-rejection drugs to ensure that their brains would accept the foreign tissue. However, the new brain parts were incompatible with the patients’ existing brains, thus casing them to experience mental distress and false memories. When the foreign brain parts were removed, sanity returned.
Dr. West calls Astrid. She has no information on Dr. Paris, but she checked with some affiliate hospitals and discovered something interesting. Astrid appears shocked by whatever Dr. West tells her. She asks to speak to Peter in private. She whispers to him while Olivia and Walter look on in confused curiosity. Peter informs Walter that, per Dr. West, Dr. Paris visited him in the asylum on six occasions. Peter asks to take a look at Walter’s head. He sorts through his dad’s hair and finds an old surgical scar.
Peter and Astrid conspire adorably.
At the Hennington Institute, West prepares an agitated Walter for an MRI. Walter tells Peter it’s not a good idea — it might react poorly with the tracking chip in his neck. Peter assures him it’ll be fine: The chip, after all, is made of silicon, not metal. He suggests a Valium to help Walter calm down, which Walter thinks is a most excellent idea. He requests fifty milligrams from West. West says it’s a high dosage; Walter snaps that he has a high tolerance.
Peter tries to soothe Walter, who frets about whatever Dr. Paris did to him. While Peter looks on, Walter is slid into the MRI scanner. Father and son exchange shy, sad little goodbye waves.
Later, Olivia finds Peter standing beside the empty scanner, deep in thought. He says Astrid already took Walter home. He wonders what it’s like for Walter, who is desperately hoping it’ll be possible to somehow reverse his insanity. He notes that Walter is just sane enough to realize how much he’s lost. Olivia points out that going crazy made Walter a better person and a better father. Peter kicks himself for not visiting Walter when he was in the asylum; Olivia reassures him he’s making up for it now. Dr. West interrupts their nice moment by asking them to take a look at Walter’s brain scans.
I must be sleep-deprived, because that looks strangely comfortable.
This episode is hilariously brain-centric. I realized that when I was trying to find screengrabs to use with this recap, and pretty much all I had to choose from were shots of exposed brains, shots of sliced bits of brain in gel, shots of brain x-rays, or shots of Walter getting his brain scanned. Really, that’s pretty much it. It’s a pretty terrific episode, actually, but after this I think the topic of Walter’s brain has been exhausted for at least the remainder of the season.
On Walter’s brain, there are three deep incisions on the left temporal lobe where tissue was removed from the hippocampus. This affects long-term memory and spatial awareness. Sure enough, the missing parts of Walter’s brain match up with the pieces removed from the three mental patients.
At his home, Walter is confused and sick and dizzy from too much Valium. Babysitter Astrid wants to take him to a hospital, but he refuses. He thinks listening to the debut album of Violet Sedan Chair might calm him, but he left it at the lab. He asks Astrid to drive him there, warning that he might puke in her car. Mindful of her upholstery, Astrid suggests he stay home and rest while she runs to the lab and fetches the album.
Astrid’s teen babysitting experience comes in surpringly handy in the FBI.
Olivia wonders why Paris removed and preserved Walter’s brain. Peter thinks it must have something to do with Walter’s missing memories: Walter has opened the door to the other universe, but can’t remember how to do it. In order for Thomas Newton to access that information, he’d need to implant the memories into a brain that can interpret them… It dawns on Peter and Olivia that Walter is in terrible danger. Peter calls Astrid, who is en route to the lab, and tells her to return to the house to protect Walter. With a squeal of tires, Astrid flips a u-turn and zips back to Walter.
There’s a knock on Walter’s door. Looking weak and groggy and pukey, Walter answers it. He’s greeted by Newton, who politely says, “Hello, Dr. Bishop.”
Peter bursts into the house and encounters a gun-toting Astrid, who tells him Walter was already gone by the time she got there. She apologizes for leaving him, but Peter assures her she couldn’t have known he was in danger. Peter gets the transponder used to track the silicon chip in Walter’s neck and heads off in pursuit of his dad.
In an undisclosed location, one of Newton’s henchman adjusts a scary-looking helmet, all electrical wires and sharp spikes, over Walter’s head. I’d feel worse for Walter, but he’s done the same exact thing to unwitting patients in other episodes. Newton injects Walter with what he describes as a mild sedative. Walter, already floating on too much Valium, zones out.
The prop department is getting a lot of use out of this contraption.
Broyles calls Olivia, who is in hot pursuit of Walter’s tracking signal, and tells her the Boston police force will meet her and Peter at their destination.
Newton talks about the human brain and how, following trauma, it grows and finds new routes for old pathways. Thus, figuring out the original neural pathways in Walter’s brain will be tricky.
Peter and Olivia, with the entire FBI force on their heels (though strangely not the Boston PD, as Broyles promised), descend upon a building and raid it in search of Walter. No one’s there. Peter finds the tracking device that was in Walter’s neck in a bloody sink. Huh. I really would have thought they’d stretch out the whole tracking-device plot thread for more than a single episode. Guess not, though I wouldn’t put it past Walter to get it implanted again. Peter throws a magnificent hissyfit and kickboxes a defenseless toilet stall into submission.
Peter: 1. Toilet stall: 0.
Newton, still very polite and civil, hooks up the brain-filled beakers to the helmet via wires and informs Walter that he’s trying to map his brain and locate his neural pathways. Walter, still stoned off his gourd, asks him, “Are you trying to fix me?” Can’t go one single episode without breaking my heart a little, can you, Walter?
Newton, obviously, is not trying to fix Walter. He shows Walter a slide of a molecule, which leads Walter to reminisce about his first organic chemistry class. Newton next shows him a slide of a young boy, whom Walter identifies as Peter. He also identifies a dish of pudding as Peter. A photo of a coffin also produces the response, “Peter.” Walter tears up at this, and Newton apologizes for dredging up bad memories. Newton realizes it’s not working — Walter needs his other senses stimulated to fire up his memory, not just his vision.
Olivia and Broyles pore over maps looking for nearby hospitals or medical facilities where Newton could possibly be operating on Walter. Peter has a Walter-esque moment where he starts rambling and babbling incoherently while working through a sudden idea. He talks about the cured mental patients: Slater kept talking about a girl in the red dress who lived across the street, Crampton was obsessed with the number 28, and Gordon thought he was Sydney Greenstreet. While Olivia gapes at him, Peter makes the connection: The girl in the red dress lived across the street from him, not from Slater, at their old house on 2828 Green Street.
Some screengrabs really work better without captions.
Walter sits with Newton and his henchmen in his old home in Cambridge. He remarks, “Last time I was here, it was a different season.” Yes, Walter. Season One, in fact. Newton says this house exists in both universes, though in his own world, blight has killed the trees and the grass. I’m reasonably certain he means “blight” in a general sense of destruction and decay, but since blight is also a specific plant disease, maybe there’s nothing really wrong with the other universe that strategic use of fungicides couldn’t fix? There’s an electrical buzzing as the pieces of brain suspended in the beakers are reconnected to Walter’s brain.
The brain chunks also come in green…
…As well as red.
This is cool. This part is really, really cool. Walter looks at Newton, suddenly sane, and snarls, “This is my home.” It’s a wholly new Walter: Lucid, focused, and mean. For the first time, it makes sense why Peter has so much painful emotional baggage about his sweetly infuriating father. He demands to see his wife and son. Newton calmly asks him to tell him how he built a door between the universes. Walter replies, nastily, “How are things on your side?” Worse, Newton tells him. He then says, about the door to his world, “I know why you built it. I know what you lost. Are you going to pretend you’re willing to lose him again?”
Peter and Olivia drive around, still looking grim but adorable. One of the henchmen, parked outside the Cambridge home, spots them and alerts Newton. Newton claims he’s already got what he needs. He unhooks the helmet and the brain pieces from Walter, who looks dazed. Newton apologizes and injects him with something. Walter slumps over, staring wistfully at the pieces of his brain.
(This is the great power of Fringe: It can toss off a throwaway shot where a drugged-out dude stares at chopped-up pieces of his brain submerged in beakers of phlegmmy-stuff and have it be steeped in melancholy and a sense of tremendous, poignant loss.)
Walter says goodbye to his lost marbles.
Peter throws his shoulder against the front door. It flies open. Between this scene and the one where he beat that poor toilet stall into submission, Peter is Action Man in this episode, isn’t he? I approve. He and Olivia find Walter unconscious on the floor. While Peter tries to revive his father, Olivia searches the house and finds the owners bound and gagged in another room. She frees them, and they tell her the bad guys took off through the back door.
Olivia runs outside and spots them driving off in a van, tires squealing. Olivia whips out her gun, chases after them Terminator-style, and shoots and kills the driver. The van crashes. The other henchman throws open the back doors, gun drawn, and Olivia kills him as well. Olivia is an awesome force to be reckoned with. Seriously, she’s been on the back burner for the past few episodes — we’ve had a Broyles-heavy episode, and a Peter-heavy episode, and the madcap adventures of Astrid and Walter in Chinatown — and I must say, it’s nice to see her wrestling the spotlight away from her showpony costars. Olivia squints into the back of the van and sees a shadowy figure. Gun aimed, she orders him out of there. Newton emerges.
Three heavily-armed dudes in a van? Olivia’s got it covered.
In the house, a still-feeble Walter asks about his brain pieces. If they die, the memories and information contained on them will be lost for ever. Peter assures him he doesn’t need them. Walter begins to twitch and gag. He looks at Peter and says, “Hello, son,” twice, then collapses.
Newton informs Olivia that he’s injected Walter with a lethal neurotoxin. He’ll die in four minutes, unless he receives the antidote. Olivia calls Peter and confirms that Walter is definitely suffering. Newton left a medical kit near Walter that contains three vials, which must be injected into Walter in the correct order to save him. Newton orders Olivia to hand him her phone and run back to the house, and he’ll tell her the correct sequence. Olivia refuses, but Peter pleads with her to save Walter.
Olivia is Not Happy about this turn of events.
Olivia snarls at Newton to go to hell, then chucks her phone at him and books it back to the house. Sure enough, there’s a medical kit with a series of Crayola-colored vials inside. She takes Peter’s phone, and Newton instructs her to inject the blue vial, then the yellow one, then the red one. Well, this is gimmicky as all hell. Since they’re injecting them in rapid succession within a matter of seconds, could the correct order really be all that critical? Newton takes the opportunity to smugly taunt her for being weak, then hangs up. Dude, you could not pay me enough to mock Olivia.
After receiving the injections, Walter lies completely still for a moment, then gasps and revives. He complains of a headache and a craving for chicken wings. Peter hugs him awkwardly and buries his nose in his hair.
Not the most relaxed and natural display of affection ever.
Olivia stomps around outside with Broyles and berates herself for making an emotional choice to save Walter. They still haven’t been able to find out anything about Dr. Paris. She wonders who he really is, and why Newton let Walter live. Broyles is kindly and reassuring in this scene, for a refreshing change of pace. He tells her she made a rational choice: Arresting Newton wouldn’t have solved all their problems, and Walter is irreplaceable. He notes that they’re going to need Walter before this is over… and Olivia, too.
Olivia is still Not Happy.
Peter prepares Walter for another MRI to make sure his brain is okay after all the trauma. Peter apologizes for never visiting him in the asylum. Walter reassures him that he wouldn’t remember it anyway. Peter watches from outside as Walter is whisked into the MRI scanner again.
A side of his dad that Peter probably didn’t need to see.
Walter flashes to a memory of himself on an operating table, while someone says, “He’s ready, Dr. Paris.” Dr. Paris talks about how the electrodes are in place, and while he’s standing in shadows with his face hidden, the identity of “Dr. Paris” is obvious just from that iconic voice. He moves into the light, and yep, it’s William Bell. It might just be the presence of The Nimoy, but all of a sudden I’m thinking how much this episode reminds me of a souped-up version of that original Star Trek episode where someone sneaks onto the Enterprise and steals Spock’s brain. Only the Trek episode was pretty terrible, really, whereas this one? Aces across the board. Bell smiles and asks Walter if he’s comfortable. Walter tells him he’s frightened. Bell says he wishes there were another way, but what Walter knows is too dangerous. He’ll keep the information in a safe place in case they need it again. Bell calmly instructs Walter to think about the door to the other side.
Exactly what you want to see right before major brain surgery.
A terrific episode. I love how Fringe will take an utterly preposterous premise — chunks of Walter’s brain have been removed and placed in other brains! — and sell the hell out of it, until it seems plausible and even somewhat likely. Plus: More Nimoy! More ominous glimpses of that blight-infested other universe! Total win. I’m happy.