Attack Olivia, get clubbed with a candlestick. Simple as that.
Oh. It’s a stand-alone episode. That’s kind of disappointing. Not that Fringe hasn’t had some very good stand-alones, but the strength of this show lies in the cool overarching plot — William Bell and the parallel universe, and Walter’s fragmented memories of his past misdeeds. We’d built up some momentum with a couple of pretty great episodes, and now we’re taking a step back to deal with another Freakish Disease of the Week. This isn’t a bad episode, per se, but neither is it especially exciting or memorable. In a Providence, Rhode Island coffee shop, a cute blonde lawyer named Miranda Greene meets with a young man who goes by the name of Neil Wilson (he goes by about forty other names in this episode, and we eventually find out his name is… oh, hell, let me scroll through my notes here… James, but we first meet him as Neil in this opening scene, so let’s stick with that). Neil claims to have gone to school with Miranda, but she can’t quite remember him. One hopes she at least had the sense to scope out his Facebook page before agreeing to meet with him.
Marcia Brady, attorney-at-law.
Neil, who looks like hell, sips water and shakes off her offer to buy him coffee, claiming he has trouble keeping food down. Miranda offers to have her law firm look into the source of his illness. Miranda is very sweet and pretty and good-intentioned, and thus will be dead before the opening credits roll.
Neil gets to the point of the meeting: He thinks something he and Miranda were exposed to as kids has now made him sick. Did you eat a lot of paste as a child, Neil? That’ll wreak havoc on the digestive tract every time. He’s trying to track down more of their old classmates to see if anyone else has become ill. When pressed, she comes up with the name of one mutual classmate and potential paste-eater: Lloyd Becker. Neil thanks her. He reaches over the table and pats her on the wrist in a friendly manner. And everybody who’s ever watched this show before realizes he’s just killed her.
While driving away from the appointment, Miranda makes a call to arrange to have Neil meet with an oncologist. Gah, this is maddening. This nice lady is going above and beyond the call of duty to help out Neil… who has already doomed her.
She stops for a red light. When she looks down at her wrist, it now has huge, grotesque, pus-filled blisters all over it. She bends over in pain and clutches her stomach.
Ugliest bracelet I’ve ever seen.
When the light turns to green, she doesn’t move her car. The driver stuck behind her honks, then gets out of his vehicle and approaches her window. When she looks up at him, he sees her face: It’s covered with grotesque blisters. Seriously, it’s horrible. This poor lovely actress. She was probably all happy about getting this part, and then she got to the makeup trailer and they did this to her face.
That’s… not good.
Five AM: Olivia lies in bed, wide awake. She gets up and goes to visit Sam Weiss at the bowling alley where he works. Sam, you’ll recall, helped Olivia after her car accident at the beginning of the season. He offers her a beer. Olivia declines, it being the wee hours of the morning and all. Such a traditionalist. Sam (somehow) deduces that Olivia is feeling guilty about a recent decision she made, i.e. promising Walter not to tell Peter about the secrets of his past. Olivia acknowledges this might be true. The impromptu bowling alley psychoanalysis session is interrupted when Olivia gets a phone call alerting her to a new case.
Later, this guy gives Olivia fashion advice. Really.
Question: If Broyles doesn’t call Olivia to assign her to a new case, does she have to show up at the office? If no recent physics-defying scientifically-absurd murders have taken place for the Fringe gang to investigate, can Olivia just spend the day lying on her couch eating Fritos and watching game shows? She works in kind of in a specialized area — I can’t imagine the FBI makes her come in to man the phones and do busywork if there’s nothing happening in her field.
Peter and Walter arrive at the morgue in Providence to examine Miranda’s body. Walter is trying to plan a father-son ski trip. He rhapsodizes about the ski trips of his youth: He was particularly fond of a secret trail called The Backside, which, naturally enough, was a nude ski run. Chirps Walter, “By the time you got done with the run, your testicles would be in your mouth.”
Oh, thank you for that mental image, Walter. Splendid.
Just as he’s saying this, he bumps into Broyles and Olivia, neither of whom are especially interested in hearing about Walter’s testicles. Join the club.
Everyone’s still thinking about Walter’s testicles-in-mouth story.
The coroner is an admiring former student of Walter’s, who assures Peter his father is a great man. Both Walter and Peter seem a little surprised at meeting the charter member of the Walter Bishop Fan Club. Aw, I’d join, provided he kept the testicle chat to a minimum.
Walter and the coroner examine poor Miranda’s bump-covered corpse. The coroner thinks the bumps might be chemical burns, but Walter thinks they’re malignant tumors — sarcomas, to be exact. The coroner points out that sarcomas generally present themselves beneath the skin. Walter shines a black light on Miranda’s corpse, looking for the cancer’s point of origin, since the cancer cells will be denser there and thus will refract light differently. The bumps on her wrist show up a brilliant reddish-pink, which indicates that the cancer started there. Sarcomas can be pretty! Who knew?
Cancer: Now in new fashion colors!
The dense cancer cells form the shape of a handprint. Walter proclaims that someone touched her and gave her cancer. The coroner thinks this is impossible. “Yes, but this is Fringe,” Walter reminds him.
In the Harvard lab, Walter and Astrid cut up Miranda’s corpse while Walter yammers on about how he wants to take Peter to Atlantic City, mostly for the superb salt-water taffy. I guess Peter shot down the nude ski trip idea, huh? Walter explains to a grossed-out Astrid what they’re trying to do: He wants to remove the tumor-ridden piece of skin from her wrist, bake it, and raise the fingerprints from it, in the hope of identifying her murderer that way. Walter gives Astrid a list of supplies he’ll need, which include corn starch and food coloring — as long as he’s baking, he wants to make a batch of taffy as well. Yet another reason never to accept an invitation to a dinner party at the Bishop house.
Once again, Astrid re-evaluates her career choices.
Peter and Olivia visit with one of the partners at Miranda’s law firm. He tells them Miranda handled a lot of class action cases: asbestos, toxic poisoning, that kind of thing. Miranda was in the middle of prepping a case against a company called Intrepus Pharmaceuticals. Peter and Olivia wonder if this could be relevant. Olivia asks for all of Miranda’s Intrepus case files.
A search of Miranda’s date book reveals that she had a meeting with Neil Wilson an hour before she died. This is more helpful than all this Intrepus Pharmaceuticals business. The Intrepus lead, by the way, never amounts to anything. Foreshadowing, or just a red herring?
After leaving the law office, Peter and Olivia drive around. It’s a dark and rainy night. If there’s a single iconic Fringe shot, it’s this: Peter and Olivia driving around on a dark and rainy night. Peter doesn’t think Intrepus is involved — after all, giving someone rapid-growing cancer is not the most discreet way to kill someone. Olivia concedes he has a point, but seriously, guys, none of the murders on this show have exactly been discreet.
Olivia drops Peter off at the Bishop house. Peter asks her in for coffee, but Olivia gets kind of squirrelly and begs off.
Following another sleepless night, Olivia arrives at the lab early. I’m not really sure how early she is, actually, since Astrid and Walter are already there and have apparently been hard at work for several hours. Is Olivia really just a compulsively-late slacker, and we’ve never realized it before this episode? Astrid and Walter fuss over twin pots of gunk on burners. One pot contains delicious taffy, the other contains Miranda’s boiled-down cancer-ridden flesh, and god help us all if they confuse the two. “Don’t mix up the spoons,” Astrid tells Walter sternly.
Sketchiest soup kitchen ever.
Olivia takes Walter aside and drops a bombshell: She’s going to tell Peter the truth about how Walter kidnapped him from the parallel universe. Walter thinks this is a terrible, horrible, awful idea. He and Peter have never gotten along this well — this will destroy their relationship. Olivia is sure Peter will understand. Walter and I remain unconvinced of this.
Okay, so in some episode in the near future, Peter’s going to find out the truth, and he’s going to be enraged and feel betrayed, and Peter and Walter’s newly-convivial relationship will be shattered by all these terrible lies. I know this is how this story will play out. But wouldn’t it be awesome if they reversed expectations here — if Walter told Peter the truth about his origins, and Peter shrugged and said, “Okay, dad. Cool. Thanks for telling me,” and never brought up the subject again?
No, that’s not going to happen. But I can dream.
Peter arrives at the lab, his arms laden with fancy, frippery coffee beverages. He apologizes for not getting Olivia anything. She’s too polite to say anything, but I feel certain Olivia would not drink anything with caramel or peppermint or marshmallow fluff or peanut butter or whatever in it. Olivia drinks her coffee black. Maybe with a shot of Scotch in it, for days when she’s feeling like she needs something special. Does the Fringe gang go out drinking together after work? Picture it: Walter would order a banana daiquiri, and Peter would have a Kahlua mudslide, extra whipped cream, and Astrid would have a Mai Tai, heavy on the cherries, while Olivia would sit in the corner of the booth with her Scotch, neat, no ice, rolling her eyes and looking vaguely nauseous.
The requisite beaker of urine.
Olivia gets a phone call: Miranda Greene used her credit card at a coffee shop shortly before she was murdered. Peter and Olivia take off, but not before Olivia and Walter share a look fraught with tension.
I do understand why Olivia would feel uncomfortable with keeping huge, life-altering secrets from Peter. But is it me, or has she somehow managed to make the Bishop family’s devastating history all about her own personal issues?
Peter and Olivia show Miranda’s photo to a coffee shop worker, who recognizes her. He describes the guy she was with: Pale, skinny, sick. Looked like he had cancer, of the most contagious kind.
Olivia and Peter discuss the idea of contagious cancer. While they agree it’s not the strangest thing they’ve ever seen, Olivia claims it’s close. She’s wrong. I’d say that radiation-sucking, astronaut-possessing space entity easily trumps this.
A downright healthy-looking Neil shops for groceries. Lots of fresh vegetables, vitamins. He chats up the cute checkout girl, but then starts coughing up a lung. She offers to call him some help, but he refuses. He rushes out of the store, fondling the produce all the way, then coughs and vomits on the steps.
Neil’s cancer-fighting strategy: 1) Take vitamins. 2) Kill people.
Neil sits in what looks like a hotel room, calling everyone named Lloyd Becker in the phone book in search of his former classmate. Once more, he looks like hell.
Anyone else having Terminator flashbacks?
Yeah, I’m not feeling Neil. There’s no mystery to his actions — as soon as Walter figured out Miranda died from cancer, which she contracted by someone touching her wrist, we’ve known what Neil’s deal is. He’s got cancer, but he can keep it at bay temporarily by spreading it to his classmates. It’s not all that interesting, and a lot of time gets sucked up by watching Neil track down and kill his old friends.
Olivia asks Walter about Miranda’s lunch with Neil: Walter thinks the spreading cancer could be linked to the Chinese concept of Ch’i (also spelled as Chi, or Qi, if you prefer) , which loosely translates as spiritual energy. Specifically, Walter thinks it could be the Dim Mak (the Touch of Death, Peter helpfully explains). Chinese spiritualism states that, with proper training, someone can affect another person’s Ch’i through touch alone. Peter points out that the Touch of Death is just a legend (and a key plot device in many martial arts films), but Walter disagrees. He compares it to Tantric sex, which leads to heightened awareness and an exchange of energy between sexual partners.
Walter is explaining Tantric sex. Provide your own interpretation of his gesture.
Olivia steers the conversation back onto a path that doesn’t require her to think about Walter’s sex life. Walter thinks Neil gave Miranda cancer to halt the progress of his own disease.
Having successfully tracked down Lloyd Becker, Neil knocks on his door and introduces himself as Alex Taylor. Nope, I’m still not interested.
Dead meat guy.
Next scene: Lloyd is found dead, his body covered with malignant sarcomas. The Fringe team investigates and discovers the point of the cancer’s origin is his right hand.
Killing him was bad enough. Sticking Sugar Corn Pops on his face? Just wrong.
Peter and Olivia converse awkwardly as they drive away from the crime scene. Peter claims he knows what’s bothering Olivia: It was their near-kiss after the events in Jacksonville. Peter chirps on and on about how he and Walter and Olivia have formed this awesome family unit and he doesn’t want to jeopardize it… Barely listening, Olivia agrees that she and Peter shouldn’t boink each other, at least not until May sweeps.
Peter realizes he and Olivia have entered the “old married couple” stage of their relationship.
Astrid tracks down the medical records of five other people who appeared to spontaneously develop cancer and die. One of the names on Astrid’s list, Timothy Ober, attracts Olivia’s attention, but she can’t figure out where she knows him from.
At home, Olivia pours herself a Scotch and looks through the victims’ files. We’ve had an awful lot of scenes of Olivia knocking back the Scotch in the past two episodes, probably to show how she’s under heightened strain these days. Since this is Fringe, I assume we’re not hurtling toward a Very Special episode where Walter and Peter and a teary-eyed Astrid stage an intervention about Olivia’s booze consumption.
“The best thing for a case of nerves is a case of Scotch.” — W.C. Fields
“If you get hooked on Scotch, then everything else just tastes wrong.” — Ron White
“I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.” — Humphrey Bogart
There’s a knock on her door. It’s late, so Olivia grabs her gun before she answers it. It’s just Sam, who thought she might be up for a midnight game of Clue. Sam needs to work on his pickup strategy. Or maybe he doesn’t — Olivia seems happy to see him. She invites him in, and sure enough, they play Clue.
Olivia’s wild date night.
Over the game, Sam indulges in some amateur psychoanalysis of Olivia. He criticizes her somber-colored suits, describing them as a “uniform.” Really, Sam? You’re going to go there, Mr. “I work in a bowling alley and thus wear a lot of bowling shirts”? This may be an unpopular opinion, but I sort of can’t stand Sam. He’s smug and super-critical of Olivia in this scene, and she hasn’t asked for him to weigh in on her sartorial choices, so… back off, pal.
On the other hand, Olivia seems to be digging him, so whatever.
Talking with Sam (he claims, “I’m older than I look and taller than I appear”) jogs Olivia’s memory. She rummages around her notes from her trip to the daycare in Jacksonville. She’s recorded a list of the names of the kids used in the Cortexiphan trials, which were written on the height chart on the wall. Sure enough, Timothy Ober took part in Walter’s experiments, as did Miranda and Lloyd.
She hurries over to the Bishop house, where Walter is pulling taffy in the kitchen while baking the tumor-ridden flesh in the oven (he’s spread it out so it looks like a pizza. A pizza made entirely of sarcomas. Yum).
Be grateful he’s not baking the taffy and pulling the tumors.
Walter has no idea why the killer would target the Cortexiphan subjects, although he thinks they’d probably be especially susceptible to the Touch of Death. As Cortexiphan works to provide access to untapped parts of the brain, test subjects would be more open to the exchange of energy.
Peter asks how the killer would know about the Cortexiphan trials. Per Walter, no list of the children used in the trials was ever kept, which seems like remarkably bad planning. Wouldn’t Walter and William Bell want to follow up with their test subjects later in life, especially seeing as many of them are still being affected by the drug?
Olivia visits Nina to see if she has a list, because Nina is sneaky like that. Nina denies the existence of any such list. Oh, Nina. I expect sloppy records-keeping from Bell and Walter, but you’re better than that. Olivia rather arbitrarily segues into how she knows that Nina knows Peter isn’t really the real Peter. Olivia is quite the gossip these days, isn’t she? She claims she’s going to tell Peter all about it. Nina calls her bluff: Olivia has no intention of telling Peter anything, seeing as she’s kept the secret thus far. Nina gets all smug and awesome as she accuses Olivia of having feelings for Peter, which, her tone implies, is a sign of pitiful, mock-worthy weakness. If Olivia tells Peter the truth, she’ll lose him forever. (I’m not really sure how that works out, actually — certainly Walter will lose Peter, but Olivia? Probably not). Nina claims Olivia went to see her because she wanted Nina to talk her out of it. Nina is probably right.
This is Nina’s patented “Bitch, please” expression.
A sick-looking Neil knocks on the door of a middle-aged woman, whom he addresses as “Mrs. Lane.” He claims to be someone named John McHugh, who went to school with her nephew, Nick. Cast your minds back, Fringe viewers: Nick Lane was the first Cortexiphan test subject Olivia encountered, the one who kept accidentally making people kill themselves with the power of his dark thoughts.
Walter runs his baked tumor-ridden flesh through a scanner and gets a fingerprint. Astrid runs it through the law enforcement database, but there’s no match. On the plus side, Walter got a delicious batch of taffy out of this, so it’s not a total loss.
This used to be that nice lawyer lady’s wrist.
Mrs. Lane pours Neil tea. They discuss Nick, whom Mrs. Lane hasn’t heard from in a while, probably because he’s in a coma somewhere in Massive Dynamic’s human storage vault. She says another former classmate — Olivia, naturally — came by about six months ago asking about Nick. Neil perks up at this.
At home, Olivia drinks more Scotch. I’m proposing a Fringe drinking game: Every time Olivia takes a drink of Scotch, take a drink of Scotch.
“Between Scotch and nothing, I suppose I’d take Scotch.” — William Faulkner
She flips through files and the photos of Neil’s previous victims. Struck by a sudden thought, she calls Broyles: She knows who the killer is — it’s a guy named James Heath. His sister, Julie, was his first victim: James was in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy for his cancer, when his visiting sister suddenly grew sick and died. Broyles hangs up to look for a current address for James.
She’s either investigating, or scrapbooking.
Olivia leaves her apartment… and runs into Neil/James in the hallway. He introduces himself as “Nate Reed” — seriously, enough with all the fake names already — and says Nick Lane gave him her address. Which Olivia knows is a big fat lie. He asks if she has a few minutes to talk. Olivia says sure and invites him inside. When she unlocks the door, Neil spots the FBI badge hooked to her waistband and lunges for her.
Having the murderer show up on your doorstep sure beats having to track him down.
This episode frustrates me. The plot thread with Walter baking himself a tumor pizza to get the murderer’s fingerprint went nowhere, and the plot thread with Intrepus Pharmaceuticals possibly being behind Miranda’s death went nowhere, and either of those threads would be more satisfying than the actual culmination of this plot, in which the murderer showed up at Olivia’s apartment before she could track him down.
Olivia gets inside her apartment and tries to shut the door, but he knocks her back.
The Touch of Death often looks pretty goofy in action.
She falls down and drops her gun. God, Olivia. Neil kicks her gun out of the way and tries to grab her. Olivia whacks him repeatedly with a floor lamp.
Nice use of props, Olivia, but maybe you shouldn’t have dropped your gun.
She grabs the phone and calls Peter, yelling for him to help her. Neil comes after her again, so she picks up a heavy candlestick and whacks him some more.
“Oh, nothing. You know, same old, same old. What are you up to, Peter?”
After the Clue game in the earlier scene, no, the candlestick is not a coincidence. Here’s this episode’s outrageously clever actual title: “Olivia. In the Lab. With a Revolver.”
Having had all the cancer-spreading sass beaten out of him, Neil sobs to Olivia that he never wanted to hurt anyone, except maybe for that bunch of innocent people he murdered. He says a strange man who claimed to be connected to the Jacksonville daycare visited him at the hospital and offered to teach him how to fight the cancer. It didn’t work, though, and instead his condition worsened.
He’s sorry he murdered all those people. I am unmoved.
Olivia asks him what happened to his sister. Neil claims it was an accident: She visited him in the hospital and held his hand for long periods of time, and his cancer spread to her. After her death, Neil started tracking down the kids from Jacksonville, hoping to someone could lead him to the man who visited him. Instead, he realized he could fix himself by spreading the cancer to them.
Peter and the cops rush in and surround Neil, who sobs and sobs and sobs.
Neil is hauled out of there on a gurney. Peter asks Olivia why she called him instead of Broyles. He’s absurdly flattered to find that Olivia has him on her speed dial. Olivia is about to tell him the truth about the parallel universe… but chickens out.
Peter’s in lurve.
At Massive Dynamic, Broyles and Nina look over Neil, who is in a drug-induced coma in Nina’s vault. Per Broyles, the same man who approached Neil in the hospital was probably also the same man who activated Nick Lane and firestarter Nancy Lewis. Broyles remarks that there’s still nearly a dozen or so test subjects from Jacksonville unaccounted for. Nina suggests tracking them down before the unidentified man finds them first. Not a bad idea, Nina.
Up to no good, probably.
Olivia drops by the Bishop house and has a private chat with Walter. She tells him she’s decided he’s right: Telling Peter the truth could cause more harm than good, so she’s going to continue to keep his secret. Walter thanks her, but tells her he’s decided she’s right. He’s done enough damage in his life, so he’s going to put things right, starting by telling Peter the truth.
“I think what we need to consider, Walter, is how your devastating family secret is going to affect me.”
Gee. That should go over well.