***Please welcome your newest recapper into the fold, Fairchild with the long-requested Fringe!!
Exhibit A: Why Fringe Is Cool
Hello. I’m new here, but I don’t want to bog you down with introductions right now. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and it’s all pretty entertaining: Alien entities! Possessed cosmonauts! People who dissolve into ashes! Broyles cracking a grin! So if it’s all the same to you, I’m just going to jump right in.We open in a Boston penthouse. It’s nice: plenty of open space, shiny hardwood floors, streamlined modern furniture. There’s a photo of a youngish happy couple on the sideboard. The man in the photo, Randy, putters around the living room while talking on the phone to his wife, Natalie. He claims he’s in the airport lounge, preparing to board his flight, which is a big fat lie. He apologizes for traveling so much, especially with his mother being sick. As he talks, he signs a card emblazoned with a big heart on the front. Aha! Sneaky, Randy, but very sweet. Natalie tells him she’s on her way home.
The television, which had been quietly chirping away in the background, switches to static. Randy frowns at it, then tells Natalie they just announced his flight. He wishes her a happy anniversary, then they exchange I-love-yous and end the call.
True confession: Until I found out I’d be recapping this show two weeks ago, I’d never watched a single episode. Since then, I’ve been taking a frantic crash course in All Things Fringe to get up to speed, and the good news is, I really, sincerely dig this show. On my personal site, I’ve been recapping a bunch of programs that I’m either pretty neutral about (V, FlashForward, Glee), or that I used to love and now sort of despise (hi, Heroes! Please get better!), so this business of actually looking forward to a show is a refreshing change of pace.
Anyway, one aspect of Fringe that I appreciate is how deaths aren’t taken lightly, even though there’s always a significant body count. We know Redshirt Randy here is about to die in some freakish, inexplicable, grotesque way, because that’s how this show rolls, but the writers went to some trouble to give us a tidy spurt of characterization — he’s the kind of guy who plans sweetly elaborate anniversary surprises! — so we have something invested in his life and his death. It’s a nice touch.
(I promise to never again use the phrase “tidy spurt” in a recap.)
Randy switches off the television. Unseen by him, a shadow passes over the curtains, then the hall lights flick off. He flicks them back on, unconcerned, and tucks the anniversary card into a big bouquet of red roses. The lights go out once more. He flicks them on again, and a swarm of dark particles in the rough shape of a human figure advances on him.
When Natalie arrives at the penthouse, she sees the flowers and the card, which reads, “I hope you are surprised!” Oh, she will be.
Randy sits in an armchair, eyes open, completely still. She mock-scolds him for tricking her, then grows concerned when he doesn’t respond. When she touches his arm, it dissolves into ash, clothes and all. As Natalie screams in horror, Randy begins to disintegrate. His head rolls off his neck and smashes into ashes.
This is unfortunate.
Aaaaaaaand we’re off.
Broyles sits in a nice restaurant, having a solitary lunch by himself. It seems quite probable that Broyles’s entire personal life consists of an endless string of solitary lunches in nice restaurants, with maybe the occasional post-work single malt by himself in an upscale hotel bar on those nights when he wants to live it up a little.
He glances up and sees a cherub-faced boy seated at a table across from him, silently mimicking his posture. Broyles shifts position, and the boy shifts position as well. Broyles peeks at him slyly over the top of the menu, then peers around the side. The boy mimes his actions and breaks into a grin. Broyles grins back. Wow, we really don’t get to see Broyles grin that often. It’s… seriously creepy, actually.
Stop smiling, Broyles. You’re scaring the children.
Broyles’s phone rings. He answers it, and all traces of whimsy leave his body. By the time the kid peeks back over the menu at him, Broyles has already taken off.
Olivia, Walter and Peter investigate the dusty remains of poor Randy at the crime scene. Olivia makes the grave strategic error of asking Walter for his thoughts, which leads him to reminisce fondly about burnt fire logs at Christmas and how Peter used to draw genitalia on the reindeer decorations. Peter diverts his dad’s attention back to the matter at hand, and Walter points out that the armchair isn’t scorched, which suggests there was no fire. He needs to transport Randy’s remains back to the lab, so he requests a Dust Devil: “Or several.”
In hindsight, Randy probably should have caught his flight instead.
When Broyles arrives at the crime scene, Olivia briefs him: Randy was supposed to be on a plane to Hong Kong, but stayed home to surprise his wife instead. Broyles, all smiles and giggles and sunshine, bombards Olivia with questions: Did Randy work at a hospital? Had he visited a hospital in the past day? Olivia tells him Randy was an investment banker and asks about the reasons for his questions. Broyles tells her it’s not the first time he’s seen this.
Broyles takes Peter and Olivia to a storage locker and fills them in while he rummages through boxes. Four years ago in Washington, DC, five victims, all of them connected in some way to Tyson General Hospital, were turned to dust, just like Randy. During the course of his investigation, Broyles was contacted by an Eastern European man who knew secret details of the case. The man promised he’d turn himself in, provided Broyles could assure him the FBI would be able to solve a complex formula — a molecular model of a complex organic compound. The best minds at the CDC and the NIH couldn’t crack the formula. After two more deaths, the killing stopped… until now.
The secret formula for Drakkar Noir.
Olivia fields a call from the office in answer to Broyles’s earlier query about Randy’s hospital connection: On the day of his death, Randy visited his sick mother at Latchmere General Hospital in Boston. Cut to… Latchmere General Hospital, thus identified by the big floating words that dangle in midair outside the building. I love the way they incorporate the place names into the scenery. It’s probably a pretty simple effect, but it’s a good one.
At the hospital, a shadow, or a flickering figure made of dark dust, passes behind a nurse standing at a computer terminal. The nurse seems to sense something amiss, but when she turns around, the corridor is empty. She shrugs and returns her attention to her work.
Broyles and Olivia descend upon Latchmere in search of employee records. Specifically, they’re looking for any Eastern European immigrants who’ve transferred from Tyson General in DC. A hospital administrator tries to exchange pleasantries first, and Olivia gamely plays along, but Broyles, whose parents obviously never told him about catching more flies with honey, has no patience for social niceties. He commandeers the administrator’s office, files, and computers.
Back at the Harvard basement lab, Walter happily runs his fingers through Randy’s dusty remains. At Walter’s request, Astrid scrounges up a Geiger counter. Astrid! Good to see you alive and well! Here’s the thing: I’ve made it through the entire first season, but I have yet to see the most recent episodes. Thus, I’m delighted that Astrid is still alive and kicking. She’s so sweet and plucky that I’m terribly afraid she’s going to meet a ghastly fate, seeing how it’s always the cute, innocuous, slightly inconsequential ones who bite it first.
Along those lines, I can’t help noticing that cute Agent Charlie is no longer with us…
Walter lectures about how all human beings give off small amounts of radiation. Since the molecular compound represented by the formula seems to be radiation-based, he expects Randy’s ashes to contain higher than normal radiation levels. He runs the Geiger counter over the ashes, and… nothing. No clicks, no needle movement. He makes sure the Geiger counter is working by running it over a mildly-affronted Astrid, and it clicks up a storm, just as it should.
Whatever they’re paying Astrid, it isn’t enough.
Olivia calls Peter to check on Walter’s progress. Walter thinks the formula describes an organism and, naturally, has started referring to it as a “she.” Walter commandeers the phone and yammers on to Olivia about needing to break her — the formula, not Olivia — into organic and inorganic parts. Walter trails off, struck by a sudden thought, and shouts, “Titanium tetrachloride, you sly temptress!” It’s possible one day Walter’s adorably-befuddled mad-scientist routine will start to wear thin, but today is not that day. Peter wrestles the phone from his father and assures Olivia he’ll keep her posted.
At the hospital, Broyles and Olivia sit beside each other in the hallway, exhausted, still waiting for a breakthrough on the search through employee records. Olivia assures Broyles she can stay by herself, but he wants to wait. She asks why the killer called him during his earlier investigation — to taunt him? Broyles claims it was the opposite: the killer seemed distraught, as though he couldn’t control the killings and desperately wanted to stop. Lost in bad memories, Broyles looks grim. Then again, “grim” is Broyles’s default state of existence, so he could just be thinking about how he’d really like a blueberry muffin.
In the corridor, a nurse’s monitor flickers as she prepares an injection for a patient. A shadow moves across the curtains behind her. A fly lands on the cheek of a woman in a coma… and her face crumbles into ashes. When the nurse discovers her, her screams alert Olivia and Broyles.
An FBI agent brings Broyles the hospital employment record of night nurse Tomas Koslov, who fits the criteria of their suspect: He’s a Russian immigrant, and he formerly worked at Tyson General in DC, but quit the week the murders stopped. The agent notes that Koslov didn’t show up for his shift tonight.
Broyles leads a raid on Koslov’s apartment, which turns out to be empty. Olivia notes that he must’ve known they were coming — he probably saw them at the hospital. Olivia and Peter search through his belongings. They find soldering iron burns and electrical debris, which suggests to them that Koslov was building something. Peter finds an electrical component with Cyrillic lettering on it. He and Olivia act like this is some big important discovery, but come on, guys, it’s not like you had no idea he was Russian.
Broyles listens to the tape of his phone conversation with Koslov, in which Koslov tells him, “This won’t stop until you can solve this formula.” On the tape, Broyles confesses he needs more time. When he suggests meeting Koslov in person, Koslov hangs up.
At the request of Senator Van Horn, Broyles makes a trip to DC to meet face-to-face. They sit on a park bench and have a top-secret discussion about the Koslov case while sticking out like a couple of well-dressed sore thumbs. There’s nothing more suspicious than two businessmen sitting on opposite ends of a park bench. Seriously. It’s shorthand for “We’re discussing something illicit and probably illegal.”
There is nothing suspicious about this meeting.
When Broyles ran Koslov’s fingerprints through the system, it set off all kinds of alarms. Koslov, it seems, is the subject of an international investigation led by Russia: Koslov illegally removed property belonging to the Russian federation. Van Horn informs Broyles the CIA will be taking over the case. This does not amuse Broyles, though to be fair, nothing amuses Broyles. Broyles concludes their conversation by saying, “Please give my regards to Patricia.” Was that supposed to be ominous, or is Broyles just so naturally grim that even well-intended pleasantries come out sounding like veiled threats?
On a dark night, Tomas Koslov rummages around the back of a van parked outside a motel room. He lugs a heavy battery into the room, which is cluttered with coiled wires and bulky old equipment marked with Cyrillic letters. Everything looks a little rag-tag and worse for wear, and we know he’s been in the United States for at least four years — maybe he could’ve sprung for a new battery in that time?
Olivia goes over the hospital security footage of the attack in the coma ward. Broyles, returning from DC, calls her from the airport and insists he’s not going to hand the case over to the CIA. He instructs her not to put anything down on paper, because they’re going rogue on this one. He just described roughly 80% of their cases, but Olivia is shocked — shocked! — probably because for once it’s Broyles who’s flouting the rules, not her.
Observer sighting! Observer sighting!
A security guard calls Olivia over to look at the tape of the corridor adjacent to the coma ward, right before the body was discovered. Sure enough, there’s a shadow moving down the hall. The security guard points out that it’s not a shadow, exactly: It’s more like a figure without a face. Olivia tells Broyles over the phone that he’ll want to see this.
When Walter looks at the footage, he deduces that the shadow must be its own entity. He speculates that the technology Koslov stole from the Russians allows him to turn into a shadow. Peter and Walter riff on the possibility that the Russians have their own Fringe Division, which is a spin-off just waiting to happen. I’d watch it.
Senator Van Horn sends Broyles a file, which, in the manner of all top secret files, is marked “TOP SECRET” in big red letters. Fine, but if the contents are so hush-hush, maybe the file should be sealed with something more tamper-proof than a rubber band?
Maybe “TOP SECRET” should be written on the outside of the file instead?
There’s an attached note from Van Horn, which says he imagines Broyles has ignored his instructions to turn the case over to the CIA. Van Horn is an astute judge of character, even if he’s a little sloppy in the way he handles top secret files.
The contents of the file concern a Russian cosmonaut, Alex Vasiliev, who was abducted from medical quarantine by his brother Timur, aka Tomas Koslov. Alex, who was officially reported to have died in space, has been in a coma for six years; Timur has held a succession of jobs in coma wards since then. When Broyles discusses the case with Olivia, Olivia theorizes that Alex is the shadow.
In the lab, Walter shares his own theory about the shadow: An entity that needs radiation to survive has taken over Alex’s body. It passes through people and absorbs their radiation, disintegrating them in the process. Most of the victims were receiving radiation treatment at the time of their deaths — except for Randy, who took a cross-country flight earlier that day before visiting his mother at the hospital. Peter notes that this would place Randy, who had a window seat, thirty thousand feet closer to the sun, which, as he puts it, is “like a big, fat head x-ray.” Egad, really? Astrid gets the willies at the thought of the entity trailing Randy home and murdering him. Me, I’m making a mental note to switch to an aisle seat for my Thanksgiving travel plans.
Back at the hospital, the lights go off in the coma ward. A nurse, Maxine, checks on the patients. A shadow crosses the curtains behind her, but it’s not the entity — it’s Koslov, now known to us as Timur, who tells Maxine he has to smuggle one of the patients out of the hospital. Clutching a syringe behind his back, he tells her, very sincerely, that he wishes she hadn’t seen him.
When Broyles and Olivia arrive at the coma ward searching for Alex, another nurse tells them that all the patients are accounted for, but Maxine has disappeared. They find Maxine in Alex’s bed, sedated.
Timur drives off in a van, with Alex hooked up to tubes in the back.
Walter listens to opera and scribbles furiously on a blackboard while Peter and Astrid regard him with bemused exasperation. When Olivia and Broyles arrive, Peter tells them he’s been like that for three hours. Walter sends Astrid to fetch him some licorice, then theorizes about the entity some more. He thinks it could be something inside Alex: If Alex had taken a spacewalk, he could have brought back an alien organism with him. The entity can apparently project itself in shadow form when searching for victims without ever leaving Alex’s body.
Broyles tells Walter he has Timur’s voicemail number. He can leave him a message, if Walter can solve the formula. Walter mulls this over for a bit, then gives him an enthusiastic yes.
“Someday, dad, I’m going to be every bit as crazy as you.”
In his motel room, Timur hooks his brother up to a bunch of wires and tells him they’re going to a new home. The surface of a random bowl of water ripples, suggesting the entity is leaving Alex’s body. Timur doesn’t notice. He checks his voicemail and finds two new messages. The first is from the head of human resources at Hartswell Medical Center in Minneapolis, who is impressed by Timur’s resume and wants to offer him a job. Without an interview? Without even speaking to him on the phone? Wow. That must be some resume. I’m duly impressed.
The second message is from Broyles, who claims he has information about the formula and urges Timur to call him. While listening to Broyles’ message, Timur sees one of his monitors turn to static, meaning the entity is leaving to kill someone again. Timur hooks Alex up to a generator with jumper cables. In Russian, he asks his brother to forgive him, but this is the only way he can contain the shadow. He shocks Alex, and the shadow returns into Alex’s body. The shadow surges and tries to leave once more. Timur tells Alex he has to use more current, because it’s getting stronger. He begs his brother to be stronger than the entity. The shadow goes back in, but Alex flatlines. Timur begs him to live, and his heartbeat starts up again, to Timur’s vast relief.
(How, exactly, do you suppose Timur first figured out that electric shocks could contain the entity? Because I’m not sure that would have been my first course of action under similar conditions. It sort of seems more likely that electric shocks would encourage the entity to stay the hell away from Alex’s body, but apparently that’s not the case.)
Back at his home, Walter chastises himself thinking too linearly. He roots around in boxes, frantically looking for something, while Peter laconically informs him he threw out his acid tabs. Heh. These two are cute together. I mean, I’d never go to a dinner party at their place for fear of contracting a flesh-eating virus or getting served an omelet with a cloned ear inside it, but they’re fun to watch from a safe distance. Walter finally finds what he’s looking for: Tinker Toys. Obviously.
While Astrid sets up tracing equipment on the phone in the lab, Olivia asks Broyles why this case is so important to him. He replies that four years ago, the Fringe Division fell out of favor with the FBI and was under intense scrutiny. So… this is different from the current situation how? At that point, he stopped caring about his career and just focused on making the world safer. He became obsessed with this case, and his wife left him. He lost his family while trying to make the world safer for them. Hey, I swear I’m not trying to sound callous, but was anyone else a little disappointed that this was Broyles’s big secret? Also, by my rough calculation, this scene lasted eighty-seven years.
(It was a little dull, that’s what I’m trying to say.)
Peter builds an elaborate molecular representation of the formula to Walter’s specifications out of Tinker Toys. Hey, kids, science is fun! Walter examines it from all angles, then pulls it apart, and exclaims, “Oh, no.”
Peter and Walter know exactly what they’re doing. Really. They’re not just goofing off with Tinker Toys.
Timur talks to Alex and tells him he’s tired of running. Alex doesn’t reply. Still in a coma, you know.
Timur calls Broyles on the laboratory phone. Astrid and Olivia scramble to reach Walter at home. Timur asks Broyles if he’s solved the formula. Broyles stalls while he waits for word from Walter. The news, when it comes, is not promising: The entity has bonded with Alex at a molecular level and can’t be removed.
Broyles tells Timur the bad news, straight up: They can’t save his brother. In general, I’m a big cheerleader for honesty — it makes life simpler if you’re not constantly maintaining multiple webs of lies — but when you’ve got an extraterrestrial killer on the loose, maybe it’s okay to throw out a few reassuring falsehoods if it’s your best chance of containing it.
Timur, still holding the phone, stops talking. A rotating fan blows over him, and his head blows away into ashes. The SFX people earned their paychecks on that effect. It’s creepily effective. And effectively creepy. The shadow leaves the motel room.
The FBI raids the motel and find Alex unconscious in the back of the van and Timur half-dissolved in his room, the phone still held to his (remaining) ear. Walter runs his Geiger counter over Alex and notes that there’s no radiation, suggesting the shadow entity is on the move. Upon seeing that Alex is hooked up to jumper cables, Walter speculates that Timur was using electrical shocks to keep the entity under control. Peter wonders if they could draw the shadow back into the body the same way. Walter doesn’t know. Despite reservations, he agrees to give it a try.
In a nearby room at the motel, a curly-haired blonde girl watches television. The television goes on the fritz, and something approaches her.
Walter fiddles with machinery and tries to administer shocks to Alex, but the controls are in Russian, and he’s getting confused and flustered. They hear the young girl screaming. Broyles whips out his gun, barks a quick order at Walter and Peter to step back, and shoots Alex in the head.
Yep, Broyles just shot an astronaut in a coma in the head. Does this surprise anyone?
The girl’s bathrobe-clad mother rushes out of the bathroom and asks her what’s wrong. The girl sits silently on the bed, eyes open. The mother extends a tentative hand… and the girl says there was a shadow man, but he disappeared.
Men in white radiation suits take Alex’s away in the world’s most intimidating coffin: It’s white and industrial-looking, with Cyrillic letters and radiation symbols on the side.
When it comes to funerals, the Russians don’t mess around.
Broyles knocks on his ex-wife Diane’s door. She looks surprised, though not unpleasantly so, and tells him the kids aren’t there. He assures her he came to talk to her. A man named Rob — clearly her new husband or lover — exchanges civil but strained greetings with Broyles before leaving them alone together. Broyles tells her he closed the case that broke up their marriage. She seems relieved and sort of wistful. When she invites him to join them for dinner, he turns her down and walks away. She hovers in the doorway for a moment, and he hovers on the walkway for a moment, then walks off.
…Yeah, I’m not sure I’m all that interested in Broyles’s personal life, actually.
Before he reaches his car, he’s intercepted by a smarmy CIA guy, a dead-eyed blond with a blandly menacing smile who tells him he has a real friend in Senator Van Horn. The CIA guy wants assurances from Broyles that there will be no official report on the case. Broyles doesn’t bother to reply. He asks what they did to Alex. The CIA guy replies, “We had no choice, once he started breathing again,” then looks up meaningfully at the night sky. He gets in his car and drives off, leaving Broyles alone on the dark street. I imagine we’ll see him again.
Sinister and smug is a bad combination.
So there we have it. A solid middle-of-the-pack installment. Perfectly enjoyable, though if we never have another episode focusing on Broyles’s inner demons, that’d probably be okay too.