Saying “Fringe opens with a bang” would be in poor taste, right?
In Queens, two NYPD squad cars streak up the twisty ramp of a parking structure. Sirens blare, tires squeal, the works. Two guys, both wearing suits, both looking sort of tough, stand on the roof in front of a nondescript sedan with a worried-looking teen boy in the backseat. A cop, Officer Gibson, gets out of his car, gun drawn, and orders the men to get on their knees. One of the men tells him he has no idea what he’s dealing with. Gibson looks confused. He starts backing up to the edge of the parking structure. Another cop, Officer Williams, asks him what the hell he’s doing. Gibson seems to be trying to resist — he’s sweaty and panicky and struggling — but he just keeps backing up, until he backs right off the edge and falls to his death. Safety barriers, folks. They’re a good thing. With the same look of terror-struck confusion, Officer Williams shoots the two remaining cops and then, horrified, puts the gun to her temple and pulls the trigger.
Three deaths by gunfire, one death by falling… No flesh-eating bacteria? No spinal cords getting ripped out? On the Fringe gore index, this barely registers. The Fringe gang — Broyles, Olivia, Walter, Peter — arrive at the crime scene. Olivia confirms that Officer Williams fired all three shots, including the one that killed herself. The boy who was with the two men is 15-year-old Tyler Carson, who disappeared about 36 hours ago.
Walter grouses about the lack of either cadavers or food at the crime scene. In Walter’s world, both share equal importance. Olivia reassures him that the bodies are being transferred to his lab. Walter thinks the weird behavior of the cops can be explained by hypnotism, though Peter, once again stepping into his role as Captain Reasonable on a ship of lunatics, points out that hypnosis can’t force someone do something against their will. Well, duh. I know television shows sometimes over-explain things to make sure the viewers are all on the same page, but is there anyone out there who really thinks hypnosis can make you shoot yourself in the head? The kid’s father works for Fleming Monroe, which is the aerospace division of our good old friend Massive Dynamic. Broyles says he’s already put a call in to Nina Sharp.
At Massive Dynamic, Olivia and Peter stride briskly through the foyer after Nina’s gorgeous and intimidating assistant, while Walter stumbles around and gawks at everything. He’s just been informed by “a screen in the elevator” that there are 73 laboratories in the building, and Walter is officially in Mad Scientist Valhalla.
In Nina’s office, which is designed to produce instant tension headaches, what with the bizarrely-angled windows and walls, Nina introduces the gang to Dr. Carson, Tyler’s father, who claims the kidnappers have instructed him to wait for their demands. Thanks to surveillance footage from the rooftop shootout, the two kidnappers have been identified as used-car salesmen Patrick Hickey and Tom Dobbins (so help me, I never quite managed to sort out which was Hickey and which was Dobbins, and I don’t really think it’s integral to the plot, so I’m going to keep identifying them both as “the kidnappers” from here on out), who have no connection to either the Carson family or Massive Dynamic.
Nina? Fire your architect.
Dr. Carson exposits that he’s been working on highly-sensitive automated military aircraft piloting and guidance systems, and that Tyler’s mother died when Tyler was a small boy. When Dr. Carson talks about the possibility of losing his son, Walter looks anguished and has to leave the room. Peter heads out after him.
Father and son look out over the Manhattan skyline, while Walter informs Peter, for the eight thousandth time, that he once shared a lab with William Bell. In fact, Bell introduced Walter to Peter’s mother at a neurobiology conference in Berlin. I’m pretty sure that’s where Ashton first hooked up with Demi. Walter and Bell planned to form a company together, but Walter mournfully notes, “He just couldn’t wait.” Hey, Walter? You were locked up in a psychiatric hospital for seventeen years. You can’t really blame Bell for wanting to move on with his life in the interim.
In the back seat of the sedan, Tyler flips back the head of a Homer Simpson PEZ dispenser. Et tu, Fringe? I know all the FOX shows are shoehorning in subtle Simpsons references as part of the 20th anniversary festivities, but I was kind of hoping Fringe would be above it all. Nothing at all against The Simpsons, just that it doesn’t seem to exist in the same world as Fringe, and combining the two jolts me out of the plot and reminds me I’m watching a totally fabricated universe, one with big corporate sponsors and contractual obligations to the network. When Tyler complains about being hungry, they stop at a convenience store. One of the kidnappers (Hickey? Dobbins? Your guess) demands the clerk hand over all the cash in the register. Since the kidnapper has no gun, the cashier refuses.
A tough-looking customer intervenes, but then picks up a hot pot of coffee and, struggling mightily all the while, dumps it over his head. He smashes the pot over his scalded scalp, then, for good measure, crashes head-first into the glass doors of a refrigerated case.
As a coffee lover, this disturbs me.
In the chaos, the clerk pulls a gun on the kidnappers. One of them tells him, “You should have given us the money.” With a look of confusion, the clerk sets down the gun, picks up a ring of keys, and jams a key into an electrical socket. Naturally enough, he electrocutes himself. Ah, there’s the Fringe carnage we’ve come to expect.
Er… sir? I don’t think that’s a lock.
The kidnapper picks up the gun. I guess it’s significant that they’re now armed, but they’d been doing pretty darn well for themselves without weapons thus far, so it’s not like this is a big game-changer.
Olivia and Peter review the convenience store’s security camera footage. Both victims are in intensive care, which, for this show, seems generous. I just assumed they were both toast. Peter notes that the kidnappers seem to have no plan. He also finds it odd that Tyler, as seen on the tape, isn’t trying to escape. Olivia guesses that Walter’s hypnosis theory might be close to the truth, but if that’s the case, why didn’t the kidnappers just hypnotize the clerk into handing over the money? Why all the violence? Not that she doesn’t have a valid point, but you’d think by this stage Olivia would have enough experience with murder and mayhem to realize that some evil-doers just enjoy a good spot of carnage.
Broyles calls Olivia to tell her he interviewed the owner of the car dealership where Hickey and Dobbins worked. He said they were well-liked and good workers, and not the type to go around randomly kidnapping young boys and forcing cops to slaughter each other. Peter theorizes Hickey and Dobbins might be spies. Not 100% sure I follow his logic there — it’s a bit of a jump from “homicidal car salesmen/kidnappers with freaky mental abilities” to “spies” — but Peter seems to know what he’s talking about, so I’ll go along with it.
At the lab, Walter uses a bone saw on the skull of one of the cops shot in the opening scene while bantering with Astrid over whether human brains taste more like pork or chicken. He extracts hunks of brain and hands them to her while looking for visible lesions, which, he claims, would be evidence of mind control, not hypnosis. I love how Fringe does the hard sell on far-fetched scientific premises: “Sure, mind-control causes brain lesions! Everybody knows that! I mean, obviously.”
When Peter and Olivia arrive, Walter fills them in on what he’s doing: There are hematomas on the brains of the victims, which indicate conflicting neural impulses, which suggests they were trying to fight against the mind-control. Olivia asks if the brain lesions killed them. Walter gently reminds her they were shot to death. Oh, Olivia. I think the world of you, but you’re not really bringing your A-game this week, are you? Walter, making one of those Walteresque leaps in logic that make no sense to anyone who isn’t Walter, thinks the victims were controlled by sound waves.
Peter objects to Walter’s alternative Thanksgiving dinner idea.
Broyles and Olivia wait with Dr. Carson for a ransom call. When Tyler finally calls, he sounds terrified. He tells them to give his kidnappers whatever they want, which turns out to be two million dollars in unmarked bills, delivered to an industrial park near the Newark airport. The FBI is unsuccessful at tracing the call. When Dr. Carson says he’ll have trouble coming up with that much cash, Nina calmly assures him Massive Dynamic will cover the ransom. Can we digress for a moment about the awesomeness of Nina? I love how she manages to be brainy and intimidating and sinister and sort of genuinely nice all at once. And her hair always looks fabulous. Added bonus: robotic arm! When I grow up, I want to be Nina Sharp. Broyles and Olivia are certain the request for money is a cover for the kidnappers’ real demand, whatever that may be. Olivia proposes setting up a trap.
In the basement laboratory, Walter sings “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and rummages around in boxes. It probably goes without saying that, while this is going on, Peter and Astrid observe him with exasperated affection. I have a sneaky hunch I’ll be writing the sentence “Peter and Astrid observe Walter with exasperated affection” a lot in future recaps. It’s a motif on this show.
Walter finally finds what he’s looking for: Peter’s old teddy bear, which generates white noise when a switch is flipped. I don’t have kids, so I had to check to see if such a product really exists. Yep, it sure does. You know you can get a teddy bear that generates the noise of a car ride? Apparently kids find car noises really comforting and soothing. Who knew? I’m not all that much older than Peter, though, and I don’t think white-noise toys were around when I was a kid. Maybe Peter was still sleeping with teddy bears during his stressful MIT years. Walter thinks the white noise will block the brain-controlling soundwaves. It’s unclear why simply wearing a sturdy pair of earplugs wouldn’t have the same effect.
Olivia briefs an FBI strike team, which is preparing to move in on the ransom exchange site. She wants the kidnappers alive if possible, but Tyler’s safety is the first priority. Walter, excited by all the hubbub, wonders aloud to Peter if the FBI will ever give him a gun. Peter doesn’t reply, but his silent pained expression at the thought of an armed Walter says it all. Joshua Jackson has a killer repertoire of exasperated reaction shots.
Walter addresses the strike team: They all have white noise-emitting headphones, which will prevent the kidnappers from controlling them with sound. Unfortunately, Walter’s lecture is totally lost on the strike team, seeing as they’re all wearing their headphones already and can’t hear a damn thing he’s saying. Peter hands Walter a microphone so they can hear him. Walter cheerfully informs them they won’t be able to communicate with each other while the headphones are on, but not to remove them under any circumstances: “If you do, you may die a gruesome and horrible death.” They’re on Fringe, Walter. I’m sure they all fully expect to die gruesome and horrible deaths.
Olivia and the strike team stake out the industrial park. Dr. Carson stands by himself, ready to hand off the ransom money. A brown sedan drives up, but there’s no sign of Tyler. One of the kidnappers approaches Dr. Carson on foot. Everyone puts on their headphones, and Walter uses Peter’s teddy bear to broadcast white noise.
The kidnapper grabs the briefcase of money from Dr. Carson and starts to run. The strike team chases him into a warehouse. The other kidnapper drives through straight through the closed warehouse doors, and all of a sudden we’re in an A-Team episode. The car flips in the air, rolls upside down, and bursts into flame. Yep, this is an A-Team episode. Totally. If the kidnapper gets out of the car, a little shaken up but no worse for wear, we’ll definitely be in an A-Team episode.
What show are we watching?
…We’re not in an A-Team episode. He’s dead.
(They’re making an A-Team feature film, with Liam Neeson as Hannibal. Bad idea, or horrible idea? Discuss.)
Olivia rushes into the warehouse and finds the other kidnapper (Hickey or Dobbins? Flip a coin) sitting against the wall, holding his own gun under his chin, hand trembling, struggling not to pull the trigger. He pleads with Olivia to help him.
Peter sees someone running with the briefcase of money and pursues him on foot. He staggers and reels, as though struck by some terrible noise, and whips off the headphones. He turns and sees a PEZ-chomping Tyler, who smirks and tells him the headphones are totally useless. You mean mind-control can’t be thwarted via strategic use of a teddy bear? Color me shocked. Tyler orders Peter to take him to his car, and they spin out in Walter’s station wagon.
Peter listens to the new Jonas Brothers single.
Back at the industrial park, Olivia checks if there’s been any sign of Tyler and receives a negative reply. Walter approaches, greatly agitated, searching for Peter. Olivia questions the surviving kidnapper, who claims Tyler was in control the whole time. Tyler used mind-control to force him to saw off one of his own fingers when he tried to get away. He holds up his bloody, mangled hand, which effectively makes his point.
Peter drives Walter’s car, in obvious discomfort, while Tyler grins and tells him he’ll make the pain stop if Peter behaves. Peter tries to pull the car over to talk to Tyler, but Tyler uses mind-control to force Peter to floor the gas pedal. This being Walter’s crappy old clunker, it accelerates to a speed almost approaching the speed limit. Peter swerves around cars, out of control, and slams on the brakes right before rear-ending a truck. Tyler claims he can make Peter do anything he wants. Peter replies, “You know what, kid? You’re a real son of a bitch.” Tyler looks secretly pleased.
Massive Dynamic: Olivia shows Nina traffic photos of Walter’s station wagon with Peter at the wheel. Olivia grills Nina about whether it’s a coincidence that the son of one of her top scientists has the power to control minds. Nina seems genuinely surprised. She mentions that Dr. Carson has been collaborating with the pharmaceutical division, then shows Olivia a project he’d been working on to train pilots to fly fighter jets via electrodes in their helmets instead of using their hands, presumably to make it easier to send text-messages or eat a sandwich while flying. Man, Massive Dynamic has a lot of disposable income, if they’re financing projects like this. Recession? What recession?
Nina explains that drugs are used to amplify the brainwaves of the pilots. When Walter asks if Tyler was exposed to the drugs, Nina flatly denies it. Dr. Carson guiltily admits he took some drug samples to work with them at home — it’s possible Tyler swiped them.
In Walter’s station wagon, Tyler flicks back the head of his Homer Simpson PEZ dispenser, and something tells me it’s not filled with tasty Austrian candy. Peter snarkily congratulates Tyler for successfully managing to kidnap himself. He tries to grill Tyler for information on how his powers work. Tyler is having none of it, and they end up comparing their respective daddy issues for a while.
Dr. Carson claims the drugs used in the flight simulator tests were designed only to work to manipulate computers, not brains. Walter points out that the brain is a computer. Tyler, who is going through puberty, has a system flooded with hormones, plus he’s taking prescription medication for his ADD, which, per Walter, is a mind-control cocktail. Walter gets uncharacteristically vicious with Dr. Carson, claiming, “Because of this man’s inability to be a proper parent, his son has kidnapped mine.” He lunges at Dr. Carson, and Olivia has to haul him back. Dr. Carson, you just almost had your ass handed to you by Walter. That’s really embarrassing.
A police car pull the station wagon over. Peter uses his full blast of charm on the officer, including his impish-yet-ingratiating grin, but it’s not working. The cop, clearly suspicious, orders him out of the vehicle and pats him down. Tyler uses his powers to force the cop to give his gun to Peter. Peter points the gun at the cop, resisting all the while, and begs Tyler not to force him to kill him. In a generous mood, Tyler lets Peter pistol-whip the police officer unconscious instead.
Back at Massive Dynamic, Olivia instructs Astrid to make sure state troopers know Peter is not a target. She gets called into Nina’s office, where Broyles tells her Tyler has been reclassified as a national security threat. Hence, the Fringe Division has been ordered to stand down. Before faking his kidnapping, Tyler bought two plane tickets to Costa Rica, which suggests to the FBI that he might be working with a foreign handler to deliver Massive Dynamic’s technology to an enemy country. Olivia worries this means Peter will be placed in greater danger, since the FBI will be stepping up efforts to contain Tyler. Aw, don’t worry, Olivia. This whole subplot will never be mentioned again.
Walter, still shell-shocked over Peter’s kidnapping, tells Olivia he can’t lose Peter again. Olivia reassures him they’ll get his son back safely, provided Walter drums up some way to disable Tyler. Walter frets and dithers, so Olivia gives him a pep talk. It doesn’t work, so Nina steps in and gives him a better pep talk, which does the trick. Sufficiently inspired, Walter asks for an EMF scrambler to disrupt Tyler’s beta waves. Everybody acts like they know what he’s talking about.
Astrid bursts in, mentioning that she’s been searching Tyler’s computer. He’d been doing some strange searches of obituaries and death notices of women who died in car accidents fourteen years ago. His most recent search uncovered a newspaper article on a still-living woman, Renee Davies, whom Dr. Carson confirms is his ex-wife.
The most boring newspaper of all time.
Peter, out to prove he’s the coolest hostage ever, takes Tyler to a strip club. They ogle naked girls and Peter chows down on a steak while they yammer on about their daddy issues some more. Tyler tells Peter his dad lied and told him his mother was dead.
Peter is a bad influence on his kidnapper.
Dr. Carson tells Olivia that his wife was a drug addict who would disappear for weeks at a time. One day, she ran off and never came back. With a son as delightful and charming as Tyler? That’s a shock. Dr. Carson told Tyler she died in a car accident, thinking it would be easier on him that way.
Tyler tells Peter he found his birth certificate a month ago and learned his mom’s real name. From that, he discovered she wasn’t dead. She’s a rehab counselor in Maryland, which is where they’re headed. When Peter gently suggests that maybe murdering those cops wasn’t such a cool idea, Tyler forces Peter to pick up his steak knife and plunge it into the seat cushion. Tyler warns him that if he didn’t need Peter to drive, he would have forced him to stab his own leg. Maybe Tyler should have postponed his madcap Natural Born Killers spree of violence and mayhem until after he was old enough to drive.
Walter and Astrid work in the Massive Dynamic lab, both wearing hats made from tinfoil. Walter explains to Olivia that it has nothing to do with the case — he just thinks the people at Massive Dynamic are trying to read his thoughts. Astrid confirms that Massive Dynamic gives her the creeps, too. Don’t encourage him, Astrid. Walter figures that, since the drugs used on the test pilots were responsive to magnetic fields, Tyler’s brain could be wiped with a magnetic pulse. Hopefully this’ll work better than your whole “white noise will stop mind-control” idea, Walter.
Walter’s brilliance manifests itself in odd ways.
In Springfield, Maryland, a woman prunes the rosebushes outside a nice house. Tyler asks if she’s Renee Davies, then introduces himself as her son. She puts on a decent show of seeming pleased to see him, but she’s clearly thrown off by his appearance. Tyler doesn’t seem to notice and gives her a big hug. Peter, who looks like he knows full well this whole meeting isn’t going to lead to anything good, suggests they go inside the house.
She’s thrilled to meet her long-lost son. Really.
Tyler sits in the living room and assures Renee he doesn’t blame her for leaving — he blames his father. He wants to run off to another country with her. Renee is stunned and visibly disturbed. When Seth, Renee’s new husband/boyfriend, walks in, Tyler grows furious. Peter suggests that he and Tyler leave quietly, but Tyler forces Peter to draw the gun and aim it at Seth.
Olivia and Broyles arrive and sneak into Renee’s house. Broyles shoots Tyler with a stun gun, so Tyler forces Peter to shoot Broyles in the arm. Tyler and Peter take off. Broyles tells Olivia to stop fussing over his gunshot wound and orders her to head after them. Olivia flags down Walter and Astrid, who are just arriving in Astrid’s car, and hops in the backseat. They take off in hot pursuit of Walter’s station wagon. Is it me, or has Olivia been a smidgen useless this episode? I’m not complaining, actually. After most episodes, I end up feeling sort of feeble and inadequate in the face of her intimidating ultra-competence.
Walter needs Astrid to get within twenty feet of Tyler and Peter in the station wagon for his device to work. He shoots an electromagnetic pulse at his car.
It works. In the passenger seat, Tyler looks confused and disoriented. Peter takes advantage of Tyler’s distraction and rams the car into a telephone pole. Slamming on the brakes and shooting Tyler might’ve worked, too, but not every decision made under pressure is a great one. Everything goes black.
Peter lays sprawled on his back on the grass next to the wrecked car, slowly returning to consciousness as Walter fusses over him. They observe Tyler being loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher. Walter tells Peter that Tyler is unconscious. They’re keeping him sedated to make sure he remains that way.
Broyles gets his gunshot wound patched up. He gruffly accuses Peter of being a lousy shot; Peter informs him he deliberately pulled the shot off-center to avoid shooting him in the head.
Later, Olivia calls Peter and Walter at home to tell them that Tyler lost his freaky mind-control powers when the drug wore off. Walter, still in overprotective mode, fixes Peter crepes, over Peter’s protests: “You were abducted. Of course you need crepes.” He reminisces about how Peter used to call them “creeps”, which leads into a digression about Peter’s mother. Walter describes her as “a strong woman,” and starts to choke up a little. Walter cries kind of a lot. I point this out because whenever Walter starts crying, I cry too. It’s the weirdest damn thing, like a Pavlovian response. You know that scene in the first-season finale where Walter stands sobbing at Peter’s — the original Peter’s — grave? Waterworks. Embarrassing. I can’t explain it.
Nina composes a message to William Bell on her computer. I’d say she was sending him an email, but… wow, okay, here’s where the recession must be hitting Massive Dynamic hard, because she’s typing it on an old-school computer, with big blocky green letters on a black screen. What the hell, Nina? Why are we in 1987 all of a sudden? She narrates her letter: She doesn’t know if he’s receiving these messages, but she wants to update him on the Penrose-Carson experiments. “One of the Tylers,” as she puts it, showed some dramatic mind-control ability, but there were unintended consequences.
Budget cuts hit Massive Dynamic’s IT department
While Nina narrates about how Tyler located his surrogate mother — ah, surrogate mother, interesting — Dr. Carson flips through files of previous test subjects. There are photos of several different identical Tylers, identified by number. Nina continues on with her message to Bell, telling him she’s suspending the experiments, while Dr. Carson wheels an unconscious Tyler on a gurney down a long white corridor. Through the windows on either side of the corridors, rows of other unconscious Tylers can be glimpsed.
Sometimes I suspect Massive Dynamic is up to no good.
Nina tells Bell that, despite the problems, they can consider the experiment a success.
Nina, you are one sneaky, sneaky lady. Shine on, you crazy diamond.