This is all you need to know about this episode.
A distraught young Asian man hurries down a bustling street in Boston’s Chinatown, looking panicky and in pain. It’s not raining, but his hair and clothes are wet. He asks a woman in Cantonese for directions to Ping-on Street. She seems a little taken aback by his disheveled appearance, but she points him in the right direction. He rings a doorbell and is then buzzed into a building, where he’s met by a calm, kindly middle-aged Asian man, who ushers him into his living room and asks him if any of the others made it. The young man tells him they’re all dead. The older man (we won’t find out until much later that his name is Ming Che, but I’m saving us a few steps and calling him that from here on out) invites him to stay with him. He leads him into what looks like a warehouse filled with cots.
When the young man complains of stomach pains, Che instructs him to lie down on a cot. The young man begs for help and asks what’s happening to him, then starts to scream in pain. Che puts on rubber gloves, picks up a pair of shears, and cuts off the man’s shirt. The man’s chest starts to bulge, like something is threatening to burst out of his stomach, Aliens-style. Long, thin tentacles emerge from his mouth. I’m pretty sure I saw an anime version of this, only it centered around pretty young girls in school uniforms.Dorchester Bay Inlet: Peter drives up in the station wagon, sans Walter, and meets up with Olivia. Walter arrives immediately thereafter in a taxi. When Olivia asks why the Bishops are traveling separately these days, Peter rolls his eyes and tells her Walter is practicing self-actualization in an attempt to be more independent. Walter stiffly accuses Peter of following him, while Peter calmly argues that they were, in fact, headed to the same location.
They join Broyles (and a bunch of soggy corpses) by the waterfront, who gives them the rundown on their newest crisis: A merchant ship registered in Hong Kong ran aground and caught fire four hours ago. The passengers tried to swim to shore in the freezing water. They’ve found 27 bodies thus far. At first, the deaths were attributed to hypothermia, and then they noticed the GIGANTIC MULTI-TENTACLED CREATURES bursting out of their mouths and scrapped the “well, it’s really cold out here” theory.
Hey, maybe he didn’t die of hypothermia!
Walter crouches next to one of the victims and examines the tentacles. He notes that the creature seems similar to, though much larger than, a parasite found in livestock. He grabs the tentacles and yanks the creature out of the victim’s blood-smeared mouth. The creature has a sleek, narrow body maybe a meter long with another foot or two of tentacles at the end. Walter hands the creature off to Peter, who accepts it with great reluctance.
An agent on the scene shouts that one of the victims is still breathing. Peter helps drag a young Asian woman out of the shallow water. Walter crouches next to her and insists they get her to the hospital immediately, before the creature inside her emerges.
Back at the warehouse, Che places a living tentacled creature into a bucket of water. It shrieks and squirms. The cots, which were empty in the first scene, now hold several bloody-mouthed corpses.
At the sound of a door buzzer, Che leaves the warehouse and enters his connecting living quarters. He ushers in another young Asian man who, like his first visitor, appears sick and soaked and miserable. Che wraps him in a blanket and speaks to him gently in Cantonese, urging him to come inside before he gets sick. The new arrival says there was a boat accident. He asks if any of the others came. Che benevolently assures him, “No, you’re the first.”
At the hospital, Peter and Olivia talk to Tao Chen, a fine-boned, floppy-haired representative from the Chinese consulate, who tells them the woman they pulled from the water, Mai Lin, is now awake. She’s suffering from dehydration, but she didn’t have one of the worms inside her.
This screengrab was chosen entirely because this guy is hot.
Peter and Olivia question Mai Lin. Tao Chen translates at first, but Peter jumps in and speaks fluent Cantonese. From her expression of surprise and interest, Olivia seems to find this heretofore unrevealed aspect of Peter’s character kind of sexy. So do I. Mai Lin tells them she came over on the boat looking for work. The men in charge of the boat gave everyone medicine for seasickness, which she didn’t take. She shows Peter and Olivia a photo of her daughter and husband, who were on another boat, which was two days behind.
So is this screengrab.
(I’m a little confused by this plotline, even setting aside that Hong Kong-to-Boston is an awkward and improbable shipping route. When it comes to taking a long and dangerous sea voyage to illegally emigrate from Hong Kong to the United States in search of jobs, doesn’t Hong Kong have one of the world’s strongest economies? It’s specified in the dialogue that Mai Lin is from Hong Kong, not mainland China, which would have made more sense. I’m not an expert on this topic by any means, but… look, I Googled the phrase “illegal immigration from Hong Kong,” in quotes, and got one lonely search result: an article published in 1995 by an African-based Christian reform group. I’m not sure how easy it would be to find two boatloads of people, including young families, willing to take the risks.)
In the lab, Astrid weighs one of the parasitic worms while Walter dissects another. A live parasitic worm swims around in a glass tank. Awesome, they’ve got another lab pet. It can keep the cow company. Peter and Olivia arrive and brief Walter about the seasickness medicine, which the passengers were all instructed to take in capsule form. Walter, who is doing various disgusting things to his dissected creature, confirms that the parasite could easily have been introduced into the system as larvae through the capsule. The gestation period of the parasite would probably be equal to the length of the journey, and the human body would make a great incubator. Olivia, ever practical, asks why someone would do this. Before Walter can answer her, she gets a text message from Broyles stating that the Coast Guard found a manifest on the ship. They’ve traced it to a local shipyard and placed someone under arrest. Olivia and Peter take off.
Why does Walter keep jars of Gatorade on his desk?
Back in his warehouse of horrors, Che (it seems somewhat wrong typing that, because my brain immediately leaps to “Che Guevara,” which is not helpful in this context) carves open one of the parasitic worms and extracts a red blobby meatball-looking thing from its interior. It’s probably not a meatball. I’m just searching for a comparison. He drops it into a beaker with a bunch of other meatballs.
He then pours some white powder (which we’ll later discover is dried-and-powdered meatball) out of another beaker onto a small piece of paper, which he carefully folds to form a neat little packet. He then seals it with a label marked with Chinese characters. Packaging is everything.
Impeccably-packaged powdered worm glands.
Broyles, Olivia and Peter stand outside a FBI interrogation room and stare through the one-way mirror at a burly, tattooed Asian man in custody. Peter assumes from the man’s extensive tattoos that he’s a member of the Sun Hong Triad. Peter is a remarkably helpful person to have around. (One of the tattoos, by the way, features the same series of Chinese characters as were on the label of the tidy packet of powdered glands.) Olivia notes that the Sun Hong is known for smuggling heroin, not people. Peter guesses that the parasitic worms secrete opiates. Peter has been hanging around his dad too much.
Olivia spots the man taking a razor blade out of his mouth. She rushes in to wrestle it away from him, but she’s too late: Even as Broyles calls for paramedics, the man slashes open his own throat. He seems absurdly pleased about this.
“Ha! I slashed my own throat! Boy, don’t you all feel dumb now?”
At the Harvard laboratory, Astrid and Walter wrangle with the live worm. While Astrid tries to take a blood sample, the worm thrashes and screeches and tries to get away. Walter daydreams about how awesome it would be if all parasitic worms were filled with narcotics. He speculates that it could create quite a high. Astrid snaps at him, “Walter, you are not smoking this thing.” I love Olivia, I love Peter, I (sort of, I guess) love Broyles, but honestly, if Fringe ever wanted to radically change formats and become The Walter and Astrid Comedy Hour, I don’t suppose I’d have any objections. The worm squirms around and sinks its… teeth?… into Walter, attaching itself firmly to him. Astrid is horrified, but Walter insists the sensation is rather pleasant. As Astrid struggles to pull it off and get it under control, Broyles walks in. He stares at Astrid and Walter and the gigantic tentacled worm with an expression of world-weary resignation, then asks for Olivia.
A pretty standard Tuesday in the lab.
Broyles gives Peter and Olivia a file containing corporate bank documents relating to shell companies owned by the Sun Hong Triad leader, Jon Su. Peter asks about the other boat, and Broyles confirms there’s been no word. The Coast Guard has been searching all ships arriving into New England — 200 at last count. They estimate they have about twenty hours before the worms reach maturity inside the host bodies. Olivia, looking through the file, sees that a private account in Beacon Hill paid five hundred thousand dollars into one of Jon Su’s shell companies, Beijing Executive Construction, two weeks ago. Peter notes that the ship carrying the infected passengers would have left Kowloon at around that time.
In a pouring rain, Peter and Olivia arrive at the address in Beacon Hill, which turns out to be a nice house. A teen boy, who’s the spitting image of Cheryl Tiegs, circa 1978, answers the door. Olivia flashes her badge and asks the kid, Matt, for his parents. Matt calls for his mom.
Someone in the makeup trailer really went wild on this poor actor’s face.
His elegant, brittle mom, Elizabeth Jarvis, tells Peter and Olivia that her financial advisor encouraged her to invest in Beijing Executive Construction. She denies ever meeting Jon Su. While Olivia chats with Elizabeth, Peter shamelessly snoops around. The place is spotless. There are bottles of hand sanitizer around, and the windows are hermetically sealed (we know this, because they’re visibly labeled “Hermetically Sealed.” Handy!). Elizabeth seems nervous, though not excessively so, about having an FBI agent in her living room. She asks what the inquiry is about. Olivia tells her the company in which she invested is suspected of involvement in drug smuggling. Elizabeth claims to know nothing about it, and Olivia seems to believe her.
As they’re leaving the house, Olivia asks Peter why he was snooping around. Peter smiles enigmatically in reply. When Olivia mentions returning to the hospital to talk to Mai Lin, Peter asks if she can drop him off at the lab instead.
At the lab, Walter shows off his new sneakers to a duly-impressed Peter. Peter asks for theories about a possible connection between the parasitic worms and an obsessive-compulsive germaphobe like Elizabeth. Walter proclaims this an excellent question, though he never gets around to answering it. Peter sees the nasty bite mark where the worm glommed onto Walter, but Walter brushes off his concern. He insists he’s fine — in fact, his white cell count is through the roof, and he’s chock full of new antibodies. Added bonus: his gas is gone. Walter concludes that worm doesn’t produce an illicit narcotic — it produces medicine.
Astrid shows Peter a photo of an intestinal hookworm used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat asthma. Walter believes the huge parasitic worms are bioengineered from hookworms and are specially designed to gestate inside humans. As long as you’re going to the trouble of bioengineering a worm with magnificent healing properties, couldn’t you also bioengineer it not to kill its host when it emerges? Or bioengineer it to gestate inside a nice mechanical incubator? The lymph glands of the worm secrete immune system-boosting enzymes, which can treat immune-deficiency disorders. Walter decides he should meet with some Chinese herbalists to discuss this further. When Peter offers to go instead, Walter snaps at him not to follow him, then meekly asks for change for the bus.
Olivia shows Mai Lin photos of the dead Triad member’s tattoos. Through the use of her (fine-boned, floppy-haired) translator Tao Chen, Mai Lin says that a man on the boat had a similar tattoo. Olivia explains that the boat was smuggling drugs into the country. Horrified, Lin asks about her husband and daughter on the other boat. Olivia assures her they’ll do all they can to save them.
He’s still hot.
In the hold of a boat, which is jammed with people, a cute young girl, presumably Mai Lin’s daughter, plays with a metal toy bird. She tells her father in Cantonese she doesn’t feel well. As the little girl watches in horror, the exposed stomach of a sleeping man begins to move and bulge ominously.
That can’t be good.
Olivia returns to the lab and finds only Peter: Walter is off on his mission in Chinatown, and Astrid is keeping a discreet eye on him. Peter notes that the hand-sanitizers and air-purifiers and hermetically-sealed windows in Elizabeth Jarvis’s house suggest she has some kind of immune-system disorder, which might be connected to the parasitic worms.
Peter and Olivia arrive at the Jarvis home again and approach young Matt, who is shooting hoops in the driveway by himself. Matt refuses to talk to them without his mom or a lawyer around. Perennial scofflaw Peter tells Matt he’s not really an FBI agent. Olivia wanders off (with a poorly-looped line about how she’s going to call a judge to get a search warrant) while Peter and Matt play some ball and have a man-to-man discussion.
Peter tries to bond with Matt on a hey-we’re-both-raised-by-single-parents level. After convincing Matt that his mom might be in danger from the Triad, he asks Matt if his mom has an immune deficiency disorder. Matt confesses that it’s not his mom. He raises his shirt and reveals a long surgical scar across his torso: The money to Beijing Construction went to pay his for live-saving treatments.
Walter, clutching a page torn from the yellow pages, wanders through a Chinatown market. He spots Astrid doing a piss-poor job of trailing him. When he accuses her of spying, she (badly) lies that it was a coincidence — she was just visiting a friend in the neighborhood. Walter is not convinced. She gives up this tactic and admits she was worried about him. He insists he wants to be left alone so he can lead his life in dignity. He gives an awesome little speech about independence, which culminates with, “If I want to go get a hot dog, so be it. I may go grocery shopping. I may even join a gym,” and I am just full to bursting with love for Walter this episode. Astrid apologizes for cramping his style. Walter relents and asks Astrid to accompany him on his mission as a friend, not as a supervisor.
Astrid is maybe not the sneakiest person ever.
Peter and Olivia brief Broyles on the situation with Matt Jarvis. For reasons which go unexplained, this all takes place while they stand awkwardly beside an SUV beneath a freeway overpass. Matt has a rare immune system disorder where his body doesn’t produce enough white blood cells. Peter wryly quips that Matt should be living in a bubble. Peter sometimes makes pop-culture references that he’s a smidgen too young to have at the tip of his tongue. Unless, of course, he’s referring to the 2001 Jake Gyllenhaal tour-de-force Bubble Boy instead of the seminal 1976 John Travolta TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Anyway, Matt’s condition has been treated by Dr. Che, who injects a white powder into his spleen. Peter says Walter believes the powder comes from a gland inside the worms. Olivia notes that Matt’s next surgery is in two days.
This is a weirdly-staged scene.
Walter and Astrid look at hookworms in Dr. Che’s apothecary. Walter mentions to Che that he owns a four-foot-long worm, which is maybe not the brightest thing he’s ever done. Oblivious to his grievous strategic error, Walter buys fifteen bucks worth of worms and leaves. Che calls a tough-looking young man and sends him after Astrid and Walter.
Later, Astrid and Walter stand at a food cart, purchasing some kind of dubious-sounding beverage from a cheerful vendor. Walter, brimming with enthusiasm, tells Astrid he’s going to enjoy this, provided the beans have been sufficiently soaked to leech out the toxicity. A glum Astrid replies, “For the record, I wanted ice cream.” Astrid and Walter are fast approaching Maximum Adorable in this episode. While Astrid negotiates their beverages (the vendor helpfully offers to add fish heads to boost the omega 3 levels; Astrid declines), Walter wanders off in pursuit of lacquered cricket boxes and disappears into the crowd.
Astrid calls Peter, distraught over losing Walter. Peter reassures her that Walter has bus change, his emergency numbers, and his travel kit on him (is anyone else fascinated by the idea of Walter’s “travel kit”? My guess as to the contents: toothbrush, socks, gum, and pharmaceutical-grade hallucinogens).
Astrid returns to the lab to wait for Walter’s return. She hears footsteps and hushed voices, then spots an Asian man looking into the tank where they’re keeping the giant worm. She turns and sees another man advancing on her.
Back in Chinatown, Walter stands at a payphone, repeatedly dialing wrong numbers in a vain attempt to reach Peter. He uses up his last quarter, then searches through his pockets for more change while looking incomparably distraught.
Walter sits on a bus bunch and tells the poor woman next to him that the Number Five bus hasn’t stopped there in two hours — not that it matters, because he spent his bus fare dialing seven wrong numbers. The woman, who plainly speaks no English, looks on in baffled sympathy as Walter explains that he knows all the individual numbers in Peter’s number, but he can’t remember the correct sequence. He chokes up, and seriously, I’m ready to hand John Noble about eight dozen Emmys.
Walter is a vortex of deep sadness in this episode.
Olivia and Peter return to the lab and find Astrid unconscious, stuff smashed and overturned, and the worm missing. Astrid comes around, groggy and bleeding from the temple, but mostly okay. She describes her attackers as two big Asian guys with tattoos.
What are those pastel things? Earplugs? Jujubes? Chalk pastels?
Peter answers his phone. He speaks in excited Cantonese to the caller, then tells Astrid and Olivia that Walter has been located in Chinatown. Peter leaves to pick him up.
Olivia visits Elizabeth Jarvis again, who insists she can’t help her — Matt needs the treatment to live. Olivia explains that two dozen Chinese nationals have already died for Matt’s treatment, and another boatload of people are doomed unless Elizabeth helps. Olivia asks for the contact information for the doctor who’s been treating Matt.
Peter knocks on an apartment door and is ushered inside by the kindly woman from the bus stop. Walter sits at the kitchen table, inexplicably clad in a blue silk bathrobe, calmly drinking tea. He introduces Peter to the woman, Fei. When Fei explains, in Cantonese, that Walter couldn’t remember Peter’s phone number, Peter reminds his father that he keeps Peter’s number in his pocket at all times. He rummages through Walter’s abandoned clothes and proves it to him. Walter admits he didn’t remember this. Walter’s savoir-faire shifts to bewildered depression, and Peter’s frustration shifts to concern. He asks Walter if he’s okay, and it’s all kinds of heartbreaking. Walter rallies, compliments Fey on her noodles, collects his clothes, and heads off to change.
Walter does his finest Hef impression.
Out on the street, Walter expresses his hope that his disappearance didn’t cause Astrid distress. Peter grimly says she had other things on her mind. Before Walter can press for details, Peter asks for the addresses of the herbalists he’s visited. Walter hands over the phonebook page and notes that the herbalist at the third shop, Ming Che, was surprised when he mentioned his four-foot worm. Peter immediately puts it together that this is why Astrid was followed. Walter looks horrified at the realization he put Astrid in danger.
Peter takes a call from Olivia: Elizabeth gave her a phone number, which helped the FBI track the location of the second boat, which has just docked. The FBI is preparing to raid it. Peter tells her he’s tracking down another lead.
The raid on the boat is a pretty standard-issue television raid, with Broyles bellowing orders while people scurry around with flashlights and guns while wearing those jackets with “FBI” in huge yellow letters on the back. Olivia, ponytail flipping around purposefully, heads below decks, which is silent and scary as hell. She finds a lonely metal toy bird in an empty hold. She tells Broyles they were a little too late.
Peter and Walter return to Che’s shop. Walter frets about Astrid; Peter assures him she’s fine. As they watch from the car, a bunch of people climb out of the back of a truck and enter the shop. Olivia calls to update Peter on the unsuccessful raid. Peter gives her his location — Ping-on Street — and tells her the smuggled immigrants are there.
Peter orders Walter to stay in the car, then heads for the shop. He takes out his lock-picking tools and jimmies the door. Cantonese-speaking, lock-picking… Peter is a man of many hidden talents. Peter wanders around the dark shop and follows the sound of voices to the warehouse. The people from the boat are gagged and strapped down to the cots, while Che cuts off their clothes. Anyway you look at it, it’s a highly unsavory situation. Peter sneaks up on Che and knocks him out, then starts to untie the captives. Someone attacks him from behind.
You go, Peter, you lock-picking dynamo.
Left in the car by himself, Walter sings something about putting his head in the lions’ den. I have no idea what this means, but because this is Fringe, it will probably have great future significance.
Triad members restrain Peter in the warehouse while Che approaches him, holding a pair of tweezers with a parasitic worm larvae wriggling on the end. I can’t possibly be the only one having serious Wrath of Khan flashbacks, right? The Triad members force Peter’s jaw open and Che places the worm in his mouth. The goons try to force Peter to swallow while Che informs him that if he bites down on the worm, it’ll poison him. Maybe, but it’s not like swallowing will turn out that much better for him.
To recycle a caption: Doesn’t it seem like this sort of thing always happens to Peter?
Olivia and the gang burst in, guns drawn. Olivia shoots and kills Che. Peter spits out the larvae, and Olivia rushes over to untie him. I love it when Peter is the damsel in distress, and Olivia ends up saving his ass. These two are sexy and cute together.
Walter returns to the lab and finds Astrid, who tries to hide her distress from him. Walter sees the wrecked lab and how bruised and bloody and shaken Astrid is, and starts crying. Astrid starts crying. I start crying. Astrid assures him the attack wasn’t his fault, and he folds her into a hug.
Broyles, Peter and Olivia meet in the hospital. Olivia says that most of the immigrants have had surgery to remove the worms. The prognosis is good for Mai Lin’s husband and daughter. Broyles says they’ll all be granted political asylum. He’s traced six other patients who are being treated for immune deficiency disorders. Olivia asks if the information can lead them to the Triad boss Jon Su. Broyles says there’s no Jon Su — the name was just an alias for Ming Che’s financial dealings. I don’t know if we’re supposed to be surprised by this. Since we’ve never been emotionally invested in discovering the identity of Jon Su, the revelation falls a little flat.
Olivia visits Mai Lin, who is cuddling with her daughter while her husband lies in the adjacent bed. Olivia gives the daughter back her little metal bird, and I suppose it’s a nice moment, but compared to the heartbreaking interactions between both Peter and Walter and Walter and Astrid in this episode, it’s a little schmaltzy. There were plenty of big sweeping emotional moments already; no need to shoehorn in an extra emotional moment for Olivia.
Casa Bishop: Peter naps on the couch. Walter wakes him and tells him that, now that he’s been out of the institution for a year, he wants more independence as part of his journey toward becoming whole again. On that note, he’s implanted a tracking device in his own neck. He gives Peter the transponder, so Peter can locate him wherever he goes. Touching! Creepy! Why do I have the suspicion this tracking device is going to become very crucial in upcoming episodes?
So that’s Fringe. A somewhat shaky plot balanced by some great character moments. If anyone tries to argue that science-fiction shows lack gravitas and humanity: a) tell them to stop watching Heroes, and b) point them in the direction of Fringe. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most well-developed cluster of loveable misfit characters on television.