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Fringe: Head Case

Murderous shape-shifters, mysterious symbols, ominous proclamations about forthcoming wars between parallel universes — this episode has so many important plot points you need a scorecard (or at least a rewind button) to keep track. Because the characters are less interesting than the show’s dun-dun-dun paranoia, this program’s chief selling point has always been its X-Files–style big-conspiracy episodes. And now that Dunham has regained her memory about her encounter with William Bell, things can really get cooking.

The Evil: A Massachusetts cryogenics lab is attacked by mercury-bleeding burglars who swipe several frozen heads.

The Determination: The burglars are part of the shape-shifting team known as the First Wave that has come from a parallel universe to destroy our world. They’re frantically looking for the head of their leader, whose neck will be marked with a horseshoelike symbol.

Intel on Massive Dynamic: Aided by a worm-purée concoction from Walter, Dunham remembers her meeting with Bell in Bizarro New York. Bell explained that the First Wave consists of human-machine hybrids who want to open a door between our world and theirs. If we weren’t sure how dire this situation is, Bell says with appropriate gravitas, “The storm is coming.” Of course, he also tells Dunham that “physics is a bitch,” which we’re hoping is the sort of seemingly throwaway non sequitur that ends up somehow becoming a very important clue down the line.

Wacky Factor: Judging from the way he rocks out to “I’ve Seen All Good People” in his lab, Walter is apparently a big Yes fan. But the writers also allow him to behave like a normal human being for once when he becomes reacquainted with Rebecca, a onetime test experiment and, we later discover, former lover. Their briefly rekindled relationship largely serves to help flush out Agent Francis as a shape-shifter, but it's a rare moment when a tender scene actually works on a show that’s usually more comfortable with Dunham’s terse dialogue and Peter’s smug smirks.

Paranoia Level: High. After a few weeks of teasing, we get down to business with some narrative momentum. Bell confirms that he and Walter were experimenting on children like Dunham to prepare them for the forthcoming battle between our world and the parallel one. Dunham was the strongest of the group and is therefore the one chosen to stop the First Wave. (Apparently, these human-machine hybrids’ only weakness is frigid blonde actresses.) Also, she kills Agent Francis, although we’re unsure how dead he really is since actor Kirk Acevedo is slated to make an appearance in next week’s episode. And despite Bell’s guidance in tracking down the First Wave’s leader, the FBI was too late in stopping them from acquiring the correct frozen head. Who is the leader? We don’t know for sure, but we wonder if he has any connection to the Observer, whose absence was rather conspicuous amid last night’s major revelations. That storm Bell was talking about might be just around the corner.

Photo: Courtesy of Fox