Fringe: From Ashy to Classy

By
Photo: Marcel Williams/FOX
Show
Fringe
Episode Title
The Earthling
Season
2
Episode
6

Suffering through Fringe withdrawal while the show was benched for two weeks during the World Series, we hoped that the first episode back would compensate by giving us fresh clues about the Pattern, Massive Dynamic, and the First Wave. Sadly, we learned nothing new about those mysteries, but this standalone episode did have one thing going for it: Agent Broyles.

The Evil: In Boston, a man waiting for his wife at home is killed by a human-shaped shadow that turns him into ash.

The Determination: The shadow is an alien organism that attached itself to a Russian cosmonaut while in outer space. The cosmonaut’s brother, Tomas, has been caring for his sibling, who’s in a coma, trying to find an antidote for this interstellar parasite that sucks out the radiation of other people to survive, reducing its victims to a pile of dust.

Wacky Factor: Walter spent most of his time trying to decipher the makeup of this otherworldly parasite, which allowed him an opportunity to stare at its chemical formula and mutter, “Titanium tetrachloride — you sly mistress.” But his best moment came when he informed the rest of the Fringe team how much Peter used to love the holidays — apparently his son really liked drawing genitalia on the reindeer decorations.

Paranoia Level: Medium to High. Standalone episodes haven’t been Fringe’s strong suit, but the writers did a good job balancing the monster-of-the-week A-story with a nicely understated exploration of Broyles’s character. Beloved from his work on The Wire, actor Lance Reddick has mostly spent his time on Fringe playing a generic hard-ass boss who tries to discourage Dunham’s curiosity about Massive Dynamic. (He clearly had a romantic relationship with Nina Sharp, but we don’t yet know the full details.) But last night, Broyles’s divorce, which has been alluded to previously, took center stage, giving Reddick a chance to do some actual emoting.

We discover that the reason Broyles takes this shadow-parasite case personally is because Tomas contacted him four years ago when these killings were first happening. Broyles wasn’t able to solve the case, which was doubly troubling for him: one, because he failed, and two, because his obsession with finding Tomas drove his wife away. Reddick does nuanced stoicism as well as anyone — his penetrating stare can go from intimidating to soulful like that — and therefore his conciliatory encounter with his ex-wife at the very end of the episode needs few words to leave a big impact. Two seasons in, it’s easily one of the most poignant scenes Fringe has ever devised — which is a perfect setup for the episode’s switcheroo final moment, in which Broyles is confronted by a stranger in a suit (presumably from the CIA) who tells him not to file a report for this case and that the cosmonaut (whom Broyles had to kill) is in fact still alive. Sentiment and suspense — it’s a tricky balance, and one that Fringe will hopefully keep achieving now that there’s no more baseball standing in its way.

More Recaps:
The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray smartly notices the thematic importance of an early, wordless scene between Broyles and a little kid at a restaurant.
IGN’s Ramsey Isler agrees that the Broyles story line was the episode’s highlight and gives special props to the effects team for some great CG work on the Shadow’s turned-to-dust victims.
TV Squad’s Jane Boursaw wonders what the final scene means. Did the Shadow (and the cosmonaut) get shot back into space?