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Fringe: Mind the Mind Control

The sometimes contentious relationship between Peter and his father, Walter, has been a crucial component of Fringe since its inception. But last night, the show found a novel way of examining this dynamic by having the central story dovetail nicely with these two characters’ personal issues.

The Evil: In Queens, two used-car salesmen abduct a 15-year-old named Tyler. But when the cops apprehend them, the kidnappers have the ability to control the police officers’ minds, making them kill each other.

The Determination: The salesmen don’t, in fact, have mind-control powers. Instead, it’s the teenager who’s doing it, thanks to an experimental pharmaceutical his father, who works at Massive Dynamic, was developing. Rebellious Tyler stole the drug and, mixed with other medication he was taking, now can make people do his bidding.

Intel on Massive Dynamic: Nina Sharp feigns ignorance when the Fringe team uncovers that her test drug was behind Tyler’s acting out. But in the very last scene, we discover that the company is actively working on mind control and that “Tyler” is but one of a series of clones they’ve created to be lab rats.

Wacky Factor: Walter has his predictably bizarro moments, including wearing a tinfoil hat to keep Massive Dynamic from reading his thoughts, but our lovable mad scientist is a big softie after Tyler kidnaps Peter. He's too broken up to figure out a way to block the kid’s power. “Peter always helps me,” Walter explains meekly to Dunham. “How do I do this without Peter?” How actor John Noble manages to make Walter’s eccentricities both quirky and touching is the one mystery this show hopefully will never crack.

Paranoia Level: Medium. Except for the reveal of Massive Dynamic’s nefarious plot, this character-centric episode mostly concerns itself with father-son matters. Our first tip-off is when the team goes to visit Massive Dynamic’s massive headquarters and Walter, humbled by the sheer achievement of his former partner, William Bell, becomes nostalgic for his late wife, whom he met through Bell. Then when Tyler kidnaps Peter, it forces Walter to come to terms with how much he fears losing Peter and to acknowledge that his son really is his only connection to the happy domestic life he once enjoyed.

Meanwhile, Peter learns that his problems with Walter aren’t so bad, after being stuck with the Most Obnoxious Teenager of All Time. In a way, Tyler’s mind-control power — aided, we’re told, by his raging adolescent hormones — is a sharp rebuke to the Peter Parker school of puberty-addled characters who always end up choosing to be noble despite being given supernatural abilities. Honestly, Tyler feels much more realistic to how 15-year-olds really are — he hates his dad and misses his absent mom so, screw it, he’s gonna steal a lot of money, kill a bunch of people, look at naked chicks, and make strangers do whatever he wants. In comparison to that brat Tyler and his “surrogate” dad, Peter and Walter come to realize that, despite their differences, they’re just your garden-variety dysfunctional family — that is, until the moment when Walter will finally get around to telling him that he’s actually from a parallel universe, a replacement for the Peter that died in this reality. But until then, you know, everything’s peachy.

More Recaps:
The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray admits that “[m]aybe it’s because I’m a parent myself, but I’m especially captivated by movies and TV shows that deal with the idea of parenting as a kind of mind-control.” He just wished this episode did a better job with that theme.
IGN’s Ramsey Isler, on the other hand, loved last night’s episode, calling it a “high-intensity, action-filled tale that kept the adrenaline flowing.”
And over at TV Fanatic, M.L. House brings up an interesting point: Why is it that when Nina Sharp or Evil Agent Francis contact those in the parallel universe they have to use old-timey typewriters or computers to do it?

Photo: Diane Hentscher/FOX