Slithering parasitic worms might have been the main attraction on last night’s Fringe, but the episode’s best moments had nothing to do with creepy-crawlies. No, the real takeaway was that, a year after being released from a mental institution, Walter Bishop has decided to start asserting his independence — with less-than-glowing results.
The Evil: In Boston, a frightened Chinese national newly arrived in America complains about an intense stomachache. Suddenly, a terrifying tentacled beast crawls out of his mouth.
The Determination: Triad drug traffickers in China are sneaking a lucrative parasite with special medicinal properties into the States by implanting them in unsuspecting immigrants crossing our borders. But when the parasite matures to full growth, it kills its host.
Wacky Factor: As has been the case for a few episodes, the writers started Walter off in full-on nutty-professor mode before giving him a story arc where he was allowed to show real pathos. After initially being attacked by one of the parasites in his lab — and enjoying the chemical high as it fed on him — Walter focused on more important matters. He’s tired of being looked after by Peter, so he’s now dressing himself, which explained his confident gait and dapper wardrobe. But he also wanted to start doing some investigative legwork on his own, which proved problematic. Indiscreetly mentioning his knowledge of the parasites while snooping around Chinatown led the Triad right to his lab, where they retrieved the worms and assaulted defenseless Astrid.
Paranoia Level: Low-to-Medium. The showrunners spent a lot of time (and effects money) on the elaborately disgusting parasites, but once we adjusted to the ew factor, the plot wasn’t all that interesting. The story line about rich, ailing Americans paying Chinese gangsters for miracle cures appeared to be a ripped-from-the-headlines commentary on hot-button issues like human trafficking and illegal immigration, but the execution just seemed silly. (And we’re not just saying that because Peter showed off more of his infamous “street cred” by miraculously speaking fluent Cantonese and deciphering Chinese tattoos on Triad members.)
As a result, we elected to ignore all that nonsense and focus on the characters — specifically, Walter and his realization that leaving the nest won’t be as easy as he hoped. From the beginning, Fringe has established that although he’s the most brilliant member of the team, Walter is also the most childish and helpless. (More times than not, it’s Peter who has to be the dad in their relationship.) But Walter is coming to resent the condescending treatment he gets from his son, although last night he learned that his petulant insistence on independence has consequences. Because Walter got lost while wandering out on his own, Peter had to go fetch him, which left Astrid a sitting duck in the lab when the Triad attacked. In addition, when Peter finally tracked down the gangsters’ lair, he had to go in alone since Walter isn’t much help in big showdowns — resulting in Peter getting captured and tortured. The two people that dote on Walter the most got their ass kicked because of him, and that discovery clearly upset the good doctor. In the end, Walter learned that we all need people — and we in the audience were reminded that when Fringe puts out a mediocre episode, we really rely on him to give us a rooting interest.
The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray loved the episode but brings up something that was bugging us, too: “[W]as storing the worms in the bellies of illegal immigrants really the most efficient way to smuggle them?”
TV Fanatic’s M.L. House complains that there were too many subtitles in last night’s episode. Really.
TV Squad’s Jane Boursaw notes that this season of Fringe has been alternating between “creature episodes” and “alternate universe episodes.” No surprise, then, that next week’s episode is all about William Bell and shape-shifting baddies.