After last week’s cornucopia of plot revelations concerning alternate-universe Peter, it was inevitable that last night’s Fringe would be an episode in which the writers focused on reestablishing all the major character relationships and overriding narrative conflicts in order to lay the groundwork for later momentous happenings. That resulted in a rather ordinary standalone episode, but one that certainly hinted at the suspense coming down the road.
The Evil: In Providence, Rhode Island, a sickly young man consults with an attorney (Joshua Jackson’s real-life girlfriend Diane Kruger), briefly touching her on the wrist to show his appreciation. Shortly after the meeting, the perfectly healthy woman starts to develop grotesque tumors all over her body, dying instantly.
The Determination: The cancer-stricken man, James Heath, was part of the Jacksonville experiments Walter Bishop and William Bell conducted on grade-school children, and he’s discovered that his fellow lab rats can absorb his cancer, killing them while delaying his own demise. So he’s hunting them down one by one, which eventually leads him to Dunham.
Intel on Massive Dynamic: Indicative of the fact that the writers were all about reacquainting us with everything that’s already happened in the series, last night’s episode included an example of a scene we haven’t seen in a while: Agent Broyles and Nina Sharp meet in private to discuss that week’s bizarre phenomenon, suggesting that Massive Dynamic and Broyles are in cahoots. That’s hardly a surprise to longtime viewers, but it’s clear that MD is now seriously worried about the safety of the Jacksonville patients, which probably means we haven’t heard the last of this mysterious group — especially considering that Dunham is one of them.
Wacky Factor: After a few Walter-heavy episodes, this one was more about the tentative ongoing courtship of Dunham and Peter, which meant the good doctor was free to cut loose. Thus we learned that he used to be an avid skier — “I was quite a hot-dogger,” he announced with no small amount of pride — and is a massive taffy freak. Plus, he gifted the rest of the Fringe team (as well as the audience) with a detailed explanation of the merits of Tantric sex that was more disturbing than all those puss-filled tumors covering Heath’s victims.
Paranoia Level: Medium. The will-they-or-won’t-they drama hovering over a possible Dunham-Peter love connection took center stage last night, and while it’s long been one of the least compelling elements to Fringe, the writers did a decent job of making us care about their tepid mating dance. Much of the episode dealt with Dunham’s conflicted feelings about keeping secret from Peter the fact that he’s from the alternate universe, resulting in Peter misinterpreting her awkwardness as a response to their near-kiss a few episodes ago. Ultimately, nothing was resolved — still no kiss, and Walter promised Dunham he’d tell Peter the truth (but not when) — but it would be great if Fringe would eventually figure out how to make Peter and Dunham’s relationship as complex and engaging as the one between Peter and his dad.
As for the episode as a whole, the plot seemed merely a way to refresh our memories about stuff we may have forgotten over the show’s two-month hiatus. So, the Bowling Alley Guy showed up, Nina Sharp got back to saying smug and vaguely-sinister things, Broyles recited a bunch of exposition, Walter was goofy, and the mystery of the Jacksonville experiments was revisited. If last week’s episode was a reward for fans who have stuck with the show, “Olivia. In the Lab. With a Revolver” was a primer for newbies, who should be advised that the show’s usually not quite as soap opera–y as it was last night.
The AV Club’s Noel Murray explains the meaning behind the episode’s title and looks for clues in a couple of lens flares that occurred during the show.
Inspired by the name of the experimental drug used on the Jacksonville children, MTV’s Josh Wigler thinks that someone should start a band called Cancer Man & the Cortexiphan Kids. Yes!
TV Squad’s Jane Boursaw wonders if Bowling Alley Guy is from the alternate universe after his “I’m older than I look” comment.
And TV Fanatic’s Agent SAHM wants the Dunham/Peter love affair to get a move on.