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‘Fringe’: Dusty

November 5, 2009 |  9:04 pm

Fringe-Ep206_A_0390 Yankees win! Woo ha!

I’m not a baseball fan. In fact, I couldn’t care less. But the Yankees winning does mean that the World Series is over. Fox can return to its normal schedule, and we get our first new “Fringe” in three weeks. About time. I was starting to go through withdrawal of Walter’s food cravings and inappropriately sexual comments.

“Fringe” has really been on a roll this season, and ‘Earthling’ is no exception. It delivered both on the level of crazy cool science and a little character development for the Fringe Division’s own stone-cold bossman, Agent Broyles.

The monster this week is a black smoke creature. It shows people flashes of their past, tries to drag them underground, and disguises itself as Alex in order to get Ben to do what it wants. Wait. No. That’s a different black smoke creature. Man, am I the only one desperately awaiting Season 6 of “Lost"?

This smoke monster is more of a shadow man. Or manless shadow, if you will. It attacks people, draining them of all their radioactivity like some sort of nuclear vampire (that would be a cool name for a band).

When it’s done, the smoke man leaves a corpse that crumbles to ash at the slightest touch, which makes for one of the coolest special effects in the show so far. Watching one of the victims disintegrate or seeing them in their partially collapsed state looks incredible. My favorite easily being the patient falling apart after a fly lands on her. It was awesome even on my television. I can’t imagine what it was like in HD (I’m going to upgrade one of these days).

Unfortunately, the back story for the shadow man isn’t nearly as interesting as the carnage it leaves behind. Apparently it’s an extraterrestrial being picked up by a cosmonaut during a space walk. After Walter peaked my interest with tales of Russian fringe science, this came as a bit of a letdown. I hope the show delves into, as Walter says, “what those pinkos were up to.”

Olivia, Peter and Walter did their normal detective work, but the real thrust behind this investigation came from Agent Broyles. When I spoke to John Noble earlier in the season, he said Broyles would be getting his own episode, and this was it. We didn’t get any insight into his relationship with Nina Sharp (nor did we get any more of their makeout sessions), but we did get a glimpse into his obsessive past.

Broyles started his day out pleasantly enough, playing a mimic game with some random kid at a restaurant. Pretty gutsy kid. I’ve seen Lance Reddick in person, and he’s intimidating even when he’s being friendly. When the call comes in about a possible Pattern case, Broyles drops the games and his menu to rush to the scene.

This isn’t any ordinary bizarre-beyond-belief death. This is a bizarre-beyond-belief death that Broyles has seen before. He investigated a series of murders four years ago where victims were turned into ash. He even talked to a man who said he could stop it, but eventually the deaths stopped and Broyles never solved the case.

While the focus on Broyles drew me in, like the shadow man, it fell apart in the why. We never found out really why Broyles became so obsessed with this case. I kept hoping it would turn out to have been his first Pattern case. Instead we learn that this was the case that ended Broyles’ marriage. That along with his playful moments at the beginning gave us a peek at the softer side of Agent Broyles. Though just when you think you know the guy, he pulls out his gun and shoots a cosmonaut in the head to save a little girl. He’s one bad mother…. Shut your mouth. I’m just talking about Broyles.

I hope this starts a trend. I’d like to see a little more focus on the side characters of “Fringe.” Maybe we’ll get a Nina Sharp episode. Or a William Bell episode. Or, dare I dream, an Astrid episode. I can’t wait.

Who Was That Guy – IMDB lists him as ‘Mystery Man.’ The actor’s name is JR Bourne. He’s the CIA agent who shows up to stand in the eerie red streetlight to hint that they’d launched the cosmonaut back into space. Who is he? Will we see him again? Who knows. “Fringe” has an issue with loose ends. Anyone remember that secret group of Pattern-watchers Broyles and Nina met with in Season 1? Or whatever happened to Olivia’s sister and niece?

The Mystery Man does prompt one other question: Where does Fringe Division fit into the hierarchy of government investigation organizations? We’ve seen them trumped by the CIA and Homeland Security. Heck, they’ve even had issues with local law enforcement. Who does Fringe Division get to push around?

Astrid Action – Olivia, Peter and Walter all took back seats to Agent Broyles this week, so Astrid was pretty much out of luck when it came to exciting screen time. She got to ask a lot of questions and be the test for Walter’s Geiger counter, but that’s about it. Hopefully next week.

Spot the Observer – I actually found him this time! I’m getting better. You can see him walking out of Gate 43 as Broyles walks through the airport after his meeting with Sen. Van Horn. I feel so proud.

-- Andrew Hanson

Photo: Olivia (Anna Torv, left) and Broyles (Lance Reddick) take on a puzzling investigation where victims inexplicably disintegrate into ash. Credit: Fox Television

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