‘Fringe’ recap: Gus Busters
"Fringe" always tries to push boundaries. The stories explore the dark edge of science, the level of gory detail often rivals most R-rated horror flicks, and Walter’s liberal use of recreational narcotics challenges television’s standards on drug abuse. You can’t call your show "Fringe" without straddling the line at times. In the last three years, I’ve gone along on the ride just about everywhere "Fringe" wanted to take me without a second thought, but after worms and bugs and multiple occasions of John Noble nudity, "Fringe" finally made me feel uneasy. Twice, in fact.
Right at the start, the latest episode of "Fringe" made me a little uneasy. The crazy, deadly science project of the week centered on a rapidly growing fungus, and the fungi’s first two kills are 12-year-old boys. Sure, they were bullies, chasing after the shy kid to beat him up, but it’s still uncomfortable when the victim is a child. Once a person can legally buy alcohol, go to town, "Fringe." You can rip out a guy’s heart while he’s still alive or slice someone in half between two universes. Seeing this happen to kids, even bad kids, makes me a little uneasy.
The Fringe Division comes in when the two boys' bodies are found the next day, looking like they had been decaying for months. The fungus drained all their nutrients and turned them into ticking time bombs of spores. This isn’t your everyday rapidly growing, murderous fungus. It’s also a complex neural network that bonded with Aaron, the shy kid the two bullies were targeting. Both Aaron and the fungus felt all alone, and they developed a psychic link. A link that shared the pain and agony between the two of them as Fringe Division tried to eradicate the fungus.
Of course this all is just a big metaphor for Peter. We’re only three episodes into the "Where’s Peter?" season, so we can’t have him popping up yet. Maybe a few cameos in reflections and ghostly voices, but that’s it. When Aaron comes to the lab, he becomes a surrogate Peter for Walter. The little boy that he failed to save. Two times.
Walter starts off talking with his former psychologist and Death from "Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey," Doctor Sumner (William Sadler). As part of his conditional release to the FBI, Walter must meet with his old buddy from St. Clair’s once a month for evaluation. This month, Sumner had received reports from Olivia and Astrid about erratic behavior. Even for Walter. He’s been covering up all reflective surfaces and talking to himself more than usual. Little do any of them know, Walter is just getting glimpses of Peter. He’s not crazy. Well, not crazier than usual.
Aaron proves to be a good distraction for Walter. Aaron starts off afraid of doctors. Walter walking around in a splatter-guard helmet and yelling at Aaron for touching Peter’s old toys doesn’t help the situation much. Eventually the two find common ground, and Aaron asks Walter about his dead son. We get confirmation of what I expected all along. The difference in this version of history is that the Peter we know and love died in Lake Reiden. The Observer didn’t dive in and save him. That’s why we have no Peter but still have the two universes at war.
While Walter and Aaron share milkshakes, Olivia and Lincoln face off against the Gus (Walter’s name for the fungus). Only everything they do to Gus also happens to Aaron. That bond between a boy and his fungus is just too strong. When Gus starts growing into the subway, Fringe Division has no choice. They have to wipe it out completely. Walter desperately struggles for a way to break the connection between Gus and Aaron, passing up the option of cutting out pieces of the boy’s brain and settling on an impassioned speech. He has to convince the boy that there are actual people who care about him more than a homicidal organism that wants to use him as bait for other children.
Walter saves the poor kid’s life but completely misses the point of Aaron’s story. Aaron also thought he was crazy, but in reality it was the fungus making him feel safe. Does Walter listen to Aaron and think “Oh, yeah. Maybe this voice I’m hearing has some scientific explanation?” No. He polishes up his hammer and metal rod and gets ready to perform a lobotomy on himself.
This was the second part that made me squirm. From when they first showed the diagrams and Walter’s shiny tools, I started to get nervous. When they showed Olivia coming into the empty lab, my stomach began to twist. Then, when you could hear the sound of the hammer hitting the metal rod, I had to turn my head. I could say I looked away because I’d never believe that Walter would do this to himself, but really it was that sound. That high-pitch, pinging sound. Argh. Makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it.
Luckily Olivia shows up in time to save Walter from himself. She prevents his do-it-yourself lobotomy and reassures Walter that he isn’t going crazy. He’s not the only person who has been seeing things. She’s been dreaming of Peter herself for the last three weeks. Now Walter can move on from trying to pretend he’s not hearing the voices and get to rescuing Peter.
Um… Guys – So Olivia and Lincoln wear hazmat suits into the morgue where the spores exploded, but they go into the center of Gus the Fungus wearing their regular clothes and night-vision goggles? I know Walter told them that Gus basically wouldn’t know they were there unless they touched it, but still. You’re going to stick a giant killer fungus with poison. You have to wear protection. Even if they’re going to have the expendable Massive Dynamic technician do all the jabbing.
Astrid Action – Astrid once again got to play eyes and ears for Walter in the field. She doesn’t get to play mouth because Walter won’t stop talking long enough for her to repeat what he’s saying. Astrid did get to play witness to Walter’s speech that saves Aaron’s life. It even brings a tear to her eye.
Spot the Observer – The Observer strolled across the bottom of the screen during one of the establishing shots of Walter’s lab. Not sure what he was observing right there. Except maybe the big words “Harvard University” hanging in the sky.
-- Andrew Hanson
Photo: Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) and Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). Fox Television