Hello again, Fringe fans; Noel’s still out fighting the good fight at Sundance, so you’re stuck with me for one more week. And what a week it is. “Bound” picks up where “Safe” left off, with the resolution of Olivia’s kidnapping, the final fate of Mitch Loeb’s turn as a double agent, and a Freak Meet with a giant slug that likes to grow in people’s insides. It’s a gripping, bizarre, occasionally wince-inducing hour of television; after a spotty first half of the season, Fringe is finally hitting its stride.
It’s called “Bound,” and if we put a bit of work in, it’s not hard to find the various ways in which Olivia Dunham is getting tied down. First, there’s the literal: after her abduction, Olivia gets transported into yet another dank room where men in lab-coats and a dude in a mask and black loafers do a spinal tap on her. The masked dude turned out to be Mitch Loeb, the very definition of a player in the Fringe-verse, but Olivia doesn’t figure it out yet. Mitch is gone by the time Olivia, using the second oldest trick in the book (using the first would’ve involved more winking and a bit of leg), turns the tables on her captors and escapes. A moment’s praise for the utter badassery of this sequence; Olivia is fast becoming one of my favorite characters on TV, and the way she managed to take out the threats, swipe evidence from the site, steal a car, call in for back-up, and hide the swiped evidence, all without missing a beat, was terrific.
Of course, awesome though she may be, Olivia isn’t out the woods quite yet. There are, after all, other ways to have your hands tied. Although Broyles promises help, the first agents to meet Olivia after her escape treat her like a criminal, tranquilizing her, bringing her to a hospital and handcuffing her to her bed while she’s unconscious. What’s worse is the man sitting in her room when she wakes up: Sanford Harris, a man she arrested for sexual assault. Only Harris’s conviction was overturned, and he’s now working for Homeland Security. He’s been given license to investigate the Fringe Division, and it looks like he hasn’t forgiven Olivia for that whole arrest thing.
And where are Peter and Walter during all this? Dosing caterpillars with Walter’s special blend of LSD. “Bound” is a little short on the Peter/Walter dynamic, focusing more on Olivia’s pursuit of her kidnappers, but we get some choice bits, including Walter’s continued attempts to play matchmaker between his son and his guardian agent. The week’s Freak Meet has an epidemiologist who suffocates during a lecture, vomiting up a giant, spiky slug after death in front of a classroom of horrified college students. Walter and Peter get called in for the investigation, and Olivia asks for their help identifying the substance in the vials from the lab she so wisely hid after escaping earlier. The substance turns out to be eggs which, when mixed with stomach acid, grow into, surprise, giant, spiky slugs. Interestingly enough, the slug itself is a just a large, single celled organism—a much magnified version of the common cold.
After grilling the dead epidemiologist’s student assistant (and former lover, natch), Olivia discovers the guy was up for a job with the CDC, as part of a task force to handle potential epidemics. One other man’s name comes up for the task force, a Dr. Russell Simon; they get him into protective custody fast, but it’s all for naught when Agent Mitch doses him with some slug eggs. Simon dies, and Olivia is back to square one. Thankfully, Mitch doesn’t like buying new shoes, and Olivia recognizes the loafers on his feet as the same as ones worn by the guy in the mask before. She goes to pay a visit at the Loeb residence while Mitch is at work, and she also sends Charlie to ask Peter for a favor: they need an illegal wire tap on the Loeb’s phone. Just before Olivia can break into the house, Mitch’s wife Samantha shows up, and we get a couple of wonderful “I know who you are, but do you know who I am” conversations. Samantha places a frantic call to Mitch just as Peter struggles to get an impromptu phone tap working, and Olivia wanders the house, looking for clues.
If this all sounds a little breathless, well, that’s how it felt. “Bound” was heavy on incident, light on mood; the freak of the week was relegated largely to the background, and apart from some character moments between Olivia and her sister Rachel (and Rachel’s daughter, Ella), the focus was on forward momentum. There’s always a risk with that—the demands of episodic television require that individual episodes form their own internal arcs, and this much plot could’ve ended up formless. For the first three-quarters of the episode, it felt like “Bound” had a lot to say, but was maybe rushing to hard to get all of it in; but then everything came together at the end.
I’m not entirely sold on the “investigation” of Fringe Division. Sanford Harris seems fairly one-note, even if Olivia was able to appeal to his sense of decency, and the last thing we need is somebody questioning all the weird shit that Walter gets into. As well, the scenes between Olivia and her sister were okay, but didn’t really amount to much. I like that the show is trying to give us a sense of her home life, but I would’ve rather that home life tied in better with the series’ larger concerns. (Although Ella’s presence did lead to a most excellent visual pun.)
But those are minor complaints. This episode took the stakes raised in “Safe” and changed the game on us again, in a way I did not see coming at all. Only time will tell if this ends up making sense; but after Olivia has to shoot Samantha to save her own life; after Peter comes up with a way to trap Mitch; after Olivia shows Mitch photos of his dead wife in an effort to break him; and after Mitch breaks and shouts, “Do you not understand the rules? We saved you! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Olivia managed to get free from her kidnappers, she managed to duck around Harris’s interference to get the job done, but it remains to be seen if can she get past her own assumptions about the situation in time. Like us, she’s bound by all the things she doesn’t know; and so far, the only things she’s learned come a couple of beats too late.
“You’re like a question machine.”
On the escaping slug: “Things like this used to happen in the lab all the time. Makes me nostalgic.”
“My boy, I’m not even sure we exist on the same plane of consciousness…”
—Also dug Walter’s infatuation with infectious diseases.
—So, I guess you could say Mitch literally dropped the eight-ball there.
—Goodbye, Trini Alvarado. Loved you in The Frighteners.