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Fringe: "Dream Logic"

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Howdy, Freak-Fans. Noel's out sick today with, well, the same thing everybody else seems to have lately, so I'll be covering this week's episode of Fringe, "Dream Logic." Best wishes to Noel for a speedy recovery, and the fervent hope that we don't see him coughing out a collapsed star in any upcoming freakmeets.

Fringe, for me, has always been two basic shows. That's arguably true of every ongoing serial drama. On the one hand, you have the stand-alone episodes that provide the backbone of the series, attracting new viewers with immediately identifiable threats and tied shut (although not too tight) conclusions; on the other, there's the mythology episodes that serve as the nervous system, the main driving force behind everything, working to ensure that fans become devoted and each season of the show tells a loose, arced story. What's really interesting is the way those two different types can seem to be operating on similar but different premises. Fringe stand-alones steal pages from the X-Files playbook, giving us heroes (a brave FBI agent, a charming rogue, and his nutty but brilliant dad) investigating some kind of weird monster or device in order to defeat it and restore order to the world. But Fringe mythology entries, by far the show's most distinctive aspect, involve a much more complicated and bizarre plotting—order is still important, but it's hard to know exactly what that order should be, as armies move wearing familiar faces and other dimensions vie for dominance.

"Dream Logic" is a stand-alone, a few scenes aside (and really, all stand-alones need a least one or two references to the big plot, otherwise it gets too disconnected). There's nothing inherently wrong with that, even with the obvious X-Files influence. The characters here are interesting and appealing enough that I don't always have to feel the earth move under my feet to be engaged with their actions, and who doesn't like a well-made mini-monster movie? One of my on-going problems with this series, then, isn't that it has stand-alone episodes; it's that it so often doesn't know how to end those shorter stories. A good stand-alone should go out with a sharp punch to the throat. All too often, Fringe episodes conclude theirs with a hasty, head-ducking abruptness, as though the writer started the script thinking he had an hour and a half to play with, and only realized his mistake around minute thirty-five. This isn't an issue on mythology eps; that story won't really be done until the final episode airs. But while "Logic" had a terrific final scene, it's internal resolution left a lot to be desired.

The episode started out fine. Well, mostly fine. I'm not a huge fan of the Magic Lebowski arc, with Olivia needing emotional back-up from a Yoda in bowling shoes. It's one of those subplots that uses random trappings to look more clever than it actually is, with Sam handing out Mr. Miyagi style platitudes and Olivia going through the standard, "This isn't helping me at all! Oh wait, it just did" journey. But this one was working okay up till the end. I found the "Youre gonna be fine" reveal to be too much on the corny side, but Torv was as committed as ever, and it could've been worse. And hey, we got all this crazy dream stuff to distract us, so that's okay, right?

Unsurprisingly, X-Files has done a "guy paranoid about the people in his office" episode ("Folie a Deux"), and it's also done a "people who can't sleep" episode ("Sleepless," appropriately enough). "Logic" starts off looking like the former, and winds up being a bit more about the latter, until it finally turns out to be a third thing, just in case you got too comfortable. A man comes to work and beats his boss to death with his briefcase. Later he tells Olivia and Peter that it was like being in a dream—and as soon as he says this, he seizes up, his hair turns white, and he dies from what turns out to be exhaustion. Another woman crashes her car, claiming to see a "monster," only she's got the white hair going on as well, and she also has an incision scar on the back of her neck, just like Walter found on the neck of the first guy.

The incision leads to Walter doing some brain poking (which he is, of course, delighted about), and he finds a microchip that brings Olivia and Peter to a sleep clinic run by a Dr. Lameesh Nayak. Nayak was treating people for sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, etc.), and the chip was designed to regulate the thalamus gland. Peter theorizes it has to do with brain control, but when Walter drugs a naive FBI agent and does a simulation of what's been happening, he discovers the purpose is a less wide-ranging, and more personal one—someone (Dr. Nayak, it turns out) is getting high off stealing people's dreams.

There were a lot of details to appreciate here. I liked Olivia riding Peter about his MIT shirt—it seemed like an odd kind of flirting, coming from her. Walter and Peter have got a house to live in now, and Walter's usual tics translate well to the obsessions of home ownership. And while it didn't seem to have any consequences, having Walter drug Agent Cashner was a potent reminder of his mad scientist roots. It's just too bad that the conclusion of the dream-thieving story had to be so lame. Realizing they're dealing with an addiction, Olivia makes a jump to thinking Dr. Nayak has a split personality—which he does—and the two of them stop him during one last big brain bender, saving the life of a pilot and everyone on board the plane he was flying. The split personality development is such a bizarre, unmerited twist that it kills much of the goodwill the rest of the plot had earned, even before Peter utters the horrible, horrible line, "His addiction to dreams became his nightmare." That kind of personality disturbance needs more than a couple quick scenes to justify itself. And it doesn't help that Nayak started off as such a pleasant change of a pace, a dedicated, thoroughly sane man devoted to making people's lives better through research.

Ah well. At least we had that final scene. A boy alone in bed hears his father come in the room, but something is wrong. He screams, and Peter wakes up from the dream, back in his adult body, his father watching. Peter doesn't know what any of this means—it's doubtful he thinks it means anything—but Walter does. The expression on John Noble's face is exquisite, the look of a man who committed a horrible crime out of need and grief, and knows that sooner or later, that crime will out. When it does, he stands a chance of losing the one thing left that keeps him connected to this world: the love of someone else's son.

Stray Observations:

-I did like Weiss's line to Olivia, "Whether you admit it or not, your life is something of a nightmare."
-Walter on travel by plane: "The turbulence over Ohio was like being in the belly of a seizing whale! I screamed like a little girl."
-Cell phones show the number of the person who's calling you. This means that the standard, "I'm going to yell into my phone on the assumption that I'm talking to one person, except I'm talking to someone else without realizing it" gag doesn't really work anymore. Doesn't stop Olivia from trying it, though.
-Don't trust people, like Dr. Nayak's research assistant, who spell "Zach" with an "h." I can't tell you why, only—don't.

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