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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Fringe: "The Equation"

Illustration for article titled Fringe: "The Equation"
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Illustration for article titled Fringe: "The Equation"

Big night for the Bishops on Fringe, as Peter gets to put his mathematical skills and his criminal skills to work–the former in recognizing the connection between a series of musical notes and an unsolved equation, and the latter in helping to figure out the alias of a kidnapper. As for Walter, he gets to stare directly in the eye of crazy for the first time in a while. And it shakes him.

But let's begin with our weekly Freak-Meet, which for the second week in a row was a little off-model. We see a boy scribbling musical notes on staff-paper while his father drives through the rain. When the father stops to help a stranded motorist, Dad gets hypnotized by the series of flashing green and red lights under the broken-down car's hood, and when he snaps out of his trance, the motorist, the broken-down car and his son are all gone. No ruptured flesh this week. No explosions. Just a missing kid and a mysterious kidnapper.

And, of course, those flashing red and green lights, which were central to "The Equation" in multiple ways. Naturally, they're familiar to Walter, who worked on an experiment decades earlier–for an advertising agency, not the government–to see if flashing lights could induce consumers to buy more. (Instead, the lights just made consumers nauseous.) But the lights also remind Walter of Christmas, and of a story he once heard from a fellow inmate at the asylum, about a woman who hypnotized him with a Christmas tree, and abducted him.

The inmate's name is Dashiell Kim, one of many brilliant men taken by the kidnapper–Joanne Ostler–and apparently forced against their will to work on a special equation, until it drives them mad and they're released back into society. How does Ostler maintain a hold over her victims? She wires them up and projects images of their loved ones being tormented into their skulls, so that they're guilted into pressing on. And when they return to society, the guilt persists, until they take their own lives–or the lives of others.

Ostensibly, the drama this week was about Olivia and her Pattern-ettes trying to find the missing little boy, before Ostler could ruin the kid the way she'd ruined so many others. But frankly, what kept "The Equation" from finally rising to that elusive "A" level–something no Fringe episode has yet done for me–was the way the Ostler kidnapping story played out, with Olivia flukishly spotting a red castle across the street from the boy's house and then rushing in and tussling with Joanne, like something out of dozens of mediocre cop shows.

Far more interesting to me was Walter's efforts to reconnect with Dashiell Kim, which required him to be readmitted to his old asylum, since Kim is a 1027–"criminally insane, with knowledge of state secrets." Originally, the idea is for Walter to enter merely as a visitor, but once he arrives, he gets frustrated at Kim's unwillingness to answer his questions, and he freaks out, which leads the asylum's director to hold Walter overnight, claiming, "He has no business being out among the rest of us."

Here's what I found compelling about both the asylum storyline and the "flashing lights" storyline–as well as the twist ending in which it was revealed that Joanne's equation could enable a crazy machine to do crazy things to an apple… all of these elements were ultimately fragments of the same theme, having to do with the power of patterns to govern our lives. A pattern of flashing lights can make Peter cut off his own sleeves. A return to the routine of the asylum can make Walter question his sanity. (And, after conversing with Kim, to ask Peter, pitifully, "Is that what it's like to talk to me?") And a pattern can do crazy things to an apple.

But here's the real question raised by "The Equation:" When Walter is in the asylum, and he's visited by himself, does he imagine that, or are there really two Walters out there? I wouldn't discount the latter possibility. You can do anything, if you have the right numbers.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-Wasn't this, like, the best Fringe Christmas episode ever?

-Dash enjoys the butterscotch pudding that Walter hated.

-Dash also thinks Walter's jokes are hilarious. Here's a sample of one of Walter's jokes: "[These doctors] are more proficient at phrenology than psychopharmacology." Hilarious!

-My 7-year-old son likes to scribble musical notation too. Maybe I should check his work more closely.

-Two odd bits of stage business, one cool, one silly: As Walter heads into the asylum, a guy in a wheelchair rolls right behind him, emphasizing Walter's return to madness. That was cool. And earlier in the show, as Olivia gets the rundown from Broyles, she's carrying a big donut, which she glances at and then places down on some random FBI desk–apparently symbolizing that Anna Torv needs to do something with her hands while she acts.

-Remember this: "Curious minds often converge on the same idea." Either this is the key to Fringe, or an excuse the creators can trot out when they want to shrug off the series' red herrings someday.