Fringe Review – Wallflower

Fringe S4x07 - Olivia and Lincoln meet by chance

In “Wallflower,” the Fall finale of Fringe, the show did what it did best: using sci-fi candy coating to get to the human-drama gooey center.

“Wallflower” saw the Fringe team investigating a series of bizarre murders where the skin and hair of the victims turned white postmortem. Even stranger, is that all of the murders seemed to have been committed by a mysterious, ghost-like, invisible entity. The episode also advanced several sub-plots forward that had before been gestating slowly.

The episode started off in Olivia Dunham’s apartment. It was late at night and a haggard migraine-suffering Olivia was in her bathroom, searching through her medicine cabinet for a bottle of pain pills. She found the bottle, but realized that it was empty. Clearly in pain and needing some relief, Olivia decided to head out into the night to a drugstore near her building to pick up what turned out to be her very last refill (a subtle moment that revealed that Agent Dunham has been getting these migraines for quite a while). After taking a pill right then and there at the pharmacy’s counter, she headed back to her place. On the way back home she passed by diner, where she spotted none other than Agent Lincoln Lee, the newest addition to the Fringe team. Curious about what Lincoln was doing out and about so late, she walked into the diner and joined Agent Lee for coffee.

While chatting with Olivia, Lincoln confessed to her that all of the “weirdness” that he’s had to deal with as a part of the Fringe team was starting to catch up with him, and that it’s been making it hard for him to sleep. Olivia assured him that he would get used to the job eventually, telling that it would just “become a part of [his] life.” This was an interesting scene for two reasons. First, it presented us with a peek underneath Olivia’s stone-faced exterior, where it was clear that her time with the Fringe team is having a greater effect on her than she publicly lets on. Second, it was nice to see the relationship between Olivia and Lincoln developing beyond that of simple colleagues.

Throughout the rest of “Wallflower,” there were small moments that built upon Olivia and Lincoln’s chemistry in the diner and slowly revealed that Agent Lee had begun to develop feelings for Agent Dunham. At one point in the episode, Lincoln went to visit Peter at his house to help him make sense of the blue prints of the “dooms day machine” that he used to bridge the two realities together. Peter had hoped that he could somehow figure out how to use the machine to get back to his own timeline, rather than the one he currently found himself in, where he had died as a boy. During the visit, Peter quickly picked up on Lincoln’s feelings for Olivia, even going so far as to give Agent Lee his blessing to pursue her stating that the Olivia that Lincoln has fallen for “…isn’t [his] Olivia.” Despite this blessing, it seems that the show is setting up Peter and Lincoln as rivals for Olivia’s affection. While some fans of the show are probably frustrated to see Peter and Olivia ripped apart after only just getting together, I think that it would be a nice change of pace to see Olivia and Lincoln together .The relationship between Peter and Olivia is a complicated one, and I like that the writers seem to be making the two of them really earn their relationship.

While Agents Dunham and Lee chat away in the diner, the episode switched to a scene of a well-dressed man walking quickly down a dark alley-way while talking to his wife on his phone. He was telling her that he was almost positive he was being followed, but not to worry because he’d be home soon. Sure enough, the man arrived at home shortly. But as he walked through his front door he was attacked by an invisible entity, and was promptly killed. As he died, his hair and skin turned white. Police arrived on the scene immediately. One of the officers spotted a glimmer of the entity that killed the man, and unloaded his gun at it. The next morning when the Fringe team arrived at the scene of the murder, the officer admitted to Olivia and Lincoln that he didn’t see the entity, but rather “felt” it, intimating its ghost-like nature.

Inter-cut with the scene of the murder, and that of the Fringe team’s investigation the next morning, was a scene of Peter Bishop on a routine shopping trip. What wasn’t so routine about the trip, however, was that he was being escorted by an armed FBI agent. The agent stressed to Peter that he was just protecting him, not holding him prisoner. But when the agent frantically stopped Peter from interacting with a teen in the store who needed help reaching an item on the shelf, the agent confessed that he had been instructed to limit Peter’s interaction with the outside world. Peter didn’t attempt to argue with his “protector,” but it was clear that he was frustrated that “after three years of investigating fringe events [he] never thought [he would] become one” himself. It was good to see that the writers of Fringe are sticking to their guns, and developing Peter’s changed role in the new timeline, rather than immediately reverting back to the old status quo from past seasons.

The main aspect of this episode was the “case of the week” featuring this strange, ghostly entity that was murdering people and leaving sheet-white corpses in its wake. What made this episode one of the more memorable of the season, however, was the way in which this case was used to both push long-term story-arcs forward, and explore the nature of human emotion.  As the episode moved on, we discovered that the entity wasn’t a ghost at all, but a man who as a child was a part of an experiment run by Massive Dynamic. Wanting to know more about the experiments, Agent Dunham goes to Massive Dynamic headquarters to visit Nina Sharp (the acting CEO of the company, and the woman who raised Olivia and her sister when Olivia’s mother passed away). Nina tells Olivia that the boy came to them as an infant, and that he had a rare genetic mutation that made him suitable for an experiment that eventually altered him in a way that made him completely invisible to the naked eye. The boy was never given an official name, and was nicknamed “U-Gene” by the doctors who raised him, as a play on words referencing the experiments they were running on him. Nina claimed that when the laboratory burned to the ground, it was assumed the boy perished in the fire. A body was never found, however, making it clear that “U-Gene” survived, and was committing horrible crimes.

The exploration of human emotion in “Wallflower” came during the scenes featuring the now-grown “U-Gene,” who we learn was committing the crimes to drain the victims of their pigmentation, and use it to make himself visible. As the episode moved forward, we found out that U-Gene has fallen in love with a woman that lives in his apartment building. We see him following her into her apartment while invisible (and giving her quite the fright in the process), and needlessly riding the elevator along with her while visible, so he could he could see her while she was able to see him. He even went so far as to murder a man who he spotted flirting with the woman. It was clear to me that what U-Gene wanted more than anything else was to be seen, to be noticed by others. To be a “Wallflower” no longer. He was clearly psychotic due to growing up, nameless and parent-less, in a laboratory but despite his murderous methods, his intentions come from an emotional place that anyone could relate to. The viewer really came to know and understand U-Gene throughout “Wallflower,” and it was this understanding that gave his actions dramatic weight, and made him more than just a throwaway villain-of-the-week.

Eventually Olivia managed to track U-Gene down to his apartment, and nearly caught him. But when the floor beneath her gave out leaving her stuck in the resulting hole at the waste, U-Gene managed to grab her gun and slip away. But before he did, Olivia tried  to talk him down and convince him to let them help cure him of his disease, warning him that the way he was going about making himself visible would eventually kill him. He told her that he didn’t care, and told her how painful it was growing up invisible, watching everyone around him connect with other people when he could not. U-Gene didn’t just want to be noticed; he wanted to love and to be loved. After finishing his explanation, U-Gene slipped away, leaving Olivia’s gun behind, seemingly indicating that he had no intention of harming anyone else.

When next we saw U-Gene he was once again on the elevator, waiting to see the woman that he’s fallen in love with. To his surprise, when she stepped onto the elevator she didn’t ignore him, as she had before. Instead she smiled, and chatted with him, saying that she was glad he’d “made it” onto the elevator that day, as she had missed him the last few times when he had not been around to ride with her like usual. She flashed him another big smile and told him that her name was Julie. U-Gene, a look of stunned, happy surprise plastered onto his face, responded simply, “I’m Eugene.” At that point the elevator had arrived on her floor and after giving him one last smile, she exited. Alone in the elevator car, a small but powerful smile formed on Eugene’s face. Finally, he had connected with another human being. As the doors to the elevator closed, Eugene slowly slumped to the floor and, the smile still etched on his face, faded away for the last time, and died. It was a scene that was both touching, and heartbreaking; despite the fact that I had watched this man commit horrible crimes throughout the entire episode, I couldn’t help but feel happy that he had finally gotten his life-long wish for a connection to another person.

At this point in “Wallflower,” Olivia once again goes to see Nina Sharp, the acting CEO of Massive Dynamic (and, in this new timeline, the woman who raised Olivia and her sister after their mother passed away). “Wallflower” used this piece of information as a chance for some interesting character development. Olivia, who herself spent time as a child being experimented on by Walter, immediately identified with this man. She was disgusted at Nina for allowing an infant to be raised in a laboratory. Before leaving Massive Dynamic to attempt to catch “U-Gene,” Olivia told Nina that she doesn’t seem to feel any emotions regarding her bizarre line of work, and then asked if something about Walter’s experiments could have altered her brain chemistry in some way that dulled her emotions. Nina dismissed Agent Dunham’s concerns, telling her not to worry and that she was perfectly normal. She at first seemed visibly shaken by the question, however, which led me to believe that perhaps there was something that Nina was keeping secret from Olivia.

As the episode came to an end, we see the team gathered back together at Fringe headquarters, where we saw Peter approach Lincoln to give him a small gift. After Peter left Lincoln alone and headed off to do more work on figuring out the machine, Agent was then approached by Olivia. At first, she idly chatted with him about their job, but then smiled, and told him that he just might see her again at the diner later that night. Time moved forward, and we saw Lincoln waiting for Olivia at the diner, and that the gift Peter gave to Lincoln was a new pair of glasses that he was wearing, presumably to impress Olivia, once again indicating that he was perfectly fine with him pursing her. As Agent Lee waited, the scene cut to Olivia nervously getting ready in her apartment, getting her hair ready and trying on different pairs of shoes.

Just as she was about to finish getting ready, however, small canisters roll into apartment through the crack underneath her door. A thick gas pours out of the canisters, filling the room immediately and causing Olivia to fall unconscious. Then, two uniformed men burst through her door and inject her with an unknown liquid in a syringe. The man looks to someone off screen saying that Olivia will “have a hell of a headache” upon waking up. Then the view of the screen shifted, and we found that the off-screen figure was none other than Nina Sharp herself.  As the episode ended, I was reminded again of Nina’s passively concerned reaction to Olivia’s questioning of the experiments on her as a child. This scene, more than anything else, makes me believe that Massive Dynamic continued the Walter’s cortexiphan trials, as they’ve done with so many of his other experiments, and taken it to dangerous heights.

Overall, “Wallflower” was a strong episode, and definitely a memorable one. While this episode was never intended to serve as the fall finale of the show, it still worked as one. Despite the fact that it was more of a “case of the week” type of episode rather than the big, plot-twist-filled extravaganza that finale episodes usually are, it was a powerful one nonetheless. The main antagonist was humanized, making his actions seem important, and underneath this crimes was a motive that anyone could relate to. This made him into a true character, rather than just the villain of the week. And of course there was the ending cliffhanger, revealing that Nina Sharp is up to no good.

There were a lot of interesting things revealed during the first half of season four, and there is a lot for viewers to chew on until the show returns on January 13th. For one, Peter Bishop’s deletion from the timeline caused a ripple effect that changed a lot of things about the show that viewers were familiar with. Without Peter to anchor him into life outside of the mental institution Walter’s psychosis became more pronounced. And with the death of the alternate version of Peter placed directly onto his shoulders, he became emotionally crippled from his guilt surrounding the incident. The ripples also affected Olivia, who ran away from Walter’s cortexiphan trials as she did originally, but never returned without a young Peter Bishop to befriend her, and lure her back. This caused a chain reaction of events that led to 10-year-old Agent Dunham killing her stepfather in self-defense a short time later. Thus, when Olivia’s mother passed a few years later, she was taken in by Nina Sharp instead of entering into the foster-care system. And because Peter Bishop died in this timeline, the observers never revealed themselves to the Fringe team as they had no adult-peter to “observe.” As a result, none of the main characters have ever heard of them before. Most important of all: none of the characters remember Peter, and have no memories from the previous timeline where they all knew him.

It will definitely be interesting to see where Fringe takes all of these plot-lines, and while some fans have expressed concern over the direction of season four, I’ve loved every bit of it, and can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next!

Fringe returns on Friday January 13th at 9/8c with the episode titled “Back to Where You’ve Never Been,” on Fox. The last five episodes of season four can be viewed on fox.com/fringe while new episodes will be made available at the same site, eight days after their initial air-date.

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