Thursday, 29 January 2009

FRINGE 1.12 - "The No-Brainer"

Thursday, 29 January 2009
"But you tell me, does this look like a flu you've heard of?
Where people's brains come out of their ears?"
-- Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)

Spoilers. A faltering step, really, but with enough good second tier moments to pull it through some sticky patches. The premise is very good, but the handling of the investigation left a lot to be desired, eventually sputtering to a finale crammed with Fringe clichés. In another excellent cold open, a teenage boy called Gregory Wiles (Jake O'Connor) clicks a "What's That Noise?" pop-up message on his computer, which immediately streams a Ring-like multimedia file -- triggering a Videodrome-style hand to emerge from the monitor and liquefy his brain...

The Fringe Division investigate, as more dead victims are discovered around town with their brains melted out their facial orifices. Olivia (Anna Torv) searches for a connection between the fatalities, realizing that each victim's computer hard-drive was found irrevocably damaged. Peter (Joshua Jackson) uses his underground contacts to extract information from one of the drives, leading them to discover an advanced software program was downloaded by each victim shortly before their death... and Walter (John Noble) believes the program is effectively short-circuiting the brain's electrical pathways.

It's a fine idea for a malicious sci-fi threat, but considering the possibilities in creating a genuinely unsettling riff on computer viruses, the story is let down by a tepid investigation that solves its mystery too easily -- and, to be frank, discovering the virus is the masterwork of a fat middle-aged man (Chris Bauer) with a grudge against the victims was disappointing, easily predicted, and prematurely revealed. That it leads to another climax where lone Olivia wanders around a dim lair with her gun raised, completed a sense of dull repetition. After a dozen episodes, Fringe has amassed a lot of clichés (common to the genre, but also specific to itself), and this episode doesn't escape them.

Where "The No-Brainer" shined was in its subplots and smaller details; Peter is contacted by the mother of the girl who died in the lab accident Walter was sectioned for, and wonders if his dad can deal with that ghost from the past; the humanizing effect of giving Olivia a sister and niece to retreat to after work (who are targeted by the week's villain, natch); the obstructions that Sanford Harris (Michael Gaston) puts in Olivia's way during the case (and the resulting clash between Harris and Lance Reddick's Broyles); and better handling of grossly-underused lab assistant Astrid (Jasika Nicole).

Overall; not the greatest episode, and something of a comedown after the recent highs, but "The No-Brainer" fed a few strands of gold into the loom. A failure to capitalize on a nifty premise was its primary failing, but this was otherwise a half-decent, entertaining instalment. I'm glad they're not leaning as heavily on John Noble's sublimely offbeat performance recently, too. Oh, and does anyone else think Olivia's sister Rachel (Ari Graynor) is going to make a move on Peter, perhaps creating a love-triangle? Is that a good move?

27 January 2009
Fox, 9pm

Writers: David H. Goodman & Brad Caleb Kane
Director: John Polson

Cast: Anna Torv (Olivia), Joshua Jackson (Peter), Lance Reddick (Broyles), Kirk Acevedo (Charlie), Jasika Nicole (Astrid), John Noble (Walter), Chris Bauer (Brian Dempsey), Michael Gaston (Sanford Harris), Ari Graynor (Rachel Dunbar), Mary Beth Peil (Jessica Warren), Noah Fleiss (Luke Dempsey), Gbenga Akinagbe (Akim), Susan Knight (Cynthia Wiles), Lilly Pilyblad (Ella), Mark Lotito (Paul Wiles), Randy Kovitz (Mark), Kelly Kirklyn (Miriam), Mark Elliot Wilson (Salesman) & Jake O'Connor (Gregory Wiles)