Monday, 10 October 2011

FRINGE, 4.3 – "Alone In The World"

Monday, 10 October 2011
Writer-producer David Fury brings his expertise to this week's Fringe, having joined the show after leaving Fox's Terra Nova over creative issues. Having worked on an enviable number of genre shows (Buffy, Angel, Lost, 24), it's no surprise that Fury delivered a strong episode that managed to include elements of Fringe's mytharc in its themes and, most importantly, combined all the weirdness with solid human emotions. "Alone In The World" may have revolved around the discovery of a killer fungus that mummified two young boys and transformed their rapidly-decomposed bodies into explosive packages of reproductive spores, but it was also about lonely 12-year-old Aaron (Evan Bird)—the sole survived of the fungus they nickname "Gus", and how his solitude had forged a symbiotic connection with the plant life...

This was also quite a funny episode, which is one underused aspect of Fringe that often works beautifully. Of particular note was the moment when Olivia (Anna Torv) assured a nervous Aaron that Walter (John Noble) isn't a doctor to be scared of, seconds before he marched up wearing an big apron and rubber gloves, curtly demanding the boy take off his shirt. Or when Walter insisted to Aaron he has no time to entertain him in his lab, before we cut to the sight of them both slurping homemade milkshakes while wearing tin-foil hats.

The storyline itself reminded me of The Ruins (a brilliant 2008 horror movie concerning sentient plant life in South America), and was very well explored and developed. As I said, the manner in which the withdrawn Aaron connected to the situation with the insidious fungus was unexpected and, while obviously silly, felt plausible enough by this Fringe standards. The sweet relationship between Walter and Aaron was also very touching to watch unfold, as it also confirmed that Walter's own son Peter was drowned after being kidnapped from the alternate universe, and Aaron was something of a temporary replacement for grieving Walter. I hope Aaron isn't forgotten about as the season progresses, if only because Bird was really good in the role and it was fun seeing Walter interact with a child again. (For some reason the writers rarely used Olivia's niece as a playmate for Walter.)

In mytharc terms, beyond the aforesaid confirmation of Peter's fate in this altered timeline, it was explained that Walter gets assessed by a Dr Sumner (William Sadler) as agreed terms of his release from a mental asylum, and Walter's scared witless by the possibility he'll be recommitted because he keeps seeing a stranger in reflective surfaces. As you'd expect, Noble was fantastic in all these scenes, but especially when he was trying to talk to Broyles (Lance Reddick) while failing to ignore the ghostly mutterings from Peter. It's a shame SF is still a genre Emmy voters look down on, because Noble's so brilliant in this role and has turned Walter into a truly complex character—pigheaded, scary, crazy, childlike, compassionate, lonely, obsessive, bitter, mean, brokenhearted... given an episode like this, he can touch on all that with enviable skill. It's a pleasure to watch him work. A shocking scene with Walt giving himself a lobotomy, to stop hallucinating, would have been memorable by itself, but together with Noble's emotional breakdown after Olivia stopped him from hammering a chisel through the corner of his eye... it became something even better.

Overall, "Alone In The World" was a really good example of what Fringe can do when its case-of-the-week stories have a strong theme (loneliness, the salve of parenthood) that echoes into the bigger picture. Throw in some memorable scenes of humour, drama, humanity and grisliness (like the attacking fungus seen through night-vision glasses) and you have an episode that can't go far wrong. I'm already excited to see what else Fury can bring to Fringe, and hoping his influence in the writers' room will have been both strong and positive.


  • As many suggested last week, The Observers were being misleading when they said Peter had been "erased from existence" last season (i.e. the writers realized this idea was completely unworkable, so adjusted things for season 4 over the summer).
  • I wonder if calling the fungus "Gus" was a sly reference to Breaking Bad, as that show's druglord Gus Fring has a surname only one letter away from referencing this show. Or maybe not.
  • David Fury made his debut as a Fringe writer here, but so did director Miguel Sapochnik (best known for box office flop Repo Men and some House episodes).
  • The big reveal here is that Olivia's been dreaming of Peter all these weeks, which proves to Walter that he's not going insane. It's only been three weeks, but it's a relief the show's moving forward with this story now. I'm still not particularly invested in the idea that the timeline changed with Peter's absence, because the character never meant much to me, and it feels like the writers are occasionally straining to make us believe Peter's loss would have impacted these characters in huge ways. I mean, everyone but Walter's only known Peter for a few years, and in the original timeline Walter spent half of Peter's lifetime in total estrangement from him anyway!
written by David Fury · directed by Miguel Sapochnik · 7 October 2011 · Fox