Hello Fringe Fans,
Once again an episode which starts off with a rather gruesome scene – a visibly sick man collapses in an office building and then his veins explode – What Lies Below was something of a stand-alone episode.
It didn’t really further the soldiers-from-an-alternate-world storyline, but there were a lot of great interactions between the characters, and stellar performances by the cast. Often, the stand alone episodes feature a “monster of the week”, so to speak, but this time the focus was on investigating a virus which had the potential to become an uncontrollable epidemic.
In a rather humourous scene before they get called in to deal with their newest case, Walter and Astrid are at a children’s science centre. Walter gets “lost” (he seems to have a penchant for escaping Astrid’s supervision), and Astrid finds him giving a lecture to a group of school-children: he is explaining to them how Magellan’s crew first set out to circumnavigate the globe, and only a handful of crew members returned alive. As per the usual when it comes to Walter, his speech to the children is laden with subtext – he tells them that with any discovery there is always a price, but that hopefully someone benefits from the cost. Unfortunately for Walter, he scares the children so much that the science centre revokes his membership, much to his dismay.
“When you open new doors, there is a price to pay” – Walter
Olivia and Peter are first on the scene of the incident and, in what seems to be an unusually careless decision to me, they go into the building without hazmat suits. I know they don’t always wear them to scenes, but they are not usually the first responders – usually some sort of health personnel have investigated before they arrive. When they entered the building, the medical examiner had yet to arrive, and I think it would have been prudent when investigating an incident where an obviously sick man collapsed and died to go in with some sort of protection; especially given that after he died the man’s blood spewed out of him.
While Olivia and Peter are still inside the building and working with the Detective who is working on the case (played by David Richmond-Peck), one of the witnesses – who gave the sick man CPR – tries to exit the building just as Broyles, Astrid, and Walter are approaching. However, Walter recognizes that something is clearly wrong, and insists that Broyles must quarantine the building just as the man “explodes” his blood all over the door and dies. Given that they are dealing with a clearly unknown contagion, and still unsure whether it is borne by air or fluids, the CDC (Centres for Disease Control) is brought in to enforce the quarantine and investigate. Unfortunately for Olivia and Peter, who are still trapped inside the building, the field director for the CDC, an Agent Arnold McFadden (played by Geoff Pierson), seems more interested in ending the situation quickly rather than curing or treating the disease.
Broyles and CDC Agent McFadden
Throughout the course of the investigation, Walter often refers to the virus’ “personality”. And while even he acknowledges that this sounds crazy – given that, by all our definitions, viruses are nowhere near sentient – there are certain symptoms which manifest in infected people which can characterize viruses, lending credence to the idea of them having a “personality”. The example that Walter uses is the rabies virus, which is actually characterized by the fact that it induces severe hydrophobia (fear of water) in infected individuals. So Walter’s assertion that the virus wants to “escape” the confines of the building in which they have it contained is not all that far-fetched. And while it seems odd to consider that a virus might want to escape, it could perhaps be triggering the “flight” response in those infected.
Walter explains that the virus wants to escape; Astrid is still skeptical
While Walter and Astrid are trying to figure out the virus, Peter winds up falling over the first dead guy in the quarantined building and assumes that he is infected. Given this, he searches the man – much to Olivia’s horror – and discovers car keys which lead a CDC team to samples from an exploratory dig on an oil rig which are the source of the virus. The samples are from 10 miles below the surface, and Walter thinks that the virus may be one which wiped out the mammals during the ice age 75 000 years ago, and that since mammals were able to evolve further, something must have cured the virus.
Once he has the better sample of the virus from the drill cores, Walter is able to devise a test to screen for the virus to determine who may be infected within the building and goes inside with Astrid (wearing hazmat suits, of course). Peter, using slight of hand, initially fakes a negative result on his test in an attempt to escape. Olivia, who is not infected, is let out of the building with the rest of the non-infected members, but once they realize that Peter is infected he is kept inside the building. The virus is compelling him to escape.
Peter takes action
By the way, did you see the Observer?
The Observer (in the background)
Olivia, now outside with the CDC, is outraged when she is informed by Agent McFadden that the Army will be coming in to kill the infected individuals. Walter and Astrid, still working on finding a cure within the building, refuse to leave with the other uninfected people. With Astrid’s prompting, Walter realizes that the virus must be susceptible to sulfur as there was a massive volcanic eruption which blanketed the world with sulfuric ash and must have allowed mammals to triumph. However, even knowing the virus’ weakness, the CDC Agent still wants to send in the Army as he believes there is too high a chance of the infected escaping.
Olivia and Broyles devise a plan to pump an anaesthetic gas into the building to knock out the infected and give the CDC time to synthesize a cure. Olivia volunteers to go back into the building to turn on the ventilation so that the gas will disperse, and – after a violent confrontation with Peter – she manages to persevere. The gas is pumped in and the infected are cured, including Peter.
Thoughts and Impressions
As of late we have seen Astrid and Walter’s interactions outside the lab. Indeed, I talked about it in my Fringe review for Johari Window, but this time was one of the first we actually saw them on a “recreational” outing – and at a children’s science centre, for that matter. In a more investigative capacity, Astrid was the one with Walter in the building when they were trying to find a cure for the virus, and was able to talk him down in order to concentrate. Walter was understandably worried about Peter, but Peter is usually the one who is able to calm him down, which posed a bit of a problem. An interesting development in this episode was that during one of Walter’s freak-outs, he told Astrid that he couldn’t let Peter die again. Astrid didn’t comment on the slip immediately, but after the cure was found, she brought it to Walter’s attention and was told, unceremoniously, to leave it alone.
“I can’t let Peter die again. And he’s going to, they all will” – Walter
Something I found rather interesting was that there were a couple moments, particularly when Walter was riled or irate, when he seemed to revert to the Dr. Bishop we “met” when Newton reconnected his missing brain bits in Grey Matters. That is, he seems much colder, more lucid, and more ruthless, almost. When Walter was trying to convince the CDC Agent that he must have samples of the virus to take back to his lab, he seemed more like what I imagine “Dr. Bishop” would have been like before he went crazy. Especially when he told the Agent that he “was Chairman of Biochemistry at Harvard, and [has] little patience for small-minded bureaucrats” – which, naturally, was not well received by said “small minded bureaucrat”.
Agent Broyles, however, managed to smooth things over. Most notably, however, was when he shut down Astrid’s queries at the end of the episode about what he meant when he said that he couldn’t let Peter die again. It comes across mostly in his tone of voice and carriage at the moment, to which I credit the wonderful acting of John Noble (who plays Walter). He also called Astrid “Agent Farnsworth”, which he does not usually do. This obviously raises the question of whether Astrid will be the first to start putting the pieces together that Peter is not from our world; however, I doubt she will reach the correct conclusion given that it is a rather outlandish conclusion to reach on your own without any corroborating evidence besides the fact that Peter evidently died once before.
“Some things are meant to be left alone, Agent Farnsworth” – Walter
Also of note were Walter and Peter’s interactions with one another when Peter was trapped inside the building. We’ve seen how Walter has reacted before when Peter was in danger – for instance, when he was kidnapped by the teenager with mind control abilities – but Walter seemed particularly struck by this recent episode. I wonder if it is because it reminded him too much of when “his” Peter was sick, and died, as a boy.
As usual, there were a couple interesting conversations between Olivia and Peter – these conversations always seem to give us a bit more of a glimpse into the two of them. That is, how good Peter had gotten at reading Olivia, as well as more about Olivia’s character. One such conversations originated when Peter found out that Olivia wasn’t calling her sister Rachel to tell her what was going on with the contagion because she was trying to protect her. Once again this seems to stem from the fact that Olivia has spent most of her life protecting her baby sister. I also think that part of Peter’s confusion originates in the fact that for the last many years of his life, he has been something of a nomad, never really getting close to anyone or letting anyone get close enough to him to get to know him properly. And so now that he’s found a rather dysfunctional little family, he’s trying his best to care for all of them.
“I thought that was the point of having people who care about you in your life: to have someone to talk to when you’re scared” – Peter
And while we’ve seen Olivia worry about Peter before, in this episode we saw how much she was also willing to risk to save him. She’s been willing to put her life on the line for people before: notably, her investigation in attempting to cure John Scott when we first “met” her, and an occasion when Charlie was infected with monster larvae. However, this is really the first time that we saw how much Peter has come to mean to her as well. For example, when she volunteered to go back into the infected building to turn on the air supply so that they could gas the infected people and knock them out long enough to synthesize a cure.
This is also the first time we saw Peter and Olivia in any sort of physical confrontation, and it actually surprised me a bit that Peter beat Olivia. However, I think Olivia was hampered by the fact that she didn’t want to hurt Peter, given that it was the virus which was causing his behaviour. Obviously, she wasn’t about to shoot him. After they managed to cure Peter, there was a rather emotional moment, between the whole team, when Peter thanked them – Olivia in particular – and apologized.
I also liked seeing Broyles go toe to toe with another government agent: he continued trying to get his team enough time to try and save everyone. Even though he always tries to protect his people, and is always warning Olivia to be careful, this was the first time he has categorically stated how much the team of Fringe Division has come to mean to him – all of them, not just Olivia, it seems.
“There are people in there who are like family to me!” – Broyles
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, thanks, in no small part, to the phenomenal performances (as usual) by the cast. I love how they can all say so much between characters with just a look. But I also found the science – given what knowledge I have of biology and biochemistry – to be sound and relatively believable.
For example, Walter’s conclusion that the virus may be susceptible to sulfur, as well as the fact that the planned “cure” involved the use of neuraminidase inhibitors combined with a sulfur base. I particularly liked that, even in the midst of an episode rather fraught with emotions, we still get the typically-Walter moments which never fail to make me laugh.
“Take me to your centrifuge!” – Walter
Thanks for reading and visiting Wormholeriders News Agency!