Television Tourniquet: We Get Freaky with 'Fringe' -- Episode 17!


Fringe Episode 1.17 "Bad Dreams"
Written and Directed by: Akiva Goldsman
Original Airdate: 21 April 2009

In This Episode…

A woman, pushing a stroller through an empty subway, arrives at the platform.  While waiting for the train, her baby unties one of the circus balloons floating on her stroller.  Mom reaches for it, just as the train speeds in.  Someone comes up from behind, pushes her in the path -- it is Olivia.  Olivia wakes up suddenly -- it was just a dream.  She puts it out of her head until the woman's face pops up as "Subway Suicide" on the morning news.

She and Peter head to NYC to check it out.  Not surprisingly, Peter thinks it is all a coincidence; Walter thinks there is some other dimension at play.  His tune changes a bit when Olivia tells him to look for a red balloon floating at the ceiling – and is right.

Back home, Olivia pops large quantities of No-Doze (someone really ought to show her that "very special episode" of Saved By The Bell), but that doesn't help.  She dreams again, this time she is in a restaurant, surrounded by happy couples, until one woman breaks the calm, insists that her husband is cheating on her, and, with a little help from dream-Olivia, stabs her husband in the belly.  Olivia questions the wife, who simply can't explain it.  She and her husband had a wonderful marriage, but she suddenly had this overwhelming fear and anger that he was cheating.  When the restaurant manager is questioned, he describes a blond man with a scar on his cheek as having occupied the booth that Olivia was in in her dream.

The pieces start to fall into place.  The man is Nick Lane, and he can be seen in the subway security video that caught Suicide Mom's death.  He had voluntarily committed himself to a mental hospital twenty years ago, and had recently checked himself out after a lawyer tells him he gained a huge inheritance.  His doctor tells Olivia and Peter that he was "hyper-emotive" and that his moods were contagious.  His file further reveals that he believed he was experimented on as a child, and trained to be a warrior in a multi-dimensional war.  His ramblings sounded straight out of the ZFT.  And worryingly, he was from Jacksonville, Florida – the same place Olivia was born.

She confronts Walter on the possibility that Nick had been dosed with Cotexaphan, the same drug she may or may not have been exposed to as a child.  The drug would test theories that reality was subjective and malleable.    More pieces to the puzzle: Nick could influence people, not with his mind, but with his emotions.  Olivia fearfully admits that she could have been exposed to the drug as well, and Walter surmises that she and Nick had a "special bond" – children in experiments were often paired up, "like in summer camp," so they would be less afraid.  She was seeing and feeling what Nick was seeing and feeling.

Walter puts her in one of his strange contraptions – this time some sort of LED hypnosis thing, not the sensory deprivation tank.  She is describing what she sees, as Nick, in her dreams.  She is on the prowl and heads into a strip club, where her horniness rubs off on a dancer, and they leave together.  But after a roll in the sack, Olivia reports that Nick feels shame and guilt… which rubs off on the stripper… which causes her to slit her own throat.  Walter insists that Olivia remain in her hypnotic state.  She does, just long enough to find out where Nick lives.

SWAT raids Nick's apartment.  He is not there, but they find a Crazy Wall – covered with news clippings, notes, photos, and connected by string.  Reports come in that the cops have found Nick.  He has been walking through the streets of Boston, picking up random passer-bys like a demented Pied Piper.  He leads them to the roof of a building, where they line up in a silent, creepy line, lemmings waiting to jump.

Olivia confronts Nick.  Because of their bond, his moods have no effect on her.  He is relieved to see her and remembers her, even though she doesn't remember him.  He pulls a gun on her, then hands it over and begs her to shoot him, put an end to his misery.  Olivia apologizes, and shoots – in his leg.  Nick collapses, as do his mental captives.  The spell has been broken.


Nick is under hospital lockdown in a medically-induced coma indefinitely.  Walter digs through old research videos until he finds the right one: a surveillance camera showing a small blond child, huddled tight in a corner of a bare cell.  She is scared and angry.  The voice of William Bell can be heard discussing this girl's "treatment" with… Walter Bishop.  This girl named Olive.

Dig It or Bury It?

Wow.  This episode was so dense and action-packed.  When it ended, I literally felt breathless.  There was a lot of  fringe science to follow, but it wasn't difficult.  This episode had more laughs per square inch than any other episode before it.  This was a delightfully Walter-centric episode, darting skillfully between buffoonery and terrifying glimpses at his mad scientist side.  Peter, while visiting Nick's former mental institute, finally started to realize that Walter's insanity was not something he did to Peter, but something that was done to Walter.  One of the best episodes of the season.


When Walter discovers that Olivia and Peter are going to investigate the subway suicide in NYC, he assumes he is going, and immediately starts debating what Broadway show he wants to go see – complete with singing and dancing.  I think he narrowed it down to Pippin and Cats before Peter told him he was staying behind with Astrid (to whom he apologized profusely).  Walter's food obsession o' the week was cinnamon coffee.


The mythology of Fringe feels very much like the mythology of The X-Files – but replace "aliens" with "metaphysical alternate planes of existence."


This one was a doozy.  Boiled down to its most basic elements, Nick Lane's emotions spread like a virus.  If he was happy, people he walked by were happy.  If he was suicidal, anyone nearby would kill themselves.  This doesn't seem too farfetched; more like an exaggeration of how people act normally.  I know when my husband is in a bad mood, it frequently rubs off on me.  This is just taking it to the next level.


Next week we are supposedly going to be told the "biggest secrets of the season," without getting any hint as to what those secrets might be.  So either they have nothing for next episode so they are hyping up something generic, or we are really getting some huge secrets and showing even one second of dialogue or plot would ruin it.