"We're going to help you."
There is a great irony to the title of this one, Power Hungry, as a humble, mild-mannered and socially awkward and misunderstood soul, Joseph Meegar, gets all the power in the world yet is hardly hungry for it and actually fearful of it. This is the case of the electro-magnetic man, Joseph Meegar. A poor soul, Meegar is experimented upon and thus unlocks untapped reservoirs of power capable of harnessing electricity and affecting any variety of electrically-based appliances or mechanisms.
Fringe, Season One, Episode 5, Power Hungry offers a fairly straight forward standalone tale buoyed by a fine performance from Ebon Moss-Bacharach (HBO Series John Adams, Damages) who plays introverted and shy Joseph Meegar with extreme sympathy. The bulk of the story centers on Meegar's plight bolstered on the fringes by mytharc touches like the return of Agent Olivia Dunham's late beau Agent John Scott to her subconsciousness.
To further illustrate the theme of Power Hungry and Meegar's inability to control his impulsive electrical impulses and overall feelings when offended , which in turn heighten his powers (think The Incredible Hulk without transformation), the creators turned to REO Speedwagon for the musical honors as a clever backdrop. The use of REO Speedwagon's classic Billboard number one hit I Can't Fight This Feeling couldn't be more twistedly perfect in application than its use here. Hearing vocalist Kevin Cronin in full on stereo belting out that deliciously sappy song was an employment of pure, unadulterated, genius. Like Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven, that track is one of those songs I can actually tolerate again. I have an additional confession. I once saw REO Speedwagon live. I was more or less dragged along but I must tell you I swear I thought my ears were bleeding and melting off my head. It was that loud. I had a similar experience with Cheap Trick. But when you are young your ears are tender.
And talk about strange happenings -that song actually came on the radio as I was writing the entry. How absolutely bizarre is that? Does that ever happen to you? For example, something on television actually mirrors exactly what you are saying or doing at that very moment. Does that happen? It happens to me. It's all very The Twilight Zone or Fringe.
While on the subject of music, the scoring for Fringe is about as perfect as it comes clearly reminiscent of the scoring power behind Lost, The X-Files and Millennium, once again providing evidence to the quality poured into each and every facet of this series. But you won't find REO Speedwagon on the brilliant Season One soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (Lost), Chris Tilton and Chad Seiter. You'll need to hit iTunes for that one, a best of CD or the original recording Wheels Are Turnin' (1984) which also featured the terrific single One Lonely Night.
The Prologue begins with meek blue-collar worker Joseph Meegar awakening to a brow-beating mother. The two live together but she clearly berates the unmotivated but kindly Meegar out of disappointment.
At work, BiCoastal Parcel, Meegar has an advertisement in his locker, UNLOCK YOUR HIDDEN POTENTIAL. Meegar looks at an image, one of several, of a female captured on his phone. It is a cautionary tale in the age of social media and a red flag that Meegar is a little creepy, but more likely socially awkward and frightened of social confrontation. His supervisor mocks him for having taken the image. Meegar is indeed embarrassed. He shorts his electronic package delivery scanner and heads out manually with paper and pen.
Meegar visits a business in Worcester, MA and a receptionist named Bethany, the girl unknowingly taken images of for Meegar's cell phone. He attempts small talk but is clearly uncomfortable. Her computer crashes. Meegar becomes unintentionally explosive or volatile with anything electrical when under duress or stress of a social nature. The greater the impact on his psyche, the more unpredictable his power becomes. Observing The Observer is never good.
Meegar enters the elevator to leave the building. The Observer gets off as he is leaving - never a good sign. Bethany also gets into the elevator with others. Meegar drops his cell. Uncomfortably, he is revealed to be a bit of a stalker as Bethany sees her image on the cell phone. It is indeed a scene that is filled with alarming discomfort of which Meegar will never have to answer. Anxiety rises further as the elevator begins to rock abnormally. A jolt gives way to a plummet, a stop, an awkward disarming but knowingly defensive Meegar smile well aware that he is the cause of this terrible event. The elevator drops again accelerating and crashes. Everyone dies but Meegar. He runs away from the bloody body count through a car garage sparking alarm systems from every vehicle.
Dunham reveals to Agent Charlie Francis that she is experiencing visions of Agent John Scott, which Francis understandably chalks up to stress. The trauma of her loss might be affecting her.
Agent Phillip Broyles brings the Fringe Division up to speed on the tragic events in Worcester. A similar Fringe event occurred with a train in Tokyo, Japan noting these events are part of the Pattern. The events of the bus incident in The Ghost Network also occurred in Prague. The events surrounding the cylinder in The Arrival also transpired years earlier in 1987. These are not exclusive tragedies but part of a pattern of Fringe activity.
Walter Bishop inspects the site and notes the victims died through electrocution before actually hitting the ground. Dunham's necklace levitates due to the highly-charged magnetic energy field left in the area.
At the Harvard lab, Walter Bishop explains how each person has a unique electro-magnetic signature and efforts to amplify that signature are not out of the realm of possibility. He was involved in experimenting with such an idea during the Cold War and the effort to amplify such a signature for homing pigeons. Additionally, Walter expresses some frustration over his inability to unlock parts of his brain. Meanwhile, Peter Bishop, in a nice bit of continuity, is still showing physical lacerations from the torture he endured by John Mosely in The Arrival.
Back at work, Meegar is clearly an unfortunate man. If he didn't have bad luck he'd have no luck at all. He gets fired and the sheer emotional stress of that firing by his difficult manager sparks an event that sees his manager's arm mutilated inside of a mechanical package sorter. So long and have a nice life.
Later, Broyles tips off Dunham to clinics "off-the-grid" that are essentially experimenting and potentially altering people. A man by the name of Jacob Fischer is wanted for illegal human alterations like trafficking. "In the course of investigating other 'Pattern' cases, we’ve come across a handful of clinics... off-the-grid operations that solicited clients by making the same kinds of claims you see advertised on TV at 3AM... only they weren’t actually providing weight loss, or hair growth".
While working late (a clearly dedicated agent), the power goes out on Dunham. In the darkness and from out of the elevator Dunham encounters Scott again. Scott explains that there is a race between her and Fischer to find Meegar. He also assures her that his love for her was real and that one day he would prove he did not betray her. The sequence seems perfunctory and unimportant at least within the dynamic of the Dunham/ Scott relationship. So it is paid little attention to when it happens other than perhaps the product of a mental game within Dunham - the result of her own questions. Those words from Scott and resolutions to the scene would be revealed and come later in Fringe, Season One, Episode 13, The Transformation. And the resolutions are handled with a degree of complexity and beauty. This arc also continues with some degree of significance in Fringe, Season One, Episode 9, The Dreamscape.
Dunham sees the doors to the elevator close. She runs the stairs to find him and while Scott is no longer there he leads her to further information concerning her case regarding the weight of the elevator from the opening events. An elevator weight sensor reveals someone else was aboard the elevator but survived.
Dunham's analysis as a dogged investigator is confirmed by Walter. He suspects the survivor was saved from the impact by a form of electro-dynamic levitation. The team deduces this individual may not have control of their powers.
A sad chain of events results in the death of Meegar's mother and the failing of her affected pacemaker by Meegar's emotional proximity and pleas for help when he becomes upset and frustrated over the realization that unlocking his hidden potential has become something of a nightmare. People have somehow magnified his electrical impulses. He's hardly more confident, but rather more unstable and more powerful. What is worse is seeing Meegar as a human being making attempts to connect with his grandmother on an emotional level, but not have that outreach reciprocated. It is truly heart-rending to see something like that. Soon thereafter, he is abducted by the Josef Rudolf Mengele-like scientist Jacob Fisher wanted by INTERPOL (The International Criminal Police Organization).
Investigations by the Fringe Division lead to the realization that Joseph Meegar has a unique electromagnetic signature identified by a Walkman, a clever symbolic juxtaposition of inexplicable technology in the hands of a man with no understanding of it. (My family is amused because I still refer to my iPod as a Walkman - I know, so sad.) Enter the homing pigeons plan implemented by genius Walter Bishop imprinted on the pigeons between Tesla coils. When I think of Tesla I think of Tesla Girls (1984), OMD's fusion of dance pop romance and science from the album Junk Culture (1984) written by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. Of course the Tesla coil was invented by Nikola Tesla in 1891. It is an electrical resonant transformer circuit that produces electricity. The experiments have since given way to their use in entertainment. The Boston Museum Of Science has a terrific educational display that implements the concept of the Tesla coil as just one example in a phenomenal lightning display. Thus it is not surprising it is used for entertainment purposes here on Fringe.
Elsewhere experiments commence on Meegar. Fringe enjoys strapping people down in horror fashion. You can point to a host of episodes [The Arrival, Pilot, The Cure] where the victim is in peril strapped to a table or gurney of some kind. The victim is often subject to wires or testing in some measure. It's always good fun. But yes, Fringe enjoys its fair share of table horror.
In the hall the ghost of Scott visits Dunham and kisses her. She protests indicating he made efforts to kill her, but he insists "I wasn't the one."
The pigeons are released and technology allows them to be tracked to Meegar's location. Fisher tells him he is "special." I was reminded of The Arrival when Peter Bishop tells Olivia he has nothing special to offer Walter and the mission, but she tells him, "You are his son." That alone is special indeed. Here, we have Meegar now seemingly alone, misunderstood and without love. He is an incredibly unfortunate soul and there is such empathy for his sympathetic character.
The Fringe team arrives and apprehends Fisher. Following a chaotic and explosive situation Meegar is also subdued. But Meegar is a poor soul, used as a pawn in a much more insidious and powerful game with powerful players. Olivia is sincere in her efforts to express that they need to help him. "We're going to help you." And you believe Agent Dunham's sincerity. She believes in the mission of serving the public good even if some things are beyond her control. As an individual her intentions are noble.
The epilogue moments reveal a nice, intimate exchange between Walter and Olivia over her visions of John Scott. Walter immediately knows Scott comes to her. The link established during the tank sequence of the Pilot allowed for his consciousness and memories to cross over and infect her mind. Will they go away wonders Olivia. Walter wonders if she wants them too. Will she desire to let go? Walter assures her it is the mind cleansing itself of the residual effects. The lingering effects of the tank and the world entered into through the tank certainly echo a clearly intended homage to Altered States  and do so quite brilliantly throughout the series.
In the final minutes, that same consciousness of Scott reaches out to Olivia again, in essence, leading her to aspects of his former mission. She is led to a basement within a furtive location filled with Scott's case files. Fringe certainly has its fair share of deus ex machina moments, but you need to be open to the possibilities and willingly allow the show to take you on this wildly fascinating journey. As it turns out, many of the discovered files are encrypted. Broyles indicates who Scott was working for remains a mystery, but that he was fully aware of The Pattern. Personal affects obtained by Broyles are given to Olivia including an engagement ring inscribed with the word ALWAYS. "You know I loved you... always." Her feelings for Scott run deep, but she is indeed torn on her belief in his character. She is uncertain if she was betrayed, yet wants to believe in him.
In the critics' circle, Bryant L. Griffin of Airlock Alpha opined fairly on Power Hungry. "Though not the show's best hour to date, Power Hungry is still a solid entry. Good directing, writing, and outstanding production values are maintained as the series' norm."
Erin Dougherty of Cinema Blend gave the entry thumbs up while denouncing The Arrival as "that lame silver cylinder episode" an episode that almost "lost me forever," she declared. Wow.
Noel Murray of the A.V. Club felt a sense of ordinariness to the episode. "Despite the added [Freak of the Week] sympathy, Power Hungry promptly peters out, because the level of oddity required for Walter and the Pattern Team to track the Freak down isn't especially high."
Patrick Kevin Day of The Los Angeles Times eloquently captured the experience to date for those who were putting the pieces together, or, if you will, sensing the pattern. "My respect for Fringe grows by the week. Following last episode's introduction of the Observer and the subsequent realization that the character has been with the series from the beginning, we're finally beginning to understand exactly what this Pattern is everyone's talking about." Day, like many of us, "initially fretted that Fringe would never grow beyond a run-of-the-mill X-Files knock-off." Clearly, Fringe was indeed developing its own identity.
Nevertheless, comparisons were still being made. Sarah Stegall of SFScope compared Power Hungry to The X-Files, Season Three, Episode 3, D.P.O., but enjoyed the "atmosphere" and complimented Fringe for "slightly better grounding in actual science." That point is debatable and certainly writer John Kenneth Muir would take issue with such a view. He actually writes, "there is precious little scientific research actually going on here."
Muir places the general plot points of Power Hungry in typically detailed historical perspective pointing to a number of series that employed similar themes. He dubs the latest from Fringe as an episode that "goes blandly where those other series have tread before" with an "underwhelming" Fringe stamp. He too calls the entry a "classic X-Files-styled scenario" with a typical "X-Files archetype" noting "you half-expect to hear Mark Snow's signature theme song." I would agree that Power Hungry falls prey to those comparisons and leaves itself open to that kind of scrutiny. Muir's very valid complaint is that Power Hungry isn't exactly "bold" in processing genre conventions. Muir's biggest complaint is with actress Anna Torv as Dunham and what he feels is a character lacking an emotional reserve. To the contrary, for me, the character needle was moving in the right direction regarding Torv's performance. She was gaining my trust as a viewer. I won't deny the Walter and Peter relationship is indeed the more compelling, but I certainly have no desire to "ditch" Olivia and "re-focus" exclusively on the Bishops. At this point, I was beginning to enjoy the rhythmic back and forth between the trifecta and Dunham was grounding this group.
Muir closed his review with a decree to save the now defunct The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and cancel Fringe. I'm sure there are fans out there pleased it never happened and I'm falling squarely in that camp. That's not to say the former wasn't a legitimate loss. Fringe was indeed looking at a master plan and a grander design that the short-term wasn't necessarily revealing. Thus these early episodes aren't exactly exploding from the screen as Power Hungry might like, but there's enough going on to keep things interesting.
Echoes of Altered States and the poetic juxtapositions of science and technology within the Fringe world continue to collide. There are those working to employ it with righteous goals, while up against others with much more diabolical intent. Power Hungry offers a nice standalone portrait of the overarching thematic elements of Fringe, which continue to stabilize despite a slight step back in story quality here. Following the extraordinary events of The Arrival, Power Hungry seems to mirror the rather ordinary quality of its sympathetic Joseph Meegar. Still, it's a quality entry impeccably assembled with subplot elements that continue to dial up the curiosity factor.
Power Hungry: B-.
Writer: Jason Cahill, Julia Cho. Director: Christopher Misiano.
Glyph Code: SURGG.