Monday, April 1, 2013

Fringe S1 Ep10: Safe

"Be patient with him.  His mind works in a different way."
-Agent Olivia Dunham on Walter Bishop to Charlie Francis-

We reach the midway point as we continue mining and digging deep into the world of Fringe.  Every effort is being made to plumb the depths of Season One and get a deeper understanding of what is in play here.  We've discovered not only is the mythology of Fringe dabbling in Fringe science, but it's also dealing with fringe technologies, in much the same way Star Trek: The Original Series delved into that wonderfully techie world of possibilities.  Fringe is not only using science and technology as the focus of each story, but its entire mytharc appears to be using it as a foundation for the story of a fringe universe itself.  Each new bit and piece of information is assembling into a pastiche, patchwork or pattern for something much grander and beyond our reality.  It's slowly coming together but the signs are clearly there for deduction.

Now the irony of the latest episode's title may be that, perhaps, Fringe has indeed played it safe to a degree particularly in establishing itself. It has certainly unabashedly borrowed ideas from the classics to more contemporary pop culture phenomenons and promises to do more of the same into the future but with its own unique Fringe stamp allowing viewers to be less aware of the homage or tributes within its stories. But then again, could these earlier story components, particularly the epilogue stories (Episodes 12-6) take on greater resonance as the series progresses allowing viewers to see them in an entirely different light as new information is provided?  That Observer never misses a moment.

I recently purchased one of the, generally-speaking, excellent compendium books by Benbella called Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, And Mad Scientists.  Now, I have not read the book.  I don't dare do it just yet, because the book delves into Season Two and Three of the series as well. So I have to be very careful.  Cautiously, I did give it a quick perusal so as not to catch any Season Two or Season Three spoilers, but there is an article that caught my attention by Paul Levinson called The Return Of 1950s Science Fiction In Fringe.  This aspect of the series has indeed captured my attention as I noted in Fringe, Season One, Episode 4, The Arrival.  It will no doubt continue to make additional nods to the era as well as sci-fi from the 1960s (Star Trek: The Original Series) and the 1970s (Altered States).  There has been some attention given here and elsewhere to the close resemblance of Fringe to a series like culturally influential The X-Files particularly in the early going, but with the arrival of Fringe, Season One, Episode 10, Safe, the series continues to compound and hone its own ideas, conventions and concepts into genre conventions and play them as anything but safe delivering a thrilling heist-styled, sci-fi thrill ride.  When Fringe delivers its own unique brand of science fiction it is notably impressive and we tend to forget the idea that this series is mimicking anything.  Episodes like Episode 4, The Arrival, Episode 7, In Which We Meet Mr. Jones and Episode 9, The Dreamscape were doubly impressive in this way.  Safe continues moving the needle of the series in that much more aggressive and original direction.

But the truth is anyone who thinks I might be picking on Fringe should know that I see it more as a form of flattery that the series has tipped its cap to a host of sci-fi classics than derivation.  I'm certainly not the only one who has noticed these aspects of the series and there is certainly more to come.  But in these efforts to mine old ideas within the Fringe universe, the series is developing its own original creation.

One quote from editor Kevin R. Grazier, from the aforementioned book, sees the series in much the same way as we've been recording here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic.  He sees Fringe as homage.  "There is a saying in Hollywood, 'Steal from the best.'  Now the implementation of this is neither as cavalier nor as high-handed as perhaps it initially sounds: if you take a novel idea in another production that works particularly well, repackage the idea with your own unique spin, your creation should fare well" (p.37).  Certainly this is a tried and true approach to film and television that spans the decades from Space:1999 (1975-1977) to Stargate Universe (2009-2011).  Fringe is no exception and is not the only violator.  Grazier added, "Clearly the creators of Fringe excel at this.  Many of the sci-fi situations in Fringe have been done (sometimes done to death) previously, but the creators of the series excel at recycling," and recycle Fringe does and does often.  That's no slight of the series, because as it goes deeper into its mytharc Fringe is far less obvious about it, more refined, smarter and finds its own identity amidst conventions.

Fans who have visited here have noted the Fringe "spin."  I've been writing about it since the beginning. Grazier puts it nicely in context within that simple quote prefacing the aforementioned article from the book Fringe Science, but without reading it and without getting ahead of myself, I can assure you the comparisons and the contrasts will no doubt continue based on the evidence of Season One where the recycling is simply more apparent.  The key is embracing the geek connections and having fun with it and watching Fringe break some of those conventions and do something fresh with it.  As it goes deeper into the series it's clear Fringe does move into riskier waters.  It gets more and more dangerous with each passing episode.  Safe is a strong example of its convincing mytharc.

FBI Agent Mitchell Loeb, an alleged friend to Phillip Broyles, returns following his assassination of the extremely hot Joanne Ostler in Fringe, Season One, Episode 8, The Equation.  Loeb obtained the mathematical formula required for penetrating solid matter following the abduction of Ben Stockton.  Loeb purports to be a potential head of the hydra organization that is ZFT, a terror group.  He is on to his third bank heist with his target in Philadelphia.

A group of men implement equipment to enter the interior wall of the Philadelphia Mutual Savings Bank.  The specific bank box number is extracted from within the safe.  The oscillation or vibration of the wall works on a timer suggesting the equipment has not yet been a perfected science. They have minutes to complete the extraction of their target safe deposit box 610.  A cable is harpooned through the wall to help pull themselves through because they cannot simply walk through the wall. Everyone escapes but in the final seconds, one man, a former marine, is locked and lodged within the solid wall.  Loeb simply eliminates the man with a shot to the head at point blank range.   It does not appear to be a clean plan with far too much identifiable evidence left behind, but Loeb is comfortable departing without requiring the removal of the head or fingers from identification. The loose end is apparently not a concern. But then neither was Joanne Ostler.

Welcome to the wonderfully unsafe world of Fringe, Season One, Episode 10, Safe.  The sci-fi thriller enjoys the kind of thrills that accompanied a film like Spike Lee's Inside Man (2006).  As television goes I enjoyed it that much.

The Fringe unit arrives in Philadelphia and Agent Olivia Dunham is clearly struck by the appearance of the man inside the wall.  She knows him.  He is a former marine. They both served in the Marines.  We learn more abut Dunham's military background and the fact she fancies herself a bit of a loner with only her sister as her best friend. Dunham recognizes the man as Raul Lugo, a former military unit friend.  She recalls that he is married and she even spent time at a dinner at his home in New Jersey.  The body is removed and gruesomely severed in parts and brought back for Walter to dissect.  It is revealed banks have been hit in Cleveland and Baltimore.

Meanwhile, the Bishops, Walter and Peter, visit a hardware store to acquire a blade for cutting "human tissue."  Peter tells the clerk not to contact the authorities.  Peter and Walter spend an interesting family moment together as Walter suggests Peter has not done enough with his life.  Peter sharply retorts that he has no right to comment nor does he know what he's been doing for the last many years since Walter's institutionalization.  Darin Morgan makes an appearance in the first season of Fringe.

In Wissenschaft, Germany, David Robert Jones, whom we first met Episode 7, In Which We Meet Mr. Jones, is informed Philadelphia was a success by his lawyer Mr. Salman Kohl.  He requests Kohl wire 100,000 dollars to Loeb and acquire certain items for their next meeting.

Dunham visits Susan, Raul's wife, from whom he was divorced two years ago.  Dunham tells her they have met before in her home and even recalls the layout of the home.  Susan is insistent she has never met Dunham and that she has never been to her home.  Only John Scott had been the night of her recollection.  Dunham is confusing Scott's memories with her own.

Loeb is able to peer into the stolen box but refuses to allow the others to see what he sees.  Meanwhile, Walter and Peter saw off the robber's hand.  Walter is attempting to find some explanation as to how these criminals could understand quantum physics and pass matter through a wall on an atomic level.

At Massive Dynamic, Nina Sharp indicates she needs her people to reconstruct the memories of John Scott.  She is in a race against "highly motivated individuals" alluding to a potential struggle with ZFT.  Scott's body remains in stasis and last scene in Episode 3, The Ghost Network.

Walter applies his efforts to explain the use of vibration to penetrate through solid matter by utilizing uncooked rice, some toys and a vibrating football table.  Now he's talking to me.  Remember vibrating football?  Not exactly precise football.  High frequency vibrations disrupt a solid structure to allow something to pass through.  I love seeing science simplified in this manner.  Short story: When I was in fourth grade I did a report on amoebas and the report was relatively interesting and, of course, fact-based, but then in typical Sci-Fi Fanatic fashion I jumped the shark so to speak and pulled out that green slime that was a popular toy product at the time.  I explained to all of my peers in front of my teacher that amoebas, while microscopic, might feel like the green slime if they were indeed big enough.  My friends loves playing with the slime.  They had a field day and I was a hero for that report, but my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Dolan, was less than impressed by my move toward show and tell. I may have lost some points there. Of course, long before Fringe, I was clearly channeling similar what if -styled science fiction scenarios.  I was geeking out Walter Bishop and Fringe-style long ahead of my time here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic.  Oh well. I tried people. Damn it Jim! I'm a writer of all things science fiction not a scientist.

Walter indicates a feat such is passing through matter is not without consequences.  Radioactivity is a by-product, which would explain the self-applied shots by the likes of Loeb following the heist in Philadelphia.

Dunham gets a lead through Raul's wife regarding a friend in Cambridge, MA.  Olivia and Peter visit his bar applying a nifty example of social engineering and presenting the bartender with a scenario that isn't true to obtain information.  She gets a drop on Raul's VA center where he frequented with post-traumatic stress following the Gulf War.

Elsewhere ZFT is making a move to TF Green Airport, Providence, RI.  Their target is the Fairmont Savings Bank off Westminster Street.  Loeb also has a map of latitude and longitudinal lines of Germany. And Ryan Eastwick is suffering from a form of shaking frenzy or DTs (delirium tremens) following the events of the last heist.  Actually, it's more accurately a form of high-pressure nervous syndrome or high-pressure neurological syndrome.  This is associated with neurological and physiological disorders connected with compression.  You might recall Lt. Hiram Coffey in The Abyss (1989). In Fringe, they tie the shakes directly to radiation poisoning as well.

Dunham and Peter take in a bit of fun at the bar and through cards Dunham reveals the numbers on the safety deposit boxes at the given banks.  Dunham has an uncanny ability to recall numbers and sequencing.  It was a talent suggested in Episode 4, The Arrival and becomes ever more apparent and important in Episode 14, Ability.  Peter realizes the numbers, 233, 377, 610 are numbers also recited by Walter in his sleep.  Walter informs them the numbers are the Fibonacci sequence, whereby the next number is the sum of the two preceding numbers.  It is a well-known mathematical equation.  The numbers are even more significant than that because in Fringe, they are the numbers to safety deposit boxes belonging to genius Walter Bishop. Peter and Olivia help jar his memory.

Walter cannot recall where all of the boxes were placed, why he was protecting them or what exactly is in them.

It is revealed by technicians of Massive Dynamic that in fact the memories of John Scott may in fact be within Agent Dunham's mind.  An image extracted from Scott's optic nerve are of Olivia.  Sharp is informed they may have shared consciousness as noted in the Fringe debut, Pilot.  Plenty of connections are being made throughout Fringe.

Dunham pays a visit to a VA Hospital in Washington D.C. to determine exactly how Raul was recruited by this particular group.  It is there she obtains the names to four patients who had a chess club.  They are Robert Norton, Evan McNeil, Ryan Eastwick and Raul Lugo.

The FBI reaches the target bank, Fairmont Savings Bank on Westminster Street after Walter remembers the fourth.  Safety deposit box 987 is missing.  ZFT exit the sewer mains of Providence underneath the bank coming up on the city street just as the FBI Fringe division of the DHS puts it together and reach out to Providence Police for an exit point.

The getaway van gets away, as getaway vans do, but lose one of their own as Dunham fires a shot and takes down the shaking Eastwick from the escaping vehicle. Later, Loeb makes a call and indicates, "He's coming tonight."

Meanwhile, halfway across the world David Robert Jones, played with devilish delight by Jared Harris (Mad Men), creepily informs his attorney-on-retainer to file appeals, keep his ZFT group informed, and give him the items he requested: suntan lotion, US currency, an analog wrist watch (again playing with the idea of old technology and new), eye drops, pills and Dramamine. Kohl does.  Attorney Salman Kohn is informed to return in the morning, but to also inform his ZFT group to procure one last item - Olivia Dunham herself.

Later, Dunham interrogates Eastwick.  He offers name, rank and serial number.  Watching in the adjacent room through the interrogation window, Peter requests Charlie contact Olivia to let him give the interrogation a shot.  Francis is a little skeptical of Peter.  Peter approaches Eastwick from the perspective of science explaining that the radiation which is causing his hands to tremor is just the beginning.  It's the "walking ghost phase."  Internal bleeding and other issues will follow, but if untreated he will die.  "You violated the laws of physics and mother nature's a bitch."  He tells Peter he doesn't know the man's name.  He was never told.  He was merely a gun-for-hire.  The man is heading to a field in Westford, MA.  He is going to an abandoned air strip called Little Hill Field.  Remember code word Little Hill obtained for David Robert Jones to save a man, Joseph Smith, as Agent Dunham left the cell from Episode 7, In Which We Meet Mr. Jones.  The FBI mobilizes the forces.

Back at the lab in Harvard, Walter recalls that Peter almost died as a child from a rare form of bird flu called Hepea.  Walter was consumed with attempting to save his son.  Only one man had ever successfully cured a case of this flu.  The man's name was Alfred Gross, a Swiss man.  He died in 1936.  Walter designed a device to reach back in time cross and breakthrough the space/time continuum and bring Gross forward in time.  It was the components of this plan that Walter placed in his safety deposit boxes.  Peter is in disbelief.  Walter reveals that his son actually began growing healthy before he could test the device.  It was a miracle.  Walter admits that the science behind it in theory would work.  It could retrieve anyone from anywhere at any time.  But is there something more to Peter's miraculous recovery?  And how exactly did Jones know the locations to all of Walter's technology?

Loeb and his associates triangulate the coordinates and location of Jones in their effort to retrieve him and bring him to Little Hill.

Olivia Dunham nears Little Hill as the Fringe Division approach from different directions separately.  Dunham is surrounded by SUVs and tranquilized and abducted as she attempts to run on foot.

David Robert Jones is visited by attorney Kohl whom he kills.  He then wears the suit he requested Kohl wear upon his next visit, which, of course, was intended for Jones.  With Little Hill set up a ring of light glows and extends skyward.  Jones is coming home and escaping from the prison in Germany.

The plan of Loeb and Jones seems to come together flawlessly as Jones is transported through time and space to Little Field.  Ity goes smoother than setting up a personal computer.  The whole special effects sequence focuses on the idea of teleportation and it is achieved brilliantly as a visual set piece that certainly alludes to ideas first established in Star Trek: The Original Series without really considering that series here.  The application is unique within its context.

Broyles contacts Nina Sharp suggesting she might have something to do with Dunham's disappearance.  She assures "Phillip" she has not absconded with her. It suggests they know and trust one another well.

Loeb greets Jones and offers "nice trip."  Jones must head to a decompression chamber or thus suffer from tremors.  And then it's off to meet with Agent Dunham.

Whew! Safe is an exciting, exhilarating science fiction-styled thrill ride.  It's no joke.  Things are really coming together and many of the fascinating elements of Fringe's mytharc are adding up. Did others agree?

Actor Lance Reddick, who played Phillip Broyles, told The Los Angeles Times, "We found who we were in episode 10, the episode where Olivia got kidnapped... We were trying to hedge our bets and trying to be too many kinds of shows at once. I'm not saying we got rid of the procedural element because each episode still is on a case – a case in terms of the quote-unquote police work — but it's not formulaic, not like the early episodes." Travis Fickett of IGN called the episode "great!" He notes many of the aspects we've covered here regarding the importance of the earlier episodes.  "It capitalized on absolutely every scrap of promise the show has had in its first nine episodes. Tell your friends and neighbors, they're probably going to want to tune in when this returns after the break. Not only that, but this episode heightens and improves every episode that has come before – as now all the pieces are important."  The feeling was almost resoundingly universal echoing io9's thoughts that the installment was "crucial."  Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen nominated Safe as the eighth best entry of the series.

Writer David H. Goodman comes up with a strong entry, the third of six for the man who would move on to become a big part of Once Upon A Time (2011-present).  Director Michael Zinberg (NCIS, Lost) brings solid credentials to Safe from his work in criminal justice television.  I would never have imagined Fringe was heading in this direction just a hand full of episodes ago.  But each new entry makes some connection to older episodes and those stories are beginning to have a much greater purpose.  It's a great plan and one I neither saw coming or would have envisioned.  The well-paced entry has all of the excitement of a heist scenario, but with loads of detail, mythology (linking back to In Which We Meet Mr. Jones and The Equation directly and perhaps even to titles like the vibrating cylinder of The Arrival indirectly) and the intriguing geek bits that complement great science fiction.  I generally start to go into withdrawal without a monster appearance every few episodes on any series (kidding), and yet I'm spellbound.  While the theme of the safe deposit boxes is reflected clearly in the title, as well as the escape of one David Robert Jones, it's relatively clear from this exciting installment that no one on Fringe is safe at all.  It has all of the danger and menace of classics like The X-Files, but is coming up with a new, vibrant, technologically-sophisticated game plan or scheme sure to differentiate itself from its predecessors when it's all said and done.

Safe: A-.
Writer: Jason Cahill, David H. Goodman. Director: Michael Zinberg.
Glyph Code: TRADE.

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