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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the Fringe episode “Inner Child", which originally aired on April 7th, 2009.
While last week’s episode hinted at Fringe going in an entirely new direction, “Inner Child” show us that then show isn’t quite ready to abandon the mystery-of-the-week format that drove the early parts of this season. We’ve seen the show runners exhibit excellent pacing before, and given all that the audience had to digest in “Ability” it makes sense to follow it up with a more bite-sized story for us to nibble on.
The episode opens with a smartly-edited sequence that at first appears to be yet another crazy science experiment, only to be revealed as a demolition crew planting explosives in what they believe is an abandoned building. Just moments before the explosives are to be set off one of the workers insists on returning inside, suddenly convinced that they missed something in their sweep of the structure. He turns out to be correct as a hidden room is discovered beneath the floor, and inside they find what appears to be a young boy, completely devoid of hair.
The child is taken to the hospital where Olivia and the Bishops meet him after being brought onto the case by Broyles. Despite appearing to be in good health the boy is struggling to breath, and Walter suggests that growing up in a sealed room has conditioned his body to demand a lower oxygen supply, and that the open world is actually suffocating him. His theory proves correct and he’s soon breathing fine, but refuses to talk. He quickly displays a connection with Olivia though, and given last week’s revelation regarding Cortexiphan I can’t help but wonder if the psychic connection the two share is a direct result of her childhood exposure to the mysterious drug.
Olivia has her hands full this episode as she not only has to worry about the boy, but also a serial killer that is on the prowl. He calls himself “The Artist” and he’s a demon from her past as he escaped capture three years earlier, and now he’s back and killing again. His pattern is to fax FBI headquarters to announce a new exhibit, before murdering a young woman and putting her body on public display. While this storyline initially felt like it belonged in a Law & Order: SVU episode I quickly grew to appreciate it, not only is it creepy and interesting but it also serves as a reminder that Olivia and her partner Charlie still have non-fringe cases to work on.
The Artist subplot ends up being connected to the child, as while sharing an emotional bond with Olivia he’s able to write the name Sam Gilmore on a sheet of paper. This ends up being one of the victims of the killer, making the team realize that they can use the kid to put an end to The Artists’ madness. The child soon offers up a second clue, this time an address, but even though Charlie and Olivia are on the scene they’re unable to stop the murder of a second victim. The situation gets even more complicated when Eliot Michaels, who claims to be a social worker but turns out to be a CIA operative, demands that the child be handed over to him, an order Broyles doesn’t have the authority to deny. A deal is made where the team retains possession of the child so The Artist can be stopped, an arrangement that is both disturbing and sad to witness as it relegates the boy to little more than an investigative tool.
Walter attempts to read the boy’s thoughts using the same device that we saw in “The Ghost Network”, but his mind proves too complicated to decipher. By this point The Artist has taken a third victim and the situation has turned desperate, but Olivia’s connection with the child comes through again as he scribbles another address for them to investigate. The tip proves successful as Olivia manages to subdue the killer and save the woman he’s taken prisoner. The following morning Michaels shows up to take possession of the child, but Olivia and Broyles tell him the boy disappeared during the night. The truth is that they arranged for him to be adopted to avoid becoming a lab rat, and from there we see him in the back seat of a car where he takes note of an adult Observer he sees on the street. It seems pretty obvious that this kid is himself an Observer, which results in as many questions as it does answers.
Observer Sighting: In perhaps his most-obvious appearance, he's outside the car at the end of the epsiode.