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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 “Power Hungry", which originally aired on October 14th, 2008.
Previously on Fringe: Olivia Dunham continues to work with the father and son team of Walter and Peter Bishop to solve science-based mysteries for the FBI.
At this point Fringe is little more than a well-done “mystery of the week” show with some still-vague references to a conspiracy that will eventually tie everything together, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t focused. It relies on the its interesting characters and the talented actors portraying them to glue everything together, as well the consistent use of structure. Fringe always opens with the week’s scientific anomaly, and “Power Hungry” has a pretty good one. We’re immediately introduced to Joseph Meegar, and it doesn’t take long for us to realize that he’s a loser. He lives with his mother, he sleeps late despite the fact he’s an adult, and works what is likely a low-paying courier job where he’s under the thumb of a boss who clearly hates him. Ebon Moss-Bachrach does a great job of conveying to the audience Meegar’s biggest problem: his total lack of self-confidence.
The camera shows us Meegar’s flip phone which contains photos of a woman that were clearly taken without her permission, and just minutes later we get to meet her as he makes his first delivery of the day. His attempts to court her are painful to watch, as is his reaction when a male coworker asks her out for some after work drinks. Meegar becomes distressed and at the same time the woman’s computer begins to act up, and its obvious to us that the two things are connected.
Meegar panics and enters a crowded elevator where he is joined by his crush, who is desperate to get to the company’s IT department. In addition to all his social awkwardness Meegar is also clumsy, dropping his phone on the ground where the woman picks it up. She of course notices the creeper photos he’s taken of her and is visibly disgusted, causing him to reach a new level of panic. As he tries to explain himself the packed elevator begins to shoot down at full speed, where it crashes into the parking level of the building. Only Meegar exits the elevator alive, and as he runs from the accident site cars begin to honk their horns and flash their lights as he walks by before the opening credits roll.
We rejoin Olivia Dunham where she’s telling her partner Charlie, played by the talented Kirk Acevedo, about how she was visited by her dead lover John Scott the previous evening. Even though Scott didn’t make it out of the pilot episode he’s loomed like a specter over the plot so far. We know that his body ended up in the hands of the mysterious Massive Dynamic, but at this point we don’t know if what Olivia saw was Scott brought back to life or some kind of ghost. We’ll get our answer before the end of the episode.
Olivia and the Bishops arrive at the scene of the opening sequence's tragedy, where Walter uses his big brain to determine that the elevator didn’t actually free fall, but was driven by electromagnetic force into the ground. Making the situation even more bizarre is the revelation that the elevator’s occupants weren’t actually killed by the fall, but were in fact electrocuted. Later on Olivia uses the elevator’s weight limit to determine that a person survived the crash, leading the team to realize that the accident was caused by someone with the ability to control electricity.
Things get worse for Meegar as his out of control powers result in his boss being maimed on the job and his mother’s pacemaker failing, which results in her death. His misery doesn’t end there though as he’s captured by the mysterious Doctor Fischer, the man responsible for making Meegar this way. It turns out Meegar had answered an “improve your self confidence” advertisement years ago, a marketing ploy used by Fischer to attract desperate victims he could experiment on.
Fischer takes Meegar to a facility where he resumes his experimentations on the man, but the mad scientist is unaware that another scientific mind has devised a way to find Meegar. Walter uses a cassette tape pulled from Meegar’s Walkman to isolate the man’s electromagnetic fingerprint, and then “programs” some carrier pigeons to locate him. It’s another delightful blend of real world science and the special brand of fantasy that can only exist on our television screens, and it eventually leads the team to Fischer. The doctor surrenders but Meegar runs, leading Olivia through a parking lot full of vehicles he’s activated with his powers before Peter knocks him out with a crowbar.
The episode closes by giving us the answer to the continued appearance of John Scott as Walter instantly understands what is happening to Olivia. Rather than it being a Scott reanimated by the high-tech science of Massive Dynamics, he’s nothing but a piece of Scott’s leftover consciousness that is stuck in Olivia’s head from when she shared a mind link with him in the show’s pilot. She’s able to use this connection to locate a secret bunker that Scott had been maintaining, which contained more cases relating to The Pattern, as well as an engagement ring he was prepared to give to her.
“Power Hungry” is another fun Fringe episode, although it feels a tad similar to “The Ghost Network” from a few weeks ago in that it uses a past experiment on a subject as a narrative device. I found John Nobel to be particularly enjoyable in this episode as he continues to walk the line between childlike innocence and lunacy, a testament to the actor’s wide range. His interactions with Astrid are quickly becoming the highlight of these episodes, this one introducing Walter’s inability to remember her name which will quickly become a running joke on the show.
One last note about rewatching these shows is how different certain aspects of the now decade-old episodes feel in 2018. Clearly Joseph Meegar is intended to be a sympathetic character in “Power Hungry”, he never asked to be granted control over electricity and never once uses his ability in an intentionally-malicious fashion. All he wanted was a boost in self-confidence, he’s ultimately as much a victim as the people he accidentally hurts throughout his story. But given how prevalent sexual assault awareness has become in today’s society it’s hard to sympathize with him given we’re introduced to him as a borderline stalker, even though that was certainly not the intention of the director and writers. It’s a reminder of just how dramatic society can change in just ten years, I have to believe different creative decisions would’ve been made if “Power Hungry” aired today.
Observer Sighting: Getting out of the elevator right before Meegar boards for the ill-fated ride.