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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 “The Cure", which originally aired on October 21st, 2008.
While the first five episodes of Fringe do a good job of introducing the main characters, there simply hasn’t been enough time to really dig deeply beneath the surface to acquire a good understand of what motivates them. Not only is this because the show’s scientific mysteries have largely dominated each episode, but showing restraint when it comes to fleshing out these characters is also a savvy creative decision. One of the show’s greatest strengths is how it feeds its audience information as if we’re sitting down at a 10-course meal, rather than standing in line at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Olivia Dunham is without question the show’s main protagonist, but outside of her secret affair with fellow agent John Scott we’ve learned little about the woman that isn’t related to her professional career. “The Cure” not only delivers yet another fun and interesting mystery of the week, but it finally takes some time to explore Olivia’s past, giving us some insight into what drives her to succeed.
The main plot opens with an unmarked van tossing a woman out on the street before speeding off, leaving her to wander down the street. She eventually finds her way to a diner where a waiter takes pity on her, serving her a bowl of soup before calling the police for help. The woman is disorientated, unable to remember her name or where’s she’s been recently, and when a cop shows up and begins to question her she soon finds herself in cuffs. At this point she becomes agitated and soon afterwards the other customers began to howl in pain before bleeding from their eyes. The scene ends in dramatic fashion as everyone in the diner has their heads explode, before the mysterious woman suffers the same fate.
The Fringe team arrives on the scene and Walter deduces that the woman was suffering from a rare degenerative disease that is supposed to be incurable, but that she was somehow in remission. Every corpse in the diner is emitting radiation but hers has three times the amount, leading the team to correctly assume that she was the source of whatever it was that killed everyone. Back at his lab Walter runs some experiments that reveal she was given drugs that made her emit microwaves strong enough to kill, someone had turned her into a deadly weapon and then released her as an experiment.
Another woman with the same rare disease goes missing, giving the team their first tangible lead. Olivia visits her husband who denies knowing the missing girl from the diner, but it isn’t long before that is revealed to be a lie. It turns out that the two women chose to partake in an experimental cure ran by a Dr. Patel, but when Olivia questions him he ends up committing suicide after giving her the name David Esterbrook. Esterbrook is a big wig corporate scientist that displays nothing but arrogance when confronted by Olivia, this is a man that believes he can squash this little FBI agent under the heel of his boot and delights in letting her know it. He denies any knowledge of the kidnapped women, which the audience knows is a lie given he’s been in attendance as they’ve been experimented on, but since Olivia has no evidence connecting him to the crimes there’s little she can do.
Peter Bishop steps up by going to Nina Sharp who has no problem helping take down Esterbrook given he works for a rival company of Massive Dynamic, giving him the location of the second missing woman. Olivia leads a team of agents and storms the building, rescuing the woman and apprehending Esterbrook. Despite his threats to ruin her life she confidently marches him out in cuffs in front of the media that she has tipped off.
“The Cure” is the weakest episode of Fringe so far, not necessarily because of its content but due to a sense of redundancy. The show feels like trying to start a car on a cold night, where you have to let it run for twenty minutes before you can drive it anywhere. And I understand why the show runners felt this conservative approach was necessary, when presenting such strange characters and bizarre situations they were likely scared to wade too deeply into their narrative, thinking that a slower pace was needed to not overwhelm the audience. Having experienced the story once already I know that the show will eventually find some traction, but I can see why audiences began to grow weary of it during its original airing. “The Cure” is still a great episode, but with all the references to The Pattern its now time for us to see that come into play.
While the radioactive people mystery is good the real strength of “The Cure” is in the exploration of Olivia’s back story. We learn that she had an abusive stepfather whose behavior eventually grew bad enough that she shot him when she was nine, and since he survived the attack he remains a source of anxiety for her. She hasn’t seen him in decades but he amuses himself by sending her a birthday card each year in what he considers a playful reminder to her that he’s still out there. The episode teases us by having a card not show up in her work mail this year, only to have her come home and find it in her personal mail. While this subplot gets very little airtime it’s effective at explaining why Olivia puts so much emotion into the cases she works on, which is something she considers to be one of her greatest strengths.
Observer Sighting: In the background while Olivia and Esterbrook have drinks.