pop culture | no politics
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 Dreamscape", which originally aired on November 25th, 2008.
Through Fringe’s first eight episodes the mysterious corporation Massive Dynamic has loomed over the narrative like a monolith, with the events transpiring within the shadow of the technology giant. The show’s writing does a fantastic job of conveying how powerful and important the company is without beating us over the head, mentions of it are often casual and so far there have been few direct links found between the mysteries and the work Massive Dynamic does. And while we know that they gained possession of John Scott’s body which cements their role in Olivia Dunham’s story, we’ve yet to see them take center stage.
That all changes in “The Dreamscape”, where the pre-credit fringe event takes place on Massive Dynamic’s home turf. We’re introduced to Mark Young, a clearly-overworked employee that delivers a high-stress presentation to some stuffy-looking executives. Once he wraps up the show he finds himself joined by a single butterfly, a rather unusual thing to see in the corporate boardroom. Young’s initial wonder quickly turns into anger as the insect takes flight and slices into his flesh, but this rage is short-lived as it morphs into fear when Young discovers that the room’s air conditioning unit is home to an entire swarm of the deadly bugs. He’s instantly overwhelmed and in his panicked state makes the fatal mistake of jumping out the window, where gravity dumps him onto a sedan dozens of floors below.
From here we meet up with Olivia who is getting ready for a girls night out with her sister, only to be interrupted by a call from Broyles regarding the incident at Massive Dynamic. She playfully tries to avoid the call to duty but eventually caves, symbolically wiping her freshly-applied lipstick of her face. We get a sense that the nature of her profession requires her to strip away her femininity, reinforcing the motif that no matter how competent she is Olivia is still a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Work will always come before play for Special Agent Olivia Dunham, and the sequence does a wonderful job of turning up the contrast between her personal and professional lives. We as the audience know that these two sides of her personality are intertwined through the character of John Scott, a fact that will serve as the heartbeat of this episode.
The team arrives on the scene, and Walter is able to deduce that most of the lacerations on Young’s body didn’t come from the broken glass that resulted from him jumping to his death. While he’s analyzing the body Olivia once again sees a vision of John, this time mingling amongst the onlookers. A few episodes ago it was established that the continued presence of her former lover was nothing more than a residual subconscious connection resulting from the mind meld they shared in the pilot episode, but Olivia senses that there’s more to the apparition’s appearance than just a scientific side effect. Her theory receives validation when she receives an email from an account claiming to be John later that evening, which contains an address. She visits the location and discovers dozens of containers, and when she inspects one she discovers it's filled with oversized toads.
The giant amphibians end up in Walter’s hands and he’s able to deduce that they contain a hallucinogen designed to instill fear in the mind of a human being, meaning that Young’s death wasn’t what it appeared to be. This revelation is supported when they visit the deceased man’s home and discover that he had made vacation plans for the following week (LOST fans will note the airline he planned on using), not something a man contemplating suicide would probably do. Olivia also finds the words MONARCH clearly spelled out in Young’s journal, although at this point the words mean nothing to her.
Olivia consults with Walter regarding John Scott’s appearances, and the mad scientist reminds her that part of the dead man’s consciousness remains inside her head. She insists on a return to the sensory deprivation tank where the blending of the two minds originally took place, despite Walter’s recommendation that it’s a bad idea. The fact that the elder Bishop is so adamant against conducting an experiment speaks volumes about both the dangers involved and how much he cares for Olivia. Where Walter was once only interested in science we’re witnessing an increase in empathy from the character, beautifully communicated to the audience by the talented John Noble with the support of Anna Torv.
Inside the tank Olivia once again entered the memories of John Scott, and after seeing herself with him at a restaurant she’s taken to a shady meeting where Mark Young is also in attendance, along with two unidentified individuals. Here she’s forced to witness John murder one of the men, and since Young and John are dead there’s only one person left that can tell the team what exactly is going on. Olivia is able to use these memories to compose a police sketch, and after figuring out that the MONARCH she found in Young’s notebook is actually code for the man’s phone number they’re able to apprehend him. His name is George Morales and he’s injured in the ensuing chase, and while in the hospital reveals that it's none other than Massive Dynamic that is behind not only the events that opened this episode, but that they’re also connected to much of what we’ve seen so far in season one. Morales agrees to reveal everything he knows, as long as Olivia can guarantee his safety from Massive Dynamic.
Olivia confronts Nina Sharp, who is the highest-ranking Massive Dynamic official that we’ve seen so far. All pleasantries are cast aside in this conversation, just as she wiped off her lipstick earlier Olivia has now stripped away the diplomatic nonsense and slices right to the point. Her verbal opponent is initially taken aback by Olivia’s boldness, but Blair Brown’s Sharp proves up to the challenge, also abandoning political speak and easily parrying Olivia’s accusations. The scene is beautifully crosscut with a return visit to Morales’ hospital room, where he frantically calls for a nurse only to be visited by none other than John Scott. This is of course another hallucination caused by the mysterious drug, but that doesn’t prevent Morales’ throat from being opened up right in front of a nurse.
“The Dreamscape” does a fantastic job of not only fleshing out the character of Olivia Dunham, but also of building on the events she experienced in the pilot. It feels very much like a direct sequel to Fringe's opening chapter, not only in her personal story but also through the expanded Massive Dynamic mythology. Olivia has traveled too deeply down the road of this bizarre world full of odd science to ever return to a life of normalcy, a fact driven home when she receives another email from “John” that lets her know that he saw her within the dream she had inside the tank, which Walter has told her is scientifically impossible. There’s clearly something special about this woman and the relationship she had with John Scott, and as the credits roll on “The Dreamscape” we feel an increased sense of momentum for Fringe as the story begins to pick up steam.
Observer Sighting: In the background at Massive Dynamic.