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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 Equation", which originally aired on November 18th, 2008.
Every parent’s worse nightmare is that something might happen to their children, and as “The Equation” begins we immediately feel a sense of dread as young Ben and his father Andrew drive through a cliched dark and stormy night. Fringe drops a hint that this young boy might be more than he seems, as he asks his father to slow the rhythm of the windshield wipers as they are ruining his concentration. Eventually they run across a woman stranded on the side of the road, and when Andrew pops the hood he’s greeted by a hypnotic sequence of green and red lights, and while he never loses consciousness the next thing he knows a tow truck has appeared and both the woman and his son are nowhere to be found.
After the credits we’re transported to Fringe headquarters where Broyles fills the team in on the details of this latest case, revealing that this isn’t the first time such a mysterious disappearance has occurred. In all the previous abductions the victims have been returned in a broken state, whatever has been done to them having driving them insane. These abductees have all been adults and experts in the field of mathematics, making the team question why the unknown predator would break pattern and steal a child this time.
The team visits Andrew and gets their first clue that his son might be special, as the father reveals that after a recent car accident that claimed his mother's life Ben started displaying special powers, including the ability to play the piano at a high level. The father is also able to work with the authorities to compose a sketch of the woman he encountered that night on the road, which happens to match the drawings that the other victims helped provide.
Meanwhile, Walter is busy in his lab trying to recreate the red/green light sequence used to hypnotize Andrew, and of course poor Peter once again serves as his guinea pig. Walter’s scattered brain eventually recalls hearing about this hypnotic technique from Dashiell Kim, a man he encountered at the mental institution his son and Olivia rescued him from in the show’s pilot episode. Kim is one of the survivors of the aformentioned kidnappings, and with few leads to follow the team has little choice but to question him.
We spend some time with the kidnapper and Ben who appears to be reunited with his dead mother, but this is revealed to be a trick as he’s actually strapped into a device designed to inspire him to complete what he sees as a musical composition. In reality the song he’s working on is a complicated mathematical equation that his abductor is desperate to decipher, although we don’t know why. This material is crosscut with Olivia and Charlie figuring out that this woman is likely Joanne Ostler, a neurologist that supposedly died in a car crash over ten years ago.
While Olivia continues to work the case Peter takes his father back to St. Claire’s Mental Hospital to question Kim, where they encounter Walter’s former physician Dr. Sumner. Sumner is hesitant to allow the team access to Kim, but eventually relents under the condition that Walter enters the ward by himself. John Noble does a fantastic job selling Walter’s fear as he passes through security and reenters this world of insanity, his pain matched only by that of Joshua Jackson’s Peter. It’s a nice contrast to the opening sequence where we witness the agony of a father losing his son, here we see the opposite even though at the moment the separation is viewed as a temporary one.
Of course with Walter nothing is ever easy, and after Kim freaks out when Walter pushes him too hard for answers the elder Bishop finds himself sedated and back inside a room at the mental hospital. Sumner bats down any attempt by Peter to extract his father, you can see the hunger in the doctor’s eyes as he has reeled in the catch that so recently got away. That night as Walter drifts off to sleep we see another version of him sitting at the foot of his bed, and while that might seem like nothing significant at this point it is the first breadcrumb on a trail that will lead us to a major revelation in this story that’s unfolding. For all his trouble Walter was only able to get one piece of information out of Kim regarding his kidnapping: that he was held in the dungeon of a red castle.
Peter once again proves useful as he is able to use the FBI database to help them narrow their search grid enough to find where Ben is being held. Olivia happens to find a red building and both her and Charlie soon discover that it is indeed Joanne’s hideout. Olivia finds Ben, and after a quick fight with his kidnapper Olivia finds herself the victim of hypnosis, which allows Joanne to escape with the now-completed equation. But the team doesn't leave empty handed, as Ben is rescued and appears to be in good health.
The episode ends with an interesting coda as Joanna delivers the equation to FBI agent Mitchell Loeb, who immediately gets to work setting up a science experiment involving an apple placed inside a safe. After punching the equation into a computer he uses a high-tech device to plunge his hand through the safe’s wall and extract the apple, letting us know just what all the fuss was about regarding the equation. Joanna receives a bullet to the chest for all her efforts, cluing us into just how ruthless Loeb is. We don’t know who Loeb is working for or what his true motivations are, but his presence is ominous and we know he’ll be making trouble for the Fringe team soon.
Observer Sighting: Standing on the sidewalk while Olivia talks on the phone.