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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 Ghost Network", which originally aired on September 23rd, 2008.
Previously on Fringe: A fatal disease that wipes out an entire flight leads FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham into the strange world of fringe science, where she finds herself teamed up with the father and son duo of Walter and Peter Bishop. Walter, once a renowned scientist that has spent the last seventeen years in a mental hospital, is called out of his forced retirement to solve the bizarre cases the team is assigned. Reluctant son Peter must not only keep his often out of the control father in check, but also deal with his unresolved feelings towards his father.
Whether the comparisons to the X-Files are fair or not, it feels like Fringe always exists in the shadow of the popular show that preceded it. Five years after Fringe went off the air it’s largely a forgotten story while the X-Files has delivered two revival seasons, as well as a pair of feature-length films. And there’s no doubt that Fringe approaches weird science in the same way that X-Files did, perfectly presenting a “mystery of the week” story while also sprinkling in enough hints that something much larger than these individual cases is happening beneath the surface.
“The Ghost Network” sees Fringe begin to hit its stride as both the actors and the characters they portray start to express comfort in the odd world they inhabit. The first two episodes had some interactions that felt forced, particularly the exchanges between the Bishop boys, but here their relationship starts to take on a more natural quality. Season one leans heavily on Walter’s social awkwardness for both comedy and as a fish-out-of-water storytelling device that the audience can relate to, and the diner scene we see early in “The Ghost Network” is the first time one of these moments ring true. Walter’s unfamiliarity with Peter’s cell phone is a funny moment that also serves to remind us just how far technology advances over the span of seventeen years. In a show that is about both the wonders and dangers of gadgets, the scene works on both micro and macro levels.
The case the team tackles in “The Ghost Network” involves a city bus filled with passengers frozen in suspended animation, a result of a chemical attack by an unknown assailant. A seemingly-random civilian named Roy McComb drew a rendition of the tragedy before it actually happened, a fact that is reported to the team by Roy’s priest. After investigating they discover that this isn’t the first catastrophe Roy has been able to predict as his apartment is full of tragic art, including a recreation of the flight we saw in the show’s pilot episode.
Unfortunately for Roy this revelation dooms him to become one of Walter’s test subjects, and it isn’t long before the poor man is strapped to a chair in the team’s Harvard lab. Roy’s willing to cooperate though as he’s desperate to lose what he feels is a precognitive gift from God, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It turns out that Roy submitted himself to some psychological experiments in college that resulted in his ability to tap into a ghost network, which is now being used by terrorists to exchange information about planned attacks. And who would conduct such a dangerous test on college kids? Well none other than a young Walter Bishop, along with his yet-unseen scientific collaborator William Bell. This won’t be the last time Walter’s shady past will come back to haunt him, and John Nobel does a fantastic job of expressing both the character’s remorse and elation on what has proven to be a successful experiment.
The episode concludes with a nice action sequence where Olivia recovers a strange quarter-sized disc from the bad guys, and after she turns it over to the mysterious Broyles he proceeds to pass it on to Massive Dynamic, the tech giant owned by Bell. Three episodes in and we’re starting to see that everyone and everything on Fringe is in some way connected, it’s poetic that the characters keep referencing something called The Pattern given that the show itself is a mosaic that is each new episode adds to.