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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 Transformation", which originally aired on February 3rd, 2009.
With twelve episodes under its belt Fringe offers “The Transformation”, an effective episode that both wraps up a lingering subplot while also showing just how far the show has come. It almost feels like a last draft of the content that came before it, a finalized version of similar events but presented with such polish that the audience can’t help but be impressed, even if what happens on screen is a tad more familiar than it should be this deep into the season.
Just like the pilot this episode opens on an airplane where an unnamed man furiously jots notes on a sheet of paper. His words are soon painted crimson as he suffers a nosebleed, and after retreating to the restroom and running some kind of test on himself he begins to panic. He begs the flight attendants to collect as many sedatives as they can in order to knock him out, but they don't listen and view him as nothing more than a potential threat to the flight. And why would they? The man appears crazed and refuses to offer any explanation for his behavior, citing a lack of time as his excuse.
The man returns to the restroom where he locks himself in, and things go from bad to worse as his teeth begin to fall out and spikes burst from his back. The flight attendants’ conversation about how to handle the situation is interrupted by the bathroom door bursting open, and a monstrous creature begins to terrorize the other passengers.
On the other side of the credits we see the plane roll out of control over a soccer field before crashing into a burst of flames. Olivia and the Bishops are called in to investigate after the body of the creature was recovered, and as Charlie shows Olivia the flight manifest she’s able to once again tap into the memories of John Scott to identify the doomed man. His name is Marshall Bowman, and her connection to Scott shows her that he was on his way to meet a man named Daniel HIcks, giving the team their first lead.
Back at the lab Walter gets to work dissecting the monster and discovers a glass disc embedded in its hand. This is yet another connection to a previous episode as a similar disc was the prize everyone was chasing in “The Ghost Network”, where it was also hidden in someone’s hand. Now we know that particular disc ended up in the hands of Massive Dynamics, which all but guarantees we’ll be visiting the tech company before this episode’s final credits roll.
Hicks is brought in for questioning, and while he’s initially uncooperative he changes his tune when he also begins to transform. He points the finger at a man named Conrad, but Olivia and Co. aren’t able to get anything more from him before Walter is forced to administer a sedative to prevent him from changing. Hicks is taken to Walter’s lab where he’s put into a medically-induced coma while Walter attempts to synthesize an antidote.
Olivia does indeed return to Massive Dynamic for the first time in a few episodes, and after applying some pressure to Nina Sharp she’s taken to her former lover’s body. Sharp points out that while John Scott appears to be resting peacefully he’s been dead for weeks, and has been placed in a state of suspended animation in the hopes that he might provide information. It turns out that Scott also had a disc in his hand, and since the information contained on these mysterious pieces of glass begins to degrade when the person dies they were forced to keep John in this vegetative state. Unfortunately the disc fingers John as part of a bioterrorism cell, while also connecting him to Conrad.
Seeking more information on Conrad, as well as some answers regarding the man she once loved, Olivia demands to be put back in the sensory deprivation tank for the third time. This was a particularly eye-rolling moment for me, I get going back to the well once but with all the cool stuff available in this bizarre world another trip inside the tank was a bit redundant. Olivia finds her answers though, as despite Walter’s claim that it’s impossible John once again directly communicates with her. She’s relieved to discover that he was secretly working with both Hicks and Marshall to take down Conrad, and before the connection is severed he tells her to trust any information that Hicks offers.
The team decides to wake Hicks from his coma, hoping that Walter’s antidote will prove successful in preventing him from turning into a monster so he can guide Olivia and Peter through a meetup with one of Conrad’s goons. but Walter’s initial attempt at a cure proves false as halfway through the tense meeting Hicks starts to change, forcing Walter to once again knock him out. This leaves Olivia and Peter to fend for themselves, leading to a tense sequence that was thrilling but too reminiscent of what we saw in “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones” to be truly suspenseful.
Conrad himself makes an appearance and immediately pokes a hole in their cover. He coolly orders his men to execute them both, but Charlie leads the FBI team in to save them at the last minute. I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed in Conrad, I was expecting him to be a more imposing villain, one that might prove to be an antagonist over multiple episodes. For a moment I wondered if it wouldn’t turn out to be none other than David Robert Jones, who has been absent for the past few weeks. But clearly the show has bigger plans for their marquee bad guy, and didn’t want to water-down Jared Harris’ powerful presence by going in that direction.
The episode closes with Walter telling Olivia that her connection with John Scott is quickly fading, which inspires her to request one last swim in the tank so she can say goodbye. Scott confirms that he intended to ask for her hand in marriage, bringing closure to a story thread that has been dangling since the pilot episode. The John/Olivia subplot has been a strange one, it’s been referenced enough times that we have to acknowledge its importance but it’s also been absent from many episodes which brings into question just how much attention we’re supposed to be giving it. I feel like Fringe has been somewhat shackled to their relationship, dragging it along like a lead ball that's preventing the show from reaching full speed. That’s not to imply this story thread is boring or unimportant, just that it was one that had perhaps worn out its welcome. Now that both the audience and Olivia can move past John's ghostly presence we’ll see if Fringe can find some fresh paths to wander down. But no matter where the show goes, no more trips to the deprivation tank please.
Observer Sighting: At the soccer match.