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 “Unleashed", which originally aired on April 14th, 2009.
One of the most interesting things about rewatching an old television show is that it presents the opportunity to compare today’s world with the one that existed when the show originally aired. Social media has given outrage culture a seemingly endless chance to complain, but “Unleashed” provides a reminder that people were protesting perceived social injustices long before Twitter and Facebook became part of our daily lives.
The episode starts by dropping us into the middle of an assault on an animal research facility, as four college kids furiously work to free the creatures imprisoned there. While their actions are clearly fueled by good intentions they take things too far when they enter a restricted area of the lab, freeing a monstrous beast that immediately goes on the attack. An alarm is triggered which draws the attention of an unidentified man, who is quickly killed by the monster before it attacks one of the students. His fellow activists to escape in their car, but they don’t make it far before the creature tracks them down, and soon all are dead.
The Fringe team arrives on the scene the morning after, and Olivia notes that while there’s three bodies there are four drink cups in the vehicle. Peter correctly identifies the restaurant as being near the campus of MIT, and it doesn’t take long for Olivia to correctly identify one of the victims and the connection he has with an animal rights group. Meanwhile Walter performs an autopsy on one of the bodies, and it’s clear to the audience that he is more familiar with the still-unseen creature than he is letting on.
A pair of animal control officers answer a panicked call about a monster in the wilderness, and since their conversation makes it clear that they’ve heard claims like this many times before they don’t take it seriously. The monster makes quick work of them, which gives the team a lead that Olivia’s partner Charlie investigates. I haven’t talked much about Charlie in these reviews, but the character is an essential ingredient on the show. Without the strong performance that Kirk Acevedo turns in each week Olivia’s character would lose its balance, Charlie is essential to making sure she doesn’t slip so far into the world of strange science that she loses touch with reality. He keeps Olivia grounded, lending a skeptical voice to a show where most of the characters often lose sight of the boundaries of reality. I’ve always enjoyed Acevedo’s work, not only on Fringe but on both Band of Brothers and HBO’s outstanding Oz as well.
Charlie is attacked by the monster but survives the encounter, and after a trip to the hospital it appears he will be fine. But his safety is an illusion as back at the lab the team finds that one of the corpses from the break-in is full of worms, which Walter correctly identifies as the creature’s larvae. It injected them into the victim by the monster’s stinger, which also stung poor Charlie. An ultrasound reveals that his abdomen is also full of the creature’s offspring, leaving the team with just twenty-four hours to save Charlie’s life. Walter also reveals that he had worked on gene splicing in the past, and that the monster might be one of his many forgotten creations.
Walter attempts to use poison to drive the parasites from Charlie’s body, but after running a test he determines that the cure would also kill the host. While he explores alternative solutions, Olivia visits the lab from the opening sequence to question Dr. Swift, who had previously told her the facility did nothing more than test cosmetics. He cracks under the revelation that his son was one of the monster’s first victims, confessing that he had actively participated in the creation of the murderous creature. His admission of guilt also reveals that the monster is based on the work of another scientist, absolving Walter of the blame he’s been feeling. The team is able to use the records provided by Swift to determine the composition of the creature, it’s a cocktail of snake, tiger, porcupine, and most-importantly a bat.
Walter believes he can cure Charlie if they can capture a sample of the monster’s blood, a tall task given how dangerous we’ve already seen it can be. But he has a plan, informing the team that bats are very protective of their young and that they can use the larvae to draw it out. Olivia figures out that the creature is using the sewers to move around, so she brings Walter and Peter below ground where they attempt to draw it out of hiding. Walter decides to play hero and consumes a toxic substance before giving himself up to the creature, hoping that he can make amends for his past sins regarding genetic experimentation by killing the beast. His plan goes awry when the monster goes after Olivia and his son, forcing Walter to abandon his self sacrifice by shooting it. Back at the lab Charlie is saved using the creature’s blood, putting an end to this chapter of Fringe.
“Unleashed” isn’t a terribly original episode and does nothing to move The Pattern plot along (when was the last time we heard someone ominously mention “The Pattern”?), but is still delivers a solid story. In the past we’ve seen Walter behave almost like a child when forced to confront his rather shady past, so to see him step up and take action to amend for his mistakes was some nice development for the character. We also saw some potential jealousy from Olivia towards the blossoming relationship between her sister Rachel and Peter, so we’ll see where that subplot leads.
Observer Sighting: He makes an appearance on the news broadcast.