Fringe Rewatch – 1.12 The No Brainer

The No Brainer - Fringe Rewatch

Synopsis: Olivia, Walter and Peter are called in to investigate the death of a car salesman who was found in a pool of “goo,” exactly like another man across the country. When Walter discovers that the “goo” is brain matter, the trio tries to figure out how the killer can liquefy human brains. As the deaths pile up, the investigation reveals a common thread linking the victims together in an unthinkable manner. Meanwhile, Olivia is horrified when the case places a loved one in harm’s way.

Below the jump I share my new observations and perspectives, and take a quick look at the unresolved and closed mysteries from “The No Brainer”.

New Observations & Perspectives

Another hard days work for Rach1.) Both Olivia and Rachel remember their childhood together. Nothing too strange in that, except we know that Olivia was once ‘Olive’ who probably spent a great deal of time in William Bell’s clinical trials. I guess the Olive we saw on the tape in “Bad Dreams” was about 5 or 6 years old, so perhaps Rachel was too young, or not even born when Olivia was Cortexiphaned? Either way, it will be interesting to see whether Rachel recalls anything odd about Olivia as a child, or whether Rachel herself is a Cortexiphan kid.

2.) I’m enjoying watching Sanford Harris during these rewatches a lot more than I did the first time around. I was particularly intrigued by his determination to obstruct Olivia’s investigation into the computer virus – which, on the face of it, was a non-pattern event. Knowing what we do about his later arc, I would expect him to be more than happy to let Olivia chase her tail with a dead-end case, instead of digging into the bigger conspiracy-related stuff that is eventually his downfall. In this respect, seeing him scurry around like a squirrel who had lost his stash-o’-nuts was interesting.

On second thoughts, maybe it was about control. Keeping Dunham on a tight leash might have been more important to him and his objectives, regardless of the case she was working on? I guess we know who won this round.

3.) I love how Rachel was more interested in flirting with Peter than she was over the health of her child. When Olivia busts the door down and frantically asks if Ella is OK, you kinda HAVE to listen, Rach.

Then she really makes a push for that mother of the year award by basically saying that she would ask what happened to Ella, but she’s worried that she wont like the answer – UM, if there’s a chance that your child has been hypnotized by a computer programme, shouldn’t you get to the very bottom of it? I guess Olivia got all of the ‘question machine’ genes.

4.) Where Olivia has faith in Walter, Peter only sees potential failure . We saw it in Equation and it was present again in this episode. It was great to see Olivia open Peter’s eyes to the capability of his father. He complains about being a “baby-sitter”, yet he wraps his father up in cotton wool. Thing is, it’s totally understandable. It was warming to see Peter protect his father so fiercely from potential threats to his mental stability before removing his training wheels – it’s been said many times by myself and others, but they really have come a long way.

A quick word on Walter – yet again he showed that he is able to flick the lights on when dealing with matters of the heart. This level of clarity and sensibility is only otherwise seen when he’s pursuing science.

5.) The end scene still holds up. Peter’s line about never really having his father has grown in importance and irony since the January airing of this episode. Olivia’s role in bringing the modern-day Bishop’s together shouldn’t be underplayed – Peter realises that, yet he still took a moment to scope out the younger, more accessible model (it’s all in the mirco-seconds!) – I guess it would have been rude not to. Olivia’s reaction is fantastic – she looks like she’s been hit with a giant feather duster (“blue, not pink!”) – Anna Torv is good at those quizzical, befuddled expressions.

I’m actually surprised that Olivia didn’t see the Peter/Rachel attraction coming! I kept thinking, is Olivia worried that Peter isn’t the right guy for Rachel, or that Rachel isn’t the right girl for Peter? Knowing Rachel as she does, I think it’s mostly the latter.

Unresolved Mysteries

"You use Internet Explorer!"1.) How did Dempsey know what effect his computer virus would have if he had never seen it himself? It’s a bit like an artist painting a master-piece blindfolded. Possible, but an explanation would have been nice.

2.) Why did Walter order the baboon seminal? It doesn’t have anything to do with Gene, does it?

3.) We have a potentially great scene between Walter and ‘mother lab assistant’ but we don’t even get to see it, or hear it mentioned in future episodes (darn you, episodic!). I’d very much like to know what was said. Also, how did she know that Walter was out of the institution? Probably not important, but I do wonder if she’s really on the up and up.

Closed Mysteries

1.) Brian Dempsey targeted people (or their family members) who had wronged him in the past. Ella was targeted because she’s related to Olivia, who was leading the investigation.

Best Performer: Joshua Jackson

Best Moment: Peter looking through the car window – the glass streaked with the reflective quality of rain, upon realising the parallels between Luke Dempsey’s protection of his father and his own desire to shield Walter.

Retrospective Rating: 5.5/10

You can find our original posts for The No Brainer here.

Next Rewatch Episode: The Transformation. This episode can be viewed for free on the Fox Fringe player, or on Hulu (also free) – US restrictions.


  1. Elliot says

    I think it’s more than possible that the program was written (maybe on spec) for Harris, et al.

    I was disappointed in the mildness of the melted brains imagery. And I am no fan of gore. But I do like my medico-sci-fi freakouts freaky.

    I found it irritating that Olivia “has faith in Walter”, and prods Peter with it, when she has no idea how badly Walter treated him. Or more irritating if she did hear from Astrid that he’d attached Peter to car batteries as a kid.
    She goes on about how Peter underestimates him, I would have been furious. “How dare you presume to know what my father is really like, what my homelife was like?”
    I guess they set it up to play against Peter’s fears, but it felt unfair for her to be twitting Peter on his issues with his father when she knows bupkis about it. And rather unlikely for her as a child from an abusive home.

    I did find it gratifying that P&O stormed in and saved the day for Ella, when ol’ Rach was oblivious, pretending to know how to boil water, not even coming when Ella called for her.

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    • says

      Interesting perspective on Olivia’s ‘prodding’. I have to say, I don’t really see it that way – like mlj mentioned, I thought she was being more helpful than presumptuous. I kinda think that sometimes it takes an ‘outside’ party to make people see the bigger picture – I think this was the role Olivia played. Peter certainly seemed to appreciate and understand that by the end of the episode, which IMO, speaks volumes for her intervention.

      That said, it’s good to have another perspective on this, there’s no doubt that Peter initially saw Olivia’s advice as being intrusive.

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  2. mlj102 says

    Wow – I was somewhat surprised to see you rated this episode at 5.5. That’s your lowest rating yet. I mean, I agree that it certainly wasn’t as good as many of the other episodes, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I’m curious as to why you felt it deserved such a low rating.

    And goodness, there sure are some strong, negative opinions towards Rachel out there! As I mentioned in the rewatch for Bound, I haven’t really had a problem with her – but reading these opinions sure are starting to influence my perspective of her! It will be interesting to see what happens with her if they continue to bring her back in Season 2. As for the flirting between Rachel and Peter, I actually always saw it as rather one-sided. I see Rachel flirting with Peter a lot, but I never really picked up on much of a response from Peter. For the most part he just seems polite or friendly, but not in a romantic sort of way.

    Interesting theory about Jessica Warren and how she might be more involved in things than she appears. I can see why one might think that way – it was creepy the way she just stood there ominously – though I imagine that in this case she’s just what she appears to be – a grieving mother. However, I thought it was interesting that the last name they chose for the lab assistant who died is Warren – wasn’t that originally supposed to be Olivia’s last name? I wonder why they decided to change it? Of course, it doesn’t matter why… but for the record, I’m glad they did. Anyway, I liked this storyline. I liked seeing the more sensitive side of Walter as he was comforting Jessica Warren. He can be incredibly ignorant and inappropriate at times, but there are other times when he can be very perceptive and kind. And I thought it was a smart move to show a little follow up of the fire and the lab assistant story. I hope to learn more about the assistant and the events that surrounded her death as I believe that event is actually quite significant.

    Elliot: I have to disagree with your assessment of how Olivia handled the situation with Walter and Peter. For one, I think that the issue is completely different than what you describe. If Olivia was accusing Peter of not caring about Walter, then that would be one thing and you would be right. But if anything his actions only showed how much he cares about Walter, despite all that Walter did to him as a kid. And I don’t think Olivia would dream of suggesting otherwise. And I don’t think she would pretend to understand the things that had gone on when Peter was growing up that caused him to become so distant from Walter. Olivia was merely putting forth the opinion that it was time for Walter to confront his past a little bit, and that he was strong enough to be able to do that. I don’t see that there’s any connection between Peter’s past experience with Walter and the idea of if he’s capable of holding up against the mother of his dead lab assistant. I think Olivia’s had enough experience with Walter and his behavior to be able to judge if he could face that sort of situation. Also, I felt as if Olivia handled the situation very well. To me, she was very respectful when she made the suggestion and when she explained herself. She wasn’t forceful or trying to tell Peter what to do – I think she was just trying to be a good friend and to help Peter to see that maybe there was a better solution to what was going on. It was Peter who got upset and who brought it up the second time and such. And I’m not trying to criticize Peter – his reaction was understandable and his concerns were quite valid. But you have to admit, he is extra cautious about Walter and in some ways, he holds him back because he doesn’t have faith in Walter’s ability to handle various circumstances.

    Other thoughts:

    I liked seeing Peter’s magic tricks again. I don’t know why, I just really like that he has that ability and I think it’s fun when they show him using it.

    Considering that we saw a picture of Greg (the first kid who died) on Harris’ wall in The Road Not Taken, I guess it’s safe to say that Harris is more involved in this case than he appeared to be and that this episode was more of a pattern related one than people initially thought. Perhaps Luke’s dad wasn’t as independent as he seemed – maybe he had invented that program for Harris and had been given permission to test it out or provide a demonstration so that Harris and others would be able to approve or not.

    I liked seeing the way Broyles stood up for Olivia and defended her against Harris. Broyles is a mystery to me and I can’t figure out if he’s one of the “good guys” or if he’s secretly working for the “bad guys.” But it’s moments like that where I think he’s definitely one of the good ones. He was very adamant in the way he stood up for Olivia – he wasn’t going to back down. In general, I like seeing the relationships of trust and loyalty that develop in this show. It’s good to know that the characters have people they can count on and also to see that they’re willing to stand up for each other.

    The final scene really made me think about how random it is that these three completely different individuals all somehow managed to come together when, under any other circumstances, Peter would have nothing to do with his father, Walter would still be at St. Claire’s, and Olivia would be just another FBI agent. It’s neat to see how somehow they are all tied together – connected to each other. And if one of them were to leave, that would break up that bond. If Olivia hadn’t been there, Peter would not have connected with Walter, if Walter wasn’t there, Olivia and Peter never would’ve met, if Peter wasn’t there, Olivia wouldn’t have been able to get to Walter. For some reason I just really like how they brought those three together.

    There were a lot of quotes that stood out to me in this episode. First was at the car dealership when Olivia was questioning the witness and he made some comment and said “Please don’t judge me” and Olivia simply replied, “I’m not judging you.” It’s one of Olivia’s qualities that I really like about her. She’s really very open minded and holds off from judging people until she really has sufficient evidence or experience with them to make a fair judgment. Not just anyone would be able to move beyond judging Walter as absolutely crazy, enough to see that underneath all that, he is brilliant and is still sane enough to help figure things out. But she held off judging him and was willing to give him a chance. She had an open mind which allowed her to see that he could contribute in a beneficial way.

    I also really liked when Peter explained that he had kept the coin he’d won “to remind me never to wager with anything that I couldn’t bear to live without”. That really made me stop and think. It’s an important lesson to learn. Too often people get caught up in what is right in front of them that they want, that in the process of trying to get it, they end up losing everything they had without even realizing it until it’s too late. I think this could be the same with all this advancement in technology. Initially it looks great – you find bigger and better ways of doing all sorts of things. But at what cost? I think in some ways the cost probably turns out to be more than what people had bargained for and that we’re seeing that in some of these stories. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but I just wonder if this lesson is going to be important later on.

    Another comment I really liked was when Olivia and Peter were talking about Walter and Olivia said, “I believe that shielding him from the truth, from what’s real, ultimately does him a disservice.” I think this is another important concept. People think that in shielding people they love from the truth, they’re helping things, when really, they’re hurting. 99% of the time (if not all of the time), the truth is always better. And I think Peter’s going to understand that a lot better when he finds out about his past. It’s the same kind of thing – Walter is trying to shield Peter from the truth, but ultimately it’s doing him a huge disservice.

    Finally, at the end when Peter questions why Luke would defend his father when he knew that he had killed those people, Olivia responds simply, “Because it’s his father. “ This reminded me a lot of the scene back in episode 4 when Peter is this close to leaving and he’s telling Olivia that he doesn’t do anything and that there’s nothing special about him and Olivia says, “You’re his son.” And that turns out to be the one thing Peter can’t argue with. I really like how this show portrays family relationships and how strong they are. Sometimes we do things for family that we wouldn’t dream of doing if it were for anyone else. In Peter’s case, he does things for Walter that he wouldn’t do in any other situation. And that theme is made all the more powerful in that Peter really doesn’t have a great relationship with his father – in fact, in the first part of the season, I think it’s safe to say he hated his father. And yet despite that, even though he desperately wanted to, he couldn’t bring himself to abandon him. And I think that’s part of what confuses Peter so much in Season 1 – he’s never had a good relationship with Walter, yet here he is suddenly reunited with him and he wants to leave and stay at the same time.

    I figured I’d mention a couple other recurring themes that I’ve noticed in the rewatches. The first is horses. We get a lot of references to horses – the equestrian center in The Cure, the horse picture Peter holds up to Roy McComb in the Ghost Network, Ella’s paint-a-pony in this episode, etc. Maybe one of the producers or someone just really likes horses. But, maybe there’s a deeper significance we’ll find out about later… ? The other one is globes. They’re not in every episode, but there are a lot of instances where we see globes, like in Olivia’s apartment or on the desk of the kid in the beginning of this episode. And they tend to appear more frequently in the later episodes. This could be another instance of foreshadowing of there being worlds/realities other than our own.

    Reflections: There were a lot in this episode. When Peter is walking up to the shop to have his friend help with the computer problem, we clearly see his reflection in the door. I really liked that one. Later, there’s a reflection of Ella in the mirror when she goes to get the computer from the desk. And then there’s reflections of both Ella and Olivia in separate instances as they look into the computer monitor. And then there’s the reflection of Peter watching the interrogation. And, while it’s not a reflection, there’s the time where we see Olivia see herself in the security camera when she goes to get Dempsey.

    Favorite moment: I really have a thing for the scenes where we see Olivia in a more casual setting. In this episode, it was when she and Ella were playing Operation at the very beginning. For some reason I just really liked that scene. It was fun and it was good to see Olivia laughing and playing.

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    • FlashWriter says

      Very well said. I think you just went over most of what I was going to say when “I fall back in love with Olivia Dunham.” In this episode, we get to see more of her feminine side, her wise side (I was interested in the fact that she was indisputably right regarding Walter while Peter was just dead wrong.) With Olivia, especially in these latter episodes, we see so many sides to her. In the “You’re judging me…” scene, let’s not forget the very last exchange after the salesman hands her his card and manages to get in something about they have all the latest models….a beat where Olivia quietly studies him: Salesman, “Now your judging me.” Olivia smiles a reply but says nothing as she walks away. Why I liked the way she did that I can’t actually say. It was just…neat. And you know something? Re-thinking this ep and seeing it through your eyes just raised my score 2 whole points. :-)

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    • says

      @mlj: You’re right, it is my lowest rating so far (although there are a couple of others that push it close!). This episode, whilst it has its qualities, has always been my least favourite. The rewatch didn’t help change my opinion on that. I think they wasted an real good opportunity to do something very cool with the computer virus story – I mean, that is potentially one of the coolest themes gone to waste in a ‘dead rubber’ storyline. The character development was OK, but overall I felt that the episode settled for ‘adequate’, when Fringe normally reaches for the stars. :(

      Very nice catch re: the photo of Greg on Harris’ wall – I’ll have to look out for that when I watch 1.19, but I can see the scene now that you mention it. It’s possible that he was just tracking ALL of Olivia’s cases, but I agree, this could point to him specifically having some involvement with Brian Dempsey.

      I agree: re Broyles standing up for Olivia. I do think that he’s one of the ‘good guys’ (I guess this show will eventually boil down to right and wrong/good and bad), but he definitely has fingers in several pies – can’t wait to find out about the man behind the desk!

      Your point about how the 3 of them have come together – totally agree. That’s why I believe that Olivia has a destiny far greater than she could imagine. She’s not in this role by chance – Walter, Bell and others have set her on this path. Which is interesting when contrasted with the idea of ‘roads not taken’.

      Good job on the quotes, that was an especially nice one from Peter. It works on a personal level and on the broader scale of global, perhaps ‘worldly’, sacrifices in the coming war.

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  3. FlashWriter says

    Somewhere in these blogs, I’ve been up front about my willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to “Fringe”. In the first season, they’ve been a master at getting me to do that. Like I said, “If there are a few more laws of physics while I’m watching, well, then, fine.” No problem with that.

    “No Brainer”, however, presents me with a little difficulty along these lines. I posit that a higher percentage of Fringe’s audience is either professionally into computer science in some aspect or knows enough about computers to be dangerous. Which is to say, they know about hard drives and hard drive crashes, they know about downloading files, they know about computer video and viruses. I’m sure that the production staff also knows this—which is why I’m completely perplexed why they weren’t more careful with the computer related material.

    I won’t get into the boring details, but most of the stuff about hard drive platters being blowtorched, and their showing us close-ups of said platters, then plugging in the drives as if they actually expected to get data from them (or any of the platters). I mean, the most “aggressive data retrieval programs”, can’t work if the platters won’t turn and those platters couldn’t turn without tearing the heads right out of their mounts. It was almost laughable and an automatic deduction of 3 points. Another deduction occurs the way Peter handles the drives, I mean the covers were still off, as far as I could see, as he wrapped them up in bubble wrap, stuffed them into a box, then juggled the box on his way out the door. It just goes on and on.

    Then, of course, there is the computer attack on Ella. This sequence bothers me in many ways, but the biggest thing is when Charlie announces that he’s going to call “Computer Forensics”. Well, CF would now have a full copy of the file on Ella’s computer, but nobody ever mentioned they were going to analyze her HD (the only one that had any chance at all of yielding any information). I mean, she had a full and complete copy of the suspect file on that PC and the drive was still intact. Even if the file self-erased, there are “aggressive” means to retrieve that file. The only other question I’ve got is why did the attack stop? I mean, it just aborted with the HD in tact and running. Why?

    Alright, enough about computers already!


    Blue Flashes: Interestingly, there’s one during the teaser when Greg was on the phone viewing his computer screen, a very short one when Olivia and Ella were playing Brain Freeze, and one when Olivia was pulling up to the car dealership. When it comes to these, I’m still in the dark. I have no idea what they actually mean. If we’re to go all the way to “There’s More Than One of Everything” it means crossing alterverse borders. But we’re not doing that in these scenes…are we??

    Music: We had some very cool music in the teaser scene, then when Olivia and Ella were playing the Brain Freeze game (interesting name, n’est pas?), and when Peter was entering the computer shop to talk to Akim (well, however you spell it!) was reminiscent of “Power Hungry”—no deep comment, just thought I’d mention it.

    It was great to see Walter in the morning in the lab talking about Darwin’s thinking being “un-evolved”. How excited he got when he heard that a body was on the way. I think that Walter actually gets high on the unknown, on mysteries. He’s come up with a few great lines throughout the season one on that subject. One of his lines in this episode, though, I couldn’t understand. It goes something like…”like a grab bag full of [something-or-other]”. Any thoughts? ” :-)

    I’m interested that Astrid watches Peter so closely. She really picked up on his unease about that letter Peter tossed–enough to fish it out of the trashcan. Frankly, I think Astrid has a very thoroughly hidden crush on Peter (or maybe it isn’t so well hidden, maybe I’m just lousy at picking it up). I could dig Peter and Astrid, although Olivia and Peter would be even better!

    Then there was that conversation that Peter and Olivia had as they crossed the campus: Peter: “Amazing, isn’t it? All these people and they don’t have a clue about how crazy it really is…the world…everything.” This so echoes what Broyles said to Olivia in the pilot. But Olivia’s answer is VERY interesting: Olivia: “If we do our job, they’ll never have to.” What does that sound like? To me (being ex-Air Force) this is the way we all felt. WE WERE SOLDIERS AND WE WERE PROTECTING A WAY OF LIFE. Sure, you can argue that Olivia, being FBI, would have the same philosophy. Note, however, the profound difference in her stance from the pilot. I think that this is a signal that she’s finally getting it and that our girl is becoming a “soldier”.

    One thing that I’m not clear about here was Harris’s relation (if any at all) to Dempsey or Dempsey’s relation (again, if any) with ZFT. I mean SOMEBODY had to pay for all that gear Dempsey was using… Harris seemed to be actively resisting the investigation as if he were protecting Dempsey, but that could have been because he was merely trying to trip up Olivia. I mean, he was against every idea anybody had, the interrogation of Luke Dempsey was definitely engineered by Harris to have Luke do what he did, namely get a lawyer and grind everything to a halt. It was such a great move by Olivia to turn the whole thing into a positive. Charlie, “What about Harris?”, Olivia: “Screw him.” (Teehee, Harris should have figured out from this one instance that Olivia was simply too smart for him. In the end, she outmaneuvered him at every turn…)

    “…Because it’s his FATHER,” Olivia said.

    One of the great aspects of this show is the humanity contained in every script. No matter how fringie the science is, it always comes back to the people. Further, through the incredible writing and the greatest cast I can remember in the last twenty or so years, that humanity comes through that television screen and touches us. Who wasn’t touched by Walter’s reaction to Mrs. Warren? What he did, what he said, the way he said it?

    One final question, why did Peter have to get plotzed to tell Olivia that she was right and that he was sorry? Was it that hard to admit that he could have misread somebody (especially his father)?

    And one last thing I noticed on this rewatch, as Olivia closed the door, I realized the lyric that came up was “… we will make some shelter…” That was just sooo great. (And the street was quiet. The golden lamplight that shown through Olivia’s windows fell peacefully on the wet sidewalk. In this frangible moment the night was safe, and the craziness of the world seemed far, far away.) 7.5/10.

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    • says

      Whilst I agree that some of the computer explanations were pretty weak, I think that the vast majority of viewers wouldn’t even question it..not for a second. Personally these aspects didn’t bother me – I have bigger problems suspending disbelief when ‘puff the magic dragon’ is able to go unnoticed in broad daylight – but I agree, it was a bit lax and details on a show like this should matter.

      I think that the blue lights can serve several purposes – crossing over to another reality is definitely one..observation could be another, as could using the lights to represent ‘changes’ or synchronicity between realities? I’m not sure how far the producers will go with it, but the ‘type’ of blue light might be worth noting – sometimes the strobes are horizontal while on other occasions they’re vertical.

      Walter’s views on Darwin were indeed great – it’s always good when they make real-world references like that.

      I agree, Olivia is becoming a ‘soldier’ of sorts by this stage – but who’s side..who’s way of life will she fight for when the reality hits the fan?

      I think Peter got drunk because he’s not good at admitting he was wrong, and saying ‘thank you’, and realising how much he loves his father all in the same night :)

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