My Take On “Bad Dreams”: A Fringe Episode Review

1.17 "Bad Dreams" Review by FringeBlogger Green

The writers really dragged me into this week’s installment of Fringe, right from the get go. The song Nellie the Elephant was sickeningly sweet and gave me a horrible feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, in a matter of seconds. Especially after seeing the poor little girl in the stroller and the balloons tied to the back.

In the beginning of the episode, Olivia has a mysterious dream, in which she kills a young woman by pushing her in front of a subway car, while she was reaching for a red balloon that had come untied from the little girl’s stroller. She wakes up to see that her dream has come true, and the woman is dead after an apparent “suicide.”

I had a really difficult time wrapping my head around this one, folks. I asked myself many questions throughout the course of ‘Bad Dreams.’ First off, why was Olivia having these dreams? Was it a horrible affect from cortexiphan? Olivia confronts her team at the lab about her nightmare. Peter completely dismisses the idea, while Walter seems quite interested. He calls it, “Murder with the mind.” An interesting way to put it, Walter. Does that mean Olivia is responsible for the murders, or is it possible that she is seeing through the killer’s eyes? As it turns out, mental patient Nick Lane has been contacting Olivia, and she’s been experiencing the murders from his point of view. Or so I thought. Now, I must ask, why Olivia? You guessed it. Coincidentally, Lane has also been treated with cortexiphan. Agent Dunham finds out that Nick Lane was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the same place where she grew up. Really, he hasn’t been killing the people…or…well, it didn’t start out that way. Due to the fact that he was treated with cortexiphan, his emotions were strengthened. In other words, he is hyper emotive, so said Dr. Bishop. It was his emotions, thoughts of suicide, depression, which influenced the ones around him to take their own lives and the lives of others. Involuntary killings, you might say. Not so involuntary anymore.

"Bad Dreams"

I thought that the characters were excellently written and excellently portrayed, Olivia and Walter in particular. The scenes between these two were great and really added to the overall tone of the episode. I loved the scene in the hotel room and the reaction that Olivia had when Walter cupped her cheek. A shudder of recognition, perhaps? Again, Peter was furious with his father, when Walter admitted that his former lab partner, William Bell, and he had been doing drug tests on children with cortexiphan. Is this further insight into what Peter must have gone through as a child? My favorite conversation of the episode was that in the lab, when Olivia explains her dream to Walter, Peter, and Astrid.

“I didn’t even know her.”

“Then why did you kill her?”

But the characterization wasn’t perfect, not at all. I was very disappointed with Peter, during the course of this episode. He seems to be toeing the line between disbelief and open-mindedness. Throughout the episode Peter was back to being a skeptic, turning down Olivia’s fearful pleas, and telling her that her earliest vision was “just a dream.” It was downright annoying, to tell you the truth, this fine line that he continues to walk. Especially when he was so eager to believe that it was indeed Olivia who turned the lights out in Ability. My first thought was that perhaps Peter was just trying to protect Olivia from herself. After all, turning off lights on a switchboard and saving hundreds of lives by stopping a bomb from going off is a good thing. Murdering individuals in your dreams…not so much. It’s possible, even if not very likely. Most likely, his tightrope balancing act is just a flaw in the writing; a discontinuity. That’s my best guess, at least. Finally, I was delightfully surprised by the acting of Nick Lane’s character, portrayed by David Call, who’s made one episode appearances on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Army Wives. All I can say is that he did a wonderful impression of a disturbed mental patient. Very…disturbing, David. Nice work.

"Bad Dreams"

Now, onto the music of the episode. I’m rather musically oriented and tend to pay attention to the songs heard throughout each episode. This week, the song choices did not disappoint! We first heard “Nellie the Elephant” sang by Risa Pear, played by Rebecca Naomi Jones. That woman is definitely a soprano, let me tell you. She hit some pretty high notes, and some a little cringe inducing. The original version of the song wasn’t sang in such a high vocal range, but I’m assuming the change was purposefully done, making the woman sound vulnerable, nervous, and admittedly…a tad irritating, after a while. Nonetheless, it was a good song choice.

Note: The original version of “Nellie the Elephant” was sung by Mandy Miller. You can listen below:

The other song that I’ll mention, heard in this episode, is Lady Gaga’s “Starstruck.” While I’m not normally fond of when shows like Fringe use well known songs, namely Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and “Realize,” sung by Colby Caillet, I didn’t really mind this week’s popular song appearance. It wasn’t recognizable enough to be aggravating to me. I prefer unknown song choices, so that the song isn’t recognized as that particular artist’s song but as “Fringe’s” song. It’s the unfamiliar songs that tend stand out to me because I relate them to the episode, rather than to the famous song artist.

On a side note, the whole way through the episode, I felt like I was watching NBC’s Medium, with Patricia Arquette, which isn’t a bad thing. Medium is a decent show, though I’ve only seen a couple of episodes far and few in between. One big difference between their visions- Arquette’s character, Allison DuBois, talks to dead people in dreams, rather than murdering them.

"Bad Dreams"

I thoroughly enjoyed “Bad Dreams.” It was hard to find fault in much of anything. Except that I thought Peter’s character really needs some work. As much as I love the sarcastic, criminal son, he really needs to make a choice between open minded optimism and his old cynic beliefs. That and apparently Anna Torv forgot how to use contractions.

“Peter, what is happening to me?”

Was it a problem with American pronunciation? Or was it a writing error that just made the moment feel slightly…awkward. Not that I didn’t completely love Olivia accepting Peter’s shoulder to lean on. I’ll confess that my inner Peter/Olivia fangirl was doing back flips over that scene. I’d like to wrap this review up, giving this week’s episode a 9/10. I loved “Bad Dreams,” but was hesitant to give it a 10. Believe me; I’ll know a 10 when I see it. Perhaps the season finale…

Additional Notes:

  • The ending scene really made the episode for me. Oh poor Olive. It seems Olivia and the Bishops are connected more than it has previously appeared. I’ll anxiously look forward to the next episode, waiting to see how Walter acts around grown up Olive, now that he’s made this huge revelation.
  • The glyphs of the episode spelled BELLY. More fitting than PETER last episode and WALTER the one before that, seeing as William Bell was partially introduced in this episode, even if for a short ending scene.
  • Did anyone else see the tattoo on Nick Lane’s arm? Were my eyes deceiving me, or was the tattoo of a pine tree? This doesn’t happen to have to do with the yellow M&M tree and the pine tree mirror charm seem in “Inner Child” does it?
  • Speaking of Nick Lane, was there a “2” etched on the side of his head? Was it branding by William Bell during the tests in Jacksonville? If so, does Olivia have a number shaped scar on her? Then again, perhaps I was just seeing things. I’m beginning to think that more frequently.


  1. Anna says

    I want to believe that Peter’s character discontinuity is due to him being from another world. The ‘this-world’-Peter doesn’t want to believe that strange things could happen and suppresses the memories of his childhood in the other world and the ‘other-world’-Peter inside himself who knows that nearly everything is possible.

    In my world writers don’t make any mistakes and everything they do they do on purpose. 😉

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  2. Elliot says

    I agree Peter’s affect here was weirdly flat. Sometimes it seems the writers put all their focus on one character in an episode and the others are 2-dimensional.

    But what in Peter’s life would make him trusting enough to believe anyone about anything? What he wants to be real (normal family life, for one) and what he has experienced are worlds apart.

    I do see him wanting to only see good about/for Olivia (remember him shutting down her worries for Ella in the No Brainer after he had enabled her to rescue Ella from a danger he knew was all too real). She seems to be the only one to ever be really square with him; she could be the first person the adult Peter will ever trust.

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  3. Page 48 says

    For my money, a well chosen song, whether instantly recognizable or never heard before, can be a brilliant addition to a show.

    JJ’s masterpiece, “Alias” was very adept at injecting the perfect song at key moments in the show.

    The clip below is a perfect example, using the unmistakable voice of Sinead O’Connor and just moments later, a band I’ve never heard of before or since and whose name I can’t ever remember regardless of how many times I look it up.

    I view the reluctance of “Fringe” to employ this type of soundtrack as a shortcoming, as the song itself can provide instant recall of the details of the scene.

    Of course, when it comes to remembering the details of a scene, and the music chosen to accompany it (as with the clip from Truth Be Told, above), it doesn’t hurt to have one of the best 7 minute blocks in TV history. This is the kind of artistry that JJ and company have yet to deliver in “Fringe”, but I remain patient and vigilant.

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  4. says

    Green, excellent review!

    You really made me think about that opening — you’re right, it was a great song worked on many levels, and looking back, it definitely seems as though they intentionally made it irritating to put us all on edge.

    Also, nice “Medium” reference. This episode did have shades of that show.

    I think the pine tree tattoo could well be a reference to the pine tree air-freshener — good spot.

    Some interesting comments in this thread also — I agree that a well chosen song will invariably do the job. There are moments in “Lost” that I remember purely on the basis of a song that suited a scene to perfection.

    Elliot — good point about Peter’s expectations vs what he has experienced. I just think that his relationship with Walter is something different, something more personal. I found it interesting that he admitted that he has been harsh on Walter and his condition. When it comes to having the Observer read your mind (etc), and then disbelieving ‘murder with the mind’ out of hand, like Green, I think the writers have to be careful and eventually make him toe a more specific line.

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  5. neoxer says

    I didn’t have a problem with Peter at all during this episode. I haven’t read too many comments on the episode, but I’m a little surprised at some of the hubbub about Peter.

    Was it really that ‘wrong’ for Peter to think Olivia was just having a bad dream and not actually many miles away killing random people? While her knowledge of some of the details would be suspect, there could be (and were) other explanations, many of which Walter supplied (naturally, as that would be more his territory). Ultimately, Peter was partially right; she wasn’t killing those people.

    I do think part of his insistence on it being only a bad dream was that this was coming from Olivia. If it had been someone else, his reaction may have been different. And I like what Elliot said above about Olivia probably being the first adult who’s ever been level with Peter. Elliot also mentioned (like Walter did in the episode… also makes me wonder if there’s anything in particular Walter told Mrs. Bishop that she didn’t want to believe…) that Peter probably only wants to see the good in Olivia and good things for her (remember in “The Arrival” when he said that he’d stayed til that time b/c wanted to help her and had felt bad about what she went through in the pilot).

    After all he’s seen her do on the behalf of other people (though her methods may have been single-minded at times), he’s not going to (want to) believe she’s somehow able and willing to kill people in her sleep; and as far as he knew, she hadn’t been given Cortexiphan, so they didn’t go off on that thought tangent.

    So to summarize (ha): Though he’s been more inclined to wryly comment on the absurdity of the things they look into rather than flat out disbelieve (he’s not quite Scully! LOL), I could see why he would initially here.

    About Olivia/Anna’s sometimes odd use of contractions (or lack thereof). I’ve noticed that before but the line quoted in the review didn’t bother me. I’m inclined to think in episodes prior, the line coming off odd was due to Anna, BUT I think her American accent’s gotten much, much better, and it seems she’s more comfortable with it. 😀

    And finally, about music in the show, I just wanted to mention that I also loved Alias’s use of songs. How absolutely heartbreaking was it during season one when Sloane told his wife about what he really does? There was a song playing instead of his monologue so we never even heard what he was telling her; the song and their actions told the story. But with Alias, I think the song styles used were more of an obvious choice given the nature of the show and Syd’s character. There isn’t really a song style that screams to me as being “Fringe” or Olivia-like (though I’ve liked how nearly all of the songs have been used so far).

    Hmm, thinking about it a little, the music of the ’50s and ’60s seems oddly appropriate to me. Maybe it’s the scenes we’ve seen that take place in diners, or maybe it’s the somewhat old-fashioned, innocent sound (for lack of a better description) contrasted with the horrors of the Fringe world. 😀

    (wow, this comment turned out longer than I planned, LOL)

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    • says

      Nice post neoxer.

      Whilst I agree that, in isolation, there was nothing ‘wrong’ with Peter thinking that Olivia was just having a bad dream. When we compoud this with the journey that the character has been on this season, it seems a bit odd that he’d be so adament that it would take Walter to remind him that Olivia is his friend and deserves better from him.

      Of course this is only my personal opinion, I’m not speaking for FringeBlogger Green here.

      It is an interesting point though, I can see your POV. I just hope that the creators find a happy medium with Peter because if he’s still so dismissive (in that out of hand manner of his) in season 2 (if we get one), then it’s going to be far more unbelievable for me than the freaky science that we see on the show.

      Nonetheless, very interesting thoughts and perspectives by everyone here!

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  6. Varsity says

    They seemed to have really concentrated on Olivia from the middle of the series. In doing this Peter has really, really been pushed to the side. We have had absolutely no character growth from him at all. He is completely one dimensional at this stage.

    I think it is affecting the show in that the show is just not balanced. Peter’s character is just there all the time and doesn’t seem to be saying much or doing much. I don’t understand why the writers are doing this. I know the audience had a hard time with Torv/Olivia to start off with, but in fleshing out her they’ve severely left the other characters, beside Walter, lacking. I know Olivia is the centre of the show, but this is getting rediculous.

    You have other interesting characters in the show, which are the same/or more interesting than Olivia, but they chose to make it Olivia all the time. They need to flesh Peter out more, and they are just not doing that. It’s no wonder people don’t like his character because he is always the same. The other people are growing around him to the audience, but Peter just isn’t. They even did an episode on Charlie.

    The writers/producers really need to get a clue about this. The actor must be tearing his hair out. I know I would be. While I like Olivia I just find her boring all the time. Give us a more balanced show Fringe producers.

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  7. FlashWriter says

    Just an asside about the contractions. Frankly, I thought that line (What is happening to me?) was completely appropriate for that moment. Here we see someone whose stock and trade rests on interpreting reality trying to keep it together when unreality hits her in the face like a cream cream pie in a Soupy Sales comedy skit. By then I was so into the episode I had to restain myself from reaching out…

    If we want to talk about lines, I sure would like to know what Astrid was answering to Walter in the “Why Did You Murder Her?” scene.

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  8. Elliot says

    I think it’s a fine line they walk, making Peter be the voice of us, the viewers, and his own character as well. We enjoy having someone there saying, WTF???—and yet his character needs also to be part of the show, not just background.

    It seems like there was character development for him that they just abandoned, and I think too that Joshua Jackson must wonder where his lines & scenes went.

    Peter Bishop goes from an integral part, a tough guy surviving in Iraq, to helping subdue villians, finding cures, using outside resources—to sitting passively in the car while someone else drives and being lectured on his father by Olivia who every week gets endowed with another super power.

    I’ve seen shows ruined when a character whose role includes competition with a spouse (IRL) of another actor sees their role minimized –hope that isn’t happening here.

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  9. Bishop Takes Queen says

    I have to agree with the recent sentiments that Peter is being severely underused. I can understand if the writers have big plans for him for another season, but at the same time, you need to build ALL characters in the first season, at least to some degree. I honestly don’t understand Peter’s purpose right now – him being used solely as Walter’s interpreter leaves him with about as much importance as Asteroid. Barring the one time per episode that a hint is dropped about Peter’s origins, he’s (unfortunately) really quite dull. [The whole subplot with Peter/Rachel is also unnecessary – leave that crap for daytime TV.]

    And he sometimes comes off as obnoxious, especially when he constantly has to mention something about his “above-average intellect.” Saying it once was enough. I wish the writers would just drop the feeling that they need to repeatedly use that line, or something like it.

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  10. Bishop Takes Queen says

    Eh, I forgot to make a comment about the music…Fringe introduced me to the amazing band Midlake, after hearing their song “Bandits” at the end of episode 1×12. I purchased the album “The Trials of Van Occupanther” and it is utterly awesome. I thank the show very much for that introduction.

    As for the rendition of “Nellie the Elephant” in the beginning of 1×17…well, let’s just say that I won’t be watching the intro with volume EVER again.

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  11. Peanut says

    Roco, I really enjoyed your review. One of the better Fringe episodes. I agree about how good the scene was between Olivia & Walter in the hotel room about Olivia being a test subject in the Cortexiphan trials. It was interesting that she appears to have not mentioned to Peter that she was probably a subject after she finds out from Nina Sharp that there were drug trials in Jacksonville (at the end of “Ability,” 1.14).

    Apparently, Nick Lane was psychically calling for Olivia? (Maybe he couldn’t use a phone book to find her because he didn’t know her last name?) She was able to detect him in New York while she was in Boston? I didn’t know that the Vulcan mind meld worked at that kind of distance. I would have appreciated finding out how that worked exactly.

    Roco, you alluded to this quote (transcript from Fringe pedia) from Walter, & I think that it continues to apply to Peter: “I’m surprised at you, Peter. Agent Dunham is your friend. You trust her. She says she killed that girl. Are you presumptuous to believe her only when she says what you want to hear”?

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    • says

      Interesting thoughts, Peanut.

      I should clarify that this isn’t my review – it was a contribution from Green (the author is referenced under the post title). I agree though, it’s a good piece.

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