Welcome to the FB review of the Fringe season 2 episode 6 – Earthling. In this review I present my honest opinions on both the good and the bad aspects of the episode. I also take a look at the answers and unresolved mysteries, before sharing my thoughts on other aspects which may have been overlooked.
- Humanizing Phillip Brolyes. It was good to see Phillip’s back-story fleshed out. I feel that I know him a little bit better after this episode – In particular, I know that some of his flaws, are also some of his strengths. I learned that he’s a man who’s prepared to make sacrifices if it means that the world is a safer place. Cliched perhaps, but all in all I have a greater understanding of WHAT Fringe Division is and how tirelessly Phillip has worked to keep them afloat.
- International investigation. The Russian government, The CIA and inter-departmental friction. These elements hinted at a greater sense of urgency and importance (even if the episode didn’t quite deliver on that front). It’s only natural that other countries have their own brand of “Fringe Science”, and it’s believable for the CIA to butt heads with those who they see as interfering. I feel that the show is building towards a more realistic world-view, with the American government and various international agencies and societies becoming an important part of the storyline the further along we progress.
- Analogy to the alternate reality theme. The episode was quite effective in the way it played with parallels to the alternate reality theme. It felt as if the magnifying glass was positioned closer to home, allowing us to consider space as another ‘reality’ in its own right. Although the show has a strict “No aliens” policy, I also have to wonder whether this is as close as we’ll get to an alien storyline in Fringe? Technically it could be argued that the ‘shadow organism’ was ‘alien’. Either way, I really enjoyed comparing the shadow storyline to the broader alternate reality theme.
- Cool effects. I thought the crumbling into ash effect was pretty darn awesome.
- Pacing. The episode moved along at an awkward pace. It felt too slow at times, often pondering through scenes which didn’t quite resonate. Earthling had a couple of tense moments, but they bookended the episode. The rest of the scenes tried to be creepy and interesting but lacked the spark to get them out of 1st gear. Perhaps the ‘slowness’ was to help provide that introspective feel, but I overall I think there were too many missteps.
- The Shadow – opportunity missed. I would have liked to have known more about the shadow and its motivations. This was a great chance to explore an interesting character in the Fringe mythology. We know that it was a ‘projection’ that absorbed radiation, but WHY? Did it need radiation to survive or was it something more sinister? Some of its actions also made little sense (like following people home and going after little girls who presumably didn’t have high levels of radiation). It just seems like the shadow was a “cool” concept that wasn’t fully thought through. There wasn’t enough fleshing out, either through the cosmonauts back-story, his brother’s battle to keep him alive (and the ethical consequences thereof) or even Phillip’s past encounter with the case. It all seemed a bit, well, random. Kinda like Night of Desirable Objects.
- Walter’s explanations for the shadow were half-arsed at best. That’s not normally a problem if he’s to back up his theories, but too many of his ‘break-throughs’ were muddled and barely explained. I hate to say it but it felt as if they cut corners just to resolve the episode before the closing credits.
- Are we supposed to believe that Tomas kept this organism at bay, wheeling his comatose brother from hospital to hospital without the CIA, Fringe Division or the Russian government finding him? The problem is, I didn’t buy the character, his ability to avoid capture for so long, or his skill in keeping the shadow quiet for 4 years. Again, he reminded me of the doctor from Night of Desirable Objects. I get the idea – he is another allusion to the Walter/Peter story (or perhaps the Peter/Peter story), but the guy was not that exceptional. Furthermore, what prevented the shadow from going after him in the first place? Too many contrivances.
- By servicing Phillip the other characters took back seats and Astrid was relegated to the cart. I LOVE that Phillip got some character development, but I was still disappointed that this was at the expense of others. It works the other way too – most of the time Phillip, Astrid and Nina are left to feed on scraps, and if you read FB regularly then you already know what I think would solve this problem…
- Episode format. I’ve championed a more serialized format for Fringe for a long while now. This episode is another example of why I feel the producers need to re-think the stand-alone preference. We have a potentially fascinating character such as the shadow and yet we’re unable to really dig into it because the show is more concerned with wrapping everything up with a ribbon by the 42nd minute. Trouble is, some stories can’t be completed within an episode, they need room to run over. I feel that this is one such ‘case’ that needed more depth, investigation and exploration. I know we get bits and pieces of the wider arc in each episode, and I do enjoy that, but Fringe is not CSI, the stories and its characters need room to breathe. Furthermore, you simply don’t get transported to another dimension and not mention it in either of the two proceeding episodes. Rethink, rethink, rethink.
- “There was a man, a shadow man. He disappeared”. This looked good in the trailers, wasn’t nearly as effective in the episode (I said a similar thing for Night of Desirable Objects). The line was purely for dramatic effect and I can’t see how having the girl spell out the obvious added to the episode. If they wanted to make sure we knew that the shadow’s life was connected to that of the cosmonaut they could have had one of our Fringies mention it in passing. In fact, I’m sure it was mentioned. The kid at the start was a cute little bit of character building, the girl at the end was anything but. And don’t get me started on why she just sat there motionless after seeing a shadow man. No child would just sit there and then calmly describe the situation.
- The “organism” seemingly became ‘one’ with the cosmonaut when he went on a spacewalk. The shadow was a “projection” of the organism, which passed through its victims to absorb their radiation, disintegrating them to ash in the process.
- Tomas was apparently able to ‘contain’ the shadow by distressing his brother with electric shocks – “if you hurt the host, you hurt the organism”.
- Although Phillip shot the cosmonaut in the head, seemingly killing the organism, the cosmonaut lived. The insinuation being that the CIA sent his body back into space to prevent the organism from projecting here on earth. One wonders why they didn’t just kill the cosmonaut? Or are we to suspect that the shadow made him indestructible?
- Fringe Division has had a troubled history, struggling to stay in operation due to a lack of “public results”.
- What IS the shadow?
- What value is the shadow to the CIA and Russian government? This question becomes less clear if we believe that the CIA sent the shadow back into space. Would the Russian government have done the same thing?
- Why did the shadow stop killing for 4 years? I’m assuming its because it had all the radiation it needed, but even this seems inconceivable given that Tomas took credit for keeping it at “bay” for this long. What measures did he take to contain the shadow, and what changed for the shadow suddenly become “stronger”?
- IF the CIA sent the cosmonaut’s body (and hence the shadow) back into space, how did they arrange it so quickly? Does his also suggest that they have previous experience of dealing with shadows? What else have they ‘dumped’ up there?
- Are we supposed to believe that the fly passed through the shadow and became infected? If that’s the case, why didn’t the fly fall to pieces before reducing the coma patient to rubble?
- If the shadow / organism is a projection of itself here on earth….what does it actually look like?
- As usual, there were more allusions to Peter being from another universe, here are a couple of examples:
Walter giving a firewood analogy of the disintegration effect: “So hot it remains intact, holding shape of is former self. You used to love that when you were a child..”
Walter talking about Russian Fringe Science: “Because they’re from the other side of the world, Peter. Is it so hard to believe that they’d have their own stripe of the inconceivable?”
- Phillip keeps his evidence files in a public self-storage facility. Really?
- Walter refers to the formula as a she. That’s Walter for you, but it’s perhaps interesting that Mother Nature (Mother Earth) is usually referred to as she. Just saying.
- I loved this line from Olivia: “When we break the rules we’ve got you to protect us. Who’s going to protect you?” It really illustrates just how much juggling and string-pulling Phillip has to do to keep this operation alive. It also shows just how fair Olivia and Phillip have come. As always, I really like these two in scenes together.
- For a while now I’ve gotten the impression that they’ve added post-production voice overs for Walter. There was another one in this episode when Walter was explaining how he planned to contain the shadow. Not a big thing but it takes me out of the episode a wee bit.
- The season 2 the location titles appear to have gone from silver to gold and back to silver again in this episode. I’ve been observing this for a while, it’s probably nothing important though.
- Can the shadow project across realities? Now that would be one deadly weapon in, I don’t know, an inter-dimensional war of some kind..(especially if over there was made more radioactive).
- Fringe has featured quite a few head-kills. We’ve already had exploding heads and Evil Charlie’s death-by-bullet, now the cosmonaut gets shot in the head. Not all networks are so liberal with head-violence – in fact, has there ever been a head-kill on LOST?
I would really like to see this episode in serialized format, I think it could have been truly amazing, all things being equal. This has probably been my most frustrating episode to review. Not because it was terrible, but because it feels like an opportunity missed on soo many levels. Coming off the back of Dream Logic also doesn’t help. We’re treading water when we should be swimming in waves.
That aside, my lingering thought from the episode is: Who is the “Earthling” in the title? It could be the cosmonaut – Earth’s voyager, or perhaps Phillip – Earth’s protector? Maybe the shadow is the “Earthling” – a sentient being not of this world who has become trapped down here?
Another thought crossed my mind whilst watching the episode – Olivia asked whether the cosmonaut had been “dosed”, something we’ve seen before on Fringe. Whilst this seemed to have been refuted, what if he was dosed or purposefully infected by a man-made organism in space, away from the glare of public intrusion?
On a final note, the Earthling title coupled with Phillip looking up at the night sky illustrates just how tiny, yet central, Earth1 is to this entire arc. Perhaps we are all the “Earthlings” in the title.
Best Moment: The ending – hinting at a much larger conspiracy.
Best Performer: Lance Reddick
Episode Rating: 7/10