Welcome to the FB review of the Fringe season 2 episode 9 – Snakehead. In this review I present my honest opinions on both the good and 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.
Astrid. A shining beacon if light. It was great to see her getting out of the lab and involving herself in the main storyline. She received a healthy dose of character development which is what we’ve been wanting for months. Not only is Astrid brave but she’s very forgiving – and this time, I bought it. I thought Jasika Nicole did very well with every scene she had, particularly the lead up to her embrace with Walter.
Out and about. I really liked seeing Astrid and Walter in China Town. It was good to have a change of scenery and add a splash of color to a show that can look rather bleak at times.
Real world issues. I guess it was interesting to see Fringe deal with a real world issue as murky and topical as human trafficking. It’s not as important, in the world of the show, as the fabled gate opening, the Observers or that thing we call “The Pattern”, but I appreciate the effort.
Some cool special effects. I’m beginning to detect the budgetary constraints that Fringe is having to deal with, but credit to the SFX department for some nifty work with the squealing worms.
Went too far in making Walter look pathetic over very little. I appreciate that Walter is still a deeply flawed character, and that setbacks are part of his journey, but I felt that this particular setback came from left-field. He was doing fine and then he went into meltdown far too easily. It wasn’t as though he was lost in China – he was in China Town, and he clearly knew which bus he needed to get back home. Why didn’t he save his money for the bus? Why did he waste it trying to phone Peter!? Why didn’t he seek help? How could he forget that Peter’s number was in his pocket? Sure, these are all things that could happen to a person like Walter, but it felt too contrived. It’s as if suddenly cutting to a scene where Walter is freaking out makes the situation believable. I understand they are making a point of Walter being lost without Peter, but having Walter crying on a bench because he can’t remember Peter’s number is not the same as his anxiety over Peter’s numerous kidnappings, seeing original Peter’s grave, returning to St. Claire’s, or any number of other situations he’s been in. It just felt a bit much for his actual predicament, which wasn’t that bad, considering.
To be fair to Walter, I will say this – maybe his despair wasn’t so much at being lost, but at the fact that he couldn’t cope on his own? Perhaps that realisation was more powerful than anything he’d been through in a while? To be so dependent on a child must be quite gutting for a man of his standing. But I maintain that the lost in China Town plot didn’t carry the weight that some of Walter’s previous break-downs have.
If this episode didn’t take place, it wouldn’t have mattered. And that’s something I’ve had to say far too often this season. It was all rather minuscule compared to the drama from the previous episode, or the overarching story that has me so captivated. As always, I appreciate the subtle hints to Peter and Olivia’s parent-issues, but the crumbs are not enough when the cake is so tasty. I mean, there’s a gate to the other universe being opened by shape-shifting soldiers who are responsible for the death of our beloved Charlie Francis, who, in this guise, tried to murder Olivia Dunham. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to want at least some tie in to the main stories, the one’s that actually matter?
Lack of genuine tension. Just like Broyles’ ‘near-death’ scene from Of Human Action, I was never in any doubt that Peter would be OK in his worm ordeal. How many times has Peter been kidnapped/held hostage now anyway? Seriously, he must be getting the hint!
I’m not asking for Peter to be killed or anything that drastic. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a sense of real danger. One problem I see is that we rarely get into the psyche of the characters when they’re in tight situations, and the scenes are often far to short. Sometimes you just need to spend some time on a scene. One excellent comparison I’d like to make is this torture scene from LOST. Sawyer, a similar ‘wise-ass’ character to Peter, yet we’re allowed into his head-space. I fear that Fringe will always struggle with suspense in the “case of the week” episodes, there’s just not enough time to build up any sense of tension because the reset button will be hit by the 42nd minute.
Olivia. I think this the first time she’s featured in our “bad” section? I’ll have to check on that later. Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore Olivia, she’s one of my favourite characters, as such I expect quite a lot from her. In this episode she caught my eye not because of her fabulous nuances, her dare-devil attitude, her incredible depth, but because she was quite..unremarkable. In a bid to turn Fringe into the “Peter Show”, I think Olivia (and Walter) has suffered somewhat. There, I said it! Throughout this episode I had to ask myself, “who is the FBI agent here?”. This is nothing against Peter, I’m quite fascinated by him this season and I’m glad they’re giving him more scene time, but I do worry with how the show struggles to facilitate the main characters at the same time. I wouldn’t have thought it’d be too hard since there are only 3 main leads. Again, Olivia D is a fantastic character, but ever since her momentum was deferred..she ain’t quite been the same.
Contrivances. Every show has them but I do think Fringe takes a few liberties with its story mechanics. For instance, how did the Triads find Walter’s lab before Astrid had even arrived? Why doesn’t Walter have a mobile phone? Why doesn’t Fringe Division have tighter security measures (that razor blade trick must be the oldest in the book)? The problem with this episode is that it made me question the things that I shouldn’t have to notice. Perhaps the casual fans don’t care? Perhaps that’s the point?
The side characters. I didn’t care for them. Not one of them. In fact I forgot about the husband and daughter until Olivia made a very forceful point of reminding me that they mattered to her. I know that these characters aren’t that vital in the grand scheme of things, but I just feel that Fringe could make better use of the pieces it has in play. So far this season none of the side characters (aside from Tyler and the various shape-shifter incarnations) have made an impression on me. That’s a lot of characters who don’t matter squat. For comparison’s sake, contrast this with last season when we had the likes of Sumner, Kohl, Grayson, Dashiell, Esterbrook, and others – most of these characters were one episoders and yet I still remember them as contributing to their respective episodes. Can we say the same for any of the side characters in this episode, or indeed, season?
As an aside, I think the show also needs an antagonist to provide that on-going threat/intrigue. Last season we had Jones. Since Evil Charlie died we’ve had no-one.
A man without an office. I know the show has suffered budget cuts with the move to Vancouver, but seriously, Broyles really needs an office. We’ve gone from park benches to meeting under bridges now? The shape-shifters must be really worried, huh? On the flip side, I kinda like that our team are rolling ‘bare bones’ – it’s almost if our team are so strong they don’t care about trivial matters such as espionage! But I miss Broyles’ snazzy office that overlooked the FBI headquarters. Perhaps he can borrow Alter-Broyles’ office for a while, or maybe he can room-share with Olivia down at the Lab? (I detected envy in his eyes when he saw Olivia’s set-up). In all seriousness though it’s beginning to tell – a professional outfit like Fringe Division need to start acting like one, or they need to go rogue. Which is it?
- People were used as vessels to transport and incubate parasitic worms from China to the USA. The worms were used for medicinal purposes and sold on the black market for insane amounts. The worms apparently needed human hosts to grow within the time it took to reach USA.
- Peter can speak Cantonese. (and he wants Olivia to know better – why writers, why?)
- How did Broyles’ arm heal so quickly after that gunshot wound he suffered couple of episodes back?
- What happened to the kid who needed the worm-meds to treat his illness?
- What’s the deal with Peter’s mom? Alive, dead, sick?
- This customary allusion to the alternate universe theme:
Walter: “It never ceases to amaze me the infinite variation that mother nature gives us. She truly has quite a disturbing sense of humour”. One would think that Walter, of all people, would be grateful for mother nature’s quirkiness – he got a replacement son out of the deal!
- Astrid thinks mother nature is a “real bitch”. They do like applying the b-word to nature don’t they. So that’s physics and now mother nature – check. By the way, I loved the evil-eyes Astrid gave the worm as it swam in the tank, it implied something – a rare sign of contempt from the lovable Astrid? Nice little moment.
- I found Walter’s self actualizing interesting. He seems to understand that in order for him to reach his full potential he needs to satisfy some needs first. For me, his most pressing needs are regaining his independence and being close to his son. Two needs which often conflict with one another. Question is, if and when Walter obtains these needs will it be a good thing or a bad thing for society? This of course brings into focus the real reason for him being in St. Claire’s. (I think there’s more to it than the death of a Lab assistant).
- Trust was an important plot point in this episode. In our episode review for “August”, I mentioned how without Peter’s trust, Walter has nothing. Walter seems to realise this, as it was Peter’s lack of trust in his father’s capability which pushed him too quickly into ‘doing things for himself’. Whilst this is a different kind of trust to the one which will no doubt blow-up when Peter discovers that he’s from an alternate universe, I did find it fascinating. Particularly how it ended with Walter basically conceding that he’s not ready for the big bad world, and relinquishing his freedom by installing a tracking device into his neck. (most random moment of the season for sure!). I kind of dug that though – this was Walter looking at the bigger picture, this was him looking beyond his immediate needs by realising that trust has to be earned. (Also, I hope the tracking device plays a role in future episodes – I see no point in Walter going all “GPS” on us if it doesn’t have a bearing in future).
- When I heard the word “manifest”, I got excited. My unbridled joy at a possible ZFT tie-in was short-lived, however.
- The cries that the worms made – absolutely terrifying. Thanks Fringe.
- Astrid: “Walter, you’re not smoking this thing!”. LOL! Astrid is made of win.
- Broyles and Peter’s relationship continues to improve. Ever since Peter gave him the shape-shifters transformation device Broyles has been far more open with the information he shares around Peter, and more accepting of Boy Wonder’s opinion. Interesting.
- So characters on this show do check caller ID before answering their phone? Olivia really should take a leaf out of Peter’s book – it will save all those embarrassing slip-ups when it’s Broyles and not, say, Ella who’s calling her.
- I love how dramatic Astrid is here: “he [Walter] lulled me into a false sense of security!”. Be fair now, he hardly lulled you, Astrid! I guess she’s not quite over the needle incident from last season after all.
- Walter’s lack of memory serves to remind us why he doesn’t remember everything about the past. (although personally, I get it already).
- The episode served as an allegory for how much people will risk to live in a ‘better world’. Illegal immigration and people trafficking is a topic which could be given wider perspective if and when the shape-shifters ever get around to opening that gate. On a very basic level, I get the impression that there are those over here, who would risk it all to be on the other side – the typewriter salesman who’s “not waiting around forever”, is just one example.
- It’s good to see that the Bishopmobile has been repaired.
- Peter brings his lock-picking kit with him wherever he goes..you know, just in case.
- Peter: “I was raised by my mother too. Scary. You realise that if you lose her, then you have no-one”. Coupled with Walter saying that Peter’s mother was “brave” a few episodes ago, does this further hint that she is, or was, sick?
- Could Olivia and Peter have been less concerned about a battered Astrid? Maybe it’s just me but I thought those two could’ve expressed more concern (like call an ambulance). Instead they left her to pick the glass out of her hair and tidy up the Lab. Olivia showed more investment in finding the husband and child of that woman who she doesn’t even know. Poor Astrid! When Walter’s your best friend at work I guess you’re in trouble.
- I really like it whenever a sleeping Peter is woken by Walter. They do those scenes well. It seems so symbolic of their journey, with Peter being oblivious to what Walter did to him, yet on many levels being more awake than his father. I just like the idea of what it truly means, in Fringe, to be awake. After all – “life is but a dream”, right.
- I’d like to know how Walter whipped up that transponder, with visual display, so damn fast!?
I’ve come up with a new approach when watching Fringe. From now on the show actually takes place in two worlds – Fringe and Fringe2. In one reality there’s the exciting, fun and thought-provoking serial that drives the main story (Fringe). And in the other reality we have the stand-alone freak-of-the-week cases that feature the odd hat-tip here and there to the main story (Fringe2). I consider “Snakehead” to be well and truly in the latter camp. I could have slept through this episode and not have missed a thing apart from some nice character development between Astrid and Walter. As I’ve said before, I don’t think the show can afford to ignore its strengths for too long. Yes, the stand-alone episodes are still better than most things on TV, but I don’t believe it’s asking too much to want the show to fulfill it’s potential? But like I said, this episode took place in Fringe2, so I’ll bear that in mind.
I guess it’s because I’m invested, because I’m able to view this show as a serial rather than a flick-chart, that I still found value in an episode which – to be fair – does improve after a second watch. It’s the relationships which impress me most – seeing these characters bounce off one another as they encounter problems and find solutions is often intriguing. With Peter and Walter I sometimes I feel that they take one step forward and two steps back. But their end scene was quite touching. I do wonder how much longer Walter can keep Peter in the dark though? In many ways Peter is the only light that Walter has, but eventually he’s going to have to risk it all and tell him the truth:
“I’ve been out of the institution for a year now, and I’ve just begun my journey back to being whole. But I fear there are still times when I will get lost.”
Such wonderfully brave words from Walter. To be so honest with himself, and to an extent, Peter, deserves a lot of credit.
I always like to take a moment to consider the episode title and how it relates to events. Snakehead is another easy one, referring to the Chinese ‘people trafficking’ gangs of the same name.
Best Performer: Jasika Nicole
Best Moment: Walter and Astrid’s embrace.
If You liked Snakehead, you’ll like: “Unleashed”, “Night of Desirable Objects”.
Episode Rating: 7/10