Welcome to the FB review of the Fringe season 2 episode 12 – “What Lies Below“. 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.
- Family. If last week’s episode illustrated the importance of our Fringies inter-personal relationships, “What Lies Below” was a realisation of their bond. Each one of them had a part to play in ensuring that they all lived to see another day – huge sacrifices were made, the kind you only usually make on instinct, or for loved ones. This bravery was no more so exemplified than by Astrid Farnsworth – a woman who continues to blossom in her quasi role as Lab assistant-stroke-FBI agent-stroke-babysitter. Her faith in Walter’s ability to find a solution was heartening but also crazy – and it’s in those moments of illogical bravery that you find out what a person is made of. Simply put, Astrid is made of awesome. The icing on the cake came with Broyles saying that his team are like family.
- High stakes, emotion, tension. I was invested as soon as Olivia and Peter were in danger of getting infected by the virus. Sure, I was pretty confident that everything would be OK in the end, but that didn’t matter in this instance, because the journey from A to Z was so good that I was only interested in the story, and not how it was told (in terms of format).
- Astrid and Walter. I want to single them out because last week I probably did them a bit of an injustice by failing to mention just how good they were together. They’re a bit of an odd-couple, but I think that’s partly what makes them so appealing. I have to take my fedora off to the writers because they’ve addressed a very real concern (which was still a concern at the beginning of this season) and, in recent episodes, they’ve integrated Astrid into the story in a purposeful way. I now fully believe that Astrid is the second best person on the team at speaking ‘Walter’.
- Subtext. Probably the strongest it’s been in a ‘standalone episode’. Put it this way, there was enough closeness to the main arc to satisfy my serial hunger for an episode.
- Directing. While this wasn’t the most lavish episode aesthetically speaking, I thought the directors and editors made some fantastic choices which really helped the episode to resonate. I loved the dark edges and apocalyptic undertones that were conveyed through tilted camera positions, uncomfortable close-ups and other thematic decisions.
- Earlier this season we had the story on the ‘sentient shadow’. I thought the sentient virus story worked a lot better because it was character driven through OUR characters. We’ve seen Peter in peril a few times but never quite like this, and never sick. Seeing him like this created a subliminal connection between my previous knowledge of his sickly childhood and the events playing out in the episode. Joshua Jackson did a good job at playing an ‘evil Peter’, and I love the idea that the virus had a personality of its own – changing who Peter thought he was and how he behaved (again tying into the perception thing). The virus calling on Peter’s famed sleight of hand’ to trick its way around the swab test was an inspired throw-back!
- I thought it was a bit contrived that they didn’t consider the knockout gas as an option much earlier. I’m not a CDC operative but surely buying some time with nerve gas would be better than the ‘level 6 death slaughter’ McFadden proposed!? But hey, it’s a plot contrivance I can live with.
- Although this was an emotionally charged episode I felt there were a few missteps along the way. The scene were Peter asked Olivia about Rachel (the second one) was one of them – to me, it came across as trying a bit too hard with the long pauses made me uncomfortable. Which is funny, because I like that the scene was written – it was important in reinforcing Olivia’s role as a protector and was a reference to events from the season premiere, but I felt it could have been executed slightly better. (maybe it’s also because I just don’t buy the idea that Rachel would give two squats about Olivia 🙂 ..Wasn’t she on holiday a few episodes ago?). Anyway, not a major complaint, just one of the few scenes of its type that didn’t quite gel as I thought it should.
- I thought the episode looked aesthetically bland. Perhaps it’s because it took place mostly inside the same building, but it didn’t feel as vibrant or visually rich as the show can sometimes look (I’m thinking 2.01 and 2.04).
- This is just a personal thing – I would have liked to have seen more anxiety from Walter when checking to see if Olivia had the virus. His reaction during Peter’s test was heart-breaking, but I would have liked a bit of that during Olivia’s swab test. Granted, Peter is his flesh and blood (kinda), but I still feel that he would have been a bit more concerned for Olive. Again, nothing major.
- I’m not going to complain about the lack of serial here because, quite frankly, it doesn’t warrant it. What I would say, as a Nina/mythology/central arc fan, is that the episode still lacked a bit of overarching presence which would have given it a few extra decimal points.
- Why didn’t the virus spread earlier when Vandenkemp was outside?
- How did Walter know to associate the virus with Mount Toba?
- Radjan Vandenkemp was meeting with Vitas Petrol technical engineer, Vincent Ames, to offer him competitor information in the form of a drill core sample stolen from Solum Oil Corporation. Said sample contained a 75,000 year old virus which was released because Vanderkamp failed to keep the sample inside its protective casing.
- The virus passed through bodily fluids. When faced with containment it leapt from host to host with a view to getting out – causing its victims to act irrationally.
- Walter realised that sulphur would kill the virus, just as some theorize it did 75,000 years ago when Mount Toba erupted, causing sulphuric ash to rain down around the world.
- Astrid knows at least some of Walter’s secret about Peter’s death.
- It was amusing to watch Walter give the children a lesson on the Nao Victoria. This real world tale also serves as a metaphor for the alternate universe and Walter’s abduction of Peter:
“When you open new doors there’s always a price to pay”.
- As we’ve suspected, it seems that Walter’s act has not only carried personal consequences, but also a wider impact on the two main worlds of the show. We have the immediate issue of Peter’s abduction, but more and more we’re gaining evidence of viruses, infections and the Blight being a factor (which has surely increased their science and technology, and hence impacted on their timeline). As we’ve long suspected, crossing over to the alternate reality is in many ways mirroring such voyages from our own history.
- From this we also get our biggest confirmation yet that Peter was sick after Walter brought him back from the other side – probably due to leaving one world and entering a foreign one.
- The change in Walter is interesting. He used to be all about the pursuit. Now, we see him providing children (no coincidence there) with cautionary tales on exploration and “monsters”. Very horrifying for a young child to hear (I recall Ella..or was it Olivia..being scared of monsters back in 1.16). Walter has learned his lesson, but is it fair or wise of him to scaremonger future generations like this? Science is responsible for a lot of bad, but also some good. I feel that Walter needs to humanise his message for it to be effective.
- I love how the badges read ‘science is fun‘, yet Walter’s message was anything but.
- Why doesn’t Walter carry ID? You’d think he would, considering he’s an FBI consultant. It would help when he gets lost (and yes, Astrid, I noticed. Again? ..Really?). Someone get him a badge! And can someone get Broyles an office because I know that hasn’t been followed up on yet. 😉
- We saw a little glimmer of past-Walter when he belittled Arnold McFadden before Broyles reminded him that there’s better ways of dealing with people. That was nicely handled by Broyles who has been quietly effective for a good while now. I also like how he initially referred to Walter as a “valuable asset” (which reminded me of his: “there’s only one Walter Bishop” line from Grey Matters) before later including him as part of his family. Broyles has a corporate mindset – he’s in the results business, but he is gradually becoming emotionally attached to his people.
- I’m curious as to whether the writers planted a subtle political message in this episode regarding the pursuit of oil and the problems governments and corporations have brought about? The virus, corporate cheating and talk of “level 6” makes me think they might have snuck a little message in there? I could be wrong, and I don’t know the writers political stance, but it just made me wonder..
- At the end of the episode, Walter reiterates his new outlook: “some things should be left alone”. This works on many levels, from looking back at choices made in our own history, to Walter’s decision to grab a replacement Peter from the alternate universe, and of course, his desire for no-one else to find out about Peter – at least for the moment. Will Walter perpetuate his secret, or has Astrid gained his trust enough to be let into the fold? That’s the thing, Walter now has more than Peter’s admiration to lose, he has an entire family.
- Walter’s dim outlook on his past makes me wonder whether he regrets taking Peter from the alternate universe? If he could go back and undo his action..would he? I guess this is the hardest type of question to answer reasonably because it involves taking away all of the good moments that he and Peter have shared, especially over the past year. Not to mention the fact that Walter probably wouldn’t have the humanity that he has now if his life hadn’t taken the turns that it has. That said, Walter simply HAS to take responsibility soon..and you know, had things turned out differently in this episode..it would have been too late. Something has to give!
- It’s amazing how John Noble can go from bullish to broken in a heartbeat: “I can’t let Peter die again”. I’m not sure that this was a Freudian slip from Walter..he
wantedneeded to tell someone!
- I thought the ‘monster of the week’ was one of the best so far because it was entertaining and grounded in a semblance of reality. Granted, it had its holes, but I found the idea fascinating. I mean, a virus with its own personality – that’s akin to the Island as a character!
- Which brings me to season 1, where we saw A LOT of viral warfare experiments, particularly through ZFT (remember them?). Whether the producers are going for this or not, I believe that this episode provides more clarity on why these groups were running viral experiments. If the other side has “magic mirrors” and hybrid shape-shifters, then I’d imagine that our side will look to imaginative viruses, exploding heads and night-stalking vampires to act as a counteractive wave.
- I found it interesting that McFadden wasn’t completely callous in his decision to exterminate the contaminated victims. Sure, any form of eradication is evil, but I feel that the writers made an effort to show that, for McFadden, it was a logical decision (and that he wasn’t malevolent like the CIA dude from Earthling). Since this episode draws heavy parallels to the main arc, it reminds me of one of ZFT’s main statements:
- It sounded absurd at first, but I can now see how a war can be perceived as a battle of survival yet not anger or hatred. I don’t agree with the statement in real world terms, mind, but I can understand the mindset they’re playing with.
- In episodes like this, when even Walter is stumped for an answer, I always think it would be a useful idea for Olivia to ask Nina and Massive Dynamic for assistance. With all their resources it would surely be worth a try? I’m sure Brandon has nothing better to do. Story-wise though, I’m glad they don’t always use this as an out.
- The Peter/Olivia fight was weird. I’m not sure what to do with that to be honest. Last week I wondered what a bit of conflict between our heroes would do, so I definitely didn’t hate it, but seeing them go at it was..weird (a good weird..I think). Anyway, I wonder if we got another subtle look at Peter’s power at work when he seemingly prevented the virus from killing Olivia? As irrational as the virus made Peter, that was a fairly sound decision.
- Have I ever said how great Olivia is? No? Well, despite being overshadowed by practically everyone in this episode, she somehow pulled out a ‘don’t forget about me’ gem when she tells Peter not to worry because “you weren’t yourself”. Three little words but what a way to say it! Peter responds:
“lucky for me that you were..”
- You could almost see the weight of responsibility fill up her eyes. Which is funny, because Peter ‘Magic Touch’ Bishop was supposed to be the one who she could lean on in times of crisis – and while that still might be the case, at the moment I think Olivia feels very ‘mother hen-like’. That said, I get the feeling that Olivia derives strength through being a protector – which again brings me back to the sense of fate that this story is evoking. Olivia is the way she is largely because of Walter and Bell’s experiments. Be it through science or the cosmic forces of the universe, no-one can deny the symmetry of their coming together. The reason is out there.
- I love the fact that Astrid knows that something about Peter that he doesn’t. It’s only a matter of time before she learns the whole truth. I think Olivia will be the next one to find out – and if that happens it will make forgiving Walter even harder for Peter.
- The episode spends a lot of time delivering a grave message on the consequences of “opening doors”. Which only serves to highlight the fact that the team should be focusing on tracking down those pesky shape-shifters! FFS Peter, what happened to being PROACTIVE? 😉 I’ve bided my time with that, waited to see if things would change, but seriously, he really hasn’t delivered on that front, has he.
Every now and then you get an episode that comes out of left field, totally unexpected, and leaves you feeling really satisfied by the 42 minute journey. What Lies Below was one such episode. The best standalone episode of the season so far. Although it should be said that character driven-mythology and main arc should rule, with a sprinkling of standalone episodes of this ilk.
As for the title, What Lies Below is obviously a reference to the virus which was found underground, but for me it also refers to the hidden elements that sometimes reveal themselves on the surface of our characters – whether it’s the bravery of Astrid, or the secrets of Walter. Emphasis should also be given to the word LIES, because just like the virus, Walter’s lie is yearning to break free. It’s time to do the right thing Walter..
Best Moment: The scene which starts with Broyles saying his team is like family to him, which moves to a gun-loading Peter..the soldiers ready to kill…before moving to Olivia racing to the ventilation system..then to Astrid and Walter, before ending back on a poised Peter. The sweeping score throughout this scene was a thing of beauty. And, Astrid helping Walter find an antidote was also very good.
Best Performer: John Noble & Jasika Nicole
If you enjoyed What Lies Below, you’ll like: Bound, The Transformation, Of Human Action
Episode Rating: 9/10