Fringe recap: Hot and Bothered

An outbreak of infuriating little irritants unleashed by an old frenemy make life difficult for Walter and company in 'Brave New World.'
Ep. 21 | Aired May 4, 2012

If only Uncle Heinrich could see him now. Walter (John Noble) and Alex... er, Astrid (Jasika Nicole) discover new reasons to wash your hands after touching escalator rails in "Brave New World."

Liane Hentscher/Fox

The fourth season of Fringe comes to an end with a two-part season finale over the course of two weeks entitled “Brave New World.” I was expecting – dreading – the year’s penultimate hour to be a protracted, drama-light wind-up for the second, the clock-killing stall before the game-winning shot at the buzzer. I didn’t want tedious dribbling; I wanted a story that mattered. But part one tried hard to be eventful and interesting. I liked the major sci-fi idea: Spontaneous human combustion, caused by nanotech bugs in the blood stream that ignite via kinetic energy generated by merely walking. (When Walter revealed we were dealing with nanotechnology, my mind hyperlinked to Nina Sharp’s foreshadowy speechifying about the technology way back in “Subject 9.”) The opening sequence – which left a plaza filled with briefcase-toting, coffee-sipping pedestrians smoldering into ashen husks from the inside out or too terrified to move – was creepy-cool. Bonus points for the hilariously cheesy Muzak version of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face,” whose title refers not to the concept of a disembodied, omniscient, all-seeing entity but a 1960 French horror flick about a mad scientist who peels off faces from kidnapped girls and tries to affix them to the mug of his disfigured daughter. If only he had access to some of Doc Bishop’s Cortexiphan-juiced regenerative tissue. Speaking of the secret sauce: We saw super-powered Olivia apply her telekinetic abilities in new ways, including one that allowed her to save the life of true love Peter by manipulating his body as if she were playing a X-Box Kinect game. We also witnessed William Bell’s latest return (if you stay with me through the end, I'll explain why William Bell = Billy Idol), David Robert Jones’s second death, and Astrid’s possible murder.

(Fun Fringe Fact! Fringe division previously investigated an apparent case of SHC in the penultimate episode of season 1 "The Road Not Taken" – a William Bell-heavy outing that imperiled Boston with the threat of incineration, ended with a surprise shooting, and included a conspicuous movie reference that baffled Olivia and paid off richly and ironically in the following episode. Then, it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which set up Leonard Nimoy’s first appearance in the season 1 finale. Last night, it was Peter’s ‘don’t cross the streams’ allusion to Ghostbusters, which can only mean that next week, Boston will be terrorized by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Now that’s a big Twinkie.)

There was a nice extended cameo by Lost’sRebecca Mader as Jessica, a man-wary divorcee, troubled mother, and brave nanite victim who helped save the day by volunteering to be a guinea pig for a cure. She was also a nurse, and I detected a wink at the real-time viewing audience when she tried to shrug off the terrifying strangeness of her ordeal by saying: "I'm an E.R. nurse. Midnight shifts on Friday, now that’s bizarre." More meta fun:  Samantha Noble  -- the daughter of John Noble -- playing the new chief administrator at St. Claire’s Mental Hospital. (Walter: “I must say, you’re much prettier than your predecessor.”) And I loved all things Dr. Bishop. The ramblings about alien invasion. “My hallucinations were rarely biped, and never men.” Ruminating about rhubarb-loving Uncle Heinrich. His surging self-confidence, which completes his season 4 journey from addled and cranky ‘fraidy cat to fearless if frazzled lion, from Harvard shut-in to on-the-go field agent… albeit one who could still use a little help from his friend, Alex. Errr, I mean, Astrid. (The nanotech plot was a metaphor for the anxiety about moving on, moving forward that troubled Walter -- and Olivia -- in this episode.)  And I was massively entertained by the certifiably nutty lab scenes, be it Walter thundering on about Bell’s deadly “disco ball” satellites or blazing out of the lab like a superhero flying into action Batman after conducting that DNA test using a toaster, lemon cake, and pig brains (which, when cooked at a temperature between 90 and 100 degrees, is capable for activating “a little known side effect of Cortexiphan which is tissue regeneration,” don’t you know). Kudos to Noble for somehow, someway saving those ripe beats from exploding into blazingly ridiculous camp. “Peace out!”

NEXT: That's what got me hot. Now for what left me bothered...

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