Fringe recap: The Fungus Among Us

In "Alone In The World," Walter tries to replace his missing Peter while Olivia and Lincoln try to catch a killer mold.
Ep. 03 | Aired Oct 7, 2011

"If I had a hammer/I'd hammer in the morning/I'd hammer in the evening/All over my eyeball!" An increasingly unbalanced Walter (John Noble) keeps Astrid and the rest of Fringe Division on edge in "Alone In The World."

Liane Hentscher/Fox

The strange story of a lonely kid and his pet disembodied brain (or was it the story of a lonely disembodied brain and his pet kid?), "Alone in the World" was a clever spin on the old 'boy and his monster' trope and made for a creative way for Walter Bishop to grapple with his Flashing Peter angst. One of the best things about the episode was Walter's constantly evolving theories about the true nature of the episode's freak of the week. At first the demented doc believed it was a mutant fungus that bred in darkness, eschewed the light, and fed on people. A viral vampire! Then he pulled out this wild idea: The organism was actually vast neural network  -- a brain. (To make this marginally easier for everyone to understand, Walter gave it a name: Gus.) Finally, the frazzled scientist realized that the mysterious mind-mold -- whatever it really was -- had forged a dangerous rapport with a sad, artsy misfit. (Are there any other kind?) But was Gus manipulating Aaron... or was Aaron manipulating Gus?

Now, I could be wrong, but "Alone in the World" left me convinced that Fringe was using the episode to send a coded love letter to its fans, and by extension, fans of shows like it -- the well-regarded yet ratings-challenged drama that lives on the fringe of television, that owes its fragile existence to an intense relationship with devoted fans. We'll explore this idea as we go. (Speaking of other shows: "Gus" was surely an affectionate wink at Breaking Bad via its own monster, Gustavo "Gus" Fring, the deadpan-demonic drug lord.)* In fact, this very meta episode of Fringe made me realize that the season's lingering cliffhanger question  – “Where is Peter Bishop?” – is a multi-faceted metaphor for the things threatening Fringe: Missing viewers and time-shifting TV watchers. Must I pound this sharply-filed point into your head with ALL CAPS, the way Walter tried to solve his own flickering Peter problem by LITERALLY TRYING TO POUND A SHARPLY-FILED POINT INTO HIS BRAIN? People: Don’t be a Flickering Peter. BE. HERE. NOW.

*Update at 1:09 Saturday: Via Twitter, Fringe writer/producer David Fury says no Breaking Bad shout-out was intended and says "Gus" was short for "fungus." Of course. Guess I just have Breaking Bad season finale on the brain.

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“Alone In The World” began with Walter getting something many readers think I might benefit from: A psychological evaluation. Walter's shrink (not seen since season 1) pressed the elder Bishop to explain his more-baffling-than-usual behavior  – specifically, his practice of covering up or avoiding reflective surfaces. Walter -- who kept seeing Peter's face on the back of the doctor's shiny clipboard -- kept the secret to himself, copping only to a brief bout of banal hallucinations. Nothing that he and his regimen of (self-modified) pharmaceuticals couldn't handle. Walter's worry was writ all over his deeply wrinkled face. Unless I fix this Flickering Peter thing, they're going to cancel the show! send me back to the mental hospital.

From this check-up, we moved to another. Olivia wanted to meet with new recruit Lincoln Lee for a meeting, just to make sure all this Fringe Division stuff wasn’t freaking him out. Lee arrived at her desk as she was searching a database, trying to ID a mug shot sketch that she not-so nonchalantly folded up and stuffed away before her colleague could see it. (But we could see enough of it to speculate: Was that Peter? Is Olivia seeing him, too?) “It’s hard when what you knew or what you thought your knew about the world no longer holds,” Olivia said. “I want you to know I’m here.” The hyper-punctual newbie – who spends his time reviewing past cases when he’s not investigating new ones -- said: Freaked out? No! I’m having a blast! That’s why I always make sure I’m here every Friday night at 9 PM and why I spend my free time catching up on old episodes. No need to get the poundy ALL CAPS out – I am the model Fringe fan! Actually, Lincoln said: “I'm not freaked out." And if he ever did freak out, he said, with a small, self-conscious giggle: "You’ll be the first to know.” The subtext of developing attraction/romance: Palpable. Hurry back, Peter. You’re gonna lose that girl.

NEXT: "Flesh eating bacteria! Or some kind of aaaaaalien parasite. Or: Bigfoot! Bigfoot!" 


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