Review: Fringe 1.16 - "Unleashed"

This will also be online over at Television Zombies. Please stop by and check out all the reviews and listen to the show.

Olivia is reading the Burlap Bear to Ella. Rachel says it's bedtime as a call comes in from Peter, he wants to talk to Rachel and Olivia finds it odd. (PS, Burlap Bear doesn't exist, but whoever they got to draw it made it look interesting.) Rachel laughs on the phone and Olivia continues reading. Ella asks if monsters are real, Olivia says "Of course not."

Immediate "GAH!" cut to screaming monkeys. A group of youngsters have broken into a lab to release animals. One of them strays to the back with a big door. A man gets a phone alarm that wakes him up and he takes off in his car to the lab. The man arrives at the lab more afraid of what's in the back than worried about the activists. He asks if the door in the back was opened and then yells at them all to get out, then he's snagged and there's blood. The kids rush out but one is nabbed. The remaining three drive off screaming when their car is flipped and they crash. The survivors are attacked and we hear a rattling sound.

Open credits.

Peter brings Astrid coffee and goes to eat an omelet but Walter says not to because inside the omelet is an ear he's growing to test something. Peter gives him the, "You live in a society with other people" speech. Olivia calls the crew in to meet Charlie and Broyles to the crash site. They find the victims had a large claw and fang wounds. Victims have no IDs and some lock picking tools. Olivia sees four drinks but only three bodies. They trace the food back to a place near MIT. Agent Dunham heads to a frat house to ask some questions of Carl, who is really happy the hot FBI agent is there to ask questions. Carl says Chris (the forth missing student) was an animal rights activist. An autopsy at the lab shows a fanged bite four inches apart and lion like gashes. They investigate animal lab break ins.

An animal control van goes to investigate a "monster" sighting. The two traipse off into the woods. Olivia asks Peter about Rachel and he says they're friends. Walter goes through a box of his files and sees something he doesn't like. Olivia goes to meet Charlie and Walter says be careful. Charlie finds the Animal Control van and investigates. There's blood all over and one of the men is in the car gutted; he calls in for back up and hears a monster sound. Gun drawn he goes farther into the woods and sees the other man. A segmented tail drops down behind him. Dunham arrives, hears gunshots and Charlie screaming. She arrives to see him wounded but not bad. He says whatever did it was big.

EMTs extract a stinger barb that Walter takes. He asks Charlie some questions about the creature. He says they may be dealing with a transgenic species, accelerated Darwinism. Astrid calls with info on animal labs near the first crime scene. Dunham heads to Swift Research and talks to Robert Swift. They test pharma and cosmetic products on animals. She tells him about the attack, he doesn't seem to know much. He denies doing any genetic testing on animals. He also says she needs a warrant to look around. Astrid zips up a body bag, Dunham asks Walter what he'd need to create a transgenic. Peter asks him to focus and he shows him the book with a drawing of a creature with the body and head of a snake with spider legs. He says the creature out there wasn't his, but he tried to make one. His work was with Kelvin Genetics for the Army. The body bags starts to move and when they open it, the wounds are pushing out larvae (that look like maggots.) They deduce the creature plants eggs when it stings. Olivia realizes Charlie's been stung. At the Francis residence Charlie and his wife Sonia are getting ready for bed and Olivia shows up to say he's in trouble.

Walter does an ultrasound on Charlie and sees a lot of little larvae. Walter doesn't have a treatment idea and he freaks out a little. Peter helps him focus and decides to try and poison them with trichloramide. (A note on this, I can't tell if trichloramide is real or not. There's tricholormine, or a nitrogen trichloride, which is basically an ammonium salt plus chlorine, or the reaction you get in a chlorinated pool if you pee in it. But, in concentrated amounts, it's highly explosive. However, I'm unable to find much on trichloramide that doesn't appear to be a misspelling. So it's either completely made up or Walter just misspoke.)

A mom and kid are at a playground and we see a segmented rattle tail moving into a playscape tunnel. Broyles gives Dunham some information about Kelvin Genetics and they talk about the missing forth victim. Peter calls with an update that the larvae have been poisoned but so has Charlie and the bad news is the larvae act like parasites, feeding off Charlie. Walter has an idea that transfusing the monster's blood with Charlie's will cause the larvae to self destruct. Mom and her boy at the playground barely escape monster, screams heard around the playground. Dunham and Peter try to fix a pattern to the monster's movements, possibly underground; the sightings are all near storm drains. Walter has a little breakdown and Charlie screams in pain as the larvae start getting bigger which we can see crawling around his stomach.

Charlie is stable but Dunham gets news that the latest sighting isn't near a storm drawin, no pattern. Carl from the frat house calls Dunham saying that a classmate hasn't shown up for a while, one Jonathan Swift. Dunham goes to Swift Research and talks to Dr. Swift about his son and his activities. Dunham pushes past his lawyering up saying it's already killed five people. The doctor breaks down, saying it actually killed seven. The monster came from his lab and that he was working with another guy, Cameron Dagelman the one killed first at the lab. It was his work, not Walter's that was being done. Plus the combination of animals in the monster is a hela monster, wasp and bat. The bat's immune system makes it possible to combine many animals without their parts rejecting each other. But it doesn't help Charlie. They decide to bait it with the larvae, bats are very maternal, as long as they can bring in 50cal incendiary rounds. They pack up, Walter grabs some more of that trichloramide, Dunham says bye to Charlie.

Peter, Olivia and Walter crawl into the sewer, find a good point to conduct the sound and wait. Charlie calls his wife and makes small talk, fighting to remain calm during the pain he's in. It's a sweet moment and one that usually indicates the character is going to die. She doesn't know he's in trouble. Back in the sewer, Walter says he has to go pee. As he moves beyond the bucket of bait, he closes the door and swallows the chemical, saying Peter is right and that he has to own up to his mistakes. The monster will get him, but it'll be poisoned if it does and then they can get the blood for Agent Francis. Plus there's an antidote back at the lab. Peter and Olivia try opening the gate but can't and Walter walks off into the tunnels.

Walter wanders around singing and hoping to lure the monster to him. He reaches a dead end and the monster drops in from above. It's a fairly wicked creature looking like something from a Star Wars movie. Before it gets to Walter, Peter and Olivia show up and distract it. It knocks Walter down and runs after the others but is dropped by a couple shots from Walter. They head back and after a montage of chemistry busy work, push a blue liquid into Charlie. The larvae die and Peter says his dad was very brave.

Charlie goes home to his wife and crawls into bed. Olivia goes home to find Rachel and Ella asleep on the couch. She goes to bed but hears a whining sounds like the wind through a pipe. She turns the light back on.

Complete procedural. Nothing in "Unleashed" gave us any arc information and the broader story of Fringe was not advanced. This was a character episode for Walter, Peter and Charlie. Peter had to confront Walter. Walter had to take ownership of his past dealings. Charlie had to be shown as more than a sympathetic agent with a gravely voice.

This was literally the "monster of the week" episode and there was very little to uncover or discuss after the fact. No new questions, no answers, no twists. It wasn't exciting and the ticking clock for Charlie was the only thing in doubt. Having heard no news of Kirk Acevedo leaving the show, I knew he wasn't going to die. This isn't a Joss Whedon show where people get killed left and right, this is a show built to run a long time and you don't do that by killing people off.

Peter and Rachel are friends; that was the biggest nugget of information we get from "Unleashed," and it's one we saw coming. Seeing as the Glyph Code spells out PETER, I'm left to wonder (after watching it twice) what part he played or what tidbit I missed. As far as I could tell, he was merely a grounding rod for Walter. He's always been that. Despite Peter's shady past, his role so far has been that of comedic exposition and Walter Bishop caretaker/interpreter. Does this mean he has a larger part to play?

Not having any of the mythos of the show involved really upsets me as a viewer. I could deal with monster of the week episodes as long as there is a touch of the full arc involved. The problem with "Unleashed" is that it could have been a Doctor Who episode, or Supernatural or X-Files or even CSI: Everville. (Obscure?) It didn't have to be Fringe.

Two and a half randomly chosen glyphs.


Two Inches - Revisited

Recently I described the existential crisis I went through upon realizing I was declaring myself to be of a certain height when in fact I was not. Much to my chagrin, I was not able to convince most people it had nothing to do with how tall I actually was but that it brought my entire perception of myself into question; what other things about myself or my world had I been seeing or understanding errantly.

But all my internally questioning came to naught as I was shortly to find out (pun fully intended) that I was in fact duped by Ms. A. I had even commented on how it could have been a prank akin to a widely known episode of My Three Sons in which the boys trick Uncle Charlie into believing he is growing by shortening all the furniture. Ha ha! Wonderful hijinks abound. But surely that sort of deceptive play doesn't occur on this side of the screen?

Why yes, dear reader, it does.

A friend was over after returning from an acupuncture learning exhibition in China and was interested in the story. After telling it, we all decided to be measured...just to see. Of the four adults, I was the only one who claimed to know (incorrectly or otherwise) how tall I was. The three girls merely shrugged claiming some approximation. Ms. A was a little surprised to see that she was in fact the shortest, but not as surprised as I was to find out that I was, in fact, 5'8" after all.

A good laugh was had by all. It's the same laugh you have with a group of well meaning, jolly acquaintances when one or more is involved in a prank by which the patsy receives a lottery ticket for a grand sum of currency. The hucksters all share in a jubilant laugh whilst the subject of the joke is faced with the unenviable task of remaining calm and trying to appreciate the humor involved in winning nothing but having mentally spent it all.

So I leave this to you to sort out. Trick or not, had I indeed lost two inches overnight, I would have been (and was) clearly distraught. But it was not the loss per se, or the idea that my manliness or idea of masculinity is some how tied to my stature because let's face it, if you're already below average, remaining below average isn't much of a hit. But consider that you lost something or something related directly to your perception of your self or the world changes - your height, the color of your eyes, how to pronounce a word, the name of your state, something you're positive is nearly immutable. How do you respond? So far everyone I talked to says they would basically shrug it off and move on. Admirable, but I feel also a bit false.

Would you shrug it off or would it force you to examine your entire outlook on existence? Would you turn inward for answers or would the new data slide off you like oil off a duck's ass?

And be honest, this is for posterity.


Two Inches

I was hit with a foundation shaking revelation this weekend. It's one of those discoveries that makes you question your own sanity and place in the world.

I'm two inches shorter than I thought I was.

For nearly two decades, when asked, I would tell people I'm 5'8". I don't generally have a problem with my height and it rarely has given me pause in my every day life. Sure there are times while playing basketball or volleyball that I wish I was a little taller. There were times while doing shows in high school and college where I thought were I just a few inches taller, I'd be getting the lead roles instead of the plucky comic relief bits.

However, I never played the victim because of my average height. I knew I was at or just below average height for men in the US, but again, I'd never really thought about it at length. To be sure, the topic would come up every month or so as human conversation drifts towards the statistic and people compare ages, height, length of time in Taiwanese prison, etc. It was very prevalent in the afore mentioned theater productions because costuming required measurements.

My height was 5'8"

That is until this weekend when G-man was playing with a tape measure and wanted to know how tall everything was, including daddy. So we measured him (he's 3'7") and then a couple other things including the dogs, and then me. Now, I expected the index finger and thumb to pinch the tape at the 68 inch mark, but it didn't. I was measuring myself with a four year old helping and I thought, well, maybe he's holding it a couple inches off the ground. I had Ms. A help. At this point I wanted to give G-man an accurate measure of daddy's giant stature, but I was also touched with a 10% sense of foreboding.

Sure enough, sixty six inches.

"That can't be right!" I blurted out. Ms. A began laughing. She's known me for almost 13 years now and she knows that I tell people I'm five eight, just like I know she tells people she's five two. It's not even a social badge, it's just a biological fact.

Or is it?

This really bothered me, but not in the way you'd think. The actual measurement, the raw datum resulting from stretching the tape from floor to scalp isn't important. What is important is if I'm ACTUALLY this tall, what has changed in my perception of myself? Yes it's a body image shift and that's troublesome enough, but the mere fact that I've just now noticed this after all this time worries me. What changed? Was I lying to myself this whole time? Was my subconscious trying to shield me from what it perceived as a degrading biological label?

How could I have been so wrong?

Ms. A, of course, as well as the rest of the house is loving this. The short jokes started almost immediately and I played along as best I could, but writing this now has opened up a little bit of pinkish hurt on my person and I'm having a hard time recovering. What else am I wrong about? Are my eyes blue? Am I a dad? Is my middle name Michael? What else is false that I have thought this far to be an absolute truth? I've tried explaining it to people and for the most part the reaction is either, "You're still taller than me" or "It's just a couple inches." But it's more than that.

Ms. A thinks my weight is compressing my spine or I'm doing the old man shrink. Which is worse on a surface level, but at least not as existentially devastating.

It could be that the tape measure was off too.

So, what did you do this weekend?

(follow up here)


Bye bye, Dollhouse

Well that didn't take long.

Earlier today, Felicia Day posted a twitter about the episode of Dollhouse in which she would guest star. Sadly, she wrote that Fox would not be airing it.

What? Fox canceled Dollhouse? Shocking.

Agreed. But on the heals of ABC airing the complete series of Life on Mars, allowing the mini season to at least wrap itself up, you'd think Fox would take the noble step and do the same thing. But alas, they're going to stop with #12 and you can only see #13 on DVD.

Frankly, Fox, the only reason I'd buy the DVD to see the last episode is because I'm a Felicia Day fan. It has nothing to do with the show itself, which wasn't great, but I'm sure better than whatever you'll put in its place; that will likely be a reality show in which low IQ hard bodies are scared into eating dancing fifth graders for a million dollars.

Looks like it's back to watching Firefly on DVD and The Guild online.


Apparently we all jumped the rails on this one. Joss himself has written that due to the early filming and then rewrite of the pilot episode, they're contracted into 13 episodes - the scrapped pilot counting as one. The studio won't make a call about the season until the Upfronts at the end of may. So we might still see Felicia Day's episode if there is a season two, but it might still exist only in DVD format. If that's the case and there is a season two, we better hope there's not much in the way of story development that we don't get to see.

Carry on.


Happy Birthday Ole

Today in 1891, Ole Kirk Christiansen was born to a poor family in Jutland, Denmark (though I've also read some sources say it was Filskov.) Little is known about his childhood other than he worked factory jobs, trained as a carpenter and eventually opened his own shop in response to losing his job do to the depression. He built ironing boards, step ladders and wooden toys and when his factory burned down in 1947, he rebuilt and focused only on toys.

The term Lego comes from a Danish phrase "leg godt" or "play well." But it also means "I study" or "I put together" in Latin.

The Lego System of Play debuted in 1955 and this was the first time the now ubiquitous plastic studded bricks were seen. A patent was created for the interlocking shape and in recent years that patent has expired and been challenged in courts around the world. Lego's biggest rivel Mega Bloks (now Mega Brands Inc) has continued to sell interchangable bricks while Lego has been unable to prevent them citing trademark violation.

Lego has branched away from simple contstruction over the years to include more technical and even robotic construction. The toy is a household name, has spawned theme park type attractions and a stout world wide fan base. In the late 90's it teamed up with Lucasfilm to deliver Star Wars toys which lead to other branding cross overs including Batman and Harry Potter.

I've spent hundreds of not thousands of dollars on Lego over the years and will likely spend more on both myself and my kids. I hope in 20 years they'll continue to love Lego as much as I do.

For a good example of what can be done with Lego, check these out.

Sitcom Sets in Miniature

HMS Hood

Lego Business Cards

Eddie Izzard Death Star Canteen done in Lego


Review: Dollhouse 1.7 - "Echoes"

Just a reminder these can also be seen over at Television Zombies. Which currently is running episode 77.5 which is a VERY important episode. Please listen.

Our recap hints at a few of Echo's previous engagements, including her first saying he'll never forget her and ending with Laurence hitting her in the face with a rifle butt in "True Believer." This leads into the meeting between Caroline and Adelle DeWitt, the meeting we believe started it all.

Caroline is a troubled woman, but we don't learn why. She approached the Dollhouse and Miss DeWitt, but she doesn't say why. We know that Miss DeWitt wants five years from Caroline, then she's free. They've also apparently known each other for at least two years and this isn't their first meeting. There's talk of a Rossum Corporation being owners or partners with the Dollhouse. Adelle pours some tea and says that nothing is ever what it seems.

A couple students enter a lab where a third is stripped down to his shorts, playing with open jars of flies. He's clearly hopped up something and proceeds to run into a window, then dashing his brains out on the window trying to flee. As he's smashing his bloody head against the spider webbed safety glass, we pan back to see the name on the building, Rossum.

A man named Clive Ambrose is talking to Adelle about a drug that's somehow been released on Freemont College's campus. It impacts impulse centers. They have only two vials, but one is missing, so he's asking the Dollhouse to send in all agents to lock down the campus, quarantine any infected students and keep it quiet. Also, Topher needs to come up with an antidote. The Actives/Dolls can't be affected because they already lack impulse inhibitors since they are blanks slates. Adelle finds out Echo is on another engagement. We also find another active's name is Foxtrot, so the phonetic alphabet continues. (My Doll name would be Mike, because it's lame.) Echo's other engagement is the same motorcycle guy from before, but different imprint this time. This time Echo is not as badass, but she is wearing a skirt very susceptible to wind and thigh high lace stockings. (This is me rolling my eyes.)

Our first of two scenes with Suspended FBI Agent Paul Ballard has him making breakfast for Millie. He wants to take care of her because he's sweet and noble and likely feels a bit guilty about all this. He assumes it's the Russians who sent Hearn to kill Millie. She says he should stay off the Dollhouse case, which he obviously can't do, so she leaves.

A convoy of black vans and SUVs pull into Freemont College. Victor, Sierra, Laurence Dominic as well as a slew of other agents and dolls coordinate their efforts. Victor is now NSA, which cheeses Laurence off because, as Victor said, "...a few hours ago you were saying how much you liked applesauce." Sierra is a doctor with the CDC and she's wearing a white lab coat. Do they do that outside of a lab? Meanwhile, Alice (Echo) has her motorcycle client tied up in bed getting ready to video tape some hot nonsense but she screws up the controls and turns the TV on. It's a news report about the student suicide at Freemont. She has a flash of something in her brain and says she has to go.

This flashes us back to an earlier time, likely around five years ago. Caroline and her boyfriend/husband Leo are sitting around drinking and eating and talking with their other social activist friends about the evils of Clive Ambrose and the Rossum Corp. Other than Caroline, they all look like activists. That's all I'm saying.

Topher has Millie (Doll sign = November) in the chair and he's giving her a dose of the drug so he can study and create an antidote. While doing this, Adelle tells Topher that Clive is not just a client, but Rossum funds a lot of what the Dollhouse does and in turn, the Dolllhouse returns funds to aid in what Rossum does. So it's a giant brain scrapping, whore pimping slush fund disguised as scientific research? Echo/Alice, gratuitous thigh highs and all, rides client's bike into campus looking for something but she's not sure what. Of note, early she said she'd never ridden a bike before. NSA Victor sees her walking around all stoned and thinks she's been infected so he brings her to their make shift medical center where she meets Sam. Sam was in the room with the student who smashed his brains out. They talk and she says she needs to get into that lab. Hey so does he and he can get them there, but doesn't know how to get in. She can get in but doesn't know where it is. Together they form a super sleuth team and avoid all security.

Boyd has tracked Echo to Freemont College which doesn't make Adelle very happy. As he's talking to her, another college zombie comes up to him and they make skin contact accompanied by an obvious slow-mo of the contact with hissing sound effect. I think at this point in TV world, we know infections spread a few ways; I don't think we need to be hit over the head with the "clues." Boyd is infected now and when he finds Echo/Alice and Sam, he gives her the treatment line but she refuses. He's flummoxed but laughs hysterically about it. We flashback to more of Caroline's Capers and her activist friends planning a raid on Rossum.

Meanwhile at Dollhouse HQ, Topher go it from November and then he gave it to Adelle (again, slow-mo and hissing.) They get progressively higher and the rest of the show turns into a big pot joke. It starts with Laurence turning very effeminate and finally handing over his gun to NSA Victor because it's heavy. Sam and Alice go back to his room to get a map of campus and so Sam can change shirts. (Are we sure this is done by Joss Whedon and not the iCarly Fan Club? Yeah, Sam's hot and cut.) They have to find Lilly Foundry for some reason only Alice knows. Topher and Adelle are cute and high and she says she's too British and Topher doesn't have pants on. Boyd calls in and says he's figured it all out, but then plays piano to Adelle and Topher on speaker phone while Sierra watches him. (Yes, he's in with all the other infected people.)

While Topher and Adelle are talking about what the color blue means to you, Millie arises from her chair and starts reliving her event with Hearn, even quoting the Doll-Kill-Now command, but she's talking as though she's talking to Paul. Clearly the drug is screwing up the actives as we also see Sierra reliving an event in a warzone where a soldier tries to rescue her as well as the "game playing" by Hearn. Victor starts collecting firearms after a security guard with an invisible humping dog starts shooting into the air.

Echo/Alice and same can't find the building but they find Lilly Foundry is a man hole cover so they go underground and Alice starts having more Caroline memories of breaking into Rossum. She leads Sam to the lab. It's the same lab she was in with Leo where they are there to video tape all the animal cruelty. But they find babies in jars and computers with brain scans and as they try to make sense of it, a guard comes in and shoots Leo as they're fleeing. Along the way, Laurence sees Echo and starts drunk-apologizing to her about trying to burn her to death. She says it's ok but he's in a mood and will not let it go, girl.

Sam, it turns out, wanted to get back to the lab not to get evidence, but to hide it. The drug was his and his friend Owen's; the student with the glass brains. They were going to sell it to a rival of Rossum and make a lot of money. Sam's mom was counting on him being a good college student and making money to help support her. It was his chance. So he doses Alice with a drop on a handkerchief and bolts. She fights through it and follows him. Her past and her present line up and she's chasing Sam and following Leo. Leo dies in her past and Boyd punches Sam in her present. Only now does she go in for treatment.

And then it all wraps up nicely. Topher figures out how it's affecting both regular people and Dolls and is obviously able to work out an antidote. We see Echo strolling leisurely inside the Dollhouse. Adelle and Laurence, though they never interacted in their goofy state, apologize to each other and it's back to business as usual. Millie packs some bags and leaves her apartment for a while, not sure when she'll be back. Paul is sad but says it's better he not know where she is, but reminds her that she knows where he is. We end with Adelle pouring a cup of tea for Sam and making him an offer including help for his mom.

Five years, then you're free.

Free from consistency, apparently. Did anyone fact check this or run it past a group of thinking individuals?

Here were my problems. When the show starts, Clive Ambrose is showing a picture of a dead Owen to Adelle and Topher and saying he was working on a psychotropic memory drug that has many phases, the first of which is giddiness followed by a loss of impulse control. But that it also spreads like a virus because "one vial could take down the entire student body." So, the drug they are making is transmittable LSD. You don't need pushers any more, you need zombies. Shoot 'em full of this stuff and let them loose into populated areas. In a show that's already pushing it as far as plausible science goes, introducing a new viral drug from which you can get high just by touching someone is a little much to center an entire show around.

The loss of impulse control would be a danger, as seen by Owen doing his best moth near a window impression and the air-dog guard shooting into the roof, but the rest seemed recreational. It was obviously an unintended side effect of the compound they were working on, but it seemed sloppy. They had a drug that changed people's inhibition levels, altered their hippocampus chemical makeup and was transmitted by touch, and yet they had students with access - no, the students made it?

Because it was Sam and Owen that made it, probably with the encouragement or even help of Rossum. But when Owen drove his own hippocampus through the safety glass, they didn't suspect that his best friend and co inventor Sam had maybe hidden the other vial?

And why wasn't Sam infected? He'd come into contact with Owen early. was he immune? Did he have an antidote? Are you telling me cracking open a container of a highly contagious drug and using only a handkerchief will keep you safe? And by the way, stop it with the handkerchiefs. They're only used by old men and creepy guys who want to drug hookers with chloroform. A college student wouldn't carry one, for real. Stop it.

Topher may have saved the day today, but he also claimed that the Dolls wouldn't be affected by the drug. Based on his advice, Adelle okayed the operation which included almost all actives and when they became infected it nearly cost lives. Had he been more cautious instead of being a fearless hipster scientist, half the story doesn't get told. And did he save the day? He mentioned proteins but that was about it and the next thing we know Laurence is getting his gun back from Ms. DeWitt.

"Echoes" felt sloppy. It felt like the story wasn't told as tightly as it could have been even in the face of the story itself being a barely controlled outbreak. The timing only worked when Echo's past and present lined up. It only worked with Adelle first offering Caroline the chance at a new life and then 40 minutes later offering it to Sam. The rest of the time was disjointed and it didn't feel like it was done purposefully, but more with a careless lack of attention.

Three creepy doll heads.