Spoiler Heavy Reviews: Fringe – “Subject 9”

by Kevin on October 14, 2011


If last week’s episode felt like a good old-fashioned episode of business-as-usual, tonight’s episode “Subject 9” reminded me of the first season: Walter at odds with Massive Dynamic, the emphasis on Cortexiphan and Walter’s early studies, fears about St. Claire’s. Most of the episode featured Olivia and Walter together, discussing Walter’s fears about his mental state and his regret over his past scientific studies on the children, Olivia included. It was a rewarding episode, but not without its flaws, which I’ll get to after the recap.

We open in Olivia’s apartment at 5:59 AM, where a strange blue swirly thing is amassing over her bed. When she wakes up with her alarm at 6:00, she sees the blue swirl and freaks, and it disappears; suddenly, it’s 6:00 again, and she’s understandably confused.

Meanwhile, Walter is conducting experiments with peanuts (we’re lucky Astrid convinced him not to use shrimp), trying to photograph and capture the mysterious man from their visions. In the process, he discovers an opened piece from St. Claire’s, his former institution, addressed to Olivia. Predictably, Dr. Sumner is recommending Walter return to his care at St. Claire’s, and Olivia hasn’t yet checked the box for either “I recommend care” or “I don’t recommend care.”

The blue swirly thing, which has magnetic properties, continues to appear, and seems to be affecting time; Walter’s camera is capturing footage of its appearance before it actually occurs, like in Olivia’s bedroom. The events remind Walter of a former Cortexiphan subject who was capable of astral projection. He suspects this boy, Subject 9, might be the one behind the blue swirly thing, and they decide to track him down.

The investigation begins at Massive Dynamic, which brings back Nina Sharpe. Nina is explaining to some people that they own a lot of patents, but aren’t responsible for what the technology they own is used for. It’s a very typical MD outlook, particularly from the first season, when we weren’t sure whose side Nina Sharpe and MD were on (or what the sides even were). It also accounts for why Walter is openly hostile to Nina and accuses her of destroying files.

The investigation for Subject 9 takes them to an apartment in the city, which takes Walter outside the lab for his first time in three years. It’s quintessential Walter, funny yet sad, and with rich character moments from the always amazing John Noble. Walter has been so visibly out of his comfort zone this season, and it comes to a head in the hotel room, where he has a freakout over germs in the hotel room (not unjustly, I might add).

After another appearance by the blue swirly thing in the middle of a restaurant, they go after Subject 9, whose name is Cameron James, and has been living under another name and attempting to overcome the damage that was done to him during the Cortexiphan trials. Olivia and Walter think that Cameron is behind the blue swirly thing, but he’s just been trying to live a normal life under the radar, despite having reactions to metal every time he gets stressed.

Once Olivia and Walter realize that Cameron isn’t responsible, they have a chance to sit and let Walter do his thing. He comes up with an earnestly Fringe theory that involves Cameron doing something with electromagnetism and linear time and yada yada yada (you know, magic). They go to a field where Cameron can work his mojo, when suddenly Olivia sees the outline of Peter in the swirl. She interrupts Cameron before he could destroy the swirl, which results in Peter suddenly materializing in the middle of Reiden Lake, under the watchful eyes of two fishermen and an observer.

Broyles calls Olivia to let him know that the man from the lake knows classified information only Fringe Division should know, including all of their names. Naturally, when they show up at the hospital, Peter is glad to see Olivia, who responds “Who are you?” Cue mysterious outro music, and scene.

As I said earlier, the scenes with Olivia and Walter are almost touching. They’re very good, but I think some of the writing was too on-the-nose, which made it feel too much like exposition and not enough like the genuine dialogue of two long-time colleagues. And with a mystery this stressful, it would seem that any dialogue would be more emotionally charged — such a rich character episode deserved richer character moments. Which is not to say that “Subject 9” wasn’t a good episode, just not as good as I think it could have been.

And Cameron, the first Cortexiphan subject besides Olivia we’ve seen for quite a while, could have had more room to breathe in this episode. The Cortexiphan plot is one of my favorites in the series, and there’s a lot they could mine from it in terms of story and emotion (I’m thinking of the Nick Lane/Sally Clark story from “Over There,” plus the others). It seemed like the writers wanted this but didn’t have the time. Which is a shame, because they obviously took a lot of care with this episode.

Kevin’s Grade: A-

The Good

  • Obviously, I really liked tonight’s episode, thought I have high expectations for the writing on Fringe. The return of some of the more interwoven plots of the series was welcome, and the direction of Joe Chappelle (who directed the season premiere, my other favorite episode of the season so far) was a welcome return to form.
  • Nina: “Walter has said many things to me over the years, but ‘thank you’ was never one of them.”
  • “I suppose I’ve learned that crazy is a lot more complicated than people think.”
  • “If you don’t mind, I think I should urinate before we leave. And don’t worry, I packed us sandwiches.” Oh, Walter.

The Bad

  • There wasn’t much bad besides what I mentioned. Taking Walter out of the lab for the first time should have been more climactic (although it was pretty climactic). I feel he would have had a harder time, even with his fear of going back to the hospital motivating him.

The Weird

  • Random song in the intro, “Couldn’t Get it Right” by the Climax Blues Band. Check out the lyrics, which provide an interesting perspective on the episode.

Things to Think About

  • A recent interview with Anna Torv confirmed that the big mystery this season is going to center around Peter, so while it seems like we’re on the verge of getting somewhere, I think we’re still rather far from any real answers.

Next Week: S4E5 “Novation” and the triumphant return of Peter Bishop (and shapeshifters!!)

Previously on Fringe:
S4E1 | S4E2 | S4E3

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

nashfunk October 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm

I’m glad I stumbled on this tonight. One thing to note: The reality of what we are seeing in this episode is like almost a slightly different universe… one where our Peter never existed. So why wouldn’t things be different? The relationship between Olivia and Walter would surely be different if Peter was never around. At first I felt like the writing was a little more forced than usual, and a little harder to swallow… but then again maybe it was intentional to make us really feel that things are different in this off-kilter version of reality.


Kevin October 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Not a bad theory. I agree that the relationships have to be different. Still could have used a big “wow” moment, with the drama that we’ve seen from Torv and Noble, even if it was only from one of them.


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