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The Lost Man: Independence Day on "Fringe"

Fringe definitely has a formula week to week.

There's nice symmetry to seeing Anna Torv's Olivia Dunham and Josh Jackson's Peter Bishop in the field, chasing down leads and suspects, while John Noble's Walter Bishop and Jasika Nicole's Astrid Farnsworth perform various experiments at the lab. This dynamic not only works to further the procedural elements of the show but there's a cozy predictability to just where each of the characters will spend the hour.

This week's episode of Fringe ("Snakehead") subverted that dynamic. While Olivia and Peter's investigation still provided the crux of the episode's mystery of the week, the most interesting elements of this week's installment was the fact that both Walter and Astrid ended up out in the field, a move that placed both of them in serious jeopardy.

But rather than have the duo there just for the sake of being there, the writers cannily used this opportunity to further Walter's character, in particular his quest for independence and his reliance on Peter and the others.

Determined to prove that he's an adult capable of handling himself on his own, Walter headed to Chinatown to follow a lead on his own. Already fuming that Peter allegedly followed his taxi to the crime scene, Walter had something to prove, both to his son and to himself. He isn't a child who needs to be coddled and managed but a grown man.

Of course, Walter isn't quite ready to cut the apron strings just yet. He was irate to discover that Astrid had followed him to Chinatown to keep an eye on him but the two soon started having fun on their little excursion... until Walter wandered off in search of some lacquered cricket cages.

The heart of the episode for me was in the moment where Walter realized that he was lost and didn't know how to get home. The mix of horror, frustration, and shame that cascaded over Noble's face as he attempted to remember his son's telephone number was an astonishing thing to see. And utterly heartbreaking as Walter used his bus fare to dial seven wrong numbers before he started crying on a bus bench.

Walter is an adult, yes, but he's still a broken one. A man who is slowly regaining his independence but who still inherently needs the support of those around him to get through the world. Take him out of his routine, remove him from the order of his life (as we saw when Peter wanted to move) and he regresses. The most indelibly sad part of Walter's encounter in Chinatown is that he had Peter's number written on a card in his pocket... but forgot it was there.

Astrid, meanwhile, led the Triad baddies right back to the lab and the four-foot parasitic worm in its tank. She was attacked and knocked unconscious. It's the first time that Astrid has really been in any serious danger on Fringe and it was clear from her reaction later that the encounter rattled her, as it should. But the incident doesn't really give us any better understanding of Astrid as a character, unfortunately. While I love Jasika Nicole, the writers (as I've frequently complained since day one) have kept Astrid more or less a cipher, an expositional tool to further the plot or a generic nursemaid/lab assistant for Walter.

Yet, one can't argue with the poignancy of the scene between Walter and Astrid as he finally gets back to the lab and sees her injuries. Fringe isn't a workplace thriller but rather a family drama, with Walter Bishop acting the role of the absent-minded pater familias. Walter's extreme sadness upon seeing Astrid and the tenderness which with he held her in his arms spoke volumes about Walter's role within the Fringe Division.

It was entirely fitting then that he should offer to make a compromise with Peter (though it would have been nice had he consulted him first), having implanted himself with a tracking device. Peter now has the ability to find Walter anywhere and Walter doesn't have to worry about not being found. Hmmm... Something tells me that this tracking device is going to play a large role in a an upcoming storyline.

What did you think of this week's episode? Is Walter growing as a character? Will his independent streak prove to be short-lived? Am I right about that tracking device being a plant to be paid off later? Discuss.

Next week on Fringe ("Grey Matters"), the Fringe Division investigates a mental institution after a patient has brain surgery and begins to show an improvement despite having his brain exposed; Olivia sees a familiar face after she views footage from the surveillance tapes.


Piper said…
I agree that it was nice to see Walter and Astrid out of the lab and John Noble gave an excellent performance (as always). Seeing the look on his face when he realizes he can't get home on his own was just heartbreaking. It was almost enough to distract me from those nasty giant worms!
kat said…
John Noble's Walter Bishop is the main reason I watch this show. I am kinda squeamish and don't really enjoy watching the gross mystery of the week stuff but I will do it in order to watch Noble and the other excellent cast members.
rockauteur said…
It was a good episode but I'm really sick of the stand-alones! Bring on the mythology!

Yeah the static shot on the tracker device at the end as the final shot definitely makes me believe it figures into an upcoming episode... perhaps even next week.
Chris said…
I think the situation with Astrid is just gonna turn out to be a repeat of what happened with Walter's last lab assistant.

Astrid and Walter are obviously close, and growing closer. If he should lose her in some accident...
Page48 said…
It was a long, long time ago, but I seem to recall something about shapeshifters, William Bell, alternate realities, Nina Sharp, Agent Jessup, Mr. Weiss, Massive Dynamic, and wasn't there something about a coming storm?

"Fringe" is spinning its own wheels as well as mine. Stop
Ridolph said…
Is this still on?

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