Fringe Episode Review: Bad Dreams ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Episode Review: Bad Dreams

      Email Post       4/23/2009 02:29:00 AM      

Judging from the previews, you might have expected another fun standalone episode this week, and the first few acts of Bad Dreams may have lulled you into the same conclusion. But after the introduction of ZFT-recruit Nick Lane, fans were rewarded with a huge mythology download to propel us towards this season's finale.

Academy award winner Akiva Goldsman did a wonderful job writing and directing this eerie episode, bolstered by gorgeous location shooting in gothic New York City. The script was a huge change of pace from Unleashed's horror-fest, but this week's subtlety was thoughtful and effective. I especially loved the way Goldsman chose to insert the dream sequences directly into the narrative without transitional cues, leaving us in constant suspense as to whether a scene was real or dreamed. My opinion doesn't really matter, but Bad Dreams currently ranks third on my best list, behind only Ability and Bound.
"Sometimes an intense bond could form..."
Nick Lane looked like another throw-away villain until Act IV. Turns out, Nick was broadcasting his consciousness to his childhood lab-experiment partner, Olivia, in a desperate cry for help. I'm assuming Nick's cortexiphan exposure heightened his hyper-emotive personality into the lethal psychic contagion we saw in Bad Dreams, but that it remained dormant in his consciousness until he was "activated" by "the man in the glasses." There are two easy targets for Nick's recruiter: Mr. Jones--a passionate ZFTer who, in a sense, activated Olivia in Ability--or William Bell himself. My money is on Mr. Jones. What do you think?

And what aspects of Olivia's personality--like Nick's hyper-emotiveness--will manifest themselves as unnatural abilities? Her willpower? That could explain how she turned off those lights to defuse the bomb (and the Green Lantern allusion in Inner Child, a superhero whose willpower is the source of his strength). It would certainly tie in to Peter's comment tonight that "reality is both subjective and malleable."
"Is the incident contained?"
Hands down, the best tag of the season, (tag = script-talk for the final, twisty scene before the credits roll), as well as the most mythologically fertile. We finally hear the iconic voice of William Bell, which was a great surprise (even if you knew about his casting), and John Noble did a great job making himself sound twenty-five years younger. Could the female voice have been a younger Nina Sharp?

Poor Olive. Looks like captive drug experimentation didn't sit well with three-year-old Dunham. HD screencaps confirm that the room on the tape has been burned, except for the walls around little Olivia. But don't be quick to label her a "firestarter." I doubt her abilities are that limited. I imagine Olivia--consciously or not--psychically manipulated her immediate environment, not unlike Nick Lane. After all, fire's just the oxidation of combustable material.

But there may be more--much more--to this scene than I originally suspected. During our weekly FringeTelevision Live Chat, a particularly clever fan named Batshade made a brilliant connection: could the fire Olivia started when she was three years old have been the same fire that killed Walter's lab assistant? Perhaps the lab assistant was "Brenner," the individual mentioned on the tape whose whereabouts are unknown after the fire.

Walter wasn't institutionalized until 1991, but the lab assistant fire wouldn't necessarily have to directly proceed his internment in St. Claire's. (Olivia's thirty years old, meaning her videotaped pyrotechnics occured in 1982, assuming Fringe takes place in 2009). Also, Walter specifically reminded viewers of his lab assistant's death in Bad Dreams, with his "where's the fire" joke. Interesting coincidence? Or intentional plant?

I'll leave you with a burning question: in the prophesied war between our world and a parallel universe, why does it have to be us or them? ZFT claims it won't be out of anger or hatred, but one of survival. Why can't our worlds coexist?

Stray Thoughts
  • Best Line of the Night: (Walter's response to Nick's mental institute) "Well I'm not going there." John Noble made me laugh out loud at last five times in this ep.
  • Lots of great supporting performances, especially Nick Lane, Mouse, and the NYC cop played by Lost's Mrs. Klugh.
  • Lots of possible pop-culture allusions as well. The stroller bouncing down the stairs in Grand Central? The Untouchables. The red balloon and red door on Nick's apartment? The Sixth Sense.
  • I can't believe Fox didn't use Anna Torv's steamy kiss with the dancer in their previews! Mistresses, anyone?
  • Michael Giacchino's score was perfect tonight, especially the cue when Liv and Peter realize Nick's a ZFT recruit and we cut to Astrid in the lab.
  • The rooftop scene reminded me of the worst movie I've ever seen: The Happening. Loved Walter's nonchalant reaction to the stray jumper!
  • Two rants. One, I wish Ella could be more than just a narrative device for the writers to insert foreshadowing and analogous commentary on each ep's premise. And two, Peter doesn't work for me when he's reduced to a string of constant one-liners. And has Joshua Jackson sounded a little congested to anyone else lately?
  • Anna and John really brought their A-games. Olivia's nuanced conflict was moving, while Walter's comedic timing was perfect. I can see now why the hotel room scene was Anna's favorite. It really brought Olivia further into the Bishop family dynamic.
Adam Morgan is a writer for the page and screen in Chicago, and he blogs daily at Mount Helicon.


Kim said...

Brilliant review Adam!!

We're currently two episodes behind here in South Africa and will only get to see Bad Dreams next week (we see Unleashed tonight), but I "observed" the live chat for the Bad Dreams episode on Tues and it was fun.

Wish you were going to the PaleyFest tonight. Fox/WB should pay to send you guys - after all, you do so much to promote the show.

This is a great site - very informative and entertaining. Thank you !!!

Adam Morgan said...

Thanks, Kim! Glad you enjoyed the live chat as much as we do. Sorry about the episode delay in South Africa're probably pretty spoiled by the time they air! And hey, you should get a job with FOX and send us all to Paley!

Carol said...

I love reading these reviews. Wasn't the lab assistant's name Carla Warren though?

Gil_Cdn said...

Thanks Adam for the review.

I agreed that both Anna and John shine in this episode...their performances are tantalizing and riveting. Especially enjoy the subtle change of Olivia's body language when she assumes the character of Nick!

That last scene of little 'Olive' in the corner of the charred room immediately reminds me of the German prison cell after Jone's teleportation escape.

This show is simply fabulous …
Perception is the Key to Transformation.
Mind over matter.
"Cogito ergo sum" - René Descartes

SK said...

Just wanted to mention that "Brenner" means "burner" in German - another connection?

Tanya said...

Great review! I've contemplated quite a bit about the last ep (116) vs. this one (117) -- decided I LOVE both of them equally, so different but 116 had the sustained monster excitement plus incredible interaction between the regulars (the almost sneering walter as he's eating the 'stolen' burrito and accusing peter of 'why actually do it when you can fake it' is just one example, imo) and john (walter) just blows it out totally throughout the episode with his emotiveness (I don't think that's an actual word but it works!).

In contrast 117 is a slow build, characters we haven't seen before, culminating in several amazing mythology reveals, including most dramatically THAT VOICE, AHHHHHHHHHH!

FWIW I believe the glasses man that came to Nick was not Jones but an agent of Jones (similar to James Frain), just my impression no confirmation on that.

We're in for quite a ride for the rest of the season, can't wait!!

Alina said...

Once again, a wonderful review!!This was one of my favorite episodes ever also, it was so different from any other episode we've ever seen, yet so effective and entertaining. I can only impatiently wait for next week's episode!!!! :D

Alina said...

Once again, a wonderful review!!This was one of my favorite episodes ever also, it was so different from any other episode we've ever seen, yet so effective and entertaining. I can only impatiently wait for next week's episode!!!! :D

Alina said...

Once again, a wonderful review!!This was one of my favorite episodes ever also, it was so different from any other episode we've ever seen, yet so effective and entertaining. I can only impatiently wait for next week's episode!!!! :D

penfolduk01 said...

I thought in one of the episodes it was stated that the ZFT manifesto said that the destruction of one of the parallel worlds was the natural consequence of people starting to travel between the 2 dimensions. Hence it is a war of survival - there is no possibility of compromise.

Unless the ZFT manifesto is wrong...

Anonymous said...

i think it was will bell who activated olives partner, on his rooms wall where they had all the papers you could see a mans eyes between two of the papers and i thought it looked like William bell

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