Fringe Summer Rewatch: #206 "Earthling" ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Summer Rewatch: #206 "Earthling"

      Email Post       8/12/2011 03:06:00 AM      

Join us for our Fringe Summer re-watch, where we review every episode of Fringe during the summer hiatus. Comments are welcome as we dig into the connections made over three seasons.

We open with a guy on the phone with his wife. He's telling her he's about to board his plane, but we can see that he's actually at home, getting ready to surprise her for their anniversary. She's sweetly understanding as he apologizes for not being there, and he casually asks if she's on her way home.

The television comes on by itself.

Suddenly uneasy, Romantic Guy tells her he needs to go. The lights are acting strangely as well. Trying to disregard the crawling in his skin, he's tucking a card into some roses near the door, when the lights go out again. He flips them back on to reveal a man-shaped shadow, horrifying in it's sudden proximity. Terrified, he stumbles backward...

A few minutes later, Wife enters and comes face to face with the flowers. Smiling, she reads the card, and enters the living room to find him sitting perfectly still in a chair. When he doesn't respond to her banter she becomes alarmed, reaching to snap him out of it. The place where she touched him crumbles into a fine ash, followed rapidly by most of the rest of him. Powdery remains and her screams swirl through the apartment, and the credits roll.

Early the next morning, Phillip Broyles breakfasts alone in a cafe. Tall, handsome, and intimidating, he is enthralling to the young boy at the next table. The boy is playing copycat, imitating Broyles' every gesture, and Phillip plays along, watching the boy out of the corner of his eye until he catches the kid in the act, giving him a rare and beautiful grin. The boy grins back delightedly before resuming the game, hiding behind his menu. Broyles' phone rings, and when the kid peeks back around, his silent playmate is gone.

Fringe Division is already at the residence of the victim, Randy Dancik. Walter examines the ashes as FBI agents mill in the background. There are no signs of struggle, no forced entry. Lack of scorch marks on the chair indicate that there was no combustion. Walter is asking for a vacuum cleaner to transport the remains when Broyles arrives, looking grimmer than usual and asking questions about the victim visiting hospitals. Olivia is taken aback, and Broyles explains that it's not the first time he's seen this kind of murder.

Peter and Olivia accompany Broyles to a storage unit, where he elucidates as he digs through some boxes. It's clearly personal storage; there's an old suitcase, a bicycle, other odds and ends indicative of a man who's not as settled as he might seem. Signs of an interrupted life that nicely foreshadow his later confession to Olivia.

Broyles tells Peter and Olivia that this incident is identical to a case he worked four years ago. He's tight, almost angry, as he tells them about five previous victims, all of whom worked at or had visited the same hospital. After the third death, Broyles was contacted by a man who had specific details about the case, a man who offered to turn himself in if they could decipher his formula. Government agencies could make no sense of it, and after two more deaths the killings stopped. Broyles hands over a copy for their perusal, and Peter recognizes it as a molecular model.

While Peter heads to the lab with the formula, Olivia receives a call confirming that Randy had visited his mother at Latchmere General the day he was killed. While she's on the phone, Broyles finds an old micro-cassette recorder. He stuffs it grimly into his pocket as he and Olivia head for the hospital. When they arrive, Broyles has a warrant at the ready, employee records - now.

At the lab, Peter, Walter, and Astrid are examining Randy's remains. To Walter's surprise, they hold no traces of radiation whatsoever. The equation describes something highly radioactive, the ashes should be clicking merrily if the formula had anything to do with his death. When Olivia calls to check on their progress, Peter informs her that so far all they have is a total lack of radiation, and Walter's theory that the formula describes an organism. Walter takes the phone, starting to tell her something, when an idea strikes him. He sets the phone down muttering, and moves back to the whiteboard, lost in thought. Bemused, Peter rescues the abandoned phone to tell Olivia that Walter's on it, and they'll let her know when they come up with something.

At Latchmere, Broyles is brooding and edgy, refusing to take a break while the records are being searched. Cautiously, Olivia tries to draw him out, asking why the killer called him. Broyles says the man seemed distraught by the killings, unable to control them, wanting them to end. A sudden flurry of activity amongst the hospital staff alerts Broyles and Olivia to another killing - this time right under their noses. Broyles is fuming when an agent reports that they've found an employee who worked at both hospitals - and he didn't show up for work tonight.

Back at his office, Broyles has opened up all his old case files. His whiteboard is covered with information on the previous victims as he listens to a recorded conversation between himself and Koslov. He is visibly upset, listening to himself tell the man his team needs more time... This case clearly means more to him than he's telling, but his reverie is interrupted by a message - Senator Van Horn is on the line.

Broyles meets the senator in a Washington park. The fingerprint they found at Koslov's apartment raised several flags, and Broyles is ordered to cease and desist as other agencies squabble over the case. The CIA wants Koslov, so do the Russians. According to the Russians, Koslov stole some property belonging to the them. Van Horn tells Broyles he knows what this case means to him, but there's nothing he can do, Phillip is losing the case to the CIA. Both men know that Broyles has no intention of letting it go.

Back at Latchmere, Olivia is reviewing the hospital security footage when Broyles calls to tell her they're off the case - except that they're not. Stop documenting, he says, write nothing down, but keep on it. Olivia demurs, concerned for his job if they're caught. Behind her, the security tech calls for her attention; the cameras caught something. Just before the second victim was discovered, a man's shadow is seen on film. Another angle shows that a shadow is all it is, there is no face.

Back at the lab, the whole team watches as Walter examines the footage. There's no translucency, no reflection - Walter is certain this thing is it's own entity, possibly the result of a Russian Experiment. Broyles watches the footage silently, avidly.

Heading back to his office, Broyles receives a delivery from the senator's. Opening it, he finds a top secret file on Timur Vasiliev, aka "Tomas Koslov," and his brother - Aleks Vasiliev the cosmonaut. It was Aleks that Koslov stole six years ago. Officially Aleks is dead, but he actually returned from his last mission in a coma. Timur took him from the quarantined facility where he was being studied, and has apparently been bouncing him from coma ward to coma ward ever since. And since no one has been removed from the coma ward in two weeks, Aleks must still be at Latchmere. Broyles has a team ready to go, and Olivia can only follow.

At the lab, Walter has deduced that the creature is seeking out radiation, absorbing all there is in it's victims, leaving not even normal traces behind. All five previous victims were undergoing radiation therapy at the time of their deaths, and Dancik had taken a long flight the day he was killed, getting a nice dose of UV from the window seat.

At Latchmere, our team bursts into the coma ward looking for Timur, but he's nowhere to be found. All beds are accounted for, but one of the nurses is missing - she's been sedated and switched for Aleks. The brothers have escaped, but while making their getaway in an unmarked van, Timur doesn't look exactly triumphant.

Back at the Lab, Walter is aiding his concentration by blasting Donizetti at ear-splitting levels, with Peter watching in open amusement and Astrid valiantly concealing her frustration, when Olivia and Broyles arrive. Quelling his disappointment at being interrupted, Walter theorizes that the cosmonaut picked up a hitchhiker of some kind, a parasite capable of projecting itself without ever actually leaving the host. Distractedly, he moves back to the chalk board, not responding to Broyles' question about solving the formula, but Olivia steps in front of him, her impatience fueled by worry for Broyles. The momentary derailment of his focus gives him the inspiration he needs. Grinning, he says that he can do it, but he needs something from home. Wryly, Peter follows his Dad out the door.

In his motel room, Timur is listening to voice mail while he prepares to move his brother once again. Timur jots down some notes, crooning to Aleks in Russian about the new home they'll have soon. The second voice mail is from Broyles - he has information on the formula. Sponging his brother's forehead, Timur's hands go still, but before he can think about it, the TV fuzzes out and the lights flicker. Timur quickly hooks his brother up to the batteries with a pair of jumper cables, and gives Aleks a brutal jolt, begging forgiveness as he forces the emerging shadow back into his brother's body. This is clearly very stressful on the comatose man, and when Timur is forced to jolt him again to keep the thing inside, Aleks flatlines. He comes back after a moment though, leaving Timur half weeping with relief.

Astrid has set up a trace system for if Timur calls back. Broyles is still brooding fiercely, and Olivia has finally worked up the courage to take the plunge. "Why this one?" she asks, "Why is this case so important to you?" And astonishingly, he tells her: by the time this case happened four years ago, he'd stopped caring about professional advancement, he'd seen too much, and only wanted to protect people. He became obsessed with the case, and it destroyed his marriage. In the most poignant line of the episode he tells her "I took this job to make the world a safer place for my family. Instead I lost them."

At home, Walter and Peter have built a model of the formula out of Tinker Toys - a physical representation to give Walter new perspective on the molecules. He peers thoughtfully at it for a moment, and then carefully he and Peter pull two similar halves apart as far as they'll go, but they catch, fundamentally linked, just before they fully disentangle. Oh no. The child's toys have eloquently demonstrated that there is no hope for Aleks, the man and his uninvited passenger have become one.

Meanwhile, Timur has his brother back in the van, preparing to run again. He heads back into the motel room to call Broyles and ask if they've solved the formula. On the line with Olivia, Walter says sadly that they have, but it's bad news. The two have become linked on a molecular level. Killing one will kill them both. Broyles tells Timur that they have the answer, but it's not the one he wants to hear. As Broyles explains, Timur is overwhelmed, legs buckling in despair as he sinks into a seat. Swallowing his grief, he tells Broyles that he doesn't want his brother harmed. Broyles attempts to reassure him long enough to get a trace, but Timur is gone. An oscillating fan rotates, blowing his ashes gently along the light breeze. And The shadow walks out the door.

The Fringe team got the trace, but they arrive at the motel to find Aleks in the back of the van, and Timur's crumbling remains in the motel room. Walter and Peter rush to the van, finding it full of batteries, wires, and one comatose cosmonaut. Walter surmises the equipment must have been used to keep the entity too weak to leave Aleks' body. When Broyles asks how the shadow can be contained without Timur, Walter responds that a body sized lead case would be a good place to start, but they'll have to wait until it gets back.

Wait, what?

There's no radiation coming from Aleks' body. The shadow is gone. Urgently, Peter asks if the shadow can be drawn back by distressing the host. Walter is uncertain, but it's out there right now, and time is of the essence, it's worth a try.

In a nearby room, a young girl is watching cartoons when the TV fuzzes out. Her attention disrupted, she suddenly notices the half-closed closet door a few feet away. It looks darker and scarier in there than it ever has before. 
Walter is having trouble with Timur's primitive equipment. As he fumbles with foreign knobs, a child's shrill screams pierce the air. Everyone jerks up in horror, but Broyles never hesitates. Roughly ordering Peter out of the way,  he shoots Aleks in the head. Tara's mother comes running out of the bathroom, dripping in a hastily donned bathrobe. The child sits perfectly still, staring blankly at the snowy TV. She doesn't respond to her mother's frantic questioning. With a trembling hand, Tara's mom reaches out to touch her daughter, and at last the child turns her head. "There was a man," she says solemnly, "a shadow man. He disappeared."

Later that evening, Broyles pays a visit to his ex wife. From the moment she opens the door it's clear from both their faces that the sight of each other brings up old wounds. The kids aren't home, she tells him, but it's her he wants to talk to. As she stares at him uncertainly, her new husband pokes his head out long enough let us know he's in her life - Diane has moved on. He withdraws gracefully, leaving them to talk. "I closed that case," he tells her "the one four years ago." Closing her eyes against memory, she's happy for him, truly, but it's not enough to fill the gulf that yawns between them. Nothing ever will be. He declines her invitation to stay for dinner, and says goodnight. He's able to not look back until after she closes the door.

When he reaches his car, there's a CIA agent waiting in the street. The man reminds him that the CIA kinda means it when they say butt out, and tells Phillip that he should be very grateful for his friend, Senator Van Horne. When Broyles asks what happened to the cosmonaut, the man looks meaningfully up at the stars, and replies "We had no choice, once he started breathing again." Broyles follows his gaze, seeking the place between the stars where the shadows live.

To me, this episode is really a character study for Broyles. Until this point he's been an enigma. He's been The Boss, distant, in charge, even abrasive at times when testing the limits of his team, but here we find that:

  •      He's surprisingly good with kids, even ones he's never met.
  •     Ultimately, he was faced with an impossible choice - the job or the family. Broyles chose the job, despite all it cost him, because it was the best way he knew to protect his family.
  •     He regrets having to make that choice still.
  •     And yes, there are still feelings between Phillip and Diane, as this last scene illustrates with such heartbreaking clarity. And Broyles is later keenly interested in the fact that the two are still married on the other side.

This is the first real glimpse we've had into Phillip Broyles the man. He's a sad man, isolated by the weight of his knowledge, but he cares deeply for those around him, as he'll prove in What Lies Beneath, as well as many other episodes. His job is all he has left, and he performs it with courage and conviction, because he believes that he can help defend people from some of the freaky things they don't report in the news. But the cost can be hard to bear, and I think it was not without compassion or regret that, in the Pilot episode when Olivia insisted that she just wanted to go back to how it was before, he told her "Dunham, I don't think you can."

Interesting tidbits:

  •     There's a poster on the wall behind the hospital administrator lady with a familiar person shaped shadow on it.
  •      Both Peter and Olivia unconsciously smile when they're on the phone together (awwww).
  •     This episode establishes the relationship between Van Horne and Broyles that will come back into play in 3x04. As we know now, Van Horne is already dead here, and has been for years.
  •      The Observer cruises Broyles while he's on the phone with Olivia at the airport.
  •     Speaking of which, Broyles is in an airport - because he flew to Washington? Is this a glimpse of all that off screen travel they must do?
  •      Interestingly, this episode establishes the undoubted existence of Extraterrestrial life in the Fringeverse, with very little fanfare.

 And finally, What if Peter Bishop didn't exist?

Sadly, Peter really didn't have much to do in this episode. His role here was mostly sarcasm and charming comic relief, with a little bit of pointing the team down avenues they would eventually have explored anyway. However, it must be remembered that without Peter, it's highly unlikely that Walter would have ever been freed from St. Claire's, and Walter was instrumental in solving the formula. I think that if Peter (and by extension Walter) hadn't been present, the case might have turned out very differently, with more casualties, almost certainly including an innocent child. And Broyles might still be spending his nights staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to take him, and wondering if he'd ever solve the mystery that destroyed his family.


cortexifan said...

This episode was never one of my favorites but the more I’ve been watching the more it grows on me.

-Love how Broyles plays with the kid at the restaurant. He has a son and a daughter after all.
-I’m surprised Walter hadn’t tastes these ashes as he does in 3.09 Marionette.
-Walter needs several vacuum cleaners: a party for Fauxlivia :)
-We know John Scott had files in a basement because he was working undercover (for good guys or bad, still not sure), but why did Broyles keep files in a private storage facility versus at the FBI?
-Olivia looks quite surprise at a “determined, prepare and ready for action” Broyles as he wants to finally solve this case. In this episode (for me at least) Olivia’s respect for Broyles grew even more. I absolutely love the relationship between them. Later when she asks him about this case, she was very gentle with him. I think the respect she has for our Broyles, later helped her gain the respect for Alt-Broyles as she was stuck Over There, especially when she asked him to re-question his son, even though Lincoln and Alt-Charlie warned her not to push it.
-Walter refers to the formula as a sly temptress. He calls Fauxlivia a temptress too in 3.08 Entrada.
-The special effects in this episode are awesome.
-Senator Van Horn. Was he a shapeshifter already when talking with Broyles? His wife Patricia helped the team in 3.04 DSDOES and her name was a hotel name in 3.03 The Plateau just before Olivia and Alt-Charlie started chasing Milo.
-The Shadow. It reminded me of the radio program Christopher was listening to in 3.07 The Abducted.
-Astrid: “I’m not gonna sleep for weeks.” Ha, I thought that too as I was watching this episode last night. I’m house-sitting by myself and it’s big. Made really sure all doors are locked :) Loved Walter’s smirk after Astrid said that.
-My favorite scene is when Walter is so focused on the formula, with the music playing and Peter and Astrid not really knowing what to do, and then offering licorice.
-Broyles’s marriage broke apart because of this case. Over There he is still married. Alt-wife seems more patient as well. Not sure what’s worse, a case like this or the universe breaking apart.
-I’m going to get me some tinker toys and set them up in my “Fringe Case” (a small book case with glass doors where I will have all kinds of Fringe stuff).
-Walter suggests putting the astronaut’s body in a lead case. In 3.20 6:02 AM EST, a scientist from Over There said; “We’ve doubled the thickness of the lead shielding around the machine.”
-Timor’s hotel room is “8” and we know what that means.
-The scene with the little girl sitting motionless on the bed had in a sense the same effect for me as Walter coming out of the elevator in 3.04 DSDOES where I thought Ray had shifted into Walter. I thought the shadow had gotten her too.
-Did it really give Broyles the desired satisfaction or result by going to his ex-wife and telling her he solved that case?
-Agent Edwards. I didn’t trust him in this episode and I for sure don’t trust him in 3.12 Concentrate And Ask Again and what is his connection to Nina? And how could they revive the astronaut. I thought Broyles shot him dead?

If Peter never existed in this episode…
Everything would have still happened the way it did, I guess.
-would Walter have been able to focus long enough to set up the tinker toys by himself?

fringeobsessed said...

Welcome aboard! You took what I think is a complicated episode and made it easy to digest.
Nice work.

I got the impression, for some reason, that Aleks just came back to life on his own-like that guy at the end of "Unearthed."

Also, if they shot Aleks back into space, will he be the Second-To-Last Man In Space?(I still think Peter Bishop will be the Last Man In Space
like the VSC song.)

I disagree with both of you as to Peter's role in this episode. If Peter never existed it is unlikely that Walter would own Tinker Toys(he might not even know what they are, since they're a kid's toy). So, Walter may never have fully examined the molecule, may never have come to the conclusion that they were inseperable.
It's possible that Timor may have survived and he and his brother could still be out there somewhere turning more innocent people into ash.

One last thing:I think this business of the 2 being inseperable is foreshadowing of Peter/Olivia in the future. We've already hypothesized that alot of stuff happens when they focus together. I think together they will be a superpower.
Or, if that's not correct it could be a description of the main characters and their doppelgangers from Over There, as Peter said in 322, "Our two worlds are inextricable. If one side dies, we all die."

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