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.
I cannot think about "What Lies Below" without hearing the music of this excellent fanvid by littletonpace in my head:
We're working our way into the middle episodes of Season 2, and what I like is they are all different. "What Lies Below" has a really different feel to it. You can tell in the first 10 minutes this is not a Wyman/Pinkner/Goldsman episode. It is something different than that, but it has a very dark and intense feel to it, none the less.
An Episode In The Medical Thriller Genre, and 'Fringe' Meets Outbreak
There is a genre in fiction called medical suspense. Basically, the plot invovles something medically sinister, like bad bacteria, bad viruses, bad doctors, nurses, hospitals, or these days, HMO's. Basically, a medical suspense story is a whodunnit in a medically-related setting. If you've watched any of the Rissoli&Isles shows, that's medical suspense. Once in awhile a good medical suspense book is made into a movie, like Robin Cook's Coma.
"What Lies Below" is a medical suspense episode of Fringe. And it reminds me very much plot-wise of the 1995 movie "Outbreak." In the movie a man smuggles an illegal monkey out of Zaire and into the US to sell on the Black Market. He doesn't realize the monkey is infected with an Ebola-like virus called Motaba. Of course the monkey bites him and he dies, and so does the pet shop guy who gets bitten trying to take care of it. In the world of epidemiology, all you need is the first patient, known as Patient Zero, to get the ball rolling. The pet shop guy infected other people in a mythical California town. The situation gets crazy out-of-control, and the CDC and federal government get involved trying to figure out how to keep the contaminated people within the quaratined city limits. They also struggle to decide if they will need to kill the inhibitants of the town to keep the virus contained, and save the world. In the movie, the CDC epidemiologists get their hands on the monkey and his antibodies and get lucky, and so do our favorite dysfunctional characters in 'Fringe.'
Colors In "What Lies Below"
If you've been reading other posts in our Summer Rewatch program, you've probably noticed that fellow fan, cortexifan, has been picking up on the significance of colors in the episodes. That is something I've missed in some of them, so I feel the need to mention them here.
Mike the Courrier's bike is BLUE.
Mr. Vandenkemp(Patient Zero)'s shirt is BLUE.
After Mr. Vandenkemp dies he's placed under a YELLOW tarp.
Olivia is wearing a BLUE blouse with her usual black pantsuit.
The caps on the virus samples Walter studies are BLUE.
When Walter, Astrid, and the CDC team enter Vitas Petrol their biohazard suits are RED.
Do these strategically-placed colors mean anything? Well, it could be foreshadowing of Season 4, we'll have to wait and see.
Walter Bishop, A Special Needs Individual
I love the second scene where Astrid has lost Walter(reminiscent of "Snakehead" and "Grey Matters") in the mythical Boston Children's Science Center. A kind employee asks her what school he's with. Astrid replies, "He's not from any school, he's a man. His name is Doctor Walter Bishop."
The kind employee replies, "Hmm, I see. A special needs individual."
Astrid deeply chuckles and says, "Heh, you have no idea."
Astrid finds Walter only after he's narrated a horrifying story to a group of youngsters about the return of Magellan's ship(without him) to Spain with only 18 crew members out of 237, and about the result of looking for and finding monsters under their beds. A concerned Science Center employee looks on as Walter tells the children, "You see, when you open new doors, there is a price to pay," which is foreshadowing of the upcoming "Peter" episode.
Once Walter mentions the children getting eaten by the monster, the employee asks Walter, "Excuse me, do you work here?" He tells her no he's just a season pass holder and gives her his name. In the next scene Walter is telling Astrid how upset he is that they revoked his membership. Astrid points out that he terrified the kids. Walter replies that they are "tragically coddled and ill-advised," and in that moment it's easy to picture Walter as the scientist experimenting on 3 year olds in the upcoming "Jacksonville." This episode resembles the structure of "Unleashed," as there's a story of something scary and then an actual scary plot unfolds.
Again, Give Hime The Keys, And Save The Girl
Poor Peter accidentally falls into the deceased Mr. VandenKemp's blood when the secretary scares him, before she takes a header out the window. The look on Olivia's face is pure horror as she takes in the blood on his arms and hands. Her voice almost cracks when she says his name. Peter makes a beeline to the nearest sink and starts scrubbing. His baby blues are intense as they bore into hers, as though she shouldn't even entertain the possibility that thy won't have their time together in the future. Olivia leaves Peter to keep scrugging and goes into a hallway to try to get herself back under control. I believe this is the first time in the series we see her come anywhere close to hysterical.
Remember, normally Peter calms her down, but he can't this time-he's preoccupied.
Olivia gets her breathing under control and sees Peter moving quickly down the hall in his undershirt. As she rounds the corner, she sees Peter frantically digging into the pockets of VandenKemp's clothing. She screams at him to get away. The rest of that conversation is below:
PETER: Can't wait any longer.
OLIVIA: Stop it! Get away from him now!
PETER: I got his blood on me. If I wasn't infected before, I probably am now.
OLIVIA: Peter, this is insane!
PETER: They're down there and we're up here. And they're not sending anybody else up. This is our last chance to figure out whatever it was that he came here to try and sell. Rental car keys. Never take anything into a negotiation that can land you in jail. Always leave it in neutral territory.
Peter finds the car rental keys. Which leads to the next scene where hazmat-suited workers open the trunk of a car with a bumper that reads: Altius Car Rental.
Altius=Higher; Who's higher on the food chain-viruses or us?
Altius is Latin for "higher," and I think this refers to Walter's great lecture to Astrid and Bill Hubert, the CDC guy manning the centrifuge, back in Walter's lab. That conversation is below:
WALTER: If we can isolate the strain, we may be able to understand this virus's personality.
ASTRID: The personality? Walter, it's not a person.
WALTER: Centrifuge is over there. No, viruses are not people, Astrid. But they seem to have minds of their own. The rabies virus can't survive in water. So it inflicts its host with a paralyzing fear of water.
ASTRID: Walter, that sounds...
WALTER: Heh, trust me, I know how it sounds. It's almost beyond belief. The more we learn about viruses, the more unbelievable they become. They deny our definitions of living and dead. And their only function seems to be to survive, to replicate. And they use us as a vehicle to do so. It's the folly of humans to believe we're at the top of the food chain. In truth, viruses are.
Walter grows more animated as this conversation goes along. It reminds me of the scene in "Bound" when Peter and Olivia are trying to catch the super-sized cold virus slug, while Walter gets quite passionate and loud over deceased Dr. Kinberg's continuing slide show on viruses:
Walter: Look. Simian hemorrhagic fever. The infected cells have a definitive spiderweb look. Makes HIV look like a common cold by comparison.
Ebola. First the headaches then the skin turns to rice pudding.
No time for the immune response.
Let's face it, besides food, viruses get our Walter Bishop excited. And he repects them.
There are many great conversations within "What Lies Below"
Peter and Olivia
1. A frustrated Olivia is tying to figure out who VandenKemp came to see. She's looking through Ames' appointments when Peter notices the employees on the phone.
PETER:They're all calling their families. Wanna call your sister? Just to let her know what's going on?
Olivia doesn't even acknowledge what he said, and makes a comment about the schedule.
Peter just shakes his head.
2. Peter and Olivia sit down on a sofa. He asks her if she got ahold of Rachel.
Olivia says she didn't try, that "Rachel just went through all this stuff with me in the hospital," which is a reference to 201 when Olivia almost died after flying through her windshield.
Olivia ends her defense with "What's the point in scaring her again?"
Peter intensifies those baby blues and replies,"That's just like you. Even now, you're protecting her. I thought that was the point of having people who care about you in your life... to have someone to talk to when you're scared." And that could be some Season 4 foreshadowing right there. Fear is half of what triggered Olivia's ability to see the glimmer of things from Over There in "Jacksonville." Perhaps it will be fear again that makes her see through to Peter in Season 4?
They don't have much time to let Peter's words sink in as Olivia sees the sick secretary out and walking. Peter and Olivia split up to look for her.
3. Olivia is well on her way to the switchbox ofr the ventilation system when she gets hit by a fast-moving infected Peter. The conversation is below:
OLIVIA: Ohh! (draws her pistol to defend herself. pleads to her friend) Listen, I'm here to help you.
PETER: Give me the gun, Olivia.
OLIVIA: Peter, they're gonna shoot you.
PETER: They're gonna kill us all anyway. (stalking forward. paranoid) The cure is out there. They're lying to us. And you locked me in here.
OLIVIA: Uhh! (as Peter attacks her) Uhh! (they struggle) Uhh!
PETER: You betrayed me! (takes a blow to the midsection) Ahh! (her pistol fires into the ceiling)
OLIVIA: Uhh! (Olivia knees Peter in the privates and then dives for her dropped pistol below a vehicle)
PETER: (steps on her arm) Hyuh!
OLIVIA: (in pain) Agh!
PETER: (after grabbing the pistol) Stay down. (aims at her. dazed, he wanders away)
Wow! Did you ever think we'd see the day when Liv has to draw her gun to protect herself from Peter Bishop?! I'm still shocked how after she kneed him rather effectively he didn't even flinch.
Broyles and McFadden, the CDC Man in Charge
One of my favorite parts of this episode is when we get to see how protective Phillip Broyles is of his 'family.' He begs McFadden for more time to find a cure, twice. McFadden seems like a blood-thirsty beaurocrat who can't wait to send in the Army to "eradicate" all those still in the Vitas Petrol building. The first time, Broyles has an idea. "Fentanyl gas. Pump it inside the building. Knock them out long enough to synthesize a cure. We could have a gas truck here in ten minutes."
The second time Broyles begs for more time, he bares his soul to McFadden, and shows us what lies below. "I understand you have operational authority here. But there are people in there that are like family to me. Another ten minutes." Wow. Phillip Broyles has sure come along way from the pilot, hasn't he?
Walter and Astrid
Another of my favorite scenes in this episode is when Walter refuses to leave the building.
Astrid never tells him of the Army's plan to kill those still inside. Walter asks her to help him get VandenKemp's body on a table in another room that they make into a lab. It looks like Walter's making progress in evaluating the body and thinking how they can beat this virus when he gets frustrated. In a gut-wrenching moment Astrid asks "Walter...what can I do?"
Walter replies,"I can't let Peter die again. He's going to. They all will. There's nothing I can do about it." I wonder if that statement right there is foreshadowing of the bigger plot. I sure hope not!
Astrid is not focusing on Walter's reply. She reminds him of the 18 of Magellan's crew wh made it back alive. That's all Walter needs. He makes the leap to how we're still alive today. He is reminded
of the giant volcano Mt. Toba that erupted thousands of years ago raining down....
WALTER:No, ash. Mt. Toba.....
That is a lovely little comic moment where Astrid thinks he forgot her name again, but he was making reference to the ash from the volcano.
Walter's hand is shaky as he attempts to check the effectiveness of their horseraddish on the blood sample containing the virus. Astrid lovingly takes it from him and finishes the test.
Beautiful Blue Flares
The scenes near the end of this episode where Peter and Olivia are passed out on the floor from the Fentanyl gas and get treated by Walter's cure are beautifully shot and full of blue flares like the ones in "There's More Than One Of Everything," and other scenes in Season 3.
Our Jekyll, Peter, looks almost angelic when he wakes up cured from the virus.
And from Peter's point of view, Olivia looks angelic as well. Is this foreshadowing as well?
Peter waking up from who knows where and seeing Olivia?
Things of Interest
There is a real Museum Of Science and a real Boston's Children's Museum in Boston, but not a Boston Children's Science Museum.
Astrid loses Walter twice in this episode, like she does in "White Tulip."
If you call the number on the Altius Car Rental bumper sticker, 800-555-0995, you get a recording to call a "talk" line.
The movie the Vitas employees and Peter are watching is "Forbidden Planet," the same movie Peter's watching in the pub in episode 304 when FauxLivia gives Peter his booty call.
Astrid tells Olivia, "Walter will figure something out, we're gonna be fine." She also tells Walter "Peter will be fine." Both remind me of Charlie Francis's message to Liv "You're gonna be fine" via Sam's jumble exercise in "Dream Logic."
Astrid and Walter work in this episode on a closer level than before, yet when Astrid asks Walter in the last scene what he meant by "I can't let Peter die again," Walter puts distance between them and bluntly tells her "Some things are best left alone, Agent Farnsworth."
Peter apologizes to Olivia for the events in the parking garage. She tells him, "You weren't yourself." That conveniently fits into the post-Season 3 theme of Peter not existing. It also reminds me of Peter not being right in "The Last Sam Weiss."
Peter was quite dark when he was infected, which I believe is foreshadowing of "Dark Peter" in "Reciprocity."
Olivia allowed Peter to take charge several times in this episode.
It's a good thing neither Peter nor Olivia were allergic to sulfa drugs.
Unanswered Questions That Arise From "What Lies Below"
1. Why did Walter seem to know immediately what was going on with Mike The Courrier as he stepped up to the door of Vitas Petrol? Did Walter have previous dealings with a highly contagious virus?
2.Is it significant that Mr. VandenKemp's body was placed under a yellow tarp?
3.What did Peter Bishop keep in neutral territory while he made shady deals in his past?
4.According to the Fringepedia website, the core sample in the briefcase was drilled 10 miles down at the "Pioneer Valley Project" in Massachusetts by Solum Oil Corporation. What is significant about that area? Does it have something to do with "The Pattern"?
5.OK, if the virus was wiped out by the sulphur from Mt. Toba thousands of years ago, why was there still live virus in the earth?
6.Why was Peter able to have some control over his actions while he was infected?
If the virus's main goal was to infect others, why didn't he try to infect Olivia, or use her as a hostage to try to get out of the building?
Why didn't infected Peter kill Olivia with her gun?
If Peter Bishop Never Existed
Would Walter have been as motivated to find a cure for the people inside, including Olivia sans Peter?
Olivia probably would not have rifled through VandenKemp's pockets and found the rental car keys. Therefore, Olivia may have died with the others at the hands of the US Army's "Level 6 Eradication." (Full circle for "Give him the keys and save the girl.")
Would Olivia have been able to stay in charge effectively of the quarantined Vitas employees?