Join us during the fall/winter break every Friday for our Fringe Winter Rewatch.
Episode three begins with Dr. Sumner interrogating Walter about his meds and hallucinations. It's clear he never approved of Walter's release and thinks the best thing for him would be recommittal. Poor Walter is in quite a state, terrified, “hallucinating,” desperate to appear sane, he tells Sumner that the hallucinations have stopped even as he struggles not to flinch at Peter's reflection in the back of his shiny clip board.
Pursued through Hyde Park by a pair of bullies, a small boy runs breathless down an isolated trail. Peeking behind him for the bigger boys, he flees into an abandoned service tunnel. Cornered, he's about to get a beating when one of the boys yelps that something touched him. The other barely has time to scoff before both tormenters are covered with some kind of sickly, immobilizing mold, allowing the frightened victim to escape.
Olivia is sketching something and running a facial recognition program when Lincoln arrives. He's there because she asked for him, but she just wants to see how he's adjusting to his brand new world of the weird. He asks if there's any news on the shapeshifter tech, never forgetting what introduced him to Fringe's Bizarroland in the first place. He's been going over old case files, learning about the division. Olivia says that it's hard to take it all in, when the world you thought you knew turns out to be strange, and occasionally very, very scary.
She's genuinely concerned, making a conscious effort to reach out to him and offer support. Reaching out to anyone is not something Olivia does easily, and she's fuddled when he seems confused as to why she'd think he needs it. She's adorably sweet, but her fundamnetal isolation makes her a little inept at dealing with “normal” people - something Lincoln still is, or was recently enough to remember.
But Lincoln promises he's not freaked out (except maybe a little by her.) He almost seems a little exasperated with her gentle prodding. He's here for one reason and one reason only – to get the thing that killed his partner. Thankfully, Olivia's phone rings, announcing a case, and they're both rescued from their awkward conversation.
The bodies of two 12 yr old boys have been found in the abandoned service tunnel. Despite the advanced decomposition of the bodies, the boys have only been dead for a matter of hours, their families reported them missing yesterday. Astrid is on the phone with Walter, attempting to see if he has any theories on why the bodies would be so decomposed so quickly. He's erratic, spouting increasingly bizarre theories ranging from flesh eating viruses to Bigfoot. Giving up, Astrid tells Broyles that Walter has nothing yet. Inside the tunnel, Lincoln finds another set of child's sneaker treads. There's a potential wintenn or another victim. Whoever he was, he may be infected.
Broyles accompanies Astrid back to the lab to check on Walter, a fact that sits uneasily with Fringe Division's resident mad scientist. Broyles tells him that Dr. Sumner called him after the evaluation last night, to report that Walter seemed agitated, as if he might be hiding something. Of course, just as Walter open's his mouth to prevaricate, we (and Walter) hear Peter calling his name. Walter tries to persevere, telling Broyles that he needs both bodies when he was only sent one of them, but Peter calls more loudly, causing Walter to jump and answer aloud. As Peter's voice gains in volume, so does Walter's, attempting to out shout the voice in his head. Broyles can only stare aghast as Walter attempts to explain why he needs both bodies at top volume, cringing and weeping while Peter's insistent pleas (“I'm scared. I want to come home!”) drown out his own voice. With a final shriek that he's not losing his mind, Walter succeeds in silencing the voice for now, and gathering the shreds of his dignity, makes a hasty escape as Broyles and Astrid watch, both deeply concerned.
Meanwhile Olivia's found a lead – word at the boys school is that the two were planning to beat up another kid, and she and Lincoln are on their way to talk to the victim. The curly haired boy from before looks up as they enter the cafeteria where he's sitting alone and drawing, knowing right away who they are and what they want.
At Harvard, Aaron continues to draw strange geometric patterns, as Olivia tells Broyles that he's ten year old Aaron Sneddon: no father, mother out of the country, he stays with a neighbor lady in their apartment building while she's away for work. His principal describes him as a quiet boy with few friends. The boy claims that it was dark and he didn't see much after he ran into the tunnel. He didn't tell anyone what happened because there was no one to tell, he's alone. Other than expanding his wild theories to include vampires and succubi, Walter hasn't made much progress, and Broyles asks Olivia and Lincoln to retrieve the second body for comparison.
When Olivia tries to draw Aaron out about his drawings, she's met with a less than enthusiastic shrug, and when she tells Aaron that they need to check him out, he responds that doctors scare him. Attempting to soothe him, she tells Aaron that he'll like Walter, he's not scary at all. Which is of course Walter's cue to emerge from the screened off autopsy area wearing an apron covered in blood, and a pair of goggles askew on his nose, He issues a cursory command to the boy to take off his shirt and get on the table as he strides by, earning a tiny smile from Lincoln, and an alarmed look from Aaron.
Walter is no stranger to small boys however, and he's good with Aaron once he's shed his scary Frankenstein costume, putting him at ease with a rusty but sincere gentleness. Watching him draw blood from Aaron's arm, it's impossible not to see him doing the same for his poor lost Peter; the memories are achingly clear on his face. As Walter places the blood sample in the centrifuge, Aaron wanders curiously around the lab, examining a cat skull and other odds and ends before finding some actual toys. As he picks up an old GI Joe figure, Walter glances up from his work and shouts at him. Alarmed, Aaron backs away, and Walter's immediately apologetic, explaining that the toys belonged to his son who died.
As Aaron takes this in, Astrid hurries into the room – there's something Walter needs to see. The body in the autopsy area is pulling high levels of oxygen out of the air, causing Astrid's candle to go out when she moved it closer. Walter examines the new mold growth on the ribcage for just a moment before shouting for the incubation tank. Between the two of them, Walter and Astrid just manage to get the body covered before it explodes into a fine mist of spores.
Astrid places an urgent call to Olivia and Lincoln, who are already at the hospital to pick up the second body. The two of them race down the corridor but find themselves too late, arriving just in time to witness the horrifying deaths of the autopsy staff. Lincoln's impulse is to open the door and run to the aid of the dying people, but Olivia's time in Fringe Division has taught her better. Grimly holding the door closed, she tells Lincoln “They're already dead.”
Later, in full hazmat gear, the Fringe team has to batter down that same door - it's been overgrown with runaway fungus. Stepping gingerly over the knots of living horror on the ground, Lincoln jumps when Olivia touches his shoulder to steady herself. She gives him a reassuring pat, and he responds in kind, grateful for the contact. He might be getting a little freaked after all...
Connected via radio, Walter identifies the fungus as a variety of Cordyceps fungi. His explanation is more detailed of course, but the bits that stand out are genetic mutation, hyper-accelerated growth, and paralyze the host so that it can feed and lay its spores. Shudder. It's like something out of a Stephen King story - a fungus that can paralyze you as it grows rapidly all over your insides, outsides, and anything else it touches, effectively consuming you alive. This is not an episode for the faint of heart.
On the bright side, Walter tells Broyles that it's still a lower life form, and unless they touch it, it most likely won't even know they're there. Recovering from his bout with the willies, Lincoln observes that some tendrils of the stuff are making their way down the sink - most likely seeking water says Walter. A strong dose of ultra violet light or intense heat should take care of it nicely. The morgue should be less of a problem, considering the size of the colony, but Olivia observes that a colony capable of killing two people and consuming them so completely so quickly would have to be much larger than the baby one at the hospital. When Broyles asks what she's proposing she replies “I'm thinking flame-throwers.”
Anyone else have a momentary fantasy of Olivia covered in sweat and a Ripley costume, torching the alien fungus as it dies shrieking?
Just checking. Moving on...
Back at the lab, Walter has finished running tests on Aaron. The boy is fungus free and appears to be in perfect health. However, he's less than enthusiastic when Walter tells him he's free to go. Remembering, perhaps, another child who didn't like to go home, Walter questions him, and Aaron responds that there's simply no one for him to go to. The neighbor he stays with doesn't talk to him, his mom's out of the country, his father isn't in the picture and he has no friends. Walter can identify, telling Aaron that he knows “what it feels like to have nowhere to go. No family.” Moved by the boy's obvious loneliness, Walter invites him to stay at the lab a little longer.
And here's the emotional core of the episode. Losing his only son didn't make Walter forget how to be a father, and here's a boy who needs one, even temporarily. A boy so lonely that he's willing to let the strange old scientist play the part. Despite warning Aaron that he won't have time to entertain him, Walter soon has the kid wearing a tinfoil hat and slurping a strawberry milkshake. When Aaron asks Walter what happened to his son, his face falls, the old grief returning with freshly sharpened claws. He tells Aaron about his own Peter, and how he wasn't able to find a cure in time. And then, in an unbelievably painful revelation, he tells the boy about the second Peter, and how he fell through the ice and drowned. Skeptical of Walter's story about parallel universes, portals and doppelganger children, Aaron asks how Walter can think he doesn't belong in a mental institution. Walter can't respond; perhaps he does. After losing his son twice, he'd have to be crazy to stay sane.
Fringe agents are setting up floodlights in the maintenance tunnel, as Olivia and Lincoln search for the heart of the creepy colony. The lights reveal colorful geometric drawings on the walls, and in places the fungus appears to have followed their lines, accompanying but not obscuring the art. At the lab, Aaron suddenly cringes, shielding his eyes and complaining about the lights being too bright. He becomes increasingly agitated, and as Olivia orders the colony burned, Aaron spikes a sudden high grade fever. Connecting the activity at the tunnel to the boy's sudden symptoms, Walter panics, calling Olivia to tell her that they must stop what they're doing, they're killing the boy.
There's some kind of connection between Aaron and the fungus. Walter questions him about the drawings in the tunnel, and Aaron confesses that he goes there sometimes to get away. After awhile, he says, he started to feel better there, less alone; like there was some kind of invisible presence there that felt what he felt, and wanted to protect him. Pushing harder, Walter asks about the boys who were chasing him. Aaron becomes upset and starts to cry; he did lead the boys there on purpose, but he didn't know what would happen to them, only that he might be safe there. Walter's gentle comforting looks achingly familiar, as if comforting a sick and frightened boy is something he's had far too much experience with.
Aaron's confession triggers the proverbial light bulb for Walter. It's not a colony of fungus, it's one massive organism, with “rapidly evolving communication skills enabling it to form a psychic bond with the boy.” As Lincoln puts it, it's “one big giant brain.” Unlike most other lifeforms, the fungus, dubbed “Gus” by Walter, is incapable of reproducing other members of its species, it can only produce extensions of itself. Aaron was unharmed by the destruction of the colony at the morgue because the new colony hadn't yet joined with the larger consciousness, and was therefore just a “mindless appendage.” The central organism however, is rapidly growing in intelligence, becoming ever aware of its own limitations, and its own singular nature. It found solace, Walter posits, in a shared sense of loneliness with Aaron, and until they can break the psychic bond, any attack on “Gus” will hurt Aaron as well.
As good drama would have it, Broyles calls just on the heels of this revelation to inform the team that there's been another death – six miles from the tunnel. It's in the sewer system. As Walter begs for time, Olivia and Lincoln exchange grim looks, knowing what this news means for Aaron. Gus is growing rapidly, encroaching on a dozen populated buildings, and public risk is high. Walter has two hours to find a way to break the connection before Aaron becomes collateral damage.
It's already too late. As Walter desperately considers lobotomizing Aaron in order to sever the connection, and Olivia prepares to ask for more time, Broyles arrives with news that the fungus has reached a subway platform in mid-town. They're out of time, and so is Aaron. Closing her eyes against her helplessness, Olivia makes a phone call to deliver a death sentence.
Massive Dynamic has provided a toxin to eliminate the fungus. Unable to face the child, Walter retreats to his room, after so many years he's faced again with having to watch helplessly as a young boy dies, and he simply can't. Across town, Olivia is charged not only with delivering the death sentence, but giving the execution order as well. When the Massive Dynamic tech tells her he's waiting for her order, she turns away at first, unable to speak. When Lincoln says her name gently, she nods reluctantly and gives it.
Gus lashes out in self-defense, killing the hapless tech as Aaron sits up in his bed and screams. Gus is putting up a fight, tendrils snaking their way up Lincoln's leg as well, trapping him in its horrific grip. Astrid bursts into Walter's room, near tears – the boy is dying, and Walter has to so something. Even as he's protesting that he can't break the creature's hold on the boys brain, Walter has an idea. Gus' influence is primarily on the Lymbic center of the brain, the connection is emotional; if it has a hold on Aaron, then Aaron also has a hold on it. Walter wakes him up with an injection, and in a recall to 6B, tells him that he must let Gus go.
Aaron wakes weeping, unwilling to let go of his only friend. When Walter tells him that Gus is hurting him, Aaron responds that it doesn't matter, no one cares. As Astrid watches, distraught and weeping, Walter tells him that he cares, for a moment pleading not only with Aaron but also with the ghost of another boy as he begs him not to go. In a beautifully heart rending speech, Walter tells him “I know how hard it is to make connections, I know what it is to be lonely. It takes courage to be the one to take someone else's hand, to trust that they won't leave you. I won't leave you Aaron. I'm begging you not to leave me, please, let it go. Let it go.”
I'll wait until you're done with your hanky...
And it works. Aaron is able to break the connection. He stabilizes as Gus dies, leaving him truly alone in the world except for one mad old man and his tearful assistant. In the tunnel, Gus is falling apart, loosening its hold on a stricken Lincoln. With a powerful wrench, Olivia is able to pull him free of Gus's mass, and as they wait for the medics to arrive, Lincoln attempts to lighten the mood by admitting that he's a little freaked out now. “Wanna talk about it?” he asks cheekily. Olivia nearly dumps him on the ground.
Walter stops Aaron on his way to get checked out with Astrid, giving him Peter's old action figure in a touching gesture, and promising to see the boy again soon. But he declines to accompany them to the hospital, he has things to take care of. Things that might just have something to do with the man reflected in the fire extinguisher case on the wall. As we're reeling in horror at the books he's consulting, Olivia stops by to check on him, making her way to his room when he doesn't answer her cheerful calls. She's smiling, happy in the relief that Aaron's going to be fine, until she opens his door and her face drops in dismay at the hammer poised over the spike resting against Walter's eye. As he starts to prevaricate, claiming that he knows what he's doing, she ignores him completely in favor of grabbing the hammer before he can blind himself or worse.
With infinite gentleness, Olivia takes the spike from Walter's unresisting hand and presses gauze to his bruised eye socket. He's busted and he knows it. Beginning to weep, he confesses that he's going insane, he's been having hallucinations for weeks now that no amount of self-medication can eradicate. He doesn't want to be recommitted, but doesn't see her reacting in any other way. When Olivia presses for details, he tells her that he's been seeing a man, hearing a stranger's voice saying strange things. Intently, Olivia pulls something from her pocket. It's the drawing she was working on earlier, and now we can make out the face – it's a face we've sincerely missed. It's Peter, although neither of them knows it. Astonished, Walter asks where she got the drawing and she tells him that she's been seeing this guy in her dreams for the past three weeks. Walter is mystified but fervent, “A shared vision like this,” he says, “Whoever he is, he must be real. And if he's real, we'll have to find him.”
And all the fans go “YESSS!!”