Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Stegall
NBC, Tuesdays, 9/10 E/C
Written by J.H. Wyman & Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by Bobby Roth
Warning: this review contains some spoilers. If you’d rather not know what the episode is going to include, bookmark this page and read it after viewing.
“I remember when a suspect being human was a given, not an option.” —Broyles
The bodies of several young men have been found with horrendous wounds on the neck, drained of spinal fluid. Walter discovers that all of the young men carried spirochetes of an “antique” strain of syphilis, yet they were not infected with it. He suspects the strain is actually from an archived research stock; sure enough, Olivia tracks the strain to a pharmaceutical company which has been ordering samples. The “company” turns out to be one man in a wheelchair, dissecting monkeys as they arrive. Dr. Boon not only confesses that he created a strain of syphilis that infects people with a more deadly syndrome, but that he was also the developer of the skin growth toxin we saw earlier. He readily admits that he works for ZFT, but will reveal more only after they rescue his wife. The same FBI that can’t find Osama bin Laden has no trouble tracking down a hostage wife, and soon Olivia and Charlie are raiding a Chinese restaurant which disguises a clandestine lab.
Alas, this was all a ruse for Boone to get his hands on some mystery liquid in the lab fridge; it turns out that his missing wife is the predator. ZFT used her to test Boone’s work, as a result of which she has been killing young men and sucking their spinal fluid. Which actually I found considerably less disturbing than the raid on the Chinese restaurant. It was unsettling to see innocent restaurant workers summarily handcuffed by black clad SWAT teams; naturally, this being television, they turned out not to be as innocent as they looked. Still, just once I’d like to see these storm trooper tactics blow up in the FBI’s face. Just because Olivia and Charlie are the good guys does not mean they should be able to trample civil rights with impunity. Quite the opposite. Maybe it’s a sign of how not-engaged I was with this plot that I was mulling over civil liberties questions while watching it.
Boone collaborates with Walter to find an antidote to the serum he gave his wife, hoping to “save” her. It’s never clear what Boone thinks the end game is going to be: he turns a monster back into his wife and everyone goes home, forgetting about the murders? Boone says he donated so much spinal fluid to appease her that he is crippled; nevertheless he heroically gives more so that Walter can find an antidote. His nobility kills him, but his wife is “cured”. Now what? What a useless sacrifice. The wife will be in jail forever. Apparently all we have accomplished is to pry loose a confession from the dying man that William Bell, Walter’s old lab buddy and founder of Massive Dynamics (here we go again) is funding ZFT. Yeah, that makes sense: the founder of the world’s largest corporation, based on scientific research, is actually bankrolling a Luddite organization of anti-science types. My head hurts.
Thank goodness I don’t have to rely solely on the plot for entertainment. The writers gave us some moments of real poignancy—Walter loses a like mind and colleague when Boone dies—as well as some puckish moments. I loved Peter’s boyish delight in running Olivia’s siren. And as always, he gets the Mulder-like quips that define him: “Just for the record, one mad scientist is my limit.” Walter continues to be sometimes annoyingly, sometimes endearingly over-the-top. Charlie is still solid, real, and noble. Alas, Olivia continues to bore the pants off me. I still can’t figure out whether it’s Anna Torv’s acting, or poor characterization on the part of the writers, but week after week her earnest stare gets a blank one back from me. Maybe they’re trying to make her into Dana Scully; if so, they need to study that character more closely. Gillian Anderson always showed us the repressed fire under the calm exterior of Agent Scully; Anna Torv so far has shown me a dead bulb. Anderson always showed us what Scully was trying to hide; Anna Torv has so far given us a blank slate in Olivia. After a full season, we know precious little about what Olivia thinks and feels. The character deserves more respect than this.
Another problem I keep having with the show is the constant revelation of secrets we should have known about, secrets that should be game changers but later get relegated to background filler, such as Anna’s recently revealed mental abilities. Hello? Chick can turn light bulbs on and off with her mind, and nobody seems to care? Then there is the magical science: Not even Walter could explain why drinking spinal fluid would help Mrs. Boone, since the stomach does not connect directly to the spinal cord. At the same time, I’ll admit I like the hints that there is some awful thing in Walter’s past, something involving his son, that Peter does not know or remember. I just hope J.J. Abrams doesn’t wait until the sixth season to reveal it.
Meta commentary on this episode has to include acknowledgment of the debt the opening scene owes to the movie The Hunger with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. They play vampires who seduce their victims in nightclubs; in the opening scene of the movie the same song, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bau Haus, is used to introduce the killer. Nice to know Abrams and company can give credit to their roots.
Overall, this episode was more squirm-worthy than thrilling. Nothing wrong with that, and the humor leavened the horror a bit. I was entertained, but not stunningly so. A middling episode, but still much better than the early days of the series.
Over five and a half million viewers caught this episode, a respectable showing for Fox on Tuesdays. A 3.9 share among viewers 18-49 was joyous news for the Fox network, cementing the show’s rise in viewership in its brief life. The show benefits mightily from its American Idol lead-in, to be sure, but I suspect it would do well, if not as well, on its own. We’ll have to see how it does next fall, before the Idol juggernaut is launched. Meanwhile, it’s certain to be renewed, and seems to be picking up speed.
Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Stegall