[Review] 4×04: “Subject 9” Eeelectriiicity

After nearly six months of asking “Where is Peter Bishop?” he’s back at last – and boy are we glad to see him. He first manifests as a ball of crackling blue energy, coming to Olivia at sunrise (her favorite time of day, when the world is full of promise) dragging metal items from their places and distorting time as he approaches. When she wakes to find a pocket lightening storm hovering over her, she rolls off the bed and goes for her gun, earning herself a nasty burn when the energy brushes her arm. The blue thing vanishes and her alarm goes off a second time, as time resumes its normal progression.

At Walter’s lab, she interrupts his photographic peanut experiment with a report on her encounter. She didn’t dream about their mystery man last night, but she was certainly visited by something. As Astrid is scraping a sample from Olivia’s injured arm, Walter sees a letter protruding from the pocket of her discarded jacket. It’s from St. Claire’s, and he can’t help but read it with dread – Dr. Sumner feels that Walter should return to St. Claire’s, and to that end he’s asking Olivia for an evaluation of Walter’s mental stability. Dismayed, Walter returns the unmarked form to its envelope, mind working frantically. In his sanest voice, he asks Olivia for an atmospheric sample of her apartment.

An investigation of Olivia’s home reveals elevated radiation levels in the metal objects that were scattered by the mysterious blob, and Walter’s equipment registers a weird temporal distortion, recording events before they actually happen. Olivia is again approached by the energy thing in her bathroom, ducking as it pulls an assortment of metal objects from her medicine cabinet to whiz narrowly past her head. The riff raff bounces off the surface of the blob and falls to the floor as it vanishes again. Getting creepy.

The behavior of the energy ball reminds Walter of an ability exhibited twenty-five years ago by one of his Cortexiphan subjects, a boy remembered to Walter only as “Subject 9.” The boy was able to astral project after his treatments, but the ability was accompanied by an unintentional side effect – his astral form distorted normal magnetic fields, attracting metal objects to himself. Given the emotional bond between all of the Cortexiphan subjects, Walter theorizes that their amorphous visitor may be the same boy, Traveling again and drawn toward Olivia’s familiar psychic energy. It’s a casual revelation that in this new timeline Olivia is aware of the experiments performed on her as a child, and of Walter’s part in them. Walter’s inability to remember the name of Subject 9 leads Olivia to ask Nina Sharp for any records she may have of Walter and Belly’s illegal child experimentation.

Nina is also a welcome sight, even if the lecture she’s delivering on ethics having no place in the pursuit of technology does lead to a bit of skin crawling. But before we have time to process the horrid assertion she’s just made, she throws us for another loop with a genuine display of affection for Olivia, joking about her prom date. In this timeline, the two women have clearly known each other for a very long time, and are closely bonded. The mutual respect and affection between Nina and Walter is absent however, the two of them sniping at each other with the long-suffering Astrid as a diplomatic go between.

In the records room at Massive Dynamic, Astrid’s questioning on the Cortexiphan trials provides an opportunity for further exposition. Olivia tells her that Walter and Ball believed that children have innate abilities that are socialized out of them at an early age, and that these abilities might be preserved and strengthened with the right combination of drugs and psychic stimulation. Astrid’s distaste at the idea of experimenting on children is discomfiting, and Walter turns off his monitor guiltily. When Astrid asks what happened to the trials, Olivia responds that she ran away, and they were discontinued a few years later.

Armed with the name (Cameron James) of the astral projectionist, Olivia and Astrid head back to the lab with his files, to find Walter waiting for them with a packed suitcase. He’s going with Olivia to find James, he knows him and what he’s capable of, and he’s quite insistent that Olivia needs him along, despite the fact that he hasn’t left his lab in years. His real motivation is betrayed by his most far out misplacement of Astrid’s name to date – calling her “Claire” much to her irritation, as she acerbically points out that “that doesn’t even start with an A.” The specter of re-comittal has Walter running scared.

An initial conversation with Cameron’s landlady reveals that he won’t be home until morning, so Walter and Olivia check into adjacent hotel rooms for the night. Walter is nervous and agitated outside his comfort zone, pointing out all the germs that exist in an average hotel room, but he manages pretty well until Olivia leaves him alone. She barely has time to shut her door behind her before there’s a racket from Walter’s room, and she rushes back to help him. However, he’s not being attacked by glowy ball lightening, he’s trashing his room like Pink on a bender, screaming incoherently about filth and pathogens. When Olivia breaks through his panic with a dismayed shout, the realization in his face is as plain as the blood on his hands where the nails have bitten into the palms – these are not the reactions of a sane man. Shamed and frightened, he meekly lets her bandage the wounds, certain he’s sealed his fate.

The interplay here between Walter and Olivia is the strongest thing about the episode, and my absolute favorite thing about the new timeline. The relationship between the two has been emerging as much closer than it was when Peter was extant, and its depth is sweetly revealed in her gentleness with him. She’s never been much for expressing her feelings verbally, but love is plain on her face as she tends his wounds like those of a child, listening quietly as he confesses his wife’s suicide and says that he’s glad Elizabeth never saw him like this. Rather than leave him again with such sad thoughts, Olivia suggests they go for ice cream, eliciting a reluctant but inescapable delight.

In my very favorite scene, Walter and Olivia giggle together like father and daughter as he instructs her on the proper way to drink a root beer float – a process clearly more complicated than it sounds. The merriment fades suddenly however, as he broaches the subject of the letter from Dr. Sumner. In direct contradiction to the moments they just shared, Walter tells Olivia that he’s never had any illusions about their relationship, that he knows it’s only professional and that he’ll be sent back if he can no longer be useful to the department. Olivia is taken aback, torn by conflicting needs to reassure, and to make him understand that she takes the decision seriously and wants to do what’s best. “Best for whom?” he asks, but she’s saved from having to answer by the timely appearance of the energy cloud.

It seems to be growing both in size and cohesion, and approaching Olivia with inexplicable purpose. Shooting out the window of the cafe, she shoves Walter through it and follows herself, barely escaping another burn. It follows her into the street, vanishing in a flash when a car that swerved to avoid Olivia strikes it instead. As they head back to Cameron’s apartment, Walter is lost in self-recrimination, the realization of his culpability in their current situation, as well as the coldness indicated by reducing children to numbers fully hitting home. Olivia finds James (Chadwick Boseman) at home, but when he realizes it’s his real name she’s looking for he bolts, fleeing around a corner and directly into Walter, where the two men go down in a heap.

Cameron recognizes Walter immediately and pushes off him with a cry as metal things begin to quiver and sway. Olivia confronts him furiously, demanding to know why he’s been coming after her. Baffled, Cameron responds that he hasn’t thought of her in years, and when Walter mentions astral projection he becomes very upset, shouting that he hasn’t been able to do that since he was a child and now all he has are the terrible side effects of the drug. He must remain calm as much as possible, because when his emotions are high he can’t help affecting the magnetic fields around him – his last date ended in grisly flying fillings after he became embarrassed. Cameron’s story is awful, but provides hideous insight into why any of the children might have been subjected to the trials – his dad was getting paid for it. Cameron’s real name is Mark Little. Cameron was his father, who sold him into drug experiments in return for money which he then spent on drugs. He made Mark use his name in order to access the trust fund. It’s an ugly idea; knowing that little Olive’s stepfather was abusive, it’s easy to imagine that he may have had similar motivations Which raises the question: were all the cortexiphan subjects undervalued by their guardians, exposed to experimental drugs for the sake of a paycheck? To paraphrase Mark, “I don’t know what kind of parent does that.”

As the emotional confrontation in the hallway starts to wind down, there’s a disturbance behind them. Mailboxes flap wildly in a nonexistent breeze, and a low thrumming fills the air. The shimmery blue shape approaches terrifyingly close, before Mark’s frightened yell seems to drive it away. Olivia presses Walter for an explanation; the thing coming after her is not Mark, so what is it? Walter struggles a bit before eventually theorizing that since Mark’s reflexive burst of magnetic energy dispersed it, then perhaps it’s not creating that energy itself. Instead, perhaps it’s creating field distortions in time and it’s affecting existing magnetic fields as a side effect. If that’s the case Walter concludes, it’ll keep returning until it’s stopped, growing bigger and bigger until it consumes everything in its path. Given his proclivity for manipulating magnetic fields, Mark may be the ideal way to stop it, provided there’s enough energy in the area for him to gather and hurl at the apparition.

The ideal spot then, for an attempt to destroy the energy cloud, is the closest power grid. Ambient energy from the high voltage power lines should do the trick if Mark can just focus it. While they’re waiting for the (Peter) to make it’s appearance, Mark and Olivia have an oddly foreboding conversation as Walter wanders a little distance away. Mark seems surprised that Olivia never suffered any side effects of the Cortexiphan, asking if she’s heard about any of the others. Whatever knowledge of them he may have remains unspoken, but he points out that his first experience made him think something was after him as well, questioning whether Walter would tell her if he thought she was somehow creating the phenomenon herself. It’s a seed of doubt she doesn’t have time to consider as the air begins to shiver, but Fringe rarely poses this kind of question for no reason.

As the air begins to crackle and stray bolts of energy lash the air, the blue energy begins to take form in midair, gathering substance and form as it makes a bee line for Olivia. Mark is concentrating with all his might on gathering enough energy to shatter the thing as Olivia stands transfixed, watching it approach. As Walter shouts encouragingly for Mark to destroy it, the shape comes to a stop in front of Olivia, coalescing at last into a shape she recognizes. “You,” she breathes to the literal man of her dreams, before Mark wallops him with a blast of energy, causing him to lose his form. Overwhelmed by a sudden knowledge she doesn’t try to explain to herself, Olivia tries to stop “Cameron,” finally firing her gun into the air to break his concentration. The man shaped apparition vanishes in a blinding flash of light

and miles away, the long lost Peter Bishop is reborn from the same lake in which he died.

As September watches a very startled pair of fishermen fish Peter out of the water, Olivia tries to explain to Walter. He seems puzzled that she’d want to prevent the destruction of the man that’s been haunting him, reluctantly accepting her assertion that she felt that that the man meant no harm, but instead wanted her help. On the way back to the car, Olivia asks Mark if there’s anything she can do for him. “Make him forget about me,” he replies, a little ambiguous as to whether that would be more for Walter’s benefit or his own, but an interesting nod to the forgotten man in the lake. Walter tells Olivia that she acted irrationally, impetuously following her instincts instead of her logic. “When I do that people say I’m crazy,” he says ruefully, “I suppose I’ve learned that crazy is a lot more complicated than people think.” He has no answer for whether or not the ghost man might have been destroyed.

Fortunately, Broyles does. He calls Olivia to let her know that a father and son have just pulled a man out of Reiden Lake in upstate New York, a man who knows things no one outside Fringe Division should know, and further, he claims to know all of them personally. Arriving at the hospital where the man has been taken, Olivia is told that he’s stable and has been asking for her by name. When she goes to see him, Walter finds himself once again alone with her abandoned jacket, St. Claire’s envelope still sticking out of the pocket. Unable to help himself, he guiltily filches the letter, face crumpling into trembly fissures of relief as he reads that Olivia does not recommend him for further hospitalization.

Waiting, Peter stares blindly out the window of his room, turning quickly when he hears Olivia enter behind him. His whole body droops with the sudden release of tension at the sight of her, alive and whole and there at last. “Olivia, thank God you’re here,” he begins, but his blissful smile dies as he registers the puzzlement on her face, replaced with crestfallen realization when she warily asks, “who are you?”


Random thoughts:

  • Chadwick Boseman is another in a long line of absolutely wonderful guest actors.
  • Whatever different experiences she must have had in a Peterless world, in some ways Olivia is healthier than before. She’s “quicker with a smile” than she ever was before. Maybe not being stalked by her stepfather her whole life had something to do with it, or maybe being adopted by Nina at a young age.
  • There’s a pair of lepidoptery cases on Olivia’s bedroom wall, butterflies everywhere.
  • Olivia picks the locks now!
  • There’s a cool new Violet Sedan Chair poster to the right of the door to the lab, but I can’t quite read it – anybody have HD DVR? New album? Oh please??
  • Some families yell and cheer at the TV when the game is on. Mine does it when Peter Bishop pops back into existence in the middle of the lake. All of us, watching live of course, yelling and clapping like lunatics. That takes a very special show – well done Fringe, and thanks!



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