Liane Hentscher/Fox

In which Olivia Dunham suffers (and then enjoys) a mental break while investigating an allegedly schizoid kid and a brood of bee-brained, hive-mind killers 


S4 E13
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February 18, 2012 at 06:32 PM EST

“A Better Human Being” told the story of two people with a lot on their minds. And by “a lot,” I mean the memories and thoughts of other people. Sean was a troubled young boy who believed he was schizophrenic, but whose brain was actually crowded with the voices of his genetically tweaked half-brothers, a hive-minded brood that would do anything, even kill, for the sake of their mutual survival. (A metaphor for Fringe fandom?) And then there was new timeline Olivia Dunham, who began recollecting more and more and ultimately all of original timeline Olivia Dunham’s life experience. As the memories settled and soaked, Rebootlandia Olivia began to change into a richer, more dynamic version of herself. A better Olivia. Among the benefits: Realizing that she wasn’t alone in the universe; recognizing Peter Bishop as her soulmate. And that smile! It would great to see Olivia beam like that again. Peter – who until now has thought of himself as Dorothy in Oz, trapped in a trippy variant edition rendering of his world and desperate to get back to his heartland home — spent most of the story trying to resist the implications of Olivia’s mental reformatting. But by the end, Master Bishop had buckled. When he looked into her eyes and saw his Olivia. But is she really?

“A Better Human Being” was a significant, clever, and on the whole compelling hour of season 4 Fringe. My big quibble: As the episode progressed, I felt the case-of-the-week was no longer complimenting the Olivia storyline but distracting from it. More, it just didn’t seem plausible that Olivia would continue/would be permitted to continue working after being diagnosed with what a psychologist would call “a psychotic episode.” The same woman who had the good sense to surrender her gun when she started brain farting in last week’s outstanding outing should have had the wisdom to step back and cede the case to her second, Lincoln Lee. (Boss man Broyles would have surely forced her to take leave, but he was oddly/conveniently MIA this week.) Yet again: I was entertained and engaged. I thought Allegedly Crazy Sean was a clever twist on the magical nutjob archetype, and I was intellectually and emotionally activated by Olivia’s life changing internal event, which begged various meaningful questions about the nature of identity and whatnot. And I thought the performances by Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson were just great. After a slow, slightly frustrating install, Fringe 4.0’s reboot-oriented operating system is beginning to yield stories that are stimulating for being unique products of that premise. If that makes sense.

We met Sean while he was psychically live streaming a home invasion executed by three grim-faced young men wearing blue rubber gloves. At first, it seemed as if the remote viewing kook was actually directing the crime – which resulted in the murder of a man named Daniel Greene – but the truth was far stranger. Enter Fringe Division, which took an interest after Sean’s doctor realized in retrospect that his real-time play-by-play of a homicide that actually occurred couldn’t be chalked up to mere crazytalk and decided to contact the authorities. I loved the bit where we saw Walter – no stranger to mental institutions – empathetically conversing with a patient who believed he was orbiting the planet Venus. After interviewing Sean, Walter theorized that they were dealing with a mutant telepath, not a lad gone loony. Back at the lab, Dr. Bishop refined his diagnosis even further: Sean and the killers were akin to bees in that they shared a hive mind. Call them: The Drones. (Quibble: For the rest of the episode, Astrid became Sean’s primary contact with Fringe Division. Being a sensible boy, he developed an instant crush on her. Still, I found myself thinking a more interesting story would have had Sean bonding with Walter, given the shared connection of afflicted psychology.)

NEXT: Meet Dr. Owen Frank(enstein), a fallen Dr. Moreau.

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Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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