The agents hunt an invisible 'Wallflower' who only wants to be loved... and leach the pigment out of your skin until you die. Is that so wrong?

By Jeff Jensen
Updated November 19, 2011 at 08:56 AM EST
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Credit: Liane Hentscher/Fox
Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
S4 E7
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The tragic death of an invisible man named Eugene Bryant (or “U-Gene” as subject 69545 was dubbed in the lab) was one of the most poignant moments Fringe has ever produced. Every morning, the bashful young man would clean up nice and dress in a suit and make sure to ride the elevator with The Woman That Lived On The 15th Floor, in hope that one day, she would give him just a look and acknowledge his existence. He lacked the courage to simply say “Hello!” himself. The years that this misfit of weaponized science (secret mutant power: perfect camouflage) spent locked away inside a black site lab had denied him much, and cost him more, including a basic grasp of conventional human interaction. His concept of socializing involved sneaking into other apartments and watching the people he liked without ever being seen himself… although if he really liked you, he might leave behind a thousand little rose petals on your bed. No: She had to engage him. And on the last day of his life, The Woman That Lived On The 15th Floor did. It happened during another elevator ride – one that he almost missed. “I thought you weren’t coming today,” she said, her eyes shining him with glorious, glorious recognition. “I see you every day. I thought maybe you had caught the cold that’s been going around.” Eugene was nearly struck speechless. No, he said, I’m not sick. Unless you’re referring metaphorically to the plague of alienation and isolation that afflicts us all. “Well, that’s good,” she said. “It’s too beautiful a day to be sick.” Eugene suddenly found his inner Romantic, plus some guts. “The most beautiful,” he echoed. “My name is Eugene.”

“I’m Julie,” she said, as the elevator reached its final destination.

The doors opened. Julie walked out, but Eugene stayed, paralyzed and dizzy with delight. He smiled. He found himself overwhelmed by a feeling he had long imagined and wanted for himself – affirmation that he was known, a proof that he existed, from someone he loved. As the doors shut and the elevator ascended, Eugene slowly slipped to the floor, and we looked down on him with heartbreak and pity as his hands twitched involuntarily, open and shut, open and shut, as the last of his fragile, damaged life seeped out of his body. Then they stopped. He died happy, and at long last, visible for the entire world to see.

Of course, we can’t feel too sorry for Eugene. After all, he was a sociopath prone to slathering people with octopus mucous and leaching their pigment, leaving them red-eyed and albino pale. Oh, and dead, too. Such is the life when you’re a mutant wallflower – a human chameleon, but a broken one, as he was incapable of staying visible sans purloined pigment. Without it, Eugene just blended into the background of life – functionally invisible.

Eugene came to Fringe Division’s attention via one of his victims, a harmless if harried husband that Eugene stalked and assaulted in the lobby of the poor man’s apartment building. The killer-chameleon left behind two clues to his unseen, previously unknown existence: blood from a gunshot wound and mucous from an octopus, a natural chameleon. The fishy slime that Eugene secreted was the key ingredient – a chemical conductor – in his pigment-sucking operation. (“Yes it is possible,” Water asserted. “Leprechauns are possible!”) (I so want a very special St. Patrick’s Day episode of Fringe in which the agents go hunting for leprechauns.)

Astrid ran the blood and linked the perp to “Baby Boy Bryant,” an infant that allegedly died from a genetic abnormality in the summer of 1989 after four days of life. In truth, Bryant was taken – alive – by an insurance company called Syprox Inc., a subsidiary of Kelvin Genetics, the precursor of Massive Dynamics. A visit to Nina Sharp fleshed out the remainder of the fleshed-challenged child’s backstory. “U-Gene” (Unidentified Genetic Abnormality) had a condition that made him super-sensitive to light — and a prime candidate for a program designed to produced human chameleons. For military use? Not exclusively, Nina said reluctantly, feeling judged. Nina claimed – insisted – that she and William Bell knew NOTHING about the program, that they only became aware after a fire in the lab killed all the test subjects. Nina assumed Eugene had perished. Instead, he escaped and went AWOL. Olivia – who knew a thing or two about being a guinea pig – was not pleased. “He never even had a proper name,” she said.

One of the best scenes in the episode came when Walter shared some crucial intel about Eugene’s condition by making two rats – John and Yoko – run a maze. One was visible; one was invisible, like Eugene, but could be seen using ultraviolet light. Walter had also ascertained that Eugene was dying. By stealing pigment, Eugene was aggravating his genetic flaw and poisoning himself. Also? He probably didn’t even realize that his days were numbered. But it was Olivia, keen to Eugene’s emotional state, that had the most important epiphany: Eugene was desperate to be seen, both literally and figuratively.

NEXT: “Re-pigmentization. Is that even a word?” It is now!

Another shock-white corpse led Olivia and company to the apartment building where Eugene lived. Not in an apartment, but in a secret sub-basement, where he had built a lab and bathed in a bathtub of chemicals to complete his “re-pigmentization.” During a suspenseful sequence set in the dark, Olivia and Lincoln searched the building and Olivia wound up falling through floorboards from the 24th floor to the 23rd floor. She would have fallen further if Eugene hadn’t saved her. Thanks to ultraviolet flashlight, Olivia could see Eugene. All of Eugene, actually. The dude liked to creep around in his birthday suit. Lit up with Olivia’s high tech lamp, ghostly blue with large black pinholes for eyes, Eugene cut an unreal visage, yet he smoldered with real, soulful yearning. “All my life I have been watching them live theirs. Watching them fall in love. To be looked upon by the right person, to connect, and to see in their eyes kindness, happiness, and recognition. That’s when you exist.”

The grand themes of Fringe, as articulated by Eugene The Human Chameleon. Nicely stated.

Olivia warned Eugene that if he” re-pigmentized” even one more time, he might die. Yet he declined her offer of Walter’s help. He was done with scientists, done with labs. He escaped Olivia and got past the gauntlet of SWAT cops, but by doing the very thing Olivia warned him not to do. He died the next day. But it was a beautiful one.

+++

Eugene wasn’t the only one-man Fringe event afflicted with the wallflower blues. Peter Bishop – that anomaly from another timeline (allegedly) – was saddled with a hyper-vigilant babysitter (Agent Timmy/Tommy/Whatever) who was under strict orders to limit Peter’s interaction with other people. Time-warp cooties, don’t you know. Peter was forbidden from even helping a kid reach a box on a high shelf during a shopping trip for underwear and safety goggles. “It is not personal,” said the agent. That’s right, it’s not, Peter flashed, feeling dehumanized. Later, when Lincoln Lee stopped by his home/prison to drop off the designs for the doomsday salvation machine, Peter thanked Lincoln for treating him like a human being. They bonded further over Olivia. Pete could tell that Lee was smitten. Lincoln could tell that Peter had been involved with the Olivia of his timeline. Peter took pains to make it clear to Lincoln (and us) that he had no interest in wooing this timeline’s Olivia, because this Olivia was not his Olivia. He had made the error of mistaking a Faux-livia for Olivia before. The bright boy was never going to do that again. His big idea: To reverse-engineer the salvation machine to boom tube his way back to his proper branch of the multiversal snowflake existing in 196,833 dimensional space. We’ll see how far that gets him.

Later in the episode, Peter returned Lincoln’s kindness by giving him a gift of suave frames for his glasses – presumably to enhance his chances with Olivia. I don’t know, Peter. I think this timeline’s Olivia likes her men Buddy Holly geeky-cool. Which is to say: Olivia likes Lincoln just the way he is. Alas, their budding romance was pruned back by a woman named Sharp, who introduced a new bit of intrigue for the season, and may have revealed herself as its big bad.

It began with a migraine – the latest in a suspicious spate of them for Olivia — that rudely roused her from sleep and sent her to an all-night pharmacy for a refill on prescription painkillers. On the way home, Olivia spotted Lincoln supping alone in an all-night diner. “This is… bizarre,” Lincoln said, both surprised and delighted. He invited her to drink coffee with him. Olivia beamed. Migraine, obliterated.

NEXT: Hate to ruin your Thanksgiving, but did you know that you just watched the last episode of Fringe that will air in 2011? Humbug!

As “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star played on the jukebox, Lincoln revealed that he hadn’t been able to sleep since moving to Boston and joining Fringe Division. “I used to believe just a few moths ago that I understood the world I lived in,” Lincoln explained. “There were basic truths that were… true. I used to sleep like a baby, in blissful ignorance.” Olivia tried to reassure him – “Eventually it’ll just become you life” – but it backfired on her when Lincoln suggested that perhaps a world gone Fringe-y, no matter how interesting, shouldn’t ever be experienced as normal. “Is that what happened with you?” he asked. “Yeah,” Olivia said. “Sort of.” Neither of them was sure that was a good thing.

The conversation planted some ideas in Olivia’s head– some fundamental questions about herself – that nagged at her for the rest of the episode. Why doesn’t my freaky-ass life freak me out? Is there something wrong with me?! Dear God! What have I become?!? Near the story’s end, she asked Nina if the Cortexiphan might have diminished her emotional capacity. “You can’t let what happened to you as a child define you,” Nina said, putting on her surrogate mother hat. “And no: The answer to your question is no. You are perfectly normal. At least, as normal as any of us are normal. Life is an experiment. You have to find where you belong, find your own place in this world.” Olivia: Shouldn’t I already know where that is by now? Not necessarily, Nina said, adding that she herself didn’t find a huge part of her identity until Olivia and her sister came to live with her. “I can’t imagine what my life might have been like if I hadn’t taken that risk.” When the time was right, Nina said, Olivia would know.

Nina’s pep talk got Olivia thinking about what she could being now, in the present, to find connection, to pursue happiness, to exist in the eyes of someone she loved… or at least was cute and crush-worthy. And that got her thinking about Lincoln Lee. The prospect of a relationship with Lincoln felt exciting and healing. “Rehumanization” feels to strong a word – but sure, why not. And so it went that Olivia got her carpe diem on and awkwardly suggested to her freaked-out insomniac partner that maybe, just maybe, she might be in the area of his all-night diner around 3 AM. Now, the last time Olivia pitched Lincoln on something like a date, he rebuffed her. Not this time. “See you then. Maybe,” Lincoln said coyly. But that night, as she prepared to go out, and with Lincoln waiting at the diner wearing the suave glasses, mystery men piped gas into Olivia’s apartment and knocked her out. Then they injected serum into her neck and reprogrammed her security camera to erase any trace of their presence. Should they move her to the bed? Encourage her to think she fell asleep? After all, if she woke up on the floor, she’d be suspicious. “No need,” said an older man. “She’s not going to remember the last two hours, anyway. When she wakes up she’ll have one hell of a headache.”

As they worked, their boss watched, silent and grim. It was none other than foster mommy dearest herself, Nina Sharp.

And so ended Fringe’s winter finale. Winter finale?! Seriously?! Just as Season 4 was starting to find its narrative and emotional groove? Bummer. As much as I’ve enjoyed the season so far, these first seven episodes have felt like an elaborate opening act for a main attraction still to come. Will Peter get back to his home timeline? What’s up with Nina, and what does drugging — and presumably emotionally stunting — Olivia have to do with it? And does she have co-conspirators? William Bell? Maybe Walternate? Or [SPOILER WARNING!] maybe a certain weird science rogue with the David Bowie name whose long-awaited return has been much rumored-about lately? [END SPOILER WARNING!] The next new episode of Fringe arrives January 13. The countdown begins. See you at zero.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)

Fringe

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