'Fringe' recap: Wiggly worms and a woeful Walter

It was a non-mythology episode of Fringe this week, with a dandy creature to grapple with and a Walter Bishop subplot that turned into the main plot.

The creature first: a multi-tentacled “parasitic worm,” as Walter termed it; the “Snakeheads” of the episode’s title — a number of them, in fact, used most effectively in the opening scenes, as dead bodies were found, each with a big, thick worm wiggling frantically out of his or her mouth. The corpses were Chinese nationals discovered washed ashore, and the case led to a Chinatown herbalist. He was played by Tzi Ma, a familiar face probably best known as Cheng Zi, the very naughty Chinese Consulate security director on 24.

As herbalist Ming Che, he was using a gland from the wiggly worms that secreted an immune-boosting enzyme. The case was pretty X-Files-ish, with scant use for Agent Olivia Dunham (although Anna Torv radiates a strong reassuring presence throughout). Peter, man of many unexpected talents (as is Josh Jackson, having by now fully invested the character with far more than sarcasm and devillishness), speaks impeccable Cantonese. There was finally more for the underrated Astrid to do, even if some of what she did was get attacked.

All the better, therefore, that what looked like a comic-relief motif initially — Walter trying what Peter called “self-actualization,” asserting himself more, getting out into the world by himself — proved to be the true heart of the hour.

At first it was amusing to see Walter in an ascot, talking with crisp authority, only to lose himself in Chinatown. But things became poignant quickly, as Walter used up the supply of change Peter had given him as bus money, making frantic calls from a pay phone to his son… except Walter couldn’t remember the number. Which Peter had put in Walter’s pocket for just this reason — Walter had forgotten that, too.

This Fringe was a reminder that, for as much as we chuckle at Walter’s references to the consciousness-altering drugs he’s taken over the years (he got a literal contact high when one of the worms bit him this night, too), he’s still a damaged soul, just a year out of the institution from which he was released at the start of the series. He spoke to Peter of his fierce desire “to live like a man, not a child.”

It was a touching moment — John Noble really plays the hell out of scenes like this, conveying Walter’s fears and timidity without allowing us to forget that Dr. Bishop is also a bristling genius. And the hour was capped off with a nice little joke. Admitting he was still dependent upon his son yet also wanting to continue venturing beyond his lab, Walter revealed to Peter that he’d implanted a tracking device into his own neck, so that his son could find him when he gets lost again.

Awww… Hey, next week: Looks like a big mythology episode! Can’t wait.

Did you watch Fringe this week?

(You can follow me on Twitter.)

Comments (47 total) Add your comment
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  • Isolde

    I LOVE THIS SHOW! I was hoping to see more of a showcase for Walter and Astrid, not necessarily together, but who cares? It was great. The show has really hit its stride this season. One comment on the recap, though: I don’t know anything about Chinese dialects, but I’m almost positive I heard Olivia refer to the language spoken in this episode as Cantonese, not Mandarin. LOVE FRINGE. Keep up the exposure, EW!

  • davet

    Awesome episode — nothing like a creepy creature and a holding block suicide to grab you early on! And while there wasn’t as much Olivia as I’d like, what she did on screen was a great demonstration of Anna Torv’s acting ability. Great show that keeps getting better.

  • Julie

    I can’t understand why John Noble doesn’t get nominated for an emmy. Honestly, the scenes where he is despondent at the bus stop, and where he finds Astrid at the lab were some of the best acting I have ever scene. Poignant and touching and 100% believeable. He brings so much depth to what could be a one-dimensional comic relief character.

    • Kaycee

      I totally agree! He needs several awards. He plays Walter brilliantly – from childlike wonder to genius to over zealous father and it goes on.

    • Shiny Tim

      Just watched the ep and thought exactly the same about Noble. His portrayal of Dr. Bishop is one that makes you forget the actor and believe the character. I wanted to jump into the scene and help him get home.

    • amcorrea

      I completely agree. Teared up twice… Both Noble and Jasika Nicole completely made this episode. The emotional depth of this ep and “August” have helped make Fringe a classic.

    • angeler

      So, so true. The relationships on this show are fantastic, and just keep deepening. The chemistry is really what keeps me coming back (just as for X-files, which also found that great balance between sci-fi wierdness and incredible character development). Had to admit, some of the wormy bits had me putting down my sandwich though. :)

  • wac91

    I watched it and I also can’t wait for next week’s episode. This show is so awesome! (And graphic–I was eating dinner when it came on, and I ended up eating about half of my hamburger…)

  • darclyte

    Very good “non-mythology” episode! Walter was brilliant. Peter was surprising. Astrid brought out some great scenes with Walter. All in all, it was very well done.

    • Justin

      You hit the nail on the head. Great episode. Give John Noble an emmy already!

  • DanBoston

    Ok I really enjoy this show…BUT..the laziness in location shoots is ridiculous. Beacon Hill is not a sparse suburb with big houses and large lawns with drive ways. Dorchester Bay does not have a beautiful bridge.
    Chinatown is no where near a spacious as the one last night. I allow for some changes, but week after week, they don’t even try.

  • Rich

    Good episode…but can someone please explain how the boats from China were arriving in Boston?

    • Christian

      Not all Chinese shipments come in to the US via the West Coast. In many cases, shipping to an East Coast port is cheaper than shipping to a West Coast port and then paying overland freight to get it to the East Coast. Boston is an odd choice, to be honest (Charleston, Wilmington, and Norfolk are a lot more typical), but not out of the realm of possibility.

  • Mells

    Fantastic eppy! I loved Peter speaking Cantonese and when Olivia expressed surprise at this talent he says “Get to know me a bit”. YES!! please do!

  • MikerMan

    I’m glad I finished dinner before starting this episode. Likely the most distgusting one yet! I love it!

    • Kevin

      Seriously! I had just made myself something to eat while I watched it when I realized that was a HUGE mistake. Great episode though. I’m glad Astrid got more screen time. And John Noble is awesome! I love this show!

    • Shiny Tim

      First rule about watching Fringe: Never eat while watching Fringe.

  • Jo

    I’m amazed at how effective John Noble is. As soon as Walter becomes confused or scared, my heart breaks for him. When he saw Astrid in the lab after her attack, I teared up with him. He’s wonderful!!

    • rentagoodbook

      Agree! Great little scene with Astrid at the end. Love Fringe. John Noble is amazing!

  • Chris

    Terrific ‘non-mythology’ episode. Once again the acting was top notch, and every week this show proves that it is one of the best on TV. I thought the scene at the end between Walter and Astrid was one of the best and most heartfelt of the season. And it’s nice to see the two of them grow in terms of chemistry beyond mad scientist/lab technician. Simply great.

  • DHo

    After watching the overly melodramatic sci-fi wonder that is Flash Forward, it is so refreshing to change the channel at 9:00 on Thursdays to be rewarded with the pitch perfect sci-fi masterpiece that is Fringe. The production value, storytelling, acting and tone that we get from Fringe (even with a non-mythology episode)are heads and tails above what we get from any serial or procedural drama this season. Yes, John Noble deserves an Emmy, and Jasika Nicole deserves way more screentime. I wish there was at least one more person I knew who watches it.

    • Natalie

      Well said. Its a great show. I’m so glad I gave it a chance halfway through last season. Great concept, great storytelling, great cast.

  • Mel

    Loved it! I only discovered this show in the past couple of months, but I’m completely hooked. I concur with the accolades for both John Noble and Josh Jackson– they’ve done a fantastic job fleshing out characters who might have remained two-dimensional in the hands of lesser actors (or writers, for that matter). This is the most reliable, consistent show on television right now.

  • Doris

    My television acted up for a minute–was there a promo for a show with Mark Valley?

    • Ken Tucker

      Doris–Mark Valley’s starring in “Human Target” starting on Jan. 20.
      It’s good (I’ve seen the pilot) but I wish our Fringe had a post-Idol time period again…

  • TS

    I love that Astrid was in the show more last night. She is such a great character and I love that she got more show time. Walter is heart breaking. His character is fantanstic and I am already sad for him when they finally reveal his secret about Peter. I actually enjoy the non-mythology shows more, although they are good too. Great show.

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