In last week’s recap of the season premiere, I said that I hoped that ‘Fringe’ would drag out the alternate universes storyline for a while and not just fall back to case-of-the-week plots too quickly. With the season’s second episode, it appears that the show is trying to have it both ways.
What does that mean, exactly? ‘The Box’ takes place entirely in our regular world, without any trips to the alternate universe where Olivia is trapped. Instead, her alternate twin Fauxlivia has taken her place here and integrated into her life. A big part of that, of course, means doing her job and investigating cases with the Fringe Division. So the episode is sort of a standard case-of-the-week, but one where the main heroine has been swapped out for an evil doppelganger. That puts an interesting spin on the formula, at the very least.
The case in question is about… well… a box. Three thieves have broken into a house, tied up the owners, and dug a big hole in the basement. They’ve been hired to retrieve a box buried there, which they were told absolutely not to open. Of course, curiosity gets the best of them. When they do open it, two of the thieves and the family upstairs go completely catatonic and eventually just die, sitting or even standing wherever they were. For some reason, the third thief is unaffected. He closes and grabs the box, then high-tails it out of there.
It turns out that the thieves were hired by Newton, the devious agent from the other side who the Fringe team has been chasing since last season. He’s now working with (or rather, working for, as she makes perfectly clear to him) Fauxlivia, coaching her on her cover story. The thieves were fully expected to open the box and die on the spot. What he didn’t expect, and doesn’t understand, is how one got away.
One thing leads to another, and Walter figures out that the box is an ultrasonic weapon of some sort. It kills people by scrambling their brains with high pitched (so high pitched they’re above the audible frequency range) sound waves. The third thief wasn’t affected because he’s deaf.
That thief has no idea what to do with the damn box, and decides that the best course of action is just to turn it over to the FBI. Of course, he doesn’t want to go to prison, so he follows Fauxlivia home and tries to give it to her in person. Bad idea.
Now, throughout the episode, Fauxlivia has been acting pretty much just like normal Olivia. And I don’t just mean “acting” acting. She doesn’t necessarily seem evil. In fact, we’re left with the question of whether she actually shares Olivia’s basic personality and moral code, but has just been mislead into believing that our universe is evil. Perhaps, when she sees things and gets to know people, she’ll realize that she’s been duped and help Walter and Peter set things right.
But then she shoots the thief dead in her apartment and stuffs his body in the bathroom. So much for that. Peter just happens to come over a few moments later, and there’s a bit of comic fumbling as Fauxlivia puts the moves on him big time to distract him from the puddle of blood slowly seeping out from under her bathroom door. They’re interrupted shortly afterwards by a call from work and both have to run out.
Newton has left the box in a subway station. (Allegedly, it’s in Boston, where the main action of the series is set – more on that in a minute.) He left it with a panhandler and walked away. Of course, the panhandler opened it, and the brains of everyone in the station were turned into mush. The panhandler himself somehow lived long enough to grab the box, jump down onto the rails, and run a little ways into the tunnel before dying.
When Fringe team gets there, they try to figure out how to retrieve and close the box without going brain dead themselves. Walter says that regular noise-canceling headphones won’t be protection enough, and that he doesn’t have enough time to put something together. So Peter convinces Olivia (excuse me, Fauxlivia) to deafen him by firing her gun next to both of his ears. He’s told that he will have about three minutes to get to the box and disarm it before his hearing comes back.
(This is quite profoundly stupid. Pulling a stunt like this in real life – especially in an echo chamber like an underground subway station – would very likely result in permanent hearing damage, not just for Peter but even for those near him. Anyway, it’s just a TV show, so we’ll suspend disbelief.)
Peter gets to the box, but it’s been damaged and won’t close. He has to disarm it on the spot before his hearing comes back. Little does he know that there’s also a subway train barreling down towards him that he can’t hear. (Shouldn’t he have been able to feel the rails vibrating like crazy? Argh, damn that suspension of disbelief again!) Fauxlivia, who apparently has a conscience and possibly feelings for Peter after all, risks her own life to run into the tunnel (before she’s even sure the box is turned off) and drag him out of the way before the high-speed train zips by.
Okay, now about the Boston setting: The climax of the episode allegedly takes place at a “Kent St. Station.” Well, I happen to live in Boston. There actually is a Kent St. MBTA stop, but it’s above ground at street level in the open air. It’s also on the Green Line, which is absolutely not a high-speed train. Crap like this really annoys me.
In a subplot, Walter pays a visit to Massive Dynamic to attend the reading of William Bell’s will. Both he and Nina Sharp are given inheritances of some sort. We don’t learn what Nina gets, but Walter receives a mysterious key to a safety deposit box. He hems and haws about whether to open it or not. By episode’s end, he finally does, and finds stock certificates inside. Very important stock certificates. Walter is now the sole shareholder of Massive Dynamic. Now then, this is certainly a very interesting turn of events.