This week on Fringe, a hopeless dork who lives with his mom and has a dead-end job finds himself made into something "special" by science. Though this kind of plot crops up in nearly every Fringe episode, last night's "Power Hungry" gave it a unique (and funny) twist. And in the process it revealed what I think is probably one of the most powerful fantasy-lures that keeps people coming back to this show. Spoilers ahead, you maniacs. Since this is Fringe, where mad doctor Walter spends every episode exchanging bitter banter with his son Peter, all scientific experiments are thinly-veiled metaphors for parent-child relationships. This week's human test subject is no exception. Almost as soon as Joseph starts manifesting his electro-magnetic powers, he kills his mother with them (though first he fries the brains of a bunch of his co-workers). Poor guy has been used by our mad scientist of the week, Dr. Fisher, and has been humiliated by his mother for his poor hygiene. And now he gets his nerdy revenge. But they key to understanding the scene I've clipped for you above is to ignore the "kid gets back at mean mom" element and go right to the heart of the Fringe fantasy. As Joseph explains, that fantasy is about what would happen if new agey therapies to realign your chi could actually lead you to a scientist who bestows super-powers. Yes, what I'm saying is that Fringe is the television equivalent of John Tesh: Half entertainment, half new-age freakout. In fact, the overarching message of last night's episode was very finding-your-inner-crystal. Walter tells Vague Agent Olivia that the hallucinations she's having of dead ex-boyfriend John are perfectly natural because when she was psychically connected to him, part of his consciousness "crossed over" into hers. Peter continues to play piano to calm himself. And the special weapon Walter uses to find our EMP killer is a cage full of homing pigeons. Whoa, that's so organic man. If the fantasy of Fringe is new age, then its nightmare is undoubtedly scientific weapons research. In this episode, like previous ones, the corporate conspiracy called the Pattern seems to emerge when mad scientists turn people into bioterror plague sludge or dangerous weapons (like Joseph, who can send fatal surges of electricity everywhere after Dr. Fisher works on him). So science is good when it makes you think of new agey bullshit, and bad when it's redolent of the Cold War paranoia that pervaded X-Files. I loved the moment when Walter sums up all the work he'd done before going into a mental institution two decades before: "I'm sure it had something to do with the commies — everything did back then." These days, however, everything has to do with apolitical types who want to alter human bodies rather than human societies. Or maybe, as Massive Dynamic's strategy seems to imply, altering human bodies does alter society. But will we get a society of mommy killers or the Age of Aquarius? Hard to say. Let's just ignore that question and have Peter take his shirt off and play some John Tesh on that piano of his.
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