Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Original Airdate: 9 September 2008
Written by J.J. Abrahms, Alex Kurtzman, and Robert Orci
Directed by Alex Graves
Patterns of Interference: Flight 627 from Hamburg flies through turbulence while a sick and distressed passenger, Morgan, injects himself with an insulin pen. He gets up during a rough bout of turbulence, only to discover that his body appears to be disintegrating, spewing a liquid onto a stewardess. The effects prove toxic as the other passengers quickly begin to exhibit similar symptoms. The flight crew is able to engage the autopilot just as they succumb to the illness.
Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent involved in a clandestine relationship with her partner John Scott. After a tryst at a motel, Olivia is called in to investigate the aforementioned incident with the plane at Logan Airport in Boston. Greeted by fellow agent and friend Charlie Francis, he brings her up to speed. The plane landed but with no signs of life and blood on the windows. John arrives separately, wrapping up a conversation on his cell phone, and joins Olivia and Charlie in the investigation. A van pulls up with the driver inquiring about the police activity, and is revealed to be “Morgan”, but now completely healthy.
Special Agent Phillip Broyles from Homeland Security arrives and takes charge of the investigation. The agents enter the plane to find all the passengers dead, their flesh having disintegrated leaving only residue and skeletons. Working with the CDC, the agents track down various leads, including potential bioterrorism. Olivia is sent to run down a flimsy lead, and together with John discovers ammonia tanks in the trash at a storage facility. Going through some of the storage lockers they find evidence of bio-chemical development and testing. As Olivia steps away to call in assistance, John continues to look through additional lockers, and comes across “Morgan” exiting one of them. He runs off, with John in pursuit through the labyrinth of storage containers. Olivia joins them, and after some time “Morgan” stops and takes out a cell phone, keying in a sequence. John prepares to take him into custody, but Olivia realizes that “Morgan” has triggered some sort of trap. She calls out John’s name before some of the lockers explode, hurling Olivia back against a container and knocking her out.
Olivia awakens later at the hospital, miraculously surviving, but is told John was severely injured after exposure to the chemicals during the blast. His body begins to dissolve in a similar manner to those onboard Flight 627 but at a slower rate. Olivia begins searching online for any information regarding flesh-dissolving chemicals or diseases and finds a lead. Seeking out Broyles’ help, she presents him with a case file regarding Walter Bishop, a scientific researcher who conducted experiments similar to what happened on Flight 627 and affecting John. However, Bishop has been confined to a high security mental institution for the past 17 years, and visitors are restricted to immediate family. Walter’s only family is his estranged son, Peter, who is currently in Iraq.
Olivia travels to Iraq to find Peter, a bright but troubled man with a shady past and who would rather stay in Iraq than see his father. Olivia coerces Peter into returning with her. At the facility, Olivia meets Walter, an eccentric and somewhat broken man, and she reviews the effects of John and Flight 627 victims with him. Walter claims it can be reversed, but the years of isolation and “treatment” has left him addled. Olivia grows frustrated, but Walter deduces that Olivia could only have come if she was with Peter and asks to see his son. Hesitant at first, Peter goes in and has a tense conversation with Walter. After further coercion, Peter agrees to assume guardianship of Walter and sign him out of the facility.
Walter examines John, whose condition is deteriorating. After obtaining access to his old lab at Harvard University, Walter begins his analysis and makes a connection between the outbreak on Flight 627 and research he performed on a potential contagion for use during the Vietnam War. Walter believes he may be able to develop a counteragent if he knew what chemicals John was exposed to, but they were destroyed in the blast. Walter conjectures that John only has 24 hours to live, and is the only one who could provide any information on finding Morgan, who in turn could provide information on what chemicals John was exposed to. Walter proposes performing a Synaptic Transfer, a process by which Olivia could share a dream-like state with John to obtain this information. She agrees to the process. John is relocated to Walter’s lab for the procedure, and after preparation, Olivia enters the sensory deprivation tank.
Olivia appears in a dream construct, seeing images such as a massive graveyard, her uncle’s kayak, and destroyed cars. She finds John in a desert landscape, and gets him to remember the face of the man he was pursuing, just before Olivia is pulled out of the tank. Olivia is able to use a computer to model the man’s face, and discovers Morgan’s identity as a passenger on Flight 627. However, they also discover that he has an identical twin, Richard – and that this was the man who John was chasing and triggered the explosion. They also make the discovery that Richard’s last employer was Massive Dynamic, a multi-billion dollar company involved in numerous fields such as robotics and pharmaceuticals – and was founded by Walter’s former lab partner, William Bell.
Olivia heads to Massive Dynamic and meets with Nina Sharp, a representative of the company. She provides Olivia with information regarding Richard, and drops a cryptic reference to “the Pattern”, which Olivia does not recognize. Later Olivia picks up Peter and Walter and takes them to South Boston, where Richard has been located. The FBI storm the apartment but find it empty. Olivia notices something under a rug and discovers a trapdoor leading to a chemical lab. Outside, Peter and Walter are waiting in a car when Peter notices Richard escaping from a backdoor. Peter alerts the agents and gives chase. Olivia and Peter eventually apprehend Richard and he is taken in for questioning. Richard refuses to cooperate, but Peter sneaks in and is able to extract the list of chemicals from him via force. Walter and Peter devise a counteragent to cure John.
While Olivia awaits word on John’s recovery, Broyles commends Olivia for her work and reveals to her the bigger picture: in the past nine months there have been 36 unusual incidents like Flight 627. One involved a kid who went missing 20 years ago, only to reappear recently on the other side of the world without having aged a day. In the past few months 46 other children who disappeared the same day have reappeared in the same manner. He reviews other seemingly impossible incidents, a series of events that have come to be called “the Pattern”, as if someone was experimenting using the entire world as their lab. Broyles offers Olivia a position on his team to investigate the Pattern, but Olivia declines. Broyles rightly points out that Olivia cannot return to her regular FBI job knowing these “fringe” events are occurring, but Olivia is not so sure…
John’s condition improves and he awakens. Later at the hospital, while John is recovering, Olivia visits Richard and attempts to discover who he was working for and why he killed his own brother as part of the experiment. Richard reveals that he was forced into these actions by another FBI agent, and made a recording of a conversation with them to prove it. Olivia finds the tape and is horrified to discover the agent was John, recognizing part of the cell phone conversation from when John joined them at the airport earlier.
Meanwhile, John leaves his hospital room. He heads to Richard’s room and suffocates him. Olivia races back and calls ahead to Charlie, who discovers Richard’s body. Olivia sees John drive off and a car chase ensues, which ends in a car crash that fatally wounds John. Dying, he tells Olivia to ask herself why Broyles sent her to the storage facility. Olivia tries to get John to reveal who he works for, but John (of course) dies before revealing anything further.
A grieving Olivia is comforted by Charlie, whose words on how the dangers of the world have changed in the past decade convince her to take up Broyles’ offer to join his Fringe division. She goes and sees Peter, who reveals that he has learned from Walter some of what he and William Bell worked on, and that it disturbs him. He decides to continue guardianship of Walter and stay to help Olivia.
In a Massive Dynamic facility, John’s body is being taken away on a stretcher, and is stopped by Nina Sharp. After asking how long he’s been dead, she instructs the orderly of have John hooked up to an unknown device for questioning…
Scientific Method: Synaptic Transfer. The tapping of memories from a comatose or a recently deceased body via a connection with another brain. It allows for sharing of dream states, among other uses. Walter’s antiquated version involved a sensory deprivation tank and drugs. Lots of drugs. Presumably a more advanced version of this device was used on John at Massive Dynamic after the conclusion of the episode.
On the plane ride back from Iraq, Olivia goes over some of Walter’s research with Peter, including astral project, teleportation and reanimation.
Nina Sharp reveals that her right arm was amputated after a cancer diagnosis and replaced with a robotic one from Massive Dynamic, designed by William Bell.
Fringe with Benefits: Right off the bat, we establish the romantic entanglement between Olivia and John (note from John: “which made me happy as I’m a Mark Valley fan from his days of Human Target”). John goes so far as to say, “I love you,” but doesn’t get a response. She later points out that she’s bad at doing her end of the relationship.
Agent of F.R.I.N.G.E: We see from the start that Olivia is willing to speak up as she is passed over to be part of the first inspection team of the plane. But we see this is something more as Boyle continues to give Olivia attitude. Broyle’s response to the sexual misconduct allegations his friend faced sounds woefully outdated now.
Olivia also struggles with how her relationship with John may have blinded her to how he may have affected other cases.
Walt’s Faults: After not seeing his son for years, the first thing Walter comments on is Peter’s weight.
Walt’s bout of incontinence is poorly timed (but comedically expected).
Walt suffers a meltdown when discovering his old lab was closed down.
Walt’s need for the cow and his distinction of how the cow produces milk is pretty funny. Despite this, we see Walter being sorry for offering only one solution to finding John’s attacker, a method that may prove fatal. He’s not urging Olivia to do it, but he is suggesting it as an option. Walter’s perspective on being an inmate and the loss of trust that one misses is gripping.
Loved his observation on Spongebob Squarepants.
Daddy Issues: Peter would rather stay in Iraq than be reunited with his father – very telling. When he sees Walter for the first time in years, he refers to his father by his first name, and continues to do so.
Observatory: You can see an Observer walking in front of the Massive Dynamic building when Olivia goes to speak with Nina Sharp.
Dynamic Appearances: Mark Valley as John Scott.
Lunatic Fringe: Morgan is passenger 108, a reference to Lost (also produced by J.J. Abrams)
First reference of William Bell, the founder of Massive Dynamic.
Peter owes money to a guy named Big Eddy.
A goof occurs when John smothers Richard, he leaves with the pillow off of his face (to get the dramatic look of Richard’s dead eyes), but when Charlie finds him later, the pillow is on Richard’s face.
Endgame: This pilot does what it sets out to do, line up all the pieces in the chess game that is to be the series and does it in a way that, for the most part, connects all the elements successfully. The ongoing mysteries of what is the Pattern, who John worked for and if there is more to Broyles (not to mention who William Bell is and what secrets Massive Dynamic is hiding) are very tantalizing. The cast clicks, with even secondary characters such as Astrid and Charlie providing welcomed depth. John Noble nails the role as the charming, eccentric and often frustrating Walter Bishop. There’s a good balance of humor, drama and science here, and it works as a spiritual successor to The X-Files.
The main problem is that the episode stalls and bursts with energy throughout and for an 80+ minute piece, it seems much longer. It’s densely packed, and it is easy to forgive overlooking some of the details.
Regarding the relationship between Olivia and John: we get that this buildup was for the shock of what happens to John, but it happens so fast. we’re not sure how vested we are in the whole situation (John’s side note: Besides, I was hoping that Valley would be a bit more permanent). This is the impetus though to drive the story. Olivia will go to any extreme to save John as she brings Peter into the case in the hopes of getting his father involved. In the end, this is made all the more disappointing when John dies.
Massive Dynamics rating: 7.5
“Pilot” does what it’s supposed to do and it does it successfully, but might have been better serviced if it had been a little shorter. It is still a slickly produced piece of television, and offers a lot of promise for what is to come.