Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/15/09

“Monsters aren’t real, right?”
— Ella, FRINGE

Tuesday night means horror on a nearly unprecedented scale. And then, after AMERICAN IDOL is over, I can relax with a nice, comforting monster on FRINGE. This old-fashioned “bug hunt” was one of the more overt X-FILES homages, with our friendly feds called in to investigate a “monster of the week” that turns out to be…a monster. The creature (freed by animal-rights activists from a research lab) was described as having the body of a lion, claws of an eagle, fangs of a viper, skin of a rhinoceros and tail of a rattlesnake, but of course, budget constraints meant the monster was only revealed at the very end. Mostly we just saw the menacing tail rattle. And while the reveal proved to be even briefer than I’d hoped, it looked pretty good. For a dead griffin. Once again, Walter suspected that his old research was the springboard for this threat, but I enjoyed seeing his newly matured reactions. Earlier in the season he was so divorced from society (and reality) that he paid no mind to the repercussions of his research. However, this week he was shown to have some recognizably human emotions and appropriate responses. Not everything he said was about food and using the facilities (although those themes continued — and will you ever look at an omelet the same way again?); he seemed genuinely anguished. Before he could bring himself to confess his guilt, he warned Olivia to be careful. Walter learned a lesson about consequences: He’s never thought of them before, and while he doesn’t think he can start now, at least he knows that about himself. I like seeing that growth in the character. It makes the mad scientist more relatable. Then again, he also drank a bottle of poison to kill the monster just in case he got eaten in one-on-one combat. Speaking of which, what’s up with “Walter, the action hero”?! The scientist with the blazing 50-caliber incendiary rounds! Walter was motivated to self-sacrifice when the creature attacked Charlie, but this gave us the opportunity for a glimpse at Charlie’s personal life. Turns out he has a wife, and when he lay dying, he called her and told her he loves her (giving Kirk Acevedo a chance to do some subtle acting). Olivia could barely hide being non-plussed when Peter called her place looking for Rachel, who in turn got all flirty on the phone. Liv definitely is feeling some rivalry with her sister. In the end, Olivia was bothered by the howling wind (which sounds a little like the monster), so she slept with the light on. Because monsters really do exist.

RESCUE ME was capped by a great special-effects moment, when a propane bottle exploded under a car, shattering plate-glass windows and throwing Tommy for a loop. Just seconds earlier the off-duty fireman dragged the driver from the out-of-control car that ran over the tank. That heroism was the capper on an episode that saw Tommy continue to lash out at those closest to him. He visited ex-wife Janet again, and awkwardly discovered that Dwight uses a wheelchair — but that didn’t slow down Tommy. He laced into Dwight with a very un-PC rant. Then he went to the new bar Sean, Mike and Franco were opening, and laid into the boys searing personalized insults. The firehouse crew met Genevieve (Karina Lombard), the French journalist writing a book on 9/11, and the show didn’t back away from controversy when Franco told her that he believes 9/11 was an “inside job” pulled off by neoconservatives. Lou told an emotional story about how even fragments of body parts retrieved from Ground Zero were treated with honor. He tearfully confessed about using up all his emotions in those days, leaving him nothing left to feel. Tommy was cynical about Genevieve’s motives for doing a “comprehensive” book — how can it help those left behind? Fans of this series know how deeply the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 has affected these characters, so expect the horror to be revisited for the rest of the season.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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