Fringe: The Same Old Story

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(Episode 2) “Inexplicable and frightening things are happening and there’s a connection somehow.” –Agent Olivia Dunham

Cabals, rapid aging, parental secrets and corporate recruitment, is there anything this episode didn’t have? This episode starts off in post-coital bliss, sure the sex is paid for but the scene is blissful nonetheless. Unfortunately the good times don’t last, the gentleman caller turns out to be a serial killer; that’s the least of our lady of the night’s problems, she’s been knocked up. Generally this wouldn’t be a concern for at least a few months, but this is Fringe. The fetus is growing at an alarming rate, the mother goes through three trimesters in what seems like nine minutes. Serial killer-father very graciously drives his hysterical baby mama to the hospital and quickly drives away. The scene in the delivery room is actually quite horrifying, not for the gruesomeness of what is shown, rather for the fantastic reactions from the actors.

Agent Broyles calls in the A-team, which consists of Agent Dunham and the elder and younger Bishops, to investigate the matter. Broyles informs them that the hospital staff witnessed the child grow and age before their eyes, and that it died of natural causes four hours after being born. The A-team sees this child not of woman born, it’s not really a child more of an old man, and Dr. Bishop mutters his preliminary thoughts, which include cell cycle inhibitors and catalysts. The cell cycle is controlled by cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK). Work has been done to modulate the action of these molecules for the purpose of regulating cell growth and proliferation1. There are a couple of problems with this methodology alone explaining this phenomenon, it doesn’t take into account the factors necessary for faster tissue formation and organization nor does it acknowledge that this type of increased cell proliferation and differentiation often contributes to cancer. Dr. Bishop has to do better. Off to the lab!

As Dr. Bishop examines the corpse of the four hour-old granddad, Oliva and Peter investigate the hotel room. During their examination Olivia realizes that the scene fits the modus operandi of a serial killer that she once investigated. He’s known for paralyzing his victims and removing a part of their brain. Wait, I didn’t know Sylar was on this show? After Peter returns to the lab we find out that Dr. Bishop has realized that the father of the “80-year-old man-baby,” as Peter puts it, also suffers from the same rapid-aging condition. More importantly Dr. Bishop has remembered where he parked his car, 17 years ago. His car is an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, which was made famous on another FOX program, That 70′s Show. Very conveniently, Dr. Bishop’s files, that contain the answers to this mystery, are contained in his derelict automobile. After minimal paper shuffling, we’re given pretty significant pieces to this week’s mystery in the form of the alliterative pituitary Penrose. The pituitary gland is the locus of hormone control in the body and is the section of the brain that our serial killer removes from his victim. Dr. Penrose is a former colleague of Dr. Bishop, who worked with him on rapid aging experiments.

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Drs. Penrose and Bishop worked on manipulating growth hormones for the purpose of “cultivating soldiers,” who would gain complete physical maturity three years after birth. However they never figured out how to turn the aging off. Dr. Bishop postulates that the killer himself is a product of this Chia Pet-Soldier program, who extracts the hormones from his victims to stay young. Dr. Bishop previously mentions that one can induce conditions, such as progeria, through pituitary gland modulation. Although the pituitary gland is affected in progeria2, I’m not sure if it can be induced as such. Reduction of the CDK-inhibitor function of certain domains causes enhanced tissue growth, which manifests in animals with larger body size3 and leads to increased cell proliferation in the pituitary gland. It seems that JJ has muddled together enhanced tissue growth with rapid aging, the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Also, don’t get me started on the genetics of the whole scenario, there’s no way in Hell that the father, regardless of his ill-gotten birth, could pass on his condition unless the mother was also part genetic freak.

The funniest part of the episode comes when Dr. Bishop is trying to see through the eyes of the latest victim. This isn’t literal, he’s trying to extract the last bit of visual information from the dead girl’s eyes so he can see the last thing that she saw. I’m almost certain they did the same thing in the remake of Wild Wild West, starring Will Smith. I’m going to need someone to confirm that for me. Dr. Bishop justifies his theory by claiming that muscle relaxers freeze neural pathways. His implication is that the neural signals are stuck in the neuron. That is not how muscle relaxers work, they either prevent depolarization or desensitize the motor end plate4. Furthermore the signals (action potentials) don’t stay in the optic nerve, they dissipate. His theory is just too fantastical for science to comprehend. But if this is to be done, I’d use research on brain-computer interfaces that are currently being developed to restore sight to blind people5. The idea would be to reverse the set up so that action potentials in the optic nerve could be turned into pixels.

Based off of information gleaned from the dead girl’s eyeball and an FBI program that puts Google Maps to shame, the team finds the serial killer’s and his creator, Dr. Penrose’s location. In typical fashion, Peter saves the almost victim’s life, Dr. Penrose disappears and the serial killer dies from having aged fifty years in five minutes. JJ doesn’t disappoint in his final scene, where we’re treated to full grown serial killer-clones in incubator pods. Will they make an appearance later in the season? Will we find out more about Peter’s secret medical history?

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Further reading:

  1. M Duman-Scheel, et al. Hedgehog regulates cell growth and proliferation by inducing Cyclin D and Cyclin E. Nature. 417: 299-304, 2002
  2. Premature Aging Syndromes (Progeria). DermNet NZ. 2008
  3. H Kiyokawa, et al.Enhanced Growth of Mice Lacking the Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor Function of p27Kip1. Cell. 85(5): 721-732, 1996
  4. Muscle Relaxant. Wikipedia. 2008
  5. D Wagenaar. Cortical stimulation for the evocation of visual perception. Term Paper for CNS247: Cerebral cortex, R Andersen, Caltech, 2004

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About Dapper Alchemist

The Dapper Alchemist is an amalgam of my interests in science, design and (men's) fashion.

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