Episode 12: Seen, Ghost in the Machine

FROM ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER KIMBERLY ROOTS: In the suburb of Springfield, Massachusetts, a teenager is on the phone while sitting in front of his computer. A pop-up window appears on screen with the headline, “What was that noise?” and prompts him to click on a button. He does, and as he ends his phone conversation, a series of blurry videos begin streaming on his screen. They look like the lost reel of The Blair Witch Project, and they sound like it, too—lots of screaming and spooky noises. His mom ducks her head in to tell him she and his father are going out, and because she’s used to the uncommunicative nature of teen boys, she doesn’t think it’s weird when he doesn’t respond. His back is to her, so she can’t see that he’s transfixed by the video, tears streaming down his face, mouth agape. She leaves. A hand morphs out from the screen reaches toward the boy and eventually grabs on to his skull. That’ll teach him to install Pop-Up Blocker.
At Walter’s Harvard lab, we hear him loudly denounce Darwin’s theory of evolution while Peter opens an envelope addressed to his dad. Astrid notices him read it and toss it in the garbage as Olivia calls to say the computer boy—Greg—is dead and his body will arrive at the lab shortly. While the Bishops go out to meet it, Astrid sneakily retrieves the balled-up letter from the trash. After Greg is laid out for an autopsy, Walter announces that the teen’s brain has completely liquefied … and Peter barely hides his disgust as he drains the gray matter into a beaker. Astrid, who we learn has a background in computer science, examines the hard drive that Greg’s parents gave Olivia and deems it fried. While she gives it another look, Olivia travels to an auto repair shop to talk to Luke, who was chatting with Greg the night before. Luke is surprised by the news of Greg’s death and tells Olivia that they’d been friends since their dads worked together years before. Just then, Peter calls. There’s been another victim.
The second guy died at the car dealership where he worked and exhibits the same symptoms as Greg: brains leaking from the ears, nose, and mouth. Ew. The dead man, Anton, died in front of his computer, too. Astrid looks at Anton’s hard drive, which is corrupted in the same way that Greg’s is, and realizes that both downloaded a gigantic file before the drives crashed. Peter takes both pieces of hardware to one of his unsavory contacts, leaving Astrid to share the trashed note with Olivia, who looks shocked.
Peter’s contact, Hakim, isn’t happy to see him. But when Peter produces a gold coin that seems to have meaning to both of them, Hakim warms up. He locks on to the file that both victims downloaded and is amazed at the complicated way it’s been bounced around the world. He can’t tell where it originates, but he can tell that it’s being downloaded right now … in Olivia’s apartment! Cut to Olivia’s place, where her niece, Ella, is playing on a laptop. Peter calls Olivia and both race to her apartment, where Ella clicks on the pop-up and the bizarre video begins to play. Her mom, Rachel, is cooking and isn’t aware that Olivia’s frantically calling or that a digitized hand is reaching out of the laptop screen toward her daughter’s head. Olivia busts in, guns blazing, and the video abruptly shuts down. Peter’s close behind. Ella is catatonic for a moment, then comes around and asks when Olivia got home. Later, Peter plays with Ella and flirts with Rachel. Suddenly, Ella remembers the hand, prompting Olivia to take a closer look at the laptop. She notices the built-in camera is activated … and we cut to a dank basement where a man stares at a computer screen that’s receiving the signal from Olivia’s laptop. He mocks her inability to comprehend what’s going on—but then quickly shuts down the screen when someone approaches his workshop. Turns out, it’s his son … who’s also Greg’s friend, Luke. It becomes clear that Luke has no idea what his dad is up to, but he’s wary about why anyone not in The Matrix would need that many computers in one place. All he’ll say is that he’s working on a new program.
In Evanston, Illinois, a woman comes home to find her day trader husband dead at his computer, soupy brains all over the place. At Harvard, Walter’s figured out what’s going on but Astrid puts it in plain language: “It’s like a computer virus that infects people.” Outside, Peter has a tense conversation with an older woman who wants to see Walter. He won’t allow it. Olivia later confronts him about the letter, which was from the woman, and exposits that she’s the mother of the lab assistant that died in a fire at Walter’s lab 20 years before. (Her death, by the way, was the crime for which Walter was found guilty and imprisoned.) Peter doesn’t think Walter can handle talking with the grieving mom; Olivia does. Astrid interrupts to say that the newest victim married Miriam Dempsey, Luke’s mom, a year ago. Olivia and the gang eventually figure out that Luke’s dad, Brian, worked as an advanced computer programmer for Greg’s dad until he was fired. They bring Luke in for questioning, but after Sanford Harris forces Olivia to come down hard on the teen, the boy demands a lawyer and clams up. When he’s released, however, he runs right to his dad’s workshop, where Olivia finds Brian watching his own program and slowly losing what’s left of his mind. He holds a gun under his chin and, after a few moments, kills himself.
At the FBI, Phillip Broyles sticks up for Olivia and tells Harris that if he wants to take her down, he’s going to have to go through him. At Harvard, Peter brings the lab assistant’s mom to see Walter, who handles the situation with compassion and empathy. And later that night at Olivia’s apartment, the doorbell rings: It’s a slightly tipsy Peter, who apologizes to Olivia and says she was right about Walter after all.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The “ghost in the machine” concept—illustrated here by the computer virus that’s too effective for mankind’s own good—originated with Gilbert Ryle’s take on Descartes mind-body concept and gained even wider notoriety with Arthur Koestler’s book of the same title. Koestler argued that humans have a propensity for self-destruction. The virus in this episode, had it gotten out of control (like most viruses do), might’ve given humanity a little push in Koestler’s direction.

Category: Fringe

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