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Deconstruction Review of Fringe, Episode 13 Season 4, A Better Human Being

Posted by Karl Withakay on February 18, 2012

A Gold/Yellow Episode

As always, an episode synopsis will be found over at Scott’s Polite Dissent

Spur Your Memory

As far as I know, DNA profiling done for criminal investigations doesn’t involve photographically imaging the chromosomes.  If we accept that that the Fringe team does produce images of the chromosomes, then it’s plausible that Walter would remember and recognize the “chromosomal spur” from Shawn’s chromosome images.

A Stand of Truth

Calling a chromosome a “strand of DNA” is roughly analogous to calling a ball of yarn a strand of yarn or a spring a strand of wire.  A chromosome is a piece of coiled DNA that is technically a strand of DNA , but when I hear the term strand used, I usually think of something that is unwound.

I  Spy With My Little Eye…

Apparently Walter can eyeball two DNA profiles at different times and determine from memory that they share a single common parent and only a single common parent.  You certainly couldn’t tell that from images of the chromosomes, even if you over-layed the two images.

Far More Likely Than Winning The Lottery, but Still…

Before the learning of the Doctor’s genetic involvement, Walter should have been very suspicious of 4 different half siblings sharing a common, rare chromosome.  If it is rare, we can assume the common parent carried only one copy of the rare chromosome, and had a 50% chance of passing that chromosome to any individual offspring.  The odds that 4 children of that parent would all inherit the rare version of the chromosome is 1 in 16 or 6.25%.

You Keep Using that Word.  I Do Not Think it Means What You think it Does.

“There are many cases of siblings communicating non–verbally, typically identical twins, but not always.”

Yes, deaf siblings do it quite often.  It’s called sign language.  Most siblings, even the ones who can hear and speak will frequently use non verbal communication, such as facial expressions, hand/arm gestures, groaning, sighing, poking, shoving, etc.  Depending on how you define verbal communication, writing, emailing, texting, Facebooking, and Tweeting could all be considered non verbal communication as well.

However, if Walter is talking about telepathic communication, The James Randi Education Foundation will pay one million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate such an ability under controlled testing conditions using a mutually agreed upon protocol.  The paranormal challenge has been in place since 1964, and has been worth $1,000,000 since 1996.  To date, nobody has ever gotten past the preliminary test.


I’m not sure what the point of looking at Olivia’s hair sample under a microscope was.  Can you see evidence of cortexiphan in a hair sample under a microscope?

Cool Science

“Many forms of non-verbal communication exist in nature.  Eels use electrical pulses.  Whales use echolocation, elephants use seismic vibrations.”

Electric eels (which I learned while writing this are not eels, but knife fish) produce two different types of electric discharges.  One is high voltage used for hunting and defense, and the other is a low voltage discharge thought to be used for both location and communication.

However, I think Walter is confusing whale sounds (which includes echolocation) with echolocation used by toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises.   As far as I can tell, echolocation is not used for communication.

While elephants do use the soft underside of their feet to detect low frequency sound, I’m not sure that these sounds could reasonably be called seismic vibrations, as seismic means relating to or caused by earthquakes.  The next time an earthquake happens, be sure to shush the elephants.

Actually, if you think about it, non-verbal communication is really the norm in nature, as only humans use verbal communication, whereas all other forms of communication used in nature by other life forms and humans are non-verbal.  In fact, up until a few million years ago, all communication used on Earth was non-verbal.

Are We So Sure the Drugs Were Bad?

Yes, he didn’t have schizophrenia, but maybe the drugs did help Shawn maintain his identity and protect him from succumbing to the collective identity.

Typically, but Not Always

Recombinant DNA is usually made of DNA from two or more different species, but it doesn’t have to be.

Where Did You Go to Evil Medical School/ Did you Go to the Same School as Walter?

“I promised them successful pregnancies and healthy babies, and that’s what I gave them.”

The good doctor doesn’t seem to understand what was fundamentally wrong with what he did.  What he did was illegal and unethical for numerous reasons.  First and foremost from an ethical viewpoint, he violated informed consent, which is one of the most fundamental concepts in medicine.  In medicine, a patient must be properly informed of the nature and risks of what is being done to them so that they make an informed decision of whether to consent to the treatment or not.  You’re especially not allowed to experiment on people without their knowledge.  Oh yeah, and there’s all those laws he broke as well.


Dr. Owen Frank:

“I attempted to re-introduce abilities that we humans have long since evolved away from, the hard wired instincts that we share with other animal species.”


“And that would include telepathy?”

Frank nods and grunts in acknowledgement

A few points here.

First, species don’t generally evolve away from traits that confer a survival benefit.  If humans had evolved away from a trait, it would have likely been because that trait was no longer beneficial.

Second, why would you want to re-introduce hard wired instincts?  Surely one of the advantages of being human is to be able to think rationally (though you might not know it during an election year) and not just react instinctively.

Third, is either Olivia or the doctor saying that

A.) Humans once had telepathic abilities,


B.) we shared those abilities with other animal species?


Considering the doctor has no regard for ethics or the law, I guess I can’t really harp on him for sharing confidential medical records with the Fringe team without either a warrant or signed consent of the former patients.

Is it Live, or is it Memorex?

So, was Nina pretending to be held prisoner with Olivia, or is the Nina running Massive Dynamic a shape shifter?


9 Responses to “Deconstruction Review of Fringe, Episode 13 Season 4, A Better Human Being”

  1. Robert said

    Sign language is non-vocal, not non-verbal, as it still uses words. Shawn’s ability also does not seem to be non-verbal, as he was overhearing their conversations.

  2. Karl Withakay said

    Both points are valid, but since the dictionary definition of verbal is as follows:

    1. of or pertaining to words: verbal ability.
    2. consisting of or in the form of words: verbal imagery.
    3. expressed in spoken words; oral rather than written: verbal communication; verbal agreement.
    4. consisting of or expressed in words (as opposed to actions): a verbal protest.
    5. pertaining to or concerned with words only (as opposed to ideas, facts, or realities): a purely verbal distinction between two concepts.

    we could give Walter the benefit of the doubt and say he was using the third definition, since he was aware that Shawn was hearing words.

    The key then would be whether one considers sign language to be spoken or not. This then involves considering the various different definitions of spoken and speak. In the end, I think a good case can actually be made either way.

  3. Daedalus said

    Human hair can be read as a record of the health and substance intake of the donor over time. In theory Walter could have subjected Olivia’s hairs to, say, illumination with UV in order to see a change in her intake of various substances over a period of months. He might therefore have divined that Something Was Going On and detected cortexiphan with further analysis.

    However just putting her hair on a slide would not have been enough. Like most Fringe stuff, it’s a very short shorthand way of telling the viewer that Investigation Is Happening. And lets face it, the budget for SFX on this, almost certainly the last, season, is probably equivalent to the lunch budget on more popular shows. Similar considerations apply to the use of a steam-driven pen and paper recorder to represent a Brain Wave Analyzer.

  4. Oliver said

    What I noticed was Olivia seeming unfamiliarity with establishing a baseline on something that looked suspiciously like a lie-detector and Walther, wo only recently dared to come out of his basement-lab, was now first to arrive at a mental hospital!

  5. HomiSite said

    I was wondering in the last episode, why the Cortexiphan wasn’t detected by Walter in Olivia’s blood (and why Amphilicite was now called Amphilocite :-).

    Anyway: This episode may not be the greatest one, but made some story-steps forward. Although it would be quite cheap if Olivia will become Peter’s Olivia and so the “essentials” of his timeline are more or less reestablished. It was a bit irritating how fast Olivia accepted her new feelings for Peter (a bit horny or what? :-); Nerdlee seems “dismissed” longa go…

    Was Olivia abducted at the end or did she changed accidently into the other universe and was captured there?

  6. Grossly abnormal chromosomes are usually discarded during cellular reproduction (mitosis or meiosis — no truly equivalent chromosome to match up with), so the odds would actually be much lower than 6.25%

  7. […] (hmmm, interesting). A list of all previous Fringe reviews is available here. As always, Karl has more to say over at his […]

  8. Fairfax said

    Politescott: “Grossly abnormal chromosomes are usually discarded during cellular reproduction”

    This is, of course, correct, but mere errors are relatively pleasant in Fringe’s dotage. At this stage, all too much of Fringe is not even wrong. Perhaps we should describe this as the Pauli SF-series cancellation principle: “If most episodes aren’t even wrong, then we’re probably in the final season. . .”

  9. […] episode is debunked at Polite Dissent and Cordial Deconstruction, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. […]

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