The Equation
Season 1, Episode 8
The Equation
Air date November 18, 2008
Written by J.R. Orci
David H. Goodman
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
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Cast | Transcript

"The Equation" is the eighth episode of the first season of Fringe.


A young piano prodigy is abducted from his father using a pattern of flashing lights, which Walter links back to his old bunkmate at St. Claire's Hospital. At Olivia's suggestion, Walter returns to the mental institution to interview him in hopes of solving the case but ends up staying against his will.



Hypnotic Lights Flash

In Middletown, Connecticut, Jeremy Stockton drives his car through stormy weather, while his son Ben Stockton sits in the back, writing musical notation. Jeremy asks his son if he is taking a break from music. Ben's response is to ask his father if he can slow down the windshield wipers because the tempo distracts him. After Jeremy explains that he can not slow the wipers because he would not be able to see as well, he sees a young woman standing by the side of the road next to a car. Jeremy pulls over to assist her; she explains that her car just stopped working without warning. After calling for road assistance, Jeremy, over the woman's mild protests, then offers to take a look at her engine.

Under the hood, Stockton sees a mysterious pair of lights at the back of the engine compartment. The lights begin to flash in a green, green, green, red sequence. He becomes mesmerized until he's startled by the tow truck driver tapping on his shoulder. The rain has stopped. The young woman and her car have disappeared. And, to Jeremy's dismay, so has his son.

At the Boston FBI office, Phillip Broyles describes the abduction to Olivia Dunham. This is not the first abduction of this kind; three other people are known to have been abducted by a woman meeting the same description. The previously abducted eventually turned up, physically unharmed but mentally insane, unable to remember what happened to them. Olivia observes that all the previously abducted were academics and experts in their fields, and Ben Stockton doesn't fit this profile. Walter Bishop, who has been listening in, says something about lights: green, green, green, red, like Christmas lights. He's heard this story before, but he can't recall where or when.

Olivia meets with Jeremy and his sister Maureen Stockton. Hearing that the previously abducted were experts in various fields, Jeremy tells an unusual story about his son. Ben and his mother Abby Stockton were in a car accident, and Ben's mother was killed. Ben was in a coma for six days, and when he awoke, he suddenly had the ability to play the piano -- despite having never had a single lesson. Jeremy plays a DVD to demonstrate Ben's ability. Ben soon began was composing his own music, and he had become obsessed with one particular composition.


Ben´s Dungeon

In an undisclosed location, Ben sits in what looks like a basement. The young woman who abducted him enters the room and tells him there is someone who wants to see him. When he responds that he doesn't want to talk to anyone and that he just wants to go home, the woman tells Ben that his mother will be very disappointed.


Walter's light box

At the Harvard laboratory, Walter is singing Christmas carols in an attempt to jog his memory about where he heard the story of the lights. He still can't remember, but he does recall an experiment he did for an advertising agency that involved flashing lights to induce a form of mind control. The experiment failed, but Walter thinks flashing lights might have been used to put Jeremy in a hypnagogic trance while his son was abducted. Walter believes his previous experimentation failed because he studied only the speed and intensity of the lights, not their color. He asks Peter to looks at some lights. Peter stares as they flash... green, green, green, red... but concludes that it's not working. Then he realizes that his sleeves have been cut off. When he asks Walter if he did this, his reply is "You did."

Meanwhile, Charlie Francis has identified the kidnapper from a sketch based on Jeremy's description. Her name is Joanne Ostler. She supposedly died ten years ago, eight months before the first abduction, but her body was never found.

Back in the lab, Walter has finally realized where he heard the story about the lights. Lights lead to Christmas, Christmas leads to the lyric "dashing through the snow," and that leads to Dash -- Dashiell Kim, a fellow inmate from the asylum. Dashiell told Walter a story about being hypnotized by a Christmas tree.

Olivia briefs Broyles on Dashiell Kim, an astrophysicist who vanished for a week, then had a psychotic breakdown when he returned, bludgeoning his wife to death with a tire iron. Olivia wants to visit him at St. Claire's Hospital, but Broyles notes that he's classified as criminally insane with knowledge of state secrets (due to a side job consulting on defense contracts at JPL). That makes access extremely limited, and it could take weeks to get it.

The woman, whom we now know as Joanne Ostler, shows Ben his pages of sheet music arranged in a way he's never seen before. Then, to Ben's surprise, his mother Abby appears. He runs to her and they embrace.

At the lab, Olivia shows Peter the crime scene photo of Dashiell's home, where he killed his wife. Mathematical notations have been scrawled all over the wall.


"Chachi's" Lament

Walter recognizes the notations as an equation that Dashiell was obsessed with but could never solve. Peter notices a recurring mathematical expression on the wall, and he suggests this could be a rhythm. He asks Walter to translate the math into standard musical notation. While Walter works, Peter explains that music is really just a mathematical language, where chords and notes have numerical equivalents. Walter finishes his translation, and Peter plays it on the piano. It sounds very much like Ben's composition. Walter realizes that Ben's piece is the musical equivalent of Dashiell's equation. But what are they both trying to solve?

Ben is still with his mother. A healed scar is visible on the side of her head. She says that in order for her to stay, Ben has to finish his composition. So Ben starts to play.

Olivia meets with Dr. Bruce Sumner, the director of the institution, to request a meeting with Dashiell Kim. Sumner realizes that Walter Bishop is the reason she wants to meet with Dashiell, and he offers his opinion that Walter has no business being out of the institution. He also refuses to allow Dashiell to be subjected to open-ended interrogations by people he's never met. But he suggests a compromise: Walter can come back long enough to talk to Dashiell.

Olivia and Peter argue about whether to allow Walter to go back to the asylum. Peter is vehemently opposed, but Walter interjects and reluctantly volunteers to go because a boy's life depends on it.


Champagne Wishes

Inside, Walter talks to Dashiell, who denies knowing any story about a woman hypnotizing him with lights. Walter continues to press Dashiell for answers, causing him to become increasingly agitated. When Dashiell becomes despondent, Walter goads him to remember, the two men wrestle, and Sumner steps in and sedates Walter.

Against Olivia and Peter's wishes, Sumner insists on holding Walter overnight. He says Walter's work with Homeland Security has exacerbated his worst delusions. Olivia will need a court order to override Sumner's decision.

Walter lies in his old cell, fitful and unable to sleep. Then someone arrives and sits down on the bed, saying "Welcome back Walter". Walter looks up to see that his visitor is a cleaner, healthier version of himself.

At the FBI office, Olivia is told by the general counsel that they can't get the court order to release Walter until morning. Peter asks Olivia if they've tried to find an alias for Joanne Ostler, which of course they have -- unsuccessfully. Peter says that whenever he used an alias, he would pick something close to the truth, like substituting King or Knight for Bishop. A quick computer search reveals that Ostler is Middle English for innkeeper which gives Peter the idea of hotel names. He discovers that a "Joanne Ritz" has a P.O. Box in Clarksburg.

Ben can't seem to finish his composition. His mother sweetly encourages him. But when he still fails, the scar on his mother's head starts to split open, oozing drops of blood onto the piano keys. Ostler tells Ben that if he loses his mother again, he'll only have himself to blame.

In the morning, Walter meets with Dashiell again. As Walter looks through the bars, he sees the other Walter again, across the yard, watching him.


Certainly NOT White Castle!

Walter presses Dashiell for information about where his abductor took him. Dashiell begins to cry. The woman promised him beautiful things, but then she took them away when he couldn't solve the equation. She hurt him and put him in a dungeon, where she tried to suck the answers from his head. As Dashiell says these words, we see where Ben is strapped to a chair in a basement, with wires coming from his head while Ostler takes notes. But when Walter presses Dashiell for a location, all he can remember is a red castle.

When Peter arrives to take Walter home, Sumner threatens to have Peter's guardianship revoked. Peter talks with Walter, who is disappointed in himself. All Dashiell could do was rave like a loon. "Is that what it's like to talk to me?" Walter asks Peter.

In Clarksburg, Massachusetts, Olivia and Charlie have been canvassing house-to-house. Peter calls and tells her that Walter couldn't get anything from Dashiell, just incoherent stuff about red castles and dungeons. Olivia turns around to see, just past the trees nearby, a red brick building with a tower on top.

Olivia and Charlie enter the warehouse, where Olivia finds a basement entrance. They split up downstairs. Olivia finds Ben strapped to a chair, but before she can free him, Ostler attacks her from behind and a fight ensues. Ostler runs and Olivia gives chase, but then Ostler pushes a button on a hand-held device. Olivia sees lights flashing in front of her... green, green, green, red... and is startled when Charlie taps her on the back. Ostler is gone.


Got Fruit?

Peter and Walter return to their hotel, where Walter announces his desire to have a place of his own. Peter promises to look into on-campus housing and then congratulates Walter for being brave enough to return to St. Claire's.

In an undisclosed location, Ostler meets with Mitchell Loeb. She gives him the solved equation from Ben's composition. Loeb types the equation into a computer, and then attaches a strange apparatus to a safe. He places an apple inside the safe and locks it. Wearing a thick rubber glove, he apparently reaches through the back of the safe to remove the apple. Just as Ostler expresses her astonishment, Loeb shoots and kills her. Then he makes a telephone call, saying only "It worked."

At the FBI office, Olivia watches as Ben and his father have a tearful reunion.


Clarksburg; Federal Building; Harvard Laboratory; Highland; Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Middletown; Mind Control; Rochester; St. Claire's Hospital; The Circles; University of Massachusetts

Notable Quotes[]

Olivia Dunham: Thirty-two years of marriage... by all accounts they seemed happy - until Dashiell showed up after he was abducted... and beat her to death.

Walter: And you look different too, somehow. That smile. Have they altered your medication? Wouldn't surprise me. These medieval quacks are more proficient at phrenology than psychopharmacology.
Dashiell: I miss your jokes, Walter.

Walter: They hoped to broadcast the flashing lights during commercials so that the viewers would have no choice but to buy their products. Unfortunately, it merely caused nausea which was unfortunate because apparently, people don't like to shop when they feel like they're going to throw up.

Walter: Actually I was referring to the equation. Dashiell was obsessed with it.
Olivia: Obsessed. In what way?
Walter: He couldn't complete it. I tried to help him solve it once and he came at me with a plastic spork.

Olivia: What is it, Walter? Can we talk to him?
Walter: I guess that would depend on whether he has succeeded in killing himself or not.




  • The sheet music Walter Bishop sketches is mostly accurate but isn't the exact actual music being played. Certain note durations are different. Also, while some liberty is allowed with handwritten manuscripts, flats should never be squashed on top of a clef but placed to the right of one. The repeated ostinato is strongly reminiscent of Philip Glass' works, particularly his Solo Piano album.
  • The scene where Walter returns to St. Claire's, recycled footage is used from the "Pilot". The scene when we see Walter right after he shaves and when Peter signs on papers to get him out. Whether it's meant to be a flashback or not it still looks out of place.
  • Jeremy calls for a tow truck, saying he's on Route 12 about two miles north of Farrow. Connecticut Route 12 doesn't run through Middletown, nor is there any road named "Farrow." The closest real-life location to this would be Putnam, Connecticut, through which Route 12 travels. There is also a Farrows Street, although the two do not intersect, but are very close.


  • Nocturne No. 19 in E minor, Op. 72/1 by Chopin