The No-Brainer
Season 1, Episode 12
Air date January 27, 2009
Written by David H. Goodman
Brad Caleb Kane
Directed by John Polson
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Cast | Transcript

"The No-Brainer" is the twelfth episode of the first season of Fringe.


Olivia Dunham, Walter Bishop and Peter Bishop are called in to investigate the death of a teenager who was found in a pool of "goo." When Walter discovers that the "goo" is brain matter, the trio tries to figure out how the killer can liquefy human brains. As the deaths pile up, the investigation reveals a common thread linking the victims together in an unthinkable manner. Meanwhile, Olivia is horrified when the case places Ella in harm's way.


Gregory Wiles is attacked by his computer screen

Seventeen-year-old Gregory Wiles is working at his computer and chatting with a pal on the phone, when a mysterious computer program begins to execute, prompting him to click a button. Strange images begin to flash before his eyes, and the teen is drawn in, seemingly mesmerized. Then something begins to protrude from the middle of the screen and impossibly takes the form of a hand. The unearthly appendage slowly reaches forward and, without warning, grasps his face.

At her apartment, Olivia Dunham enjoys a game of Operation with her niece, Ella Blake. But the light-hearted moment is interrupted when Rachel Dunham catches Ella in a lie - she hasn't brushed her teeth this morning and Rachel isn't crazy about being lied to.

In his lab, Walter Bishop pontificates about Darwin's theory of human sexuality, Peter Bishop shuffles through the mail and finds a letter that apparently disturbs him. He throws it in the trash can, but not before Astrid notices the look on his face. Olivia calls and says she needs Peter and Walter to meet her outside because they have a new case. As the two stroll out, Astrid Farnsworth retrieves the letter from the trash can and reads it.

Charlie Francis and Olivia talk to Gregory Wiles's parents Paul Wiles and Cynthia Wiles, trying to find a motive for someone to target Gregory. Both parents are at a loss, but they admit that their son spent much of his time on the computer chatting with his friend, Luke Dempsey.

Peter collects Gregory's liquefied brain into a beaker

In the lab, Walter drills a hole in Gregory's head and drains his cranial cavity. Walter has determined that Gregory's entire brain was liquefied, but he's not sure how. He hypothesizes that Gregory may have contracted an advanced form of syphilis that cooked his brain. Peter says that if he caught something from a girl or took some kind of drug, there might be a record of it on his hard drive. Astrid is already on it, but she says the hard drive's platters have been fused together.

Olivia pays Luke Dempsey a visit. Luke is clearly shaken by the news of his friend's death. He says the two of them were talking on the night of Gregory's death, but Gregory had stopped responding. He also tells Olivia that he knew Gregory because their fathers had worked together. As she's leaving, Olivia gets a call from Peter to report another death that appears to be related.

The general manager's corpse

At a car dealership, Broyles briefs the team on the death of the dealership's general manager Anton, whose headrests in a puddle of melted brain matter. Walter quickly deduces that the cause of death is the same as Gregory's.

In the lab, Astrid finds that the new victim's hard-drive has been damaged in the same manner as Gregory's.

Although unable to recover much data, she has determined that both victims downloaded an enormous file just before their computers crashed. The conversation is interrupted by the unfamiliar sound of the laboratory's old rotary phone ringing. Peter answers but hangs up quickly. He claims the call is a wrong number, but his demeanor says otherwise. He leaves with the hard-drive, saying he knows a guy who might be able to recover more data from it. Once they're alone, Astrid tells Olivia she thinks she knows who called and shows her the letter Peter threw away earlier.

Peter visits Akim

Peter pays a visit to Akim, an old acquaintance, and persuades him to help identify the mysterious program downloaded by both victims. Akim leads Peter into a back room, where he has a fully functioning high-tech computer lab.

Meanwhile, at the FBI office, Sanford Harris trashes Olivia's investigative approach, saying the case should be turned over to the CDC. Harris threatens to shut down her investigation if the case isn't solved in twelve hours.

In the computer lab, Akim tells Peter that the program in question is incredibly complex, and some of it is not even computer code. In her office, Olivia searches the FBI database and cross-references medical records for the two victims. As Olivia awaits the results, Akim says he can't find the source of the program -- but then realizes the program is being downloaded at this very moment. He narrows down the destination, which Peter instantly recognizes as Olivia's apartment. Meanwhile, at Olivia's apartment, Ella plays a game on a laptop.

Ella nearly falls victim to the virus

After getting Peter's frantic call, Olivia races to her apartment. She calls her sister, but Rachel can't hear the phone. While Ella plays her computer game, a familiar mysterious window pops up. She clicks it, and the same series of images begins to play. Ella appears drowsy, hypnotized. Outside, Olivia jumps the curb with her car, squeals to a stop, and dashes into the apartment. Peter is right behind her. Olivia pulls the laptop away from Ella's hands and wakes her from her trance.

Later. Olivia tells Charlie about the video on the computer that hypnotized Ella, and Charlie agrees to call computer forensics. Meanwhile, Peter bonds with Ella and Rachel. Ella says there was a hand reaching out of the computer. When Olivia inspects the computer, she sees the light next to the video camera is on. She looks right into the camera...

Dempsey observes Olivia

And her face appears on the screen of a man, Brian Dempsey, who sits behind an array of high-tech equipment in an undisclosed location. He talks to the screen, telling Olivia's image that she'd better back off or she won't be so lucky next time. Just then a proximity alarm goes off and someone enters the building. It's Luke Dempsey, Brian's son, who came by to bring his father some food and to check upon him. Luke spots a pillow and some blankets and realizes his father has been sleeping at the warehouse. Brian says he's been busy working on a new computer program that he thinks a lot of people will be very impressed with.

At the FBI, Olivia regroups with Broyles and Peter. Olivia theorizes that whoever is responsible for these deaths was watching her through the computer's video camera. Broyles suggests that the killer may be aware that Olivia is on the case and hacked into their system to track her. Olivia says she has yet to find any connection between the victims, which makes finding a motive difficult.

Miriam finds Mark dead

Evanston, Illinois. Miriam Rosenthal comes home to find her husband, Mark Rosenthal, dead in front of his computer. His liquefied brains have spilled out of his ears and nose onto his shirt.

In Walter's lab, Olivia receives the call from Charlie informing her about the next victim. As Olivia deals with the call, Peter spots an older woman staring in his direction. He walks up to the woman, who turns out to be Jessica Warren. Peter says that he read her letter and understands why she wishes to see his father, but Walter isn't ready, and meeting him won't bring her daughter back. When the woman continues to press, Peter cuts her off and says it's not going to happen.

In the lab, Walter explains how he thinks the victims died - the program created audiovisual stimuli that amplified the victims' neural impulses and trapped their brains in an endless loop -- much like a computer virus - only one that attacks people.

Olivia talks to Peter about Jessica Warren

Later, Olivia confronts Peter about Jessica Warren. Olivia knows she's the mother of Carla Warren the lab assistant who was killed in the same fire that put Walter in the mental institution nearly twenty years ago. Olivia thinks Peter should let Walter and Mrs Warren talk, but Peter vehemently disagrees. Astrid enters and presents Olivia with background on the latest victim, and they finally make a connection: the latest victim recently married Miriam Dempsey, Luke Dempsey's mother. But why would Luke kill his own friend Gregory? Then Olivia remembers that Luke's and Gregory's fathers had worked together.

A short investigation reveals that Gregory Wiles' father used to be Brian Dempsey's boss, but fired him. Paul is apparently going after people who hurt him by targeting their loved ones.

The agents observe Luke Dempsey

In the Federal Building. Olivia, Charlie and Harris stand behind a one-way mirror, looking at Luke Dempsey in the interrogation room. Olivia suspects Luke knows there's something wrong with his father, and that if they interrogate him aggressively he may shut down or ask for a lawyer. She wants to wait for the right moment, but Harris disagrees, telling her to get in the room and break him.

During interrogation, Luke says it's been a few weeks since he's seen his father. Olivia and Charlie aren't getting what they need, so they show him crime scene photos of Mark Rosenthal and of his friend, Gregory Wiles. When they explain that the only connection is his father, Luke shuts down and asks for a lawyer. Outside the room, Olivia tells Charlie to wait five minutes and then release Luke.

Olivia Infiltrates

Once Luke is released, Olivia listens in when Luke calls a cab to pick him up. She gets the destination address. On the way there, Olivia and Peter argue again about Jessica Warren. Olivia thinks Peter is doing his father a disservice by not being forthright with him. Peter says it's none of her business. When they arrive at the warehouse, Olivia tells Peter to wait in the car.

Back at the Federal Building, Harris discovers Luke has been released and that Olivia is gone. He orders a trace on her vehicle.

Inside the warehouse, Luke confronts his father about the killings. Brian says he couldn't let himself be walked on. Then the proximity alarm goes off, and Brian sees Olivia on his monitors. He orders Luke to leave. Olivia moves silently through the building, unaware she's being watched. As she reaches the den of the killer, all of his monitors light up with the familiar flashing images.

Brian intends to kill himself

Brian appears from behind her, puts a gun to her head, and disarms her. He holds her at bay with one gun while pointing the other under his chin. Olivia tries to convince him not to end his life. But Brian turns his attention to the screens so he can experience his creation.

Peter hears sirens closing in and goes inside the building. He is immediately surprised by Luke, who wields a pipe. As Peter tries to talk Luke out of doing anything stupid, a gunshot rings out. Peter and Luke run toward the shot to discover that Brian has killed himself. A distraught Luke tries to escape, only to be greeted by a swarm of agents with guns drawn.

In the car, Peter asks Olivia why Luke would protect a murderer. Olivia gives the obvious answer - because it was his father.

Broyles warns Harris to back off

At the task force Office, Harris tells Broyles that Dunham violated his direct orders by releasing Luke. Broyles disagrees, saying Olivia closed the case in spite of Harris's obstructions. Broyles tells Harris that if he continues his personal vendetta against Olivia, he will put his career on the line to protect her, and threatens him that if he doesn't back off "all the red tape in the world won't protect you."

In the lab, Peter has changed his mind. He tells Walter there's a woman who wants to see him -- but that he can end the conversation any time he wants. Jessica says her daughter's name was Carla Warren, and that lands hard on Walter. The sad look on his face says he remembers her. Jessica wants to know if there's anything Walter can tell her about Carla since he was the last person to see her alive. Walter says he remembers she had a wonderful smile. The two embrace as Peter looks on.

Rachel talks to Peter

Back at home, Olivia talks with Rachel. The doorbell rings, and it's Peter. He tells Olivia that she was right about Walter... and more importantly, that he's grateful to Olivia for bringing Walter back into his life. He was scared that letting Walter talk to Jessica Warren might compromise that. As Rachel comes out and greets Peter, there's just the hint of chemistry between them, and Olivia's expression shows she notices. But Peter simply says good-night and goes on his way.


Brain-melting computer virus; Carla Warren; Evanston; Federal Building; Harvard Laboratory; Illinois; Springfield; The Circles

Notable Quotes[]

Peter: I tried to expense a couple of Celtic tickets on the FBI--she caught me.
Walter: Oh, I see. I hope she doesn't notice the $2,000 for the baboon seminal fluid I ordered. I hope I can recall why I ordered it.

Peter: I don't underestimate my father, by the way. I understand him. Sometimes more than I want to. Look, if I let him talk to that woman, she's just going to accuse him of killing her daughter, which is something he didn't do.
Olivia: Then why not just let them meet?
Peter: Whose side are you on anyway?
Olivia: I know what it's like to live with something unresolved. That's all.
Peter: Congratulations. You just described the entire planet.

Olivia: He just called a cab. One guess where it's taking him.
Peter: Oh, come on. He cannot possibly be that stupid.
Olivia: He's 19.
Peter: Good point.

Walter: All we know is that his brain matter has been completely liquefied. How? My first thought is an extremely virulent form of syphilis.
Olivia: You're saying that his brain could have been cooked by an STD?
Walter: Safe sex is important. You do always have your sexual partners wear a condom, I hope?
Peter: Walter...

Walter: He can be rotated onto his back now, drain the remainder of his brain. Once that's done, we can examine his cranial cavity.
Peter: Oh, this is gonna be awesome.


  • The Observer can be seen as Olivia drives to rescue Ella. Specifically in the first shot of the car after Ella triggers the video.
  • At the end of the episode "Bound", Olivia falls asleep reading a book to Ella entitled "What's that noise?" which refers to the text in the pop-up window when the killer program executes in "The No-Brainer".
  • This is the shortest prologue to date.
  • This is the first time a substantial portion of Walter Bishop's Lab Notes has been obscured by another object.
  • Gbenga Akinagbe (Akim) and Chris Bauer (Brian Dempsey) both co-starred with Lance Reddick (Agent Phillip Broyles) on the critically acclaimed HBO drama, The Wire, though none of the actors ever shared any screentime through the duration of the series. Similarly, neither of the actors share any scenes together in this episode as well.
  • Mary Beth Peil (Jessica Warren) co-starred with Joshua Jackson on Dawson's Creek.
  • Phillip Broyles, who once dismissed Olivia Dunham because of her investigation of Sanford Harris, tells Harris he will put his career on the line on her behalf.
  • This is the first time action within the episode occurred inside the U.S., but not in the northeast.
  • The IP addresses on Akim's terminal fall way outside the range for IPv4 style IP addresses which range from to, for example the final IP address he finds is 456.262.736.462. This is a common way of creating a fake IP in media; the IP equivalent of a 555 number.
  • Although credited, Mark Valley (John Scott) and Blair Brown (Nina Sharp) do not appear in this episode.
  • The song at the beginning of the episode, "Spaceman" by The Killers, seems as an odd-yet-spot-on choice since the nature and the message of the song mirrors the nature and the message of this episode and the series itself.


  • It is stated that the virus fries a computer's hard drive but when Miriam Rosenthal finds Mark Rosenthal dead his computer appears to be running in the background.
  • Given the apparent state of the computer hard drives and the lack of top outer casing, it is impossible they could be just plugged into a computer and data read from them as when Peter Bishop visits Akim.
  • Recovering Data off a hard drive that has been opened like the ones shown in "The Lab" and not in a "Clean Room" where people wear clothes resembling hazmat suits is destined to destroy data. Add the fact that an opened hard drive stacked on another opened drive and wrapped in a single small piece of bubble wrap adds scratching and static shock damage. Then tossed in the air . . .meh
  • After the call from the lab assistant's mother Olivia says that she is going to speak to the friend Luke Dempsey. She had already done this a scene ago, and she never goes to see him again.
  • When Miriam Rosenthal turns around the chair to find her husband dead, he can be clearly seen squinting his eyes.


  • "Spaceman" by The Killers
  • "Oxygen" by Colbie Calliat
  • "Single Ladies" by Beyonce
  • "Bandits" by Midlake
  • "Insight" by Fort Knox Five
  • "Kids" by MGMT