The non-science of Fringe: Stowaway

Fringe : Season 3 : Episode 17 : “Stowaway”

The Fringe team, plus two.

The Fringe team, plus two.

This week in suspension of disbelief: Somebody who can’t die, no matter how much they want to. Instead of becoming a crime-fighting superhero or insulting as many people as possible, our heroine this week opts to just keep on trying. Can William Bell still have the body?

This episode is debunked at Polite Dissent and Cordial Deconstruction, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.

Random thoughts

Some musical trivia I actually know, which I’m going to mention even though it has nothing to do with science: The song playing in the lab when Agent Lee walks in is a version of the Dave Brubeck Quartet‘s Take Five, notable for its unusual 5/4 time signature. HT to the CBC.

The series of concepts about why Dana can’t die seems to be quite poorly thought-out. I’ll try and point out where the writers have tripped up, but the whole idea is so firmly rooted in ridiculousness that my explanation may not make any sense either.

OK, so Dana can’t die because the molecules in her body are held together extremely strongly (kind of like Unbreakable, which also features a train). I think that’s what the Fringe team decided. If this were the case, how would any of the myriad biological processes in her body function? I don’t actually think this is the biggest flaw in the story, but it is a stumbling block. Walter (or William) could have explained it away in terms of thermodynamics – chemical reactions could still occur if the changes in energy were favourable.

What I’m less clear on is how Dana survived getting shot in the head twice. We can see a lot of blood from the crime scene photographs, and presumably the bullets went into or through her for the police to know about them. How did she regenerate her brain? Does she have some kind of healing factor as well as a super-dense body (or maybe she just has super-dense bones)? And would her condition actually prevent death if she was really determined to die? Would she be able to survive, say, drowning?

Getting stuck by lightning would not cause a person’s atoms or molecules to suddenly stick together more strongly. I think the explanation was that the lightning bolts somehow ionised or magnetised all the molecules in Dana’s body, which increased the attractive forces between them. Lightning is known to induce magnetism in objects, but molecules aren’t held together by magnetic forces. Molecules and atoms interact via the electromagnetic force (commonly referred to as the electrostatic force in chemistry), which is essentially the attraction and repulsion of positive and negative electric charges. Atoms themselves are held together by the strong force.

I’m actually confusing myself trying to rationalise all of this, so I’m going to stop there. There are multiple points of failure with this story, and they couldn’t even push the explanation onto Universe-2 altering the laws of physics this time. If the real story was about fate – that Dana could be in the right place at the right time to save the train passengers – then I’m sure that the writers could have come up with a simpler and just as entertaining rationale. Perhaps Dana’s body would act unconsciously to save her every time she tried to kill herself? Perhaps she had a super-fast healing factor that repaired her as quickly as she could damage herself?

“One of these things is not like the others,” is a Sesame Street staple. I image that the Earth-2 equivalent would be Alfalfa Avenue.

I’m pretty sure that the “Azrael in Purgatory” story was completely fabricated. Can anyone enlighten (ha!) me?

I know that Fringe is set in the United States of America, but can you really just go out and buy 20 lb. of plastic explosive?

2 Responses to The non-science of Fringe: Stowaway

  1. Karl Withakay says:

    FYI, the URL for Cordial Deconstruction is pointing to Weak Interactions instead of

    Likewise the link for the A.V. Club is wrong.

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