Fringe : Season 2 : Episode 17 : “Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver”
Walter and Astrid perform one of their regular autopsies.
Walter and Olivia’s joint past starts to catch up with them this week, in the form of a highly carcinogenic vampire. In this post, I’ll be making the usual comments about how much suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy the show.
This episode is debunked at Polite Dissent, and you can read more about it at Fox, IMDb and the A.V. Club.
If the cancer cells near the point of origin have a different density to the cells farther away, then they will indeed refract light differently. However, Walter’s blacklight (a UV source) doesn’t show this. Refraction is a change in wave direction due to a change in velocity, and it would not be visible to the naked eye (it would also require specialised equipment to detect). The skin sample is actually exhibiting fluorescence (or perhaps phosphorescence), as it is absorbing invisible light (UV) and emitting visible light (the glow).
For background information on this topic, see the primer on energy levels.
Walter appears to be using a flatbed scanner to get some genetic information from the skin sample. I’m sure that I do not need to point out that this is ridiculous. It would have been so simple and science-y to have some funky needle array or perhaps a robotic PCR cycler, but instead we are expected to believe that different DNA sequences reflect light differently.
Heating up the skin sample to get a fingerprint does not make any sense – the organic material and oils that make up a fingerprint will be destroyed on heating, and the sample itself will change shape. A better idea would have been to go back to the blacklight and try some photography (some of the organic molecules in the print will fluoresce).
After I saw Olivia grab a candlestick to deal with her assailant, I started looking out for other references to Cludeo – no doubt there will be a lead pipe lying around somewhere else in the episode. Once she had disabled him, however, one would think that she could have asked him to describe just who recruited him instead of packing him off to coma land.