The tragic death of an invisible man named Eugene Bryant (or “U-Gene” as subject 69545 was dubbed in the lab) was one of the most poignant moments Fringe has ever produced. Every morning, the bashful young man would clean up nice and dress in a suit and make sure to ride the elevator with The Woman That Lived On The 15th Floor, in hope that one day, she would give him just a look and acknowledge his existence. He lacked the courage to simply say “Hello!” himself. The years that this misfit of weaponized science (secret mutant power: perfect camouflage) spent locked away inside a black site lab had denied him much, and cost him more, including a basic grasp of conventional human interaction. His concept of socializing involved sneaking into other apartments and watching the people he liked without ever being seen himself… although if he really liked you, he might leave behind a thousand little rose petals on your bed. No: She had to engage him. And on the last day of his life, The Woman That Lived On The 15th Floor did. It happened during another elevator ride – one that he almost missed. “I thought you weren’t coming today,” she said, her eyes shining him with glorious, glorious recognition. “I see you every day. I thought maybe you had caught the cold that’s been going around.” Eugene was nearly struck speechless. No, he said, I’m not sick. Unless you’re referring metaphorically to the plague of alienation and isolation that afflicts us all. “Well, that’s good,” she said. “It’s too beautiful a day to be sick.” Eugene suddenly found his inner Romantic, plus some guts. “The most beautiful,” he echoed. “My name is Eugene.”
“I’m Julie,” she said, as the elevator reached its final destination.
The doors opened. Julie walked out, but Eugene stayed, paralyzed and dizzy with delight. He smiled. He found himself overwhelmed by a feeling he had long imagined and wanted for himself – affirmation that he was known, a proof that he existed, from someone he loved. As the doors shut and the elevator ascended, Eugene slowly slipped to the floor, and we looked down on him with heartbreak and pity as his hands twitched involuntarily, open and shut, open and shut, as the last of his fragile, damaged life seeped out of his body. Then they stopped. He died happy, and at long last, visible for the entire world to see.
Of course, we can’t feel too sorry for Eugene. After all, he was a sociopath prone to slathering people with octopus mucous and leaching their pigment, leaving them red-eyed and albino pale. Oh, and dead, too. Such is the life when you’re a mutant wallflower – a human chameleon, but a broken one, as he was incapable of staying visible sans purloined pigment. Without it, Eugene just blended into the background of life – functionally invisible.
Eugene came to Fringe Division’s attention via one of his victims, a harmless if harried husband that Eugene stalked and assaulted in the lobby of the poor man’s apartment building. The killer-chameleon left behind two clues to his unseen, previously unknown existence: blood from a gunshot wound and mucous from an octopus, a natural chameleon. The fishy slime that Eugene secreted was the key ingredient – a chemical conductor – in his pigment-sucking operation. (“Yes it is possible,” Water asserted. “Leprechauns are possible!”) (I so want a very special St. Patrick’s Day episode of Fringe in which the agents go hunting for leprechauns.)
Astrid ran the blood and linked the perp to “Baby Boy Bryant,” an infant that allegedly died from a genetic abnormality in the summer of 1989 after four days of life. In truth, Bryant was taken – alive – by an insurance company called Syprox Inc., a subsidiary of Kelvin Genetics, the precursor of Massive Dynamics. A visit to Nina Sharp fleshed out the remainder of the fleshed-challenged child’s backstory. “U-Gene” (Unidentified Genetic Abnormality) had a condition that made him super-sensitive to light – and a prime candidate for a program designed to produced human chameleons. For military use? Not exclusively, Nina said reluctantly, feeling judged. Nina claimed – insisted – that she and William Bell knew NOTHING about the program, that they only became aware after a fire in the lab killed all the test subjects. Nina assumed Eugene had perished. Instead, he escaped and went AWOL. Olivia – who knew a thing or two about being a guinea pig – was not pleased. “He never even had a proper name,” she said.
One of the best scenes in the episode came when Walter shared some crucial intel about Eugene’s condition by making two rats – John and Yoko – run a maze. One was visible; one was invisible, like Eugene, but could be seen using ultraviolet light. Walter had also ascertained that Eugene was dying. By stealing pigment, Eugene was aggravating his genetic flaw and poisoning himself. Also? He probably didn’t even realize that his days were numbered. But it was Olivia, keen to Eugene’s emotional state, that had the most important epiphany: Eugene was desperate to be seen, both literally and figuratively.
NEXT: “Re-pigmentization. Is that even a word?” It is now!