The best way to do the episode takedowns is from top to bottom. It won’t happen that way, but I’ll try.
This being the pilot, it was important for the show to set up Walter’s eccentricity, and that starts with his lab. Which is, of course, the biggest problem with the episode. His lab should not be there anymore. Every university is strapped for cash and space. If a professor dies, you can bet that they’re dividing up his funding and lab space at the wake. Hell, maybe even before. Not even salvaging all the equipment that was down there? Please.
And the cow. Oh, the cow. The cow is there to emphasize that Walter is eccentric. No other reason. You know what’s just as genetically similar to humans as a cow? A mouse. Have you seen the mouse room at a university laboratory? Tiny cages literally stacked to the ceiling; it’s the kind of thing that drives PETA nuts. But in research you really do need that many because you can’t consider any result significant unless it can be replicated over and over again.
The only thing we know about the compound, before the dramatic cure that is, is that it’s synthetic. Umm, that’s not how chemistry works. If they could have found ANY sample of the compound, they run it through IR, 1H NMR, UV, and mass spectrometry. I’m an amateur, and if you give me only TWO of those I can (eventually) define the compound.
But the real fun in the episode is the shared consciousness experience. The idea, as it is presented, is simple: your brain creates an electromagnetic field; that field changes based on which neurons are firing; and which neurons fire changes based on what you’re thinking about. So, make the fields identical and you have the same thoughts!
Not even close. Here are the additional variables that need to be controlled for (just the ones that I know; I’m a physical chemist, not a neuroscientist): brain size, electrolyte density, fat density, brain shape, neurotransmitter levels, neurotransmitter shapes etc. But potentially all that can be controlled for. Where things get really dicey is memory.
When we have memories, it causes us to respond to new stimuli in different ways. For example, my aunt grew up poor in Turkey and needed to eat maggots to survive. Now, when she sees shrimp, it reminds her of maggots and she cringes. When I was growing up I was super Christian, but in the eventually I began to feel manipulated. Now, when I see happy children in a parochial school, I cringe. See where I’m going? Shrimp makes the “cringe” area of my aunt’s brain light up the way parochial students make the “cringe” area of my brain light up. So, potentially, a shared brain-state between my aunt and myself results in confusing shrimp with schoolchildren.
Please, don’t eat the schoolchildren.