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TV Review: Fringe – “In Absentia”

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The thrilling ride that is going to be Season 5, as humanity continues to fight the rule of the Observers (and, hopefully, win), continues in this, only the second episode of the season. I say “only” because so much has happened in the span of a mere three episodes – “Letters of Transit” from Season 4, the premiere and this one.

Through the nightmares of a mother, we find out a little bit more about what happened that day in the park, with the episode opening on the day Etta disappeares. Hopefully we will continue to learn more about that day, as many questions linger.  Amongst others, why are there no children in the makeshift hospital where Olivia is getting treatment? Does this mean that Etta was not the only child to disappear? And if so, where did they all go?

The big reunion of Etta and her parents is initially just plain touching. Who can deny not feeling at least a little moved by it? But with initial emotions subsiding, the harsh reality of the situation they are in and how it came to be is already settling in. Peter and Olivia are going to have to come to terms rather quickly with the kind of place their world has become, how it shaped their daughter, and, most importantly, what it means in terms of their hopes and aspirations for her.

After all, the world is now very different from what they remember it to be. While they were stuck in amber for very good reasons, it robbed them of years during which they could neither fight the Observers nor look for their daughter. They are going to have to come to terms with this, letting go of their guilt both for not saving the world and for not protecting Etta, and quickly learn their roles in these new circumstances. Their survival depends on it.

Understanding this new world will also help Peter and Olivia understand their daughter better, and will probably help them let go of what they had dreamed and hoped for them as a family and for her as their daughter. The potential clashes between them and Etta are going to be very interesting to watch, all the more that all three of them seem quite capable of mature insight and control over their emotions (although they do need a little help at times). There is no doubt to me that through these clashes, we are going to find out a lot more about the kind of place our world has become. There is also little doubt in my mind that, while building their relationship with their daughter will be difficult, the wisdom displayed by both Olivia and Peter throughout the series will come in quite handy.

As mentioned in my review of the season premiere, it feels like hope and despair are going to be constant guest stars in the upcoming episodes. The glyphs spelled out F-A-I-T-H, which is a key ingredient in keeping hope from turning into despair, even in the darkest of hours. I have witnessed how, too often for my taste, faith is undermined, which is why I particularly appreciated how Olivia’s faith in both her daughter and humanity helps resolve a particularly thorny situation. It is amazing how without being actively involved in infiltrating the main science building, Olivia manages to accomplish so much. Although Etta’s resolve was strengthened upon seeing Simon’s head being gruesomely experimented on in one of the labs in the main science building, she doesn’t end up killing the guard, Gael Manfretti. And although previously a self-confessed coward, Manfretti now has hope: “You said I saw something in her eyes. You were right. There was a certainty that, I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say I felt, for the first time, that we were supposed to win.”

On the flip side of hope is despair. It can make us do things – or allow for things to happen – that we would otherwise never have accepted. The conversation between Olivia and Manfretti is very revealing of the Observers’ reign of terror on the human race. While it is easy to condemn Manfretti for becoming a loyalist, one can’t simply point the finger and blame him. While it turns out that he does not have a family, no doubt his false story is true for someone else. While I myself am a fighter and would stand up for what I believe in, I cannot blame a parent for becoming a loyalist so as not to have to worry about their family. The question then becomes, how does a member of the resistance fight the Observers while balancing their own humanity (by being forgiving to the loyalists) and their need for survival (by not allowing the loyalists to give information to the Observers)?

I must admit, I chuckled a little at the homemade video of Walter from the past setting off the viewer of said video on a quest to gather the various videos putting together the pieces of the plan to defeat the Observers. No doubt all fans were reminded of Season 1’s mad dash to find Walter’s safety deposit boxes before David Robert Jones did. It will be interesting to see if Walter has used the same types of hiding places or not.

That the Walter in the tape ends up addressing himself was quite poignant. I recently found a letter I wrote to my older self many years ago. Needless to say, my current circumstances are thankfully not dire, but it was still poignant to hear myself, through the letters looped in my crazy, junior youth ages handwriting, talking about my dreams and aspirations. My life is far from bleak, but just like everyone else, there are many dreams of mine that I did not accomplish, and reading that letter to myself filled me with resolve. I wonder if these series of videos will help not only Walter, but the others, maintain their faith that the Observers will be defeated.

There were no striking one-liners in this rather dark episode, so instead, I have tallied up the questions at the forefront of my mind:

  • Why wouldn’t the Observers know about the tunnels?
  • Why is the opening sequence blue, just like the original, as it should be another colour since we are not in the same timeline anymore?
  • Why are Peter, Olivia, Etta, Walter and Astrid talking about their plan in front of Manfretti?
  • Why is Manfretti surprised Etta had the torture device?
  • Does Manfretti access number, 010567, mean anything?
  • Walter wakes us very different from the confused man he was when we last saw him; why?

As always, I look forward to seeing what the next episodes reveal, albeit with a sense of bitter-sweetness, knowing that this is the last season of a fantastic show that will be very much missed once it ends. Here is hoping for a movie franchise.

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About Sahar

  • http://reenasramble.com/ Reena

    I love Fringe and will be sad to see it go after this season. I liked your insights and had some of the same thoughts while watching. They really need more shows like Fringe…creative and intelligent!

  • http://saharsblog.wordpress.com Sahar

    Thank you for your comment Reena! I feel your pain, the end of this series will be painful for many of us. Let me know if you ever find any shows that are comparable to Fringe, I will also need a replacement!

  • Caldonia

    I just found out today that you are writing about Season 5, and I’m so happy as I’ve enjoyed your past articles on Fringe.

    So, I wasn’t too pleased when I realized that Walter’s tapes were all tucked away in the lab–at least they have been as of last week’s episode. It sure made me wonder why he didn’t place them all in one amber-proof box way back in the past. Trying, despite mixed feelings, to enjoy this version of one of my fave shows, though! :)