‘Fringe’ Review: “In Absentia”
The battle against the Observers continues, as ‘Fringe’ season 5 travels back to Harvard in its second episode of the final season, as the team returns to infiltrate the old lab, believing Walter may have left records of his plan to defeat their bald overlords, though Etta soon finds herself with a difficult moral choice.
Last week’s ‘Fringe’ premiere “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11” saw the team struggling to recover Olivia Dunham from amber, before Walter’s capture nearly derailed their entire plan to take back the planet from The Observers, so how does “In Absentia” get the final season in motion? How will season 5 of ‘Fringe’ close out the epic saga?
Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Fringe’ season 5 episode 2, “In Absentia!”
Olivia experiences the same dream Peter had last week, remembering with a little more detail the day The Observers arrived and they lost their only daughter. This time, it’s Peter himself who nudges her awake, and assures her everything is okay, for the moment.
Out in the kitchen, Walter continues trying to make use of the thought-unifier, though given his damaged brain it only succeeds in rendering his speech out of sequence, or into Swedish. Olivia reasons that Walter must have kept some record of his plan to defeat the Observers, perhaps back in the Harvard lab, but Etta informs them the lab became an Observer stronghold some years ago, impossible to infiltrate. But what about the tunnels underneath, Walter surmises?
Having made it all the way to Massachusetts, Walter leads the group underground through the tunnels, into what remains of the lab, all of Walter's relevant equipment having been ambered. Seeing a Betamax recorder embedded in the forefront of the amber, Walter reasons that he must have recorded the message and frozen the lab himself, before a Loyalist guard catches them all in the act! Etta and the others manage to restrain him, unsure of whether or not they’ve been detected, as Walter conjures a plan to build a laser capable of retrieving the recording from the amber.
Unfortunately, the amber process previously cut power to the building, and the only way to know which building to infiltrate and restore the power lies with the guard, Gail Manfredi. Etta sequesters her and Gail to interrogate the man, attaching an ominous device to his hands. When she activates it, the man recoils in pain and seems to phase in and out of existence, coming to seeming aged and with greyer hair when she turns it off!
While Walter complains about the pigeons, Olivia walks in to see her daughter using the “angel device” on the man, which could kill him if used too dangerously. Horrified at her daughter’s cruelty, Olivia listens as Etta justifies her actions by saying her world is much darker than her mothers'. In a moment alone, Olivia speaks to Manfredi having figured out that he was simply there to feed the pigeons, and should tell Etta what he knows before its too late. Knowing he likely won’t survive the encounter, the man agrees to tell Etta what he knows if, and only if Olivia gets a message to his son not to go looking for him. He reveals that every guard has an access code to the main power grid, though he would have no business being there, considering rumors of some of the strange experiments that go on nearby. He offers up the first part of the code, before revealing that the second part needs to be done in person.
Olivia questions Walter if there’s a method to beat an ocular scanner, as the scientist looks over the Observers’ “angel device.” Grimly, Walter assesses that there’s only one sure-fire way to scan an eyeball: by gently scanning the man’s irises, and meticulously recreating the pattern on a pig’s eye, of course! Phew. Meanwhile, Olivia paints an identity tattoo under Peter’s eye, as Etta thanks her mother for allowing her to be the one to take the lead in their mission, having inherited her need to be in control.
With Peter and Etta dressed, and off on their mission, Olivia questions Manfredi why someone would choose to join the Observer Loyalists, to which the man answers that one of his sons was killed in a resistance attack. He believes fighting the Observers to be pointless, meaning people would be better off safe than free. Over at the Ministry of Science building, the pig’s eye manages to work on the scanner, but the guards question over Manfredi’s radio what he would be requesting access there for. Olivia implores him to keep his end of their bargain by making up a reason, which reluctantly convinces the guards and allows Peter and Etta access to the building.
Downstairs, Peter and Etta pass numerous labs full of human medical experiments, including…gasp, the severed head of Agent Foster (Henry Cusick), still alive and animated by a grotesque contraption! Overcome with grief, Etta prepares to burst in opening fire, but Peter stops his daughter by assuring here there will be a time for vengeance. Continuing on, the duo activate the power nodes to the Harvard lab, and Walter and Astrid begin cutting into the amber with their homemade laser.
Still devastated, Etta returns to the lab and immediately sets course for the captive Manfredi. Etta moves to hand him over to the resistance, who will assuredly kill him once they’ve gotten any useful information, and she and her mother argue over how live in the Observer-dominated world has hardened her beyond compassion. She insists that Loyalists are trained to lie, and the man likely has no son, even as he gives Olivia the boy’s name and address before being led off.
While Walter and the others finish retrieving the camera from the Amber, Etta drives to an abandoned field with her captive Loyalist. When he awakens from his sedative, she presses him for the truth, as he admits that he has no son and thought Olivia might be able to convince her to spare his life. Etta opts to release him anyway, dismissing his likely false claims that he’ll devote the rest of his life to the resistance, but he assures her that he saw enough hope and certainty in Olivia’s eyes that he now believes humanity can triumph after all. Asked why she let him live, Etta explains that she too saw something in Olivia’s eyes: pity for all mankind.
Back at the lab, Walter retrieves the tape from the recorder, worried the heat from the laser may have damaged it. Popping it in, the tape shows Walter recording a message that dictates whoever watches must find a number of other tapes in order to complete the plan to defeat the Observers. The video cuts out at a crucial moment, as Olivia receives a video message from Etta showing how she let Manfredi go, and when the tape resumes, video Walter presses that whoever watches is humanity’s last hope.
Thankfully "In Absentia" needs far less reestablishment than the premiere did, allowing for a tense, and welcome return to the Harvard setting the show operated for so long out of. We're also sad to see the ultimate fate of Agent Foster from "Letters of Transit," our first foray into the year 2036, but Etta (Georgina Haig) proves herself an interesting, and dark enough character to adequately fill his place. While we're still not sure exactly what their big plan is about, the drama between the multi-generational sci-fi family is as sharp, and laser-focused as ever.
What about you? Did you get your fill of freaky ‘Fringe’ drama? What did you think about the season's sophomore effort ? Join us next week for another all-new ‘Fringe’ episode recap of “The Recordist” on FOX!