A Hopeful Plan: Fringe Episode 5.02 ‘In Absentia’ Review
After the touching family reunion in its fifth season premiere, Fringe has moved on to darker themes with this week’s episode, ‘In Absentia,’ but the underlying message of hope for a better future remains the show’s cornerstone. Walter’s interrogation last week at the hands of the evil Observers left him unable to recall the information needed to overthrow them, even with the use of the awesome Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11. The team’s new mission: Find another way to reconstruct the plan, whatever it takes.
In the opening scene of last night’s episode, Peter reassures a trembling Olivia, who has awakened from a dream in which she relived their daughter Etta’s disappearance on the day of the Observers’ invasion. The team sets out to look for clues to the elusive plan, using the steam tunnels under Harvard that Walter shows them, only to find that Walter’s old lab has been encased in amber. When they are interrupted by a loyalist soldier Etta quickly takes the man captive, and it doesn’t take long for Olivia and Etta’s recently renewed mother-daughter bond to become painfully strained.
Spotting his old video camera, Walter suspects he may have recorded a tape of clues before he ambered the lab. As Walter, Astrid, and Peter work to release the camcorder from the amber, Olivia is shocked to discover Etta using a piece of Observer tech to conduct a horrifically painful and damaging interrogation on the loyalist. In Etta’s mind she is being pragmatic, and is only employing the same techniques that the loyalists used against the resistance; but Olivia is troubled to see this cruel side to her daughter. Georgina Haig does an admirable job in these scenes, showing us a disturbing but completely believable cynicism in Etta, who has grown up in an unimaginably harsh reality. Anna Torv also turns in a moving performance, as Olivia tries to connect with the tortured loyalist soldier as well as with her own daughter. Olivia has a heartfelt conversation with the loyalist about why he chose the Observers’ side. He seems sincere, but Etta isn’t buying it, and tries to convince her mother that the man is lying to save himself. Olivia’s sadness is apparent as she discovers how hardened her daughter has become in the years they’ve been apart.
Walter may not remember his plan, but he wastes no time solving the problem at hand; he constructs a laser to cut through the amber to release the camcorder. The laser requires more power, however, and the captured loyalist is the only one who can help them break into the old science building that houses the central power equipment. In this week’s traditional Fringe “OH, YUCK!” moment, John Noble delivers the disgusting line “I’m going to need a sharp scalpel and my long-handled stainless spoon,” convincing us that Walter is about to remove the prisoner’s eye as he devises a way to fool the building’s retina scanners. To our relief, he actually ends up making a replica of the loyalist’s retina on a pig’s eyeball. (You know you’re a regular viewer when it seems perfectly normal for Walter to have a jar full of pigs’ eyes stored in a desk drawer.)
Peter dons the loyalist’s uniform, which of course fits him perfectly (and Joshua Jackson certainly does look good in a uniform, even the bad guy’s), and he and Etta use the tunnels to infiltrate the science building. They are successful in restoring power to the lab, but Etta witnesses a horrifying sight – the Observers are experimenting on her resistance friend Simon’s disembodied and apparently still cognizant head (as if the poor girl didn’t have enough problems already).
With the laser powered up the tape is soon ready to play … but somehow we know the plan won’t be recovered quite so easily (or else the season will turn out much shorter than thirteen episodes). Indeed, the recorded Walter reveals that the entire plan exists in a series of tapes, with each one containing instructions to assemble the plan and to find the other tapes. (Well, now we know how the writers plan to keep us on the edges of our seats for the rest of the season!) Walter’s message is somber but encouraging, and in a poignant counterpoint to the videotape, we see that Etta has decided to free the loyalist rather than execute him. Olivia, it seems, made an impression on both her daughter and the loyalist prisoner. In an unexpected twist, the man tells Etta he now plans to fight for the resistance, saying that after talking to Olivia, “I felt, for the first time, that we were supposed to win.” Etta sends her mother a video message showing the man’s release, a small triumph for mercy and hope in a scene beautifully underplayed by both Georgina Haig and Anna Torv.
“You are humanity’s only hope,” Walter-from-the-past intones on the video screen, underscoring the message. “Now, you must retrieve the first tape.”
We’ll certainly be tuning in next Friday (9 PM ET/PT on FOX) to watch that happen.