Fringe review – 5×02: “In Absentia”

Courtesy of FOX

The newly reunited fringe team sets off to the abandoned Harvard lab of yesteryear, desperate to find new clues on how to overthrow the Observer-dominated future. How did the recently de-amberfied gang make out in their first 2036 team adventure?

Let’s take a closer look after the jump.

Although it was a much quieter episode in contrast to the action-packed season premiere, I quite liked the second episode of Fringe‘s final season. There’s a general sense of urgency (being that we only have 11 episodes of the series left) as the team heads off to piece together September’s (a not-yet seen but has to return, Michael Cerveris) plan before head honcho Captain Windmark and the rest of the Observers do. But even with this compressed timeline, ‘In Absentia” took the time to explore some resonant moments, in a way, reacquainting us with the protagonists we’ve known and loved throughout the series.

In the season’s premiere, I got the perception that the fringe team were brought in as kind of a “special response unit” that was simply going to help win the war over the Observers. It’s almost as if it didn’t matter that they were our fringe team. The missions were clear – de-amber one member after another, and save any members who got lost in the crossfire’s along the way (read: John Noble’s Walter). It was just cause-and-effect, leaving very little time to get into the ramifications of jumping ahead 21 years. This week the mission was simple: get back to the Harvard lab to try and figure out what to do next. This in turn allowed us to spend some much needed time with Olivia, who I’ve felt like has taken a backseat ever since she got shot in the head in last season’s finale.

I love the character of Olivia, and Anna Torv’s performance continues to be in top form. She literally conveys a gamut of emotions through the subtlety of her facial expressions. Whether it’s the compassion and empathy she exhibits when talking to Loyalist prisoner, Gale Manfretti (Eric Lange) or the heartbreaking disappointment she shows looking upon Etta (Georgina Haig) as she refuses to show Manfretti any compassion – it gets me every time. Even the characters themselves acknowledge the powerful effects of Olivia’s “eyes” – they’re capable of drastically altering their core values.

Olivia does her best to trust Etta’s ‘experience’, even though she can’t buy into it wholeheartedly. We know that Olivia would have handled things differently, and although she questions Etta’s methods, she doesn’t do so in an overtly confrontation way. We can see Olivia’s conflict between what she knows to be true, and acknowledgment that her truth might not make any sense in this new world. It’s a very “Olivia” thing to do – surveying situations and making reasoned choices.

She still tries to “mother” Etta, telling her that she had hoped Etta wouldn’t have been “hardened” by her experiences, but there’s a sense that Olivia is still trusting and proud of what her daughter’s become despite Etta’s propensity to mistrust and torture. It’s clear that Olivia is still trying to navigate through her very complex predicament, and the answers aren’t as black and white as they used to be. It’s a deeply layered way of dealing with things, which serves to honour the character that we’ve watched grow over the past four seasons. I’m glad that Olivia has come back to us, and she’s not solely defined as a member of the team that’s going to “save the world”. I mean, she is still that, but she’s also our Olivia, and her character evolution over the series hasn’t been lost in the time jump.

That being said, what’s driving Olivia is a very clear goal: defeat the Observers and win the war. As Manfretti noted, there’s a certainty in her eyes that tells us this is the thing that truly matters. If this can be achieved, everything else (all the suffering and death, how she was robbed of her motherhood), will not have been in vain.

With that sentiment, we learn that the fringers are going to head off on a scavenger hunt for the rest of the season, looking for the videotapes that Walter has hidden outlining September’s plan. I love a good quest: watching it build up with each passing episode, slowly inching toward resolution. I hope that since we’ve uncovered a very structured narrative path, we’ll get more character driven moments like this week with our treasured fringe team going forward.

Courtesy of FOX via www.fringefilia.com

Other observations:

  • After breaking into the Observers’ science lab, we see one of the most disturbing images that is sure to haunt many a child’s nightmares: Agent Simon Foster’s decapitated (and de-amberfied) head. This isn’t nearly as unsettling as when the head starts to blink (!!), implying that poor Agent Foster is somehow being kept alive in order for the Observers to tap his Resistance filled memories. If that wasn’t sad enough, my dreams of seeing Henry Ian Cusick return are all but quashed with this image. Bravo to the Fringe FX department, because this brief moment was a sure, albeit frightening, winner.
  • It’s interesting to see how Peter (Joshua Jackson) deals with Etta in contrast with Olivia. Although he needs to restrain her before she goes on a gun-toting rampage after seeing what the Observers have done to Foster, I still feel Peter takes on a more impulsive approach versus Olivia’s reserved thoughtfulness. I wonder if this will serves as a point of contestation going forward.
  • Still no “Old Broyles” (Lance Reddick) or Nina (Blair Brown) this week. I have a feeling that Nina will serve as the guiding sage along the videotape quest, but I wonder if Broyles will be the ultimate villain/gatekeeper guarding the final tape.
  • I’m wondering about that bullet shell that Etta keeps stroking. It’s likely that it’s bullet that popped out of Olivia’s skull in last season’s finale, but how did Etta come to get it? I hardly think “How Mommy survived a bullet to the head” was an appropriate bedtime story for the 3 ½ year old, so what’s the back story behind how Etta learned of its significance, and why does she still stroke it with such reverence now that Olivia is back?
  • It’s curious that Georgina Haig is still listed as a special guest star and is absent from the promotional cast photos. I really hope that her days on the show aren’t numbered!
  • I have to mention how amazing guest star, Eric Lange’s performance was throughout this week’s episode. I truly don’t know if he was lying about having a son or not, if he was going to join the Resistance, or lead the Loyalists right to the fringe team. And that’s precisely what makes him a strong addition to the growing roster of stellar Fringe guest stars.

What did you think viewers? Did you like how we got to spend some much needed time with Olivia? What was your reaction to seeing Simon’s head? And, am I the only one wishing that Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) will somehow have a reason to pop up? Sound off in our comments section below.

Fringe airs Fridays at 9pm EST on FOX.

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

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