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Fringe, Ep. 5.02, “In Absentia”: Restraint promises quiet, intelligent arc

Fringe, Ep. 5.02, “In Absentia”: Restraint promises quiet, intelligent arc

Fringe, Season 5, Episode 2: “In Absentia”
Written by David Fury
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX

This week, on Fringe: Etta does some questioning, Peter goes undercover, and Walter carves up an eye

After last week’s tense, action-filled premiere, things slow down a bit with “In Absentia”. We pick up not long after we left off, with the team working to piece together Walter’s former plan. After the rosy reintroductions in the premiere, this week we start to see the cracks in Etta’s thus far squeaky clean exterior. Last week, the world felt bleak. Here, it’s the people.

Writer David Fury brings a matter of fact-ness to the desensitization of his characters. Though the method of torture Etta uses on the Loyalist who stumbles across the team is appropriately futuristic and essentially ages the victim, a Fringe take on the Machine from The Princess Bride, the attitude of both sides of the interrogation is almost nonchalant. The Loyalist is clearly not happy with his predicament and does all he can think of to escape it, but there’s a strong sense of resignation about him, particularly around Etta. The Loyalists and Rebels have an established, known relationship; both sides have become inured to violence and their opposition’s humanity.

This is precisely why Olivia and the rest of her team have the potential to make the difference. They haven’t lived in this world. They haven’t been pounded down by it. They still have hope, and the ability to inspire it in others. The sense of awe Etta and the Loyalist experience in the face of this, their confusion towards Olivia (portrayed wonderfully by Georgina Haig and Eric Lange) is one of the subtle ways this episode points to a promising final arc for Fringe. Yes, Walter’s a nearly unmatched genius and his plan could lead to humanity’s salvation, but it appears that what separates our leads, what makes them the people that will save the day, is not some innate specialness, but a fluke of their experience. Whereas earlier seasons have come down to magic genetics or superpowers, this season it appears the day will be won by our leads’ humanity and this has the potential to be much more powerful.

“In Absentia”, while it has tense moments, could be considered a bit slow, but upon further reflection, this is the right way to go. In watching this, it’s difficult not to see all the missteps most other series would make in this scenario. Whereas other shows would approach a dystopic time jump and need to save humanity with bombast, Fringe brings considered caution and thoughtful character development. No one starts running around or barking orders; Olivia, and by extension the series, doesn’t even condemn Etta’s decision to torture the Loyalist. Though the potential for manufactured familial angst is high, the episode sidesteps it in favor of trust and communication.

It wouldn’t be Fringe without a gross out moment, and this week there are two, Walter’s pig eyes and the show’s solution to Henry Ian Cusick’s unavailability (he’s currently on ABC’s Scandal), as well as an appropriately tense undercover op by Peter and Etta. John Noble also gets the episode’s biggest laugh when Walter hesitates to destroy his beloved laserdisc player, thinking of the parts of his collection he’ll be unable to watch again. The weak point in the episode, for this reviewer at least, is the payoff to the amber and the camera. Rather than piecing together his plan again, it appears Walter and the team will be going on a dystopian scavenger hunt, going from tape to tape to get the answer handed to them. This is utterly disappointing and hopefully the writers have a twist or two up their sleeves, at least where this plotline is concerned. The character of the season feels rock solid and the world building of this future is off to a good start. Now the overarching plot just needs a polish. Fingers crossed that next week brings this into starker, and more promising, focus.

What did you think of this episode? Are you excited or nervous for the Great Betamax Hunt? Seriously, how great is Anna Torv and why isn’t she getting all the parts in all the projects? When do you think Astrid’ll finally get something to do this season? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick