Fringe‘s fifth and final season got off to an impressive start in “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”. But how effectively would the follow-up develop those carefully laid pieces? For the most part “In Absentia” succeeded, delivering tight through lines while honing in on the emotional fabric that will be integral to the success or failure of the season.
The episode makes no bones about shining the light of focus back on Olivia and extracting the theme of destiny from amber like Walter’s Betamax. This has its sticky moments for sure and doesn’t completely navigate the trap of contrivance, but measured performances and a sense of purpose in the storytelling enabled “In Absentia” to find itself.
It wont be the most memorable episode in the show’s final season, and question marks will be raised over the lack of subtlety in places and convenience of one or two developments, but it’s in the smaller moments that this episode shines brightest. The willingness to deal with complications between mother and daughter, for example, without taking it to the land of melodrama suggests lessons have been learned. The episode delivered such moments well and continued to exhibit focused progression that leaves the season looking quite promising.
One of the big themes to come out of “Transilience” was of course “perspective” – an idea captured through brutal torture and musical release. It felt fitting that we got another look at that fateful day that Etta was divided from the power of three. This time it’s Olivia’s take on things, a mother’s point-of-view confirming that Peter’s reliability is not overly in question.
Recurring moments are of course important in Fringe, and far from being indulgent the underscoring of this event further served as the catalyst for Olivia’s return to the throne. In truth, ‘Olivia’ has been MIA for a while now, perhaps since the third season when she fought bravely against incredible odds. And how the story has missed her. While the ‘diversions’ and ’roundabouts’ since have served their purpose (to varying degrees of success), the new storytelling focus becomes her.
The initial uncertainty between a mother trying to find her way in and a daughter struggling to see her world in new light, was plotted well throughout — but these weren’t the only tunnels being sought. The mission to the place where “so much happened” was a little convenient but facilitated the plot, revealing more context for Walter’s plan to overthrow the invaders.
Cynics might rightly ponder why the Observers didn’t think to fully investigate such ambered areas given what they know of the resistance, but mostly the episode doesn’t allow us to ponder on such weaknesses. Not that this was a break-neck, action packed installment, but it moved along and contained a strong emotional undercurrent.
The capture of Gael the Loyalist actually developed into a something more emotive than one might have thought possible. Through his capture we see Etta’s hard-edge come to the surface. She’s become someone Olivia had hoped she wouldn’t have to become. Most parents want the best for their children, but what good is that hope now to Etta? “You don’t know my world”.
Olivia, to her credit did well not to step on her youngling’s toes, even though the Lab must have started to feel rather small for the two of them. But neither did she step aside and do nothing. Her instinct to see the best in others and her strong moral compass, that always points northwest, came to the fore in the compassion that she offered Gael.
That’s not to say it was without contrivance, but her actions made sense — even though her morality is once again used as a weapon against her – “weakness” is what Etta claimed Gael saw in her eyes – those weaknesses have always been her strengths.
Peter and Etta’s mission to the Science Building lacked the genuine tension I was hoping for, though I got a kick out of seeing Peter in that hat. Still, it plays into the whole stealth tone of the season and served a function in revealing the Badservers’ experimentations, putting to bed almost any chance of Simon Foster making a present-day return. The youngest Bishop was obviously affected by this, but it closes the door on having to rescue him. RIP Agent Foster — when push came to shove you always delivered.
Throughout the episode Olivia exuded a certain confidence, a measured calm that ultimately brought everything together. Sure, she was wrong about Gael’s non-existent son but she was right to trust him. He, like Etta, saw something in her eyes. For Gael it was “certainty”, for Etta it was “pity”. It’s Olivia’s ability to impact hope in others that enables them to play towards the better parts of their nature. Admittedly it’s a bit gooey but overall it works.
This is why, young Etta, Olivia is still the central character. Not because she’s flawless, but because in spite of what she’s been through she’s able to fight beyond what should break her bad. That’s why it was good to hear the “Transilience” account of Olivia trying to fight the good fight while Peter searched for Etta. The loss of her daughter, like the loss and betrayal of John Scott, instigated her back into protagonist mode, and not a moment too soon.
But let’s not overlook Etta’s growth in this episode — it’s good that her relationship with her mother isn’t perfect. It couldn’t be and to try to make it that way without exploring the creases would be as contrived as turning the melodrama dial up to threat-level max. Her decision not to kill Gael serves her well because her earlier conviction was believable enough and she was ultimately able to believe in another way – her own little dandelion moment.
Of course, the tapes will also play a role in the battle for the future. A kind of Transilience fail-safe, Walter’s self-made ‘prophecy’ has a bit of the John Lockes about it — and he certainly enjoyed his inspirational rally cry — but it will be interesting to see how they play into the rest of the season. Certainly at this stage, I feel as though the first two episodes have been time well spent. And welcome back Olivia. I knew you’d come back..eventually.
NOTES OF RESISTANCE
- Walter: “Few have seen the mysterious passages”. I’ll bet!
- The idea that Olivia’s being fighting longer than Gael could imagine hit the right spot and added to her legend.
- Some of the Peter/Etta scenes still feel a bit weird. Only on Fringe. And Once Upon A Time, I guess.
- Peter: “The world has changed so much, it can be difficult to understand it”. Olivia: “I’m not sure I want to understand it”. While a shift in perspective helped Walter in 5.01, Olivia’s consistent moral point of view played its role this week.
- Etta: “I know you like to be in control. So do I”. Peter may wear the hat in this family, but Olivia and Etta share the trousers.
- The Badservers are running experiments on Simon, but what has become of William Bell whose amber block was also retrieved?
- What is Walter’s plan to defeat the Observers?
- Peter’s recollection of losing Etta is accurate.
- Walter recorded parts of his plan to defeat the Badservers on video tapes before sealing the instruction tape (and later himself) in amber.
8/10 Seriable Stars
Quotable of the Week: “Why are you letting me live?” / “Something that I saw in her eyes as well. Pity. For all of us.” (Gael/Etta)
Best Moment: Olivia’s pride at Etta letting Gael live.
Outstanding Performer: Anna Torv