Welcome to another week of Fringe, everyone! This week's episode, "In Absentia," gave us a bit more insight into the world of Etta and 2036, and returned us to the Harvard basement lab of which we've become so fond. In order to figure out if Walter left a record of September's plan to rid the Earth of the Observer scourge, we needed to go back to the lab.
But first, we started out in Olivia's dreams. We saw the day Etta went missing from Olivia's viewpoint this time, and it went much the same as Peter's did. Idyllic family scene in the park, then BAM! a building disappears as Observers march across the grass. Then a flash of white and Olivia wakes up in the triage center with Peter yelling to find Etta. We cut back to 2036 as Olivia wakes up in a cold sweat. This world sure is a disaster. Let's hope Walter can fix it! After all, it's not a problem for someone who's done acid!
The team loiters outside the walls of Harvard campus until Walter finds the secret entrance to the network of steam tunnels underneath. Yahtzee! And what does it look like? A HATCH. I see what you did there, former Lost writers/producers.
After a brief encounter with a (painted) dragon and unable to scrub the image of Walter and Bell running around the sweltering tunnels in their Speedos, we pop into the lab to find it partially ambered over. Walter did this himself to prevent our bald friends from getting at the info, which is recorded on a video camera not that far into the amber. The team needs a laser to cut it out (and must sacrifice poor Walter's cherished laser disc player in the process), but only one problemo – no power! Plus there is a Loyalist guard (played by Lost's Eric Lange, aka the irritating but hilarious Radsinsky) wandering around that could blow their cover. Etta takes him into custody like the badass agent she is.
Etta decides that this guard dude knows how to get the power turned on, and demands he tell them how to get into the science building where the fuses are housed. He's not super forthcoming, so she busts out a torture device that steals years of a person's life through time displacement. Olivia, however, is quite concerned about this brutal torturer she spawned, and tries to convince Etta to go easy. Etta snaps that this is necessary, because "this is war, and we're losing." True dat. Jack Bauer wouldn't be messing about! But her hardened nature saddens me, too. When Etta leaves the room, Olivia hears the Loyalist's tale of woe and promises she'll get in touch with his son if he helps them. He tells them his access code and mentions they need his eyeball for the retinal scanners.
Walter has a solution to this – pig's eyeballs! While he preps the eyeball imager to copy Radsinsky's retinal signature, Olivia draws fake Loyalist tattoos on Peter and Etta. Father and daughter make their way over to the science building and manage to get past all the obstacles. However, there is an obstacle they didn't expect: Agent Simon Foster's severed head, still blinking and attached to machines! Ew, and also NO! I love me some Henry Ian Cusick, you guys. Why must his beautiful Scottish head be severed? It pained me in my soul. Etta had the same feelings and would have gone in there, guns blazing, to take revenge for the death of her noble former boss if Peter hadn't stopped her. Many in the Fringe community feel this isn't the end of Simon, but a severed head doesn't usually make for good news. I'll try and stay hopeful, though!
Peter and Etta get the power turned on and hightail it back to the lab. While everyone is taking therapeutic turns blasting the crap out of some amber, Olivia tries to have a heart-to-heart with Etta before she takes their Loyalist friend away to presumably dispose of him. Etta initially thinks that Olivia's compassion makes her weak, but Olivia's earnest hope prompts a change of heart. She lets Loyalist Radsinsky go (even though he was lying about his son like a jackass), and he promises to fight for the freedom of humanity rather than taking the easy way out. Etta calls Olivia and shows her she was merciful, and Olivia is proud of her daughter. Perhaps one day he'll repay her, kind of like Wormtail in Harry Potter! That is who this Loyalist reminded me of, so it would be a nice, full-circle conclusion to the events in this episode if he helps them out later in the season.
Walter manages to pry the tape out of the recorder, and the team crowds around an old TV to see what it contains. Walter has apparently stored the different parts of the plan in various places, and this will lead them on a treasure hunt to uncover the pieces and put it all together (Namaste, and good luck!). This is SO Walter, and I'm glad the writers stuck so true to his zany way of doing things. Perhaps Olivia retrieving the thought unifier from Grand Central was just one part of the hunt, and Bell's hand will retrieve another. Another Harry Potter comparison – this is like the trio's hunt for Horcruxes in the final book in order to take down Voldemort once and for all! I'd be very happy with the last 11 (!!! That is all! 11!) episodes taking us around the Fringe 'verse culminating in an epic final battle. Can we all hear Olivia yelling "not my daughter, you bitch!"?? I certainly can.
Thoughts: This episode didn't particularly thrill me, but that doesn't mean it was a bust. We learned a bit about the current regime, but more questions were raised: why the experiments on humans? Why the takeover at Harvard? We're all still wondering just why the Observers are even here, why they are promoting an atmosphere devoid of hope or individuality, why they are ruining the world with crappy food and polluted air. It seems so counter-intuitive. All will be revealed in time, I have the faith! (See this week's glyph code.)
I'm glad we're seeing signs of the old Walter, even in the face of all the torture and hardship he endured in the premiere. Just like Walter theorized that he hid the various pieces of The Machine in time and space through the vortex in Over There's Central Park, he has also hidden the clues to saving humanity from our Observer overlords. Maybe we'll even see our friends from Over There one last time – if their world is healing and safe from Observers, perhaps they can help.
Point of order that I can't take credit for observing (that would be the awesome peeps over at Fringe Television) – in Olivia's flashback, the blanket she was lying on was red, and in Peter's it was green. Weird! Red like Over There? Are these memories even real? Did something more sinister happen? Intrigue!
Episode Rating: 6 out of 10 Red Vines. Did not love, but it was a lot of set-up so I forgive.
Glyph Code for In Absentia: FAITH
Glyph Code for last week, since I was so excited I forgot to include it: DOUBT
How telling! We are indeed wavering between faith and doubt, not only with our characters but as a fan base. Last week, Walter was in doubt and despairing over this crappy future and his inability to remember their plan, and this week our faith is restored somewhat by having a scavenger-hunt purpose again.