Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fringe 5.02: "In Absentia"

“There will be a time for vengeance and a time for grieving, but it is not now. Stop. Stop! They will pay for what they have done. I promise.”

“In Absentia” felt like a much smaller episode of “Fringe” than the season premiere was, and I think that’s a good thing. All the exposition was coughed up last week in “Thought Unifier,” and this week we could get back to really delving into the characters. There was also pretty definite and finite goal that the team needed to work towards. That goal lead to a quest of sorts that could provide some structure for the rest of the final season. The character building was really the most important thing about this episode, though. We learned more about Etta and what she’s been through and the effect her rough childhood has had on her as an adult. Watching the newly reunited Bishop family try to work out all the family dynamics is also very revealing of character. This episode also does some more world building in a very character centered way.

The episode opens with the arrival of the Observers and Etta’s disappearance again, but this time from Olivia’s perspective. It reminds me of “Lost” season 2 where the first several episodes showed the exact same scene from at least three different perspectives. It got kind of old after a while. Anyway, this is a dream sequence, and Olivia is quite out of sorts when she wakes up. Peter is there to comfort her, though, which I thought was kind of sweet. Once the Bishops are all dressed and ready, it becomes apparent that the thought unifier is kind of scrambling Walter’s brain. Whenever he has it on, he just says random words. He’s refusing to stop using it until the team decides to go back to the old Harvard lab and see if Walter made any notes about September’s plan to defeat the Observers. The only problem is that Walter’s lab is in the middle of a “no-go zone” with a four mile radius. Walter has a solution for that, though. The team is going to use the Harvard campus’s utility tunnels to get from the edge of the no-go zone to the lab. Next thing we know, they’re at the edge of the no-go zone, and in probably the most obvious “Lost” shout-out we’ve seen in a long time on this show, Peter and Walter look down a square hatch at the utility tunnels, in almost an identical shot to the iconic ending of “Lost” season 1.

In typically quick “Fringe” fashion, we get a brief scene of the team making their way through the tunnels, then they’re at the lab. Amber has been deployed there. Clearly Walter left something in his lab that he wanted to preserve, even though he doesn’t remember it. There’s a Betamax camera set up, and Walter thinks he may have been recording video of himself reciting the plan. The team is interrupted, however, when a loyalist guard named Gayle happens upon them. He’s not much of a guard, though, and the team has him captured and handcuffed in no time. To de-amber the camera, they need a laser, which needs power. The power seems to have been cut off at the science building, so Etta wants to find out everything Gayle knows about the science building. She tortures him using a device that was invented by the Observers. It causes so much pain and atomic destabilization that it ages Gayle rapidly each time Etta uses it.

Walter sadly smashes his lasterdisc player to get the laser they need for the de-ambering, but they need some gasses to make the laser more powerful. In search of the gasses, Olivia goes into the next room where Etta is torturing Gayle. Olivia, obviously, is not happy about what has happened to her daughter. When Etta leaves the room, Olivia tries to talk to Gayle. She finds breadcrumbs in his bag and figures he was just in the lab area to feed the birds. Etta comes back and threatens to resume the torture, and Gayle finally spills what he knows. There are rumors of terrible experiments being conducted in the science buildings. His access code to the building is in two parts. The first is a number, and the second is an ocular scan. At the act break, it looks like Walter is preparing to cut Gayle’s eye out to overcome the second access obstacle, but he’s actually just going to contour a pig’s iris to look like Gayle’s. Peter and Etta go to the science building, but they have a little trouble getting in. A guard asks “Gayle” what he’s doing out of his usual sector. Olivia has Gayle get on the radio and straighten it all out, which he does surprisingly well. Now inside the building, Etta and Peter pass by all sorts of gruesome experiments. The worst is when they find Simon’s head, decapitated and disturbingly reanimated. Peter has to forcibly stop Etta from shooting the whole place up right then and there, and I really wouldn’t have blamed her if she had done it.

Refocused, Etta and Peter get the power turned back on, and Walter and Astrid start using the laser on the Betamax camera. Etta is extremely pissed off when she gets back to the lab, and she barges into the room where Gayle is being held. Olivia follows Etta, knowing something bad is going to go down if she doesn’t interfere. Etta’s explanation to Olivia for why she’s doing what she’s doing shows just how expertly the Observers have divided humanity. A divided humanity can’t fight back so easily, after all. Etta is convinced that all loyalists lie and that Gayle’s stories about his sons are false. She also says how whenever someone from one side is captured by the other, they’re interrogated and then disposed of. And that’s exactly what she intends to do to Gayle. Olivia’s not going stop her, but she also intends to respect Gayle’s wishes and notify his son of his death.

As they’re driving to who knows where, Etta and Gayle talk Gayle says that he doesn’t actually have a son, and he joined the loyalists because he’s a coward. This story sounds more plausible to Etta, but I’m not sure I believe it. I think he might have just been telling Etta what she wanted to hear. Etta lets Gayle go free, and Gayle says he’s going to fight for the resistance now because of the conviction he saw in Olivia’s eyes. Etta counters that she’s letting him go because of the pity she saw in Olivia’s eyes. Back at the lab, the team is finally able to watch the mysterious Betamax tape. It’s Walter circa 2015, and he says that he’s detailed the plan to defeat the Observers on multiple tapes, and the tapes are hidden around the country. So the team is going to have to try and find all the tapes, even though this first tape didn’t really seem to give any hints. Olivia gets a video message from Etta, and she is extremely happy to see that she let Gayle go free.

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