Fringe: In Absentia

Posted on October 06, 2012

Olivia Dunham’s greatest strength has always been her ability to remain still.

No matter how insane things got in her job and in her personal life, her talent for keeping herself absolutely calm in the face of it all has served her and her team well (and in those instances when she lost it, that’s when you knew things were really bad). When last night’s story took a turn away from the big picture and toward the smaller one, we momentarily feared she was being cast in some sort of messianic role; that she was somehow meant to teach her daughter, and by extension, the rest of the world of 2036, just what it means to make moral choices in a time of war. We started getting annoyed with her. After all, she’s been literally out of it for the last two-plus decades and she’s a stranger to this world, unlike Etta, who’s had to live and fight in it her whole life (which brings up the major question of just what Etta’s been doing with herself for the past 20 years). Who is she to get all preachy with anyone? But by the end of the episode, Etta did learn the lesson Olivia was trying to impart, not because Olivia pleaded with her or made long speeches espousing the correct point of view, but because Olivia remained perfectly still while her daughter’s hardness was revealed to her. And then, instead of lecturing her, merely quietly revealed her own despair at what has become of her. Only Olivia could have changed Etta’s mind. No one else was capable of it. It was a wonderful summation of the character’s strengths as well as a perfect way to place her in this new world. Peter will fight and Walter will go off on grand tangents with wild ideas, but Olivia will remain calm and true, acting as a rudder for the team as she guides them toward their destiny. Love that.

Now, we’ll be annoyed if that’s the end of that particular discussion. No one who grew up in a time of war is going to suddenly change everything about themselves simply because their long-lost mother shows up and registers her disappointment. But we have faith in the writers this season and they seem to be setting this up as one of the major themes. As Olivia put it best, it’s not just about what the Observers did to people; it’s also about what they took away from them. Last week’s theme was hope and this week’s theme was morality. We suppose they’re going to cycle through the various other concepts listed in the new credits, like free will, due process, and ownership.

Which brings us to our next point: A quest! A quest for Walter’s long lost BetaMax tapes! Is that not the most perfect thing in the history of ever? We love a good quest tale and this one looks to be a lot of fun. We were worried that this season was going to be a directionless and depressing slog through dystopia, but this new hook immediately raised our expectations.

And it also looks like the season won’t be spent entirely in 2036, which pleases us quite a bit. Flashbacks are slowly doling out the details and we’re dying to know what exactly happened to Henrietta after Peter and Olivia lost her and who took care of her while they were off doing their Jurassic Park mosquito routine. We want to believe that Etta is the ally she appears to be, but there’s an awful lot un-answered and this episode made it clear that it’s very hard to tell who’s being truthful about what in this world. Yes, the loyalist guy lied about having a son (but what’s the deal with that address he gave Olivia?), but are we so sure Etta let him go just because she saw the disappointment in her mother’s eyes?

And speaking of eyes (which were something of a motif this week), we have to make one final note about the casting of Henrietta. She has Olivia’s face (and her fondness for tight leather jackets), with Peter’s eyes. It’s hard as a viewer to keep up the suspension of disbelief when a show goes gleefully off its own rails like this, but every time Olivia and Etta or Peter and Etta interacted in a scene together it was never hard to believe that this 25-year-old woman is the daughter of the two 30-year-olds in the story. An offspring character is not required to look exactly like the parent characters, but in this instance, the resemblance is so eerie that it helps the story tremendously.

Last week was all action-oriented and we loved it. This episode was almost entirely character-based and we loved it as much, if not more. So far, we have no reason not to believe this season’s going to be an awesome sendoff for the show. But please, writers, let’s not forget about Astrid.

Now, who’s willing to throw out theories as to what Walter’s long lost master plan really is?



[Photo Credit: FOX]

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  • It’s like Harry, Ron and Hermione going on a quest for the Horcruxes!  Yea!
    I loved episode and remarked as well on how much the actress that plays Etta looks like her “parents”. 
    And yes, more Astral… Asterisk… Astrid.

    • I agree- Astrid is one of the sparks that keeps the show lively.

    • Dhammadina

      And Afro. It was great that she got to wield the laser too.

  • YoungSally

    I would actually just challenge someone to diagram WTF is going on in this show so I can understand “Where’s Olivia?”  and “Who’s Olivia?” and “When is Olivia”….from that it should be relatively easy to extrapolate to “Where’s Peter?” “When is Walter”….

    • Vanja

       Couldn’t find a diagram, but this timeline, search for ‘Fringe timeline season 1-4’, should help a bit.

  • Great review. I agree with u about Olivia. Anna Torv is so good at quiet & subtle. It still amazes me that this show (nor the actors) have gotten a single Emmy.

    • Vanja

      Anna Torv and John Noble should’ve gotten more credit for not only for playing the original characters but also for their  portrayals of Fauxlivia and Walternate.

      • stoprobbers

        Not to mention Bell-livia as well. Anna Torv has been robbed of so many awards for years, it makes me mad. I hope she gets buried under a pile of Emmys this year but my brain knows better. 

  • Aside from Walter I didn’t love this one. It wasn’t terrible by any means but I remember the dark heavy plotlines that sucked all the life out of X Files. 

  • formerlyAnon

    I’ve been a casual Fringe watcher, rarely seen more than two or three consecutive episodes, and to be honest I’ve liked it that way. I’ve enjoyed just seeing the characters unfold within an episode – there has been some excellent acting and I have been intrigued – the more of the overarching plot I’ve grasped, the more painful it has been to watch.

    But this season is changing my mind. Not sure why, but I’m thinking it’s becoming appointment t.v.

  • Bytess

    Now, if only ryan murphy listens and “olivia”-ed glee and new normal, ill be very thankful

  • MilaXX

    Walter would put those tapes some place really obvious.  We have yet to see Blair Brown & Lenoard Nimoy, but I have a feeling that when we do, we’ll find Walter’s tapes. Oddly enough I was struck by how good a casting Etta is as well. It really hit home in the scene where Olivia was trying to stop her from killing that guard.

    As interested as I am in seeing what became of Etta when they lost her, I think watching Peter & Olivia break apart as a result is going to break my heart.

    • BerlinerNYC

      I think people may be reading too much into Peter & Olivia’s “breakup.” If I understand the timeline correctly, all at once the earth is invaded by Observers, and Etta is kidnapped, and then about two months later both Peter and Olivia have ambered themselves for protection (?). (BTW, has it been established if that amber was eventually deleloped here, or is that borrowed tech from over there?) There was a hell of a lot going on in a very short amount of time, and Peter and Olivia approached the overwhelming situation differently, drifting apart emotionally amidst the chaos. I doubt there was the luxury of time for an actual breakup.

      I can’t wait until we see Nina again. And even though this is just a half-season that seems very focused on this one story, I would be sad if we see or hear absolutely nothing about over there again…

      • MilaXX

         I agree, I guess. I think it was more a drifting apart. Perhaps I fanwanked it but I thought they were apart longer than 2 mths.

        Since Walter says he was developing the amber in the lab they are now in, I’m guessing it was created here.

        • BerlinerNYC

          That makes sense. Re: amber, I vaguely, vaguely remember some reference to “our side” having started to look into that technology, maybe when the two Walters were talking? Over There was always a step or two ahead in terms of tech (cars with built-in CD players in the 80s, ball-point pens being obsolete by 2010, etc.), and when you factor in Walter being in the asylum all those years while Walternate was consolidating more power, the difference/delay becomes exaggerated. Maybe they were less distracted by TV and movies after southern CA fell into the ocean on their side. 🙂

        • Jennifer Coleman

          I could be wring, but I thought Peter & Olivia separated out of necessity-Peter was staying to look for Etta in Boston & Olivia had to go to NYC to look for that thingimajigger for Walter or some other investigation.

      • DesertDweller79

         The amber was almost certainly developed in the Alt Universe.  We just saw one experiment with it in our universe in season 1.  But, in seasons 2-3 we see that amber is a commonly used technology in order to seal weak points in the universe.

  • Yes … great casting in that Etta looks like Peter and Olivia. Great acting too. In that scene where Etta is considering letting the loyalist go, she had Walter’s expressions. The set of her mouth. The look in her eyes. Totally Walter. That’s when the show totally sold me on her being his granddaughter.

  • My theory is that Walters plan somehow keeps the obverservers out of our time.  They did the same thing to September in the Beacon, so why couldn’t have September told Walter how to make one or how it worked?  I’m guessing they need Willie Bell some how has future tech (like the magic observer stopping sigul tech or the “faster shooting, observing killing” guns) and maybe our teams going to use his hand to get into Massive Dynamic lab for this tech.  Or idk something like that.

    Fringe is good

  • OK, you’re recaps have convinced me to finally get on board the Fringe train.  Do you recommend starting at the very beginning and watching the entire series, or just hitting highlights?  If so, which ones are can’t miss?

    LOVE the recaps!

    • If you have the time, I’d watch the whole thing. I marathoned the show this summer, and it was great fun to see how the show moved from a freak-of-the-week procedural to the show it grew into, juggling a ton of mythology and different characters. If you want to hit the greatest hits that provide just enough story to jump into this season without getting lost, the AV Club has the 10 most essential episodes. You can google “AV club key fringe episodes”, or wait for another comment of mine with the link to avoid moderation. 

      If you do watch the whole run, please stick with it even if you dislike a few episodes. It frequently changes so if you don’t like the tone or how the show seems to be shaping up wait a few episodes and everything will be different! My personal faves that aren’t listed in the 10 essentials are Making Angels (which doesn’t seem to make others’ lists, but it is so touching!), Firefly, and every season’s finale. I am so excited for you to start! You will be laughing with “OMG. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?! HHAAAAAAAHAHA I LOVE EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW” glee. 

      • That’s fantastic, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply.

        Marathon it is!!

        (ETA: AV Club, of course! Aren’t they awesome?)

      • julnyes

        After hearing positive things about the show from multiple fronts I decided to give it a try. I watched the first 3 episodes and though I enjoy a number of the characters (Walter and his son primarily) I found the main character played by Anna Torv very off putting. She is just too deadpan all the time for me. I’ll watch a few more episodes to see if she grows on me, but I’m doubtful.

        • Todd Whitford

          As I told my wife when she wanted to start watching it (instead of just complaining about Anna Torv’s lips) and other friends, if you can get through the first half of the first season, it gets better.  The first few episodes were a little weak, and several of the storylines/plot arcs kind of fizzle out, but once it hits its stride it is a lot of fun.  Stick with it, you will be glad you did.

          • emcat8

            What complaint do you have with Anna Torv’s lips? I’m really curious, I just love everything about her and I … can’t imagine complaining about her lips.

        • stoprobbers

          It takes until about halfway through the first season before Olivia snaps into place. I’m not sure if the writing got better, or Anna Torv just figured out the character, or if both things happened at the same time, but there is a very clear point in the first season in which Weird!Olivia snaps into the awesome, amazing, badass, beloved character we all now know.

          It takes patience. I’ve watched Fringe on time since the premiere (weekly; that’s devotion) and Olivia was the single hardest thing to look past in the first half of the first season. But once she snaps into place — and I promise, she does — it just gets better and better and better and better and better. And that brings us up to the present 🙂

          • lovelyivy

             This is so true. By the time we get to season 2, Anna Torv is just killing it weekly. By the time you’ve gotten to S3 it’s almost hard to remember why you used to dislike her. After four years of devotion (it seriously feels like it should be longer) I just think they should give her and John Noble allllll the emmys.

    • stoprobbers

      WATCH THE WHOLE THING. IT IS WORTH IT. There is a lot of informations and each season really builds, crucially, on the pool of knowledge.

      The first half of the first season is kind of rough going — STICK IT OUT. Everything snaps into place around the halfway point, starting a crescendo of awesome that is still rising. Watching the whole thing really is worth it to you, I promise. 

  • Lindsay Maki
  • Presumptuous Insect

    I don’t even know what the fuck is going on but I keep watching for Walter. Adore him.

  • CarolinLA

    The plan better include Broyles and Nina.

    • kimmeister

      I’ve been wondering where the heck Broyles is myself!

    • lovelyivy

      Oh poor future Broyles… my only really happy ending for this show is one where they unmake this future and this version of Broyles and Nina never have to exist at all.

  • LondonMarriott

    Side note: I looked for more recaps by typing “Fringe” into the search form, and the results reminded me that I’m on a fashion blog 😉

  • janna roam

    I love Etta in this season. My DISH coworkers and I don’t think they could have cast her any better. Her chemistry, and opposition, to Olivia really adds to the character dynamics. I’m actually going to record the entire season on my Hopper so I can re-watch it later, and see how Olivia and Etta develop together. I love having enough memory to save everything, and it will be especially interesting if it turns out that Etta has been less than truthful as to her allegiance, and how that will play in to the hunt for Walter’s video tapes. As long as they keep this up it’s going to be a great final season for Fringe.

  • kimmeister

    I will have to take a closer look at Henrietta’s resemblance to her parents.  Every time I see her, I just think “tall blonde Christina Ricci.”

  • stoprobbers

    You know, I spent the last 4 years loving the chemistry between Peter and Olivia and cheering them on as they got together piece by piece (and, of course, being dismayed by the mess with Fauxlivia) but I have NEVER wanted to smush their faces together as much as I do this season. PLEASE MAKE UP. WITH KISSING. PLEASE.

    I hope, very much, that Anna Torv gets the recognition she’s desperately deserved after this final season of Fringe. Not only is Olivia Dunham my favorite female character on television, but it’s to Anna’s infinite credit that she is. Such a fantastic actress who clearly understands Olivia deeply, and is always devoted to breathing life into her in the most honest way possible. I’m going to *miss* her when this show is over.

    • emcat8

      Man, I went kicking and screaming into Peter/Olivia shipdom. I was so happy when they said they weren’t going to have a relationship for them beyond friendship that when they lied, I was all “augh! no!” But then, after Jacksonville (probably my fave episode), it started to make my heart go pitter patter, slowly at first, but now I’m where you are and I want them to make up with the kissing.

  • Scott Hester-Johnson

    Am I the only one bothered by the fact that Walter says “Go find the tapes” but doesn’t give a single clue as to where the first one is??! This is going to be one hard quest (and hopefully it will last 4 more seasons).

  • beadskrit

    Did the loyalist lie about having a son? By the end I wasn’t sure if he lied to Olivia or to Etta on that point, which I thought was a rather inspired use of ambiguity. We still don’t know who that loyalist really was or who he will become, in the same way that we don’t really know who Etta is or what she’s capable of  (though, as TLo pointed out, the physical casting seems intended to quash any doubts about her genetic identity).

  • annieanne

    Last week’s theme was hope and this week’s theme was morality
    Actually, if you decode the pictographs before the commercial breaks, last weeks theme was Doubt and this week’s was Faith.

  • Jennifer Coleman

    Wow. You guys so eloquently put to words my feelings on Olivia’s actions this week. I would only put together, ‘She almost got annoying, but pulled out of it nicely by the end.” Well done, Tlo.

  • Megan Patterson

    OMG yes, Etta’s casting is pure perfection. Big ups to the casting directors on that one. 

  • crazy theory–if I recall, September said that peter and olivia’s offspring is the adam/eve of the observers in that timeline, so would he have to destroy the offspring or prevent the offspring to prevent the observers from ever existing? Or was that story only in the timeline if peter and olivia had a boy instead of a girl? that is my theory.