The Fringe team isn't doing any sightseeing in their new found future setting. Rather the gang revisits a familiar spot in their old Harvard lab with the hopes Walter left some souvenirs behind to piece together his former plan. With much still unknown in this fifth and final season this new episode gives a hint at a possible path for the show to take.
This year's second episode, "In Absentia", it came across as an establishing episode. Both the humorous and action aspects of the show are pretty much mute here and instead character relationships and a possible template for episodes to follow start to form. But before I get into that I'll break down "In Absentia" and highlight the important moments.
Like last week's premiere episode "In Absentia" opens roughly the morning after the previous episode. Walter is convinced the scrabbled plans are still in his mind and continues to wear the thought unifier device that Olivia had with her before ambering herself. With no change in Walter's ability to recollect his memories the group decide to return to their old Harvard lab to find some kind of psychical records of the plan. Just a couple of problems: Harvard however has been turned into an Observer security centre, half of the lab has been ambered, and a Loyalist security guard walks in on the fringe team's homecoming. Noticing the reason he ambered his own lab Walter sees his backup plan is on home video still on the tripod. Needing power back on in the lab to cut the camcorder out of the amber Henrietta uses some questionable tactics on their new prisoner, the security guard, to make that happen.
The stuff with using the guard to break into the main levels of Harvard was straight forward and a little bit obvious. Within the first few minutes of the character's introduction you knew the guard was going to be a means to an end. However what came out of have this character ended up being much more in establishing some much needed context for this new world setting. Olivia and Henrietta's mother/daughter relationship starts form here in very twisted way.
Olivia walks in on Etta (Henrietta's nickname for future references) using, what she called an 'Angle' device, on the guard to get information out of him. Etta is essentially torturing the guard with the device as it rapidly ages the individual it's used on by as much as 25 or 30 years. Reason for this weird tech has something to do with the Observers but the Loyalist also use it to interrogate the Rebels. After seeing that man in pain, at the hands of her own daughter no less, Olivia is shocked at what kind of person her Etta has turned into. The show could have gone at Olivia's reaction to this in a couple of different ways but the way they handled it was in my opinion the best and smartest route they could have taken. Instead of Olivia taking control and stopping the situation she goes against her moral instincts and lets Etta call the shots, so not to start a family feud. As an alternative Olivia shows compassion for the guard throughout the episode and it ultimately rubs off on Etta because she spares the man's life at the end.
The passive back and forth between Olivia and Etta shows a very different dynamic within the show. Olivia is used to being the leader of the group, never one for being on the sideline, and now has to come to terms with the fact that torch has been passed to her daughter. I'm sure eventually Olivia will return to the forefront of the fringe team but oddly enough for now in their little group Etta is the most experienced out of everybody.
After getting the camcorder out of the amber Walter's message to himself is more bread crumbs for them all to follow. The fringe team now knows Walter scattered a bunch of other video tapes with the pieces of their plan on them that they now have to track down. My guess is that since this last year is a shorter season the normal 'freak of the week' style of episode probably won't happen, and now it might be the case that the format switches to a 'tape of the week' type quest. I think any more than three hidden tapes might be overkill given the smaller timeframe here, but it will give the season some form of structure to it. I would think the hardest part of the fringe team searching for these missing tapes wouldn't be the tapes themselves but finding a Betamax player in the year 2036 to play them on after. Just saying.
The final bits of the episode to point out are again two big omissions. Broyles and Nina. Blair Brown's Nina has always been the most minor of the all the major cast members, so no having her back yet is okay; for now. Lance Reddick's Broyles is a different story. Broyles is a favourite character of mine and I'm interested in where they could take him in this new future. We already know he is still at Fringe Division after last year's episode but like Nina he has aged over the years. I think given the chance Broyles will team up with the rest of the current group, but I'm not sure how involved he will end up being. Broyles is about Walter's age now, so he won't slow them down any more than Walter already does, but typically the character of Broyles doesn't continue on from episode to episode. Meaning he could be around for over half the show in one episode and only a couple minutes the next. Being the last season and all I hope once they start to include Broyles into the main story the writers keep giving him something to do with the rest of the group. Here's hoping Mr. Reddick makes his fifth season debut next Friday night.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.