Episode Title: "In Absentia"
Writers: J. H. Wyman & David Fury
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Previously on "Fringe":
As “Fringe” heads towards its inevitable end, it was reasonable to assume that the final 13 installments would be free of filler episodes and the writers would still have enough room to craft an exciting storyline to close out the series.
At least in theory.
But "In Absentia" felt like so much filler that it seemed to barely have enough plot for half of an episode, much less an entire hour’s worth of story. I’m not sure if it was due to budget constraints, but the focus on Walter’s lab made it seem like a bottle show.
After getting his brain fried by the Observer known as Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa), Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) has lost all trace of the plan that September (Michael Ceveris) placed in his mind to free humanity from their oppressive overlords. Walter postulates that he may have written the plan down back at his Harvard laboratory… however, the campus is currently being used as a base and a laboratory by the Observers.
Noble brings his “A” game as always, with some hilarious Walter-isms including “Criterion collection, forgive me” and “When did I switch to grape?” It’s also good to see that Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) is no longer relegated to stay behind, even if she didn’t have too much to do. The sceneswhere Walter and Astrid enjoy using the lazer in his lab were priceless and rare moments of joy for this season.
The bulk of the conflict comes when Etta (Georgina Haig) captures Gael Manfretti (Eric Lange), a security guard whose face marks him as an Observer Loyalist. Etta shows a cruel streak towards Gael as she tortures him for information with a device that shaves years off of his life. Naturally, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is less than thrilled to see what her daughter has become and she begins to empathize with Gael.
It’s the connection between Olivia and Gael that gives "In Absentia" most of its human moments and reminds us that some of the best “Fringe” adversaries were characters whom we could feel sympathy for.
We also get some great emotion from Etta when she sees what has become of her partner, Simon Foster (Henry Ian Cusick). It’s a truly horrific fate and it suggests that we probably won’t see Cusick again this season. But with this show, you never know.
Peter’s (Joshua Jackson) promise of vengeance to Etta was also well played by both Jackson and Haig. But I have to ask: if the facial tattoos of the Loyalists are so easy to fake then why is it such a big deal? The tattoos don’t seem to perform any function other than a visual reminder of the person’s supposed loyalties.
Gael was actually more believable when he was lying to Olivia than he was when he confessed the truth to Etta. Gael openly admitted that he only said that he had a son in the hopes that Olivia would convince Etta to let him go. Both Etta and Gael have a change of heart that was kind of hard to buy into, no matter how much Olivia moved them.
It’s also telling that Etta showed her mother what happened to Gael rather than telling her, almost as if Olivia wouldn’t have believed it unless she saw her daughter grant him mercy. And if Gael was being truthful about his new loyalties, then it could be interesting to see him again.
Back at Walter’s lab, we learn that the video he retrieved from the amber only told him about other hidden videos he made that will explain his plan to take out the Observers. It’s kind of a groaner, because it seems poised to set off a scavenger hunt for Walter’s tapes as a way to mark time. It feels less like plot movement and more like a tool to stretch out the story for a few episodes. If the writers can wrap up the search for Walter’s videos quickly, I won’t mind that twist so much. But I definitely don’t want to see episode after episode of the team searching for video tapes.
As an average episode of “Fringe,” "In Absentia" still had enough good parts to keep it entertaining. But it’s far past time to crank the story up to the next level.