Mark Watches ‘Fringe’: S05E02 – In Absentia

In the second episode of the fifth season of Fringe, Walter realizes there’s a way to access the purged parts of his memory, and a tense and morally complicated journey begins. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.

BLESS THIS SHOW FOREVER. I am sorry, Mark Watches readers, for I have sinned. I should never have stopped watching this show, even if I had a really good reason for delaying these posts. This is fucking brilliant, and I expected nothing less from a show that has continuously entertained and challenged me over the past two years. LET’S DO THIS.

  • Okay, two episodes in a row opening with that nightmare about how Henrietta originally got separated from Peter and Olivia. I noticed now that the writers are doing something intentional: cutting away right as Peter goes to grab Etta. After this, we cut to Olivia’s point of view, and we overhear a doctor tell her that she was “caught in the blast,” but we haven’t ever seen this blast. Is this the flash at the bright white light we see when Peter nearly nabs Etta? What the fuck actually happened? I know there was a “purge” of some sort, but did the Observers just nuke part of the city?
  • Coming off the last episode, it’s emotionally satisfying to see Olivia wake up to Peter because now she can go through her fears and her grief with him, instead of being distant from him like she was in 2015.
  • I’m also glad this show acknowledges that Olivia feels terrible that she missed over twenty years of her daughter’s life. That’s actually a larger theme of this episode, especially since the writers address the various ways in which Olivia and Etta differ.
  • This episode has such a fulfilling set-up! The team gets to go back to Walter’s lab at Harvard, and the shenanigans just never end. I think it’s intentional that this feel so much like the antics the group would get into during the first couple seasons. It’s weird, it’s suspenseful, and it’s one hell of a ride through science and philosophy.
  • LOOK, I DON’T CARE, THAT IMAGE OF WALTER AND PETER LOOKING DOWN THE HATCH IS TOTALLY A LOST REFERENCE. IT TOTALLY IS.

  • SEE????
  • A Beta Max camera OH MY GOD. Walter, I love you.
  • You know, the introduction of Manfretti seemed so typical. Someone would catch them in the lab, there’d be conflict, blah blah blah. And then, over the course of the next half hour, NONE OF THIS WAS WHAT I EXPECTED.
  • I mean, okay, so she’ll threaten Manfretti to determine what’s under the Sciences building. They’ll get the info, blah blah blah, this shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. Oh god, I was so wrong.
  • Wait, what is that device?
  • Why is Manfretti so nervous?
  • Why is he freaking out about her owning that thing???
  • I DON’T LIKE THIS, WHAT IS GOING ON???
  • WHAT THE FUCK WHY IS HE MOVING AROUND LIKE THAT MAKE IT STOP!!!!!
  • Oh my god she stopped it an–
  • HOLY SHIT DID SHE JUST AGE HIM LIKE A DECADE IN JUST TEN SECONDS
  • WHAT THE FUCK HAS THIS SHOW BECOME??? WHAT DID I JUST WITNESS?? 
  • Oh fuck, why is there even a device that can steal years from someone, and why is Etta using it, I AM SO UPSET RIGHT NOW.
  • Oh, thank the gods, Walter is in the next scene, and he won’t destroy a Laserdisc player. YOU ARE SO PRECIOUS, WALTER.
  • Also, pigeons are disgusting and I hate them. No wonder I love Shale in Dragon Age: Origins.
  • Okay, the jokes are done, let’s go back to one of the most emotionally devastating and uncomfortable scenes in this show’s history.
  • And before I actually talk about it, I wanted to say that I get the distinct feeling that the writers know that this is it. These are the last episodes of Fringe we’ll ever get. And so they’re like, “FUCK IT,” and they’re just going to do whatever the hell they want with these characters and this story. That’s so exciting! It’s also mortifying because this is episode two, and everything is already massively fucked up.
  • Okay, let’s first acknowledge the supreme skill Anna Torv demonstrates when her character walks into that room and sees what Etta is doing. It is a chilling and heartbreaking moment because you can see the precise second when she just snaps. But Torv plays it so subtly, so quietly, and it shows a deep understanding of the character she’s playing. Olivia has woken up to a world in chaos, and she’s silently trying to figure out her place in it. It’s why she doesn’t leap up to save Manfretti or scold Etta. She takes in the scenes, realizes Manfretti has aged decades in a matter of minutes, sees the nonchalant look on Etta’s face, and her heart crumbles. So she does what she can: she tries to offer him water. Olivia has always been a deeply empathetic person, and she refuses to hate Manfretti on principle. This is exactly where Olivia and Etta differ, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
  • I personally didn’t feel too terrible at first about Manfretti, though I certainly didn’t root for him either. So what I find fascinating about this episode is how the writers toy with our perception of events to either set us against Manfretti or to have sympathy for him, and just when you feel like you can make a judgment call, the final scene in that field rips the rug out from underneath you. At heart, Manfretti is a Loyalist, and when Olivia starts talking to him, he doesn’t give the audience much to feel sorry for. Did I hate the Angel Device? Yes, but I wanted to hear Etta’s reasons why she felt this was necessary. There’s a dichotomy in the beginning, one that Etta sticks to rigidly. Manfretti is a Loyalist. He sold out the human race. He is a scumbag not worth a second of sympathy. The episode goes to great lengths to show us that Etta has suffered over the last twenty years, motivated by the alleged death of her parents, so to her, what Manfretti has done is unforgivable. That’s an important distinction. She does not care for his motivations, she doesn’t care about his life, and she doesn’t care about the son he’ll leave behind. This is a zero-sum life, and she’s not about to analyze her own moral code if she can find a way to change the rules she has to live by.
  • But then we have Olivia, who comes from a background of seemingly unending trauma, who had her own childhood taken from her, who is weary of the effects of unchecked scientific rigor, and who wants to believe that deep down, every person is good. She clings to that hope, and that’s why she agrees to tell Manfretti’s son that his father is dead and not to look for him. To her, it’s the least she can do, a purposeful attempt to keep the humanity within her.
  • AND THEN WE ARE LED TO BELIEVE WALTER IS GOING TO CUT MANFRETTI’S EYE OUT SO HELP ME GOD I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS.
  • Oh, a cow’s eye. Whew!
  • Oh god, wait, THAT’S NOT GENE’S, IS IT? Where the fuck is Gene???
  • Did this episode basically turn into a heist movie? Everyone, guess what? I LOVE HEIST PLOTS. This is no secret, but at this point, it was clear this episode was going to be the best.
  • They even have that stereotypical scene where you don’t know how they’re going to get inside!!! Except I GENUINELY BELIEVED THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO PULL IT OFF.
  • And this scene is so good because it’s intercut with Olivia’s quiet chat with Manfretti, where he reveals the reason why he became a Loyalist: the Resistance murdered one of his kids in a bombing. And that whole dichotomous world that Etta was able to navigate so easily is now horrifically complex for Olivia. How can she blame a man for feeling bitter towards people who murdered his son? Isn’t Olivia fighting for security, too? That’s not to say that Olivia is sitting there, thinking, “Hey, the Loyalists sound great!” But she can recognize the shared express of loss and trauma, of wanting that to end.
  • WHO IS NUMBER 19?
  • Oh my god, the fucking Sciences wing. WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO THAT WOMAN?
  • oh
  • oh no
  • NO
  • NO NO NO NO SIMON FOSTER NOOOOOOOOO OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS SHOW DOING TO ME
  • No, Etta, DON’T DO IT. DO NOT GO IN THERE. OH MY GOD, THIS SHOW IS PUNCHING ME IN THE HEART EVERY FIVE MINUTES, MAKE IT STOP.
  • So, in the wake of discovering that Foster is dead, Etta is even more dead-set in her thinking. There’s no sympathy to be had for Manfretti. And even in this moment, I appreciated that Olivia could acknowledge that she has no idea what this world is like. She has not lived the same life as her daughter. It takes a lot to admit that. Still, she hopes that her daughter won’t let this all harden her heart, but Etta just won’t budge.
  • And then that scene out in the farmlands. MY GOD. Manfretti was lying, Etta was right the whole time, and everything is so complex and painful, and despite that, she still lets the man go. It all comes back to Olivia: amidst all the fury, confusion, and terror of the world, she fought to give a man she doesn’t even know his dignity. He’s ostensibly her enemy, and this matters not to her. Olivia, I love you so much.
  • AND THEN THE VIDEO TAPE! Oh my god, Walter is giving himself a motivational speech about his destiny. IT’S SO BRILLIANT. It also provides an absolutely fantastic framing device for the future. The team has to find the other tapes, and then follow directions to do… SOMETHING. I DON’T KNOW. WHATEVER. ALL THIS MEANS? ROAD TRIP TIME.

Y’all, I love this show so much.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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