While You Were Sleeping
In Absentia refers to the Fringe Team as they struggle to come to terms with a world that has arisen while they slumbered and is unlike any they could have foreseen. A world of misery, oppression, and as we are shown in the Medical and Science Building - a world of horror.
For Peter and Olivia it is even more difficult as they try to reconcile emotionally and mentally not only the loss of their child daughter but her return as an adult. An adult; forged and tempered to be hard because of the harsh reality she has grown up in.
In an episode where every member’s strength in some manner was demonstrated - Walter’s genius, Peter’s engineering skills, Astrid’s support of Walter emotionally and technically, and Etta’s knowledge and experience of the world as it is; it was Olivia’s empathy and strength of character that carried the emotional undercurrents. With the focus between Olivia and Etta.
The episode opens with the Observer Invasion as seen from Olivia’s perspective to complement that of Peter’s from the previous episode. It reinforces a couple of points. For Peter and Olivia those moments happened only a few months of subjective time ago. The emotional blowback that resulted, splintering their family, is still in play for both of them.
Olivia awakes from her nightmare trembling and Peter is at her side comforting her. Much like he did in episode 5.01 when he checked on Etta to make sure she was OK.
There were many cool and geeky moments throughout the episode and I’ve captured them in the bullet points. What is the main power of this episode is watching Olivia and Etta feel out the dynamics of their relationship in ways that only a SF show like Fringe can offer.
Olivia and Etta are both characters that like to be in control. And the control that Olivia displays here is an awesome one. Olivia realizes that Etta is an extremely competent and experienced adult in the nightmare world they have reconnected in. As one adult to another Olivia respects Etta’s abilities.
As a parent, she does not like how the world has shaped Etta’s abilities. I have seen it said that this episode was showing that Olivia was going soft. This episode showed me the exact opposite. In this episode Olivia demonstrated strength of character never seen before. For a person of action to place themselves on the side and let her daughter, and husband, go into battle while she stayed behind was the hardest thing Olivia has ever had to do.
Olivia obviously disapproved of Etta’s methods of questioning the Loyalist Manfretti but she never directly intervened. Rather she used her ability to empathize to draw out the needed information from Manfretti and over the course of the episode made Etta and Manfretti believers that the Observers can be beaten.
Etta’s read of Manfretti was bang on. He did lie and manipulate the situation to his advantage. But I truly believe that Olivia was quite aware of what Manfretti was doing but perservered in the end because of her force of character.
As the episode drew to an end, Etta shows Olivia that she has released Manfretti. Etta tells Olivia, ‘I am on my way back.’ Surely a carefully worded line that initimates that Olivia’s fears of what the Observers have taken away are well founded but that the possibility for a person like Etta to reclaim them is yet still possible.
Wonderful acting and writing for all the Olivia/Etta/Manfretti scenes.
Those ending moments of change work for Etta and Manfretti because one of the strengths of serialized story telling is that we get to know the characters. So that even in a show as unique as Fringe where multiple iterations of the characters have come and gone, we know Olivia.
And we know Olivia is capable of impacting people in the way she did in this episode.
Episode 'Patterns': Add your own in the comments.
- Olivia dreams about Etta being taken - Peter is there to comfort when she awakes
- Peter happy to stay in park with Olivia & Etta forever
- pictures of Etta’s life while Peter & Olivia were ‘In Absentia’
- Walter still using the Transilience Thought Unifier - knows Swedish & Portugese
- Olivia ‘unifies’ Walter by asking if he took any notes
- Walter’s lab taken over by Observers - ‘Not a problem for someone who does acid!’
- Team Fringe stealths their way into lab - Frinjas! (Fringe Ninjas)
- hatches and tunnels oh my! Yahtzee! The first Lost riff
- Scariest mental image of the episode - Walter and Belly scooting around in the steam tunnels in their swimming trunks or speedos
- Walter finds his lost dragon
- lab has been ambered by Walter - no Gene?
- Walter still prefers Betamax
- Did Walter switch to GrapeVines? Or are they someone elses?
- a Loyalist - Manfretti captured aka Rudzinsky the slimeball from Lost - 2nd riff
- I need a laser. Could you make one? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- Etta works on ‘opening the book’ that is Manfretti with Angel Device - freaky effect & a grotesque name for a horrible device - was there an intention to reference the Fourth Season episode - 4.11: Making Angels?
- Forgive me Criterion Collection. Walter sacrifices his laser disc player.
- Olivia struggles with Etta’s coldness - This is war. And we are losing.
- Olivia’s empathy opens up Manfretti
- Astral - Sharp Scalpel and my long handled stainless steel spoon!
- Walter can add eye forger to his resume
- Peter/Olivia - World has changed so much. Not sure I want to understand it.
- Olivia lets Etta go about her business. Thanks for respecting me. We both like to be in control.
- Manfretti mentions Number Nineteen. The big guy? Yeah, him. Stephen King / Dark Tower reference? Nineteen was a recurring number in that series too.
- More on 19. Is he Bell? We know they found Simon. So they must have found Bell too.
- Harvard Science/Medical Wing - now home to human experiments.
- Creepiest and most haunting image of the episode - the blinking head of Simon Foster - Etta’s Fringe partner.
- Lab lights shut off by the clapper.
- Note - Nights In White Satin from the Moody Blues album - Days of Future passed playing when power comes on - and when Walter recorded his message.
- Olivia tells Etta she is less concerned about what the Observers have done and more with what they have taken away.
- Manfretti and Etta both respond to Olivia’s resolve - Do you really think you can win? We have to.
- Manfretti - For the first time I felt like we were suppose to win.
- Etta letting Manfretti go because she saw something in Olivia’s eyes too - pity for them all.
- Walter’s message on tape - 3rd & 4th Lost riff. Man in lab coat leaving messages on degraded video tapes.
- Walter’s pep tape is for himself and the Fringe Team.
- Etta shows Olivia she set Manfretti free and says she is on her way back - not just physically but emotionally too?
- Follow the tapes! Episode ends with Walter’s stirring speech.
As mentioned in my review for Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11 the setting switch to a war time scenario removes the case of the week paralleling and we see the immediate results. All the characters are much more engaged in the episode storyline.
Plus with wartime drama the constant threat of discovery and death provides an undercurrent of tension each week. Which is a very fertile dramatic playground as we were shockingly shown with Simon Foster’s head shot and Etta’s need for violent payback.
Even more, we get moments of stirring emotion as we listen to Walter recording a message intended for others but ends up being a rallying cry for himself and the rest of the Fringe team.
Powerful stuff all around.