No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible. - George Chakiris
The continuous 13 episode story arc was promised to be full of rich emotional moments for our beloved odd little family unit, and the premiere provided plenty of those. In Absentia, provides these, but I experienced feelings all over the spectrum of human capability.
Once again, we are immersed in the Bishop family picnic in the park outing. However, this time the idyllic setting is taking place from the perspective of Olivia. Some details appear to be different; as Peter’s dream has them lying on a red blanket, but Olivia’s version is green. (Green, green, green, red, anyone?) She, too, notices the building literally disappear in the city landscape background, and makes a run for her daughter just as the Observers phase into the timeline. Peter’s voice, yelling for Etta is very prominent, even as Olivia awakens, disoriented, in a makeshift hospital. Peter has never really been one to flip out, but he is so distraught over their missing daughter, that Olivia bolts out of her gurney towards him, calling his name…
… and awakens in a terrified sweat with a cautious Peter overlooking her. Anna’s reactions seemed spot-on for a person awakened in this state, and my heart hurt for her when she said that she was still trembling. Peter grabs her shaking hands, and I think this is a beautiful gesture. Even if they had marital difficulties, these two shattered people still deeply care for each other. Sometimes two people have to fall apart to realize how much they need to fall back together. I hope it’s soon, but after this episode, I see it being rough.
Peter has always had this “calming touch” effect with Olivia, such as displayed in the season episode, “Bad Dreams.” Peter tells Olivia that they’re all together, and OK, yet Olivia looks like she is having a difficult time processing all of this. Peter appears to have hit it off fine with Etta, adjusting to the fact that she’s an adult, and also relieved that his faith in being reunited was rewarded. Olivia may be much like Walter; still seeing her as a little girl in some ways, but also feeling immense guilt for several reasons.
Time is Preserved and Stolen
Part of Olivia’s emotional confusion stems from the fact that Etta was raised by a foster family, as evidenced by the pictures nestled on a bathroom shelf in the apartment. Olivia had to wonder what kind of upbringing her child received—was her childhood happy? After all, she and Peter came from dysfunctional families, and both long suffered from the psychological damage. Etta was brought up In Absentia – One must ask: Did Etta lose not only one, but TWO sets of parents? What happened to her foster parents?
The team has a breakfast assembly as Walter struggles to use the transilience thought unifier in an attempt to organize his thoughts and hopefully piece together his bald vermin removal strategy. Alas, it only brings up long forgotten latent languages. The solution is to transverse tunnels underneath the currently Observer-controlled Harvard Lab in order to see if Walter had left documentation of his plan, something that Olivia seemed certain would be the case.
Walter leads the team to a tunnel entrance—a hatch. LOST fans definitely see a parallel here with the scene in which John Locke and Jack open the hatch on the island. Plus, we’ll soon see a face familiar to both shows…
Along the way, a Chinese dragon drawing is seen and Walter states, “Hey, I’ve been looking for you.” With Walter, one would think it is a drug reference, like “chasing the dragon.” However, I think that it may symbolize in a way the journey Walter will endure this season. Walter is essentially seeking peace, and every time he nears it—every time it is within his grasp—he loses it. Each attempt becomes more difficult to achieve.
Upon reaching the ambered lab, the team makes two important discoveries. 1) Walter’s trusty beta recorder was ambered. After all, Walter documented everything using video—from the Cortextiphan trials, to experiments with students such as Roy McComb (“The Ghost Network”) and Rebecca Kibner (“Momentum Deferred”). 2) At some point, Walter preferred Grape Vines. (Which are very good, by the way.) Alas, no sign of long suffering Gene. I fear she may have ended up being burgers in a world supplied with delicious sustenance such as egg sticks… It is almost symbolic that the recorder was ambered. Amber is a symbol of preservation, and Walter was effectively safekeeping memories for the day that they were needed for retrieval.
The team discovers that they are not alone, as a Loyalist (Eric Lange) stumbles upon them, and they restrain him. Walter, Astrid and Peter try to rig a laser together in order to extract the recorder from the amber with as little damage as possible, plus they find a way to restore power to the lab. Etta decides that the Loyalist has the answers they need. Peter and Olivia watch as she shuts herself in an office to interrogate him, and I swear Olivia looked at Peter like, “Are you not concerned about this?”
And Momma has every reason to be concerned. Etta is a skillful and brutal interrogator. Unlike dear, old dad—who used a coffee cup to smash the fingers of Richard Steig in the Pilot—Etta has another way to get the answers that she wants; a time-displacement device that steals years of the victim’s life.
A Short Story About War
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” - Abraham Lincoln
In addition to science-fiction, I love history. The time periods of most interest to me are the American Civil War, World War II, and the Roman era. All dealt with serious civil conflict. For instance, the Civil War was a brutal affair that literally had brothers killing one another.
War and human conflict often lead the demonization of the opponent. It is easier for people to commit atrocities if they are effectively brainwashed into an us-or-them mentality. If the foe is made to seem less than human, or morally bankrupt, then it makes retaliation less daunting and morally conflicting. This was done during the Holocaust and has been responsible for the countless purges such as those that occurred in Warsaw, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and Cambodia. The Loyalists can be viewed as the American Colonist viewed Tories; sell-outs to their countrymen, all in exchange for some sort of safety or financial gain. The prevailing attitude among patriots was fairly well summed up by Franklin’s admonishment that those who trade freedom for temporary safety deserve neither.
We see similar psychological conditioning with political parties. Politics is a taboo subject for many people because we feel so darned passionate that our side is right. There are no gray areas; morals and convictions are absolute—unchanging and rigid.
What does this have to do with Fringe? Well, we’ve seen it before in the old timeline, when the alternate universe was damaged from Walter’s crossing over. Walternate wanted his world to survive at any cost, and even referred to his team’s alternates as “monsters in our own skin.” There was little mercy on his part. Olivia was detained, experimented on, and almost had her brain hacked out of her still living body; only to be killed by him in 2026.
It is also a basic primer into the thought processes of an orphaned little girl, turned full-grown resistance fighter; Etta. The loss of innocence is the cost of war, and children are exposed to countless acts of human brutality. After a while, a person copes by becoming numb to all of the loss and devastation in his or her life.
This episode is filled with wonderful Walter humor, which is a good thing, as it descends deep into the heart of darkness. I snickered at Walter’s apprehension in cracking open his vintage laser disc player in order to scavenge needed parts. Plus, apparently pigeons are like dandelions in their tendency to survive the harshest of conditions; though freeze dried pigeon may be a delicacy in these times.
There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin
Etta seems to have a very Machiavellian philosophy that the ends justify the means. The enemy is “not worth a single tear,” she tells her mother, and “This is War, and we’re losing.” In season three, I criticized Fauxlivia for her actions—especially killing the deaf man in “The Box”—even if I did understand that she was fighting for her world. Etta is like much like Fauxlivia, but I know her mother would find another way. Olivia is visually appalled by seeing how far her daughter has descended in this mad world.
I love how Olivia is back into her style of effectively and compassionately dealing with people. Her agile mind quickly put together the loyalist’s purpose for being in the building –feeding the flying vermin. However, you can see the wave of thoughts rush over her as he asks her to tell his son he is gone, because he wants him to not go looking for him. Since Peter could not let go of Etta due to uncertainty about her fate, this had to be a kick in the gut for her. (Plus, we saw this with Walternate/Elizabeth. In the old timeline, they did not know of Peter’s fate for a long time, and it tore them apart. In this timeline, both versions of Peter died as a child, so they had closure.) Due to Olivia’s promise, the loyalist gives them the information they need--slight problem; they need to pass ocular scans.
Olivia lets the team know how to access the building, and Peter says, “That was quick,” and he notices the look of shock on Olivia’s face. Etta explains her tech to an equally surprised and upset team. Even so, I was fooled when Walter asked for a sharp scalpel. I truly thought he was going to take the man’s eye! Counterfeiting an eye is pretty ingenious, and not as disgusting as they eye removal seen in “The Same Old Story.”
Peter is dressed in the loyalist uniform as he and Etta are going to infiltrate the science building in order to restore power. Olivia always liked to draw, so it is a nice touch that she “tattoos” Peter and Etta with loyalist markings. Peter takes the chance to speak with her about the changed world, and how it can be difficult to understand, but Olivia says she does not want to try and understand it. He looks at her with such love, and I think this is because Olivia sticks to her convictions. Yet, he also seems concerned because if anything, Peter is adaptable to the worst situations imaginable. Even if it means some not-so-pure actions. Etta tells her that she appreciates being left to her authority. (Since when did she call “Dad,” Peter?)
The trip for Peter and Etta is uneventful until they reach some elevators. An Observer (played by Vancouver actor, Mark Ferns. I and several fans met him when this episode was filming.) gives Peter a good look, and Peter looks scared, hoping he won’t be read. Thankfully, he and Etta don’t warrant a second thought.
After a snafu involving the code and access rights, they make their way into the building. It’s a true freak show, as they peer into the windows of the doors. Then Etta sees a sight that makes her and the entire audience breathless… Agent Simon Foster’s detached head blinking back at her in recognition.
As initially stated, I was disturbed by Etta’s callous attitude about torture. However, when I saw Simon’s detached head I, too, was calling for blood. It has been a long time since Fringe has made me truly nauseous and yes, I cried streams. Peter’s restraint of Etta was a self-preservation measure. They had a mission to complete. He pretty much stated that he’d do whatever it took to avenge what was done to Simon. They’d live to exact vengeance another day. Like others, I only hope that Simon can find a second life attached to a new body, much like Thomas Jerome Newton was able to do.
Peter restores the power. Back at the lab, Etta basically tells Olivia that she is weak, and that makes her easy to manipulate. Someone else once taunted Olivia about being weak. Newton. We saw how that turned out. Olivia’s talk with her daughter was very poignant. Olivia’s world was not easy, either. As far as we know, Etta has no clue that the other universe even exists and that her father is from there. What does she know of the great sacrifices made by her family to save the world?
Thankfully, her mother’s words, but most importantly her look, sunk in to the young woman. She let the man go; gave him some mercy. He shows that he is a changed man. No longer in fear of his life, he lets her know that he is switching sides. Fringe has always had an underlying theme of second chances and redemption. Who knows? That Loyalist may pay Etta back for her act of mercy.
“You said that I saw something in her eyes. You were right. There was a certainty that I’ve never seen before. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Once again, Olivia’s eyes hold something special. What seems like ages ago, Peter once said that she was haunted and carried the weight of her burdens. But this is why he loved her and still does. Olivia cares too damned much to roll over and die, and she cares too much to sit back and watch her daughter destroy herself in anger.
In times of war, humanity has to win over barbarism. Think back to Olivia’s situation when she was trapped in the alternate universe in season three. She was seen as an enemy, but Henry Higgins—the cab driver—risked himself to help her, and we saw what happened to poor, alternate Broyles. After looking into her eyes, he decided that, "In the end, I have to believe in hope."
Olivia brought the best out in Peter, as he so fondly told her in “Welcome to Westfield.” Will she do the same for their daughter?
Olivia shows great relief that her daughter listened and did the right thing. That she saw “Pity. For all of us” in her eyes. But this is not over, by a long shot. Instead of Daddy issues, the tables are reversed and we have a clashing mother/daughter dynamic.
Were there other factors in play, other than Etta’s disappearance that widened the rift between Olivia and Peter? There is a new one definitely forming in these early stages since they were reunited. This brewing parental conflict is going to be one bizarre "love triangle."
I have a feeling she and Peter are going to play tug-of-war with Etta. Peter is more likely to resort to less-than-humane tactics; especially after seeing the fate of the man that essentially gave his life for him. Peter had no trouble rationalizing his killing of shapeshifters in “Reciprocity,” dismissing them as soldiers sent to kill and “not even human.”
In “The Day We Died,” Peter and Olivia exchanged their thoughts on starting a family. Peter was hopeful, but Olivia felt adamant that they should not bring children into their dying world. Peter may have saved two universes and Olivia’s life, but he is now faced with a broken family. He and Olivia have their child but it’s almost unbearable to her that she was not raised by them, and her world is a brutal place. Joshua Jackson had mentioned that he thought that Peter would choose a dystopian world with Etta instead of a perfect world without her. Does Olivia feel that way?
At this stage, they have to push aside all of these issues for something far more important. Walter’s tape confirms that all parts of the plan are recorded on various tapes, scattered elsewhere. Walter has always hidden things in various places so this is no surprise. But where?