Fringe Season 5 Review “In Absentia”

Whenever a television show tackles dramatic world change, there is always some time devoted to the shift in morality that occurs as a result of the new world order. This week, Fringe spent a great deal of time looking at the moral ambiguity represented by Etta. In these cases, network shows will always side with the moral high ground because it’s safer and has broader appeal. Regardless of how little sense it tends to make, the bleeding heart will eventually either override the darker tendencies of their compatriots or be proven that their way is the best way. It’s never interesting and often seems ridiculous. Unfortunately, Fringe fell right into that same trap this week.

The most disappointing part of the episode was the show’s decision to have Etta let the Loyalist leave. Once again, the idea that this woman whom she has never known, regardless of their relation to one another, can sway her outlook on the world in a manner of two days doesn’t seem credible. Again, I have to wonder how this would play out over the course of a standard 22 episode order instead of a seemingly rushed 13. I’m beginning to see that it’s just too hard to establish a world, introduce new characters, and build relationships in a half-season order. More time was needed for these stories. As a result, the rushed nature of these storylines take credibility from the characters, and make new characters like Etta far less interesting.

I think that point surprised me the most of all: Networks typically stray from moral ambiguity. Networks want to pull in the broadest audience possible, and you can’t pull them all in if the “good guy/gal” on your show is icing other people in cold blood. If they get killed in the line of action, that’s fine, but the rule tends to be that you can’t kill someone if they are unarmed and pleading for their life. But with the definite end date in place, Fringe should feel free from those trappings. Clearly, they want to invest a lot in this relationship with Olivia and Etta. However, the relationship becomes infinitely more interesting, and Etta becomes far more compelling, if she drives the Loyalist out into a field and shoots him. If they didn’t want to do that, they could have at least had Olivia walk into a trap set by the Loyalist with the address of his son. I would take anything that would allow the two characters (and the audience) to see that maybe the person who has been living in the world for the past 21 years knows a little more about the current state of affairs than the woman who spent that entire period of time in amber. It was an opportunity to do something truly interesting, but Fringe opted for the easy way out. Clearly, the show only wants to have our good guys save the world and put their family back together. That’s fine, but why not swing for the fences in your last at-bat?

Though the main thrust of the episode was frustrating for me, it was encouraging to see the fun return to Fringe. As usual, the show leaned heavily on John Noble to carry them through the non-Olivia parts of the episode with his typical blend of whimsical humor and below the surface intensity. A lot of parts of this episode played like one of those old school Fringe episodes: Walter does all sorts of crazy science things in the Harvard lab that aid the Fringe team in their assault on a building, group of people, etc. Still, I can’t help but notice how poorly the Observers guard everything. Those guys really are heavily reliant on their ocular scans. Also, with all of the videos that they trotted out as part of their viral campaign before the season, how are the Observers unable to recognize Etta or Peter? As always, the devil is in the details, and Fringe doesn’t have a good handle on them right now. It’s a fun romp through an intriguing idea, but there are just too many inconsistencies to ignore.

What did everyone else think about tonight’s Fringe?