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Fringe Season Five: Five Questions About “In Absentia”

Our second week in the year 2036 saw Peter and Olivia struggling to come to terms with what has happened in their absence, and just what their daughter has turned into. As we also try to get used to the future, we have some questions of our own. Five of them, in fact, about last night’s “In Absentia.”

What Happened To Etta?
This episode opened with a replay of Etta’s disappearance, but instead of the flashback we saw last week from Peter’s point of view, this week we saw it from Olivia’s. Things weren’t incredibly different, but it was enough to make me wonder: Is this going to be something that’ll repeat each week? Will we keep seeing variations on this week after week? And, if so, when do we get to see Etta’s point of view, and the revelation of where she actually disappeared to back in 2015?

Why Can’t The Observers Un-Amber Things?
They must have realized by now that Walter et al ambered important things that they didn’t want the Observers to have access to, and the fact that Walter’s lab was protected by checkpoints would suggest that they’d seen Walter’s lab at some point… So why didn’t they de-amber the lab? The Observers can travel though, and manipulate, time: Shouldn’t this be easy for them? Is there some reason why they don’t release the amber? After all, if Etta could do it, then surely it can’t be that hard. So what is going on here?

Are The Resistance The Good Guys?
“I’m not going to get to walk away from this,” says the captured loyalist, in the middle of being tortured by an apparently unrepentant – and definitely unsympathetic – Etta. So, we now know that the resistance are torturers, which… is slightly morally dubious. When Walter sees the device that Etta used to torture the loyalist, he asks “How could the resistance create such a barbaric device?” “We didn’t,” Etta says. “The loyalists did.” But, really, how can we believe her without any kind of proof? There is more to the resistance than meets the eye, I think (No “eye” pun intended). For that matter…

Is Etta A Good Guy?
“I know you like to be in control,” Etta told Olivia at one point. “So do I.” Was that a moment of bonding, or a subtle warning to tell Olivia to back off? Etta is certainly more hard-edged than Olivia expected, what with the torturing and the “Whatever It Takes To Beat The Observers” attitude (Seriously, that exchange with Olivia about her “weakness”? Wow). The question is, even if Etta isn’t working for the Observers (And, really, do we know for sure that she’s not?), is she someone that can be trusted by the Fringe team to do the right thing, even if we don’t know what the right thing necessarily is? Then again, she did let the loyalist go… Hello, moral ambiguity.

What Is The Plan?
“It will restore us,” said videotaped Walter from the past, introducing the plan – But what does that actually mean? Is it also time travel of some sort (After all, September helped come up with the plan, so that’s not impossible) that would mean that the Observers never invaded? Or just something that would remove the Observers’ influence moving forward? And, for that matter, how will the team find the next tape?


  • dusk

    The better question is, why would the Observers want to de-amber the lab, or anything, really? Nobody in the resistance figure out how to de-amber for so many years. The amber is pretty much the best way to keep unwanted people/stuff locked up. Isn’t that why they didn’t care whether or not merchants were selling those people trapped in amber?

  • Michael Sacal

    isn’t the invasion a paradox of some kind? shouldn’t the observers have evolved naturally on earth? aren’t they changing their history by invading the past? btw, observers is what the FBI called them, but what do they call themselves?

  • Knut Robert Knutsen

    “So, we now know that the resistance are torturers, which… is slightly morally dubious.”

    But not unexpected. While there may have been some “gentleman resistance fighters” during WWII and that’s how movies and TV like to portray them, this behaviour is entirely consistent with the behaviour of the most hardline resistance fighters. Especially the Communist resistance in Europe who viewed the 2nd World War as starting with the Spanish Civil War in 1936. They’d casually stab “collaborators” down in the street and walk away if the opportunity presented itself.

    The evil of the axis powers was viewed in  hindsight as legitimizing the extremes of the resistance and whitewashing it morally. That doesn’t make each action less morally dubious, but it makes it understandable.

    Whatever moral transgressions Etta and the resistance commit, we may be perfectly justified in asking whether that was the best way to do it. But in the end all such moral dilemmas come down to whether action was necessary and whether it worked. First you win, then you get to feel bad about how you won.   

  • Vincent Clarke

    You can’t actually change your past through time traveling. Any alterations create an alternate timeline. If you travel to the past and kill your grandfather you don’t cease to exist, you just kill an alternate version of your grandfather and insure that you won’t be born in the alternate timelines future. Your original past still exists in your original timeline, which remains unaltered.
    Thus, the Observers come from an alternate future and aren’t in any way changing their actual future.
    Got a headache yet? ;-)

  • Ian

    I’m feeling hard pressed to finish this series out.  I mean, the show has morphed from the FBI Fringe Division team to a ragtag band of essentially time travelling resistance fighters on a hunt for secret beta-max tapes that have the cumulative answer to save the world from evil bald telepaths that have a thing for dirty air?  WAH?

    I just have too many other shows on my DVR to want to finish out this show I think.  Fringe has simply gotten ridiculous.

  • Demoncat4

    myabe the amber is the observers weakness their powers do not work on it .  plus the fact walter used old acient tech like video tapes to hide the plan shows that walter  is still smarter then he is letting on as he always has done.

  • Cjorg2

    There are no laws regarding time travel – Star Trek is littered with inconsistencies regarding the usage (the latest film’s approach is significantly different from say the film in which the next generation crew battle the Borg back in time, or the original Star Trek.)  Looper’s approach to time travel also makes no sense, as does the Terminator universe.

    You seem to subscribe to the Bronze Age Marvel Universe understanding of time travel, which I personally also like, but at the end of the day there are no rules. Just bad writers who don’t think out their stories properly.

  • Jumbotron

    Yeah, I hate to agree but, much as I loved Fringe in Seasons 2 and 3, I feel like I’m just dragging myself through the current episodes because the end is close and I want to see how things turn out.  Doesn’t even feel like the same show any more; just the actors, character names and a few general concepts from the ‘old’ Fringe slapped onto an entirely new series.

  • Sam Robards, Comic Fan

    Does anyone wonder what’s at the address the loyalist gave to Olivia? He admitted he didn’t have a son, so where was he trying to send Olivia?

  • Lunatics On Pogosticks

     But for some reason Im enjoying it way more then season 4.

  • Lunatics On Pogosticks

     But I do also think its ridiculous in intself to say Frine has become ridiculous of late,its always been whacky pseudo science tinkering on the verge of it.

  • Michael Sacal

    how time travel works is relative to the individual work of fiction. the rules that work in the Marvel Universe don’t necessarily apply to Doctor Who, Back to the Future, or viceversa. In Fringe, we saw history be changed last season, and that didn’t create an alternate timeline, it altered the past. Peter spent the bulk of season four under the belief that he was in an alternate timeline and that he could go back to “his” Olivia, only to ultimately discover that what actually happened was that time had been rewritten and the Olivia, Walter, Astrid, et all he met upon his return were actually the same people he knew before, but with an altered history.

    How does that not apply to the Observers?

  • Michael Sacal

    another example would be Back to the Future 2, in which Biff gave himself the almanac, which changed the future from 1955 onwards. The past before that point remained the same, but the future after it changed, which is why Marty and Doc Brown could not go back to 2015 to stop Old Biff from stealing the DeLorean. Similarly, once the Observers went back in time to 20??, they changed every future event that followed, thus altering the present from which they originated, just like Old Biff changed the 2015 from which he originated to one in which Lorraine shot him years earlier and he vanished from existance shortly after he exited the time machine.

  • Michael Sacal

    99.99999999999999999999999999999999% of Star Trek time travel stories involve changing the timeline and altering the present.

  • Vincent Clarke

     I was working off of my (admittedly simple and relatively uninformed) understanding of one of the current theories of how time-travel would actually work in the real world. Admittedly, it’s just a theory and there’s a billion different ways that time-travel have been employed in works of fiction (including prior uses in Fringe), but I thought I’d throw that out there as a reason for why the Observers possibly are a product of natural (or even forced) evolution in their time-line, and how their presence in Olivia’s time-line wouldn’t necessarily impact the Observers original history.

  • Slburn

    I’m thinking Peter is still the key to ending the threat of the Observers. They went out of their way to make sure he was erased from the timeline setting into motion the events that followed – the rewritten timeline of Season 4 – and when the show ends I’m thinking we will partly be thrown back to the original timeline of the first three seasons.

  • Anna

    From history we know that all sides in war are evil and cruel, no one is in war without using dirty tricks, and everyone has an excuse for doing so.

    It depends on the culture how they want to inflict the pain, and strangely enough the US maybe the only Western country that has a CIA thatt tortures people to get evidence in peacetime.

    The head on the stick was something done in the Middle Ages , and removing brains as well,
    And the treatment of people with mental illnesses is equal to the most horrific torture.

    I do not like Etta as a character, and dislike the cold, one-dimensional acting of Georgina Haig, no facial expressions, nothing in her eyes, it is the cliche american cop girl acting (i know she is Australian, but from a tvschool)
    Strangely enough she does not get the bashing, Anna Torv did get for her beautiful indepth wounded , but sometimes harsh Olivia Dunham.

    Conclusion, it is the make-up and blue eyes , why G. Haig gets away with it, anyone notice that she wears far more make-up than Anna Torv?

    Both Etta and Haig profit from all the hard work Anna Torv did in creating Olivia Dunham, now Anna gets to see that Fringe writers do know how to write a backstory for a woman ,
    only they did not want to do it for her.

    They have spent more time on Etta in 2 episodes than they did in 4 seasons of Olivia.

    Anna Torv showed how you truly give depth to a character, and she now plays Olivia, 38 extra burdened by the war in 2016 and losing her child ( note Walter, Peter and Astrid behave as if nothing happend)

    For an actress to have to play a mother of someone only a few years younger, ungreatful job, but Anna totally brings it across, thanks to her it works.

    I want to hope that Olivia will be special and teh Chosen One, but from Wymans drooling over Etta I am certain that Etta will be that One, and Olivia only used to create her.
    All the corteauphan as a child and later, only for being used, once again.

  • Anna

    Picasso Guernica, was a reaction to the bombing of a small town in Spain  by Hitler, to do a litle test for the big War, at the request of Franco.

    The Civil war in Spain was a sort of testing ground for the big thing later, on the Nazi side but also the West.
    Communists being more harsh, seems a US view on communists.

    Traitors in the resistence were killed, Gestapo were equal to Japan in cruel torture,

    But I see the CIA in peace-time being just as cruel. 

    Spanish civil war has right versus left, and both were equally cruel, the main difference that right was the government with the church, so their actions were covered up,
    that is why so many people in Spain are still looking for their family in mass graves, those on the leftside(poor people)
     Added to that the right also claimed the property of those they ruled.

    We can go back to slavery in torturing people, and before that to invading Latin-America, or colonialism.

    The second World War had it seeds in the ending of the First, the so-called peace treaty put Germany in poverty.

    And the seeds of the First world War lies in the industrial revolution and the using of people, the protests there resonate 100 years later, as we have the same using of people in globalisation,
    and with that a few on the top getting everything.

    Wyman has stated that he sees this as a Vichy regime, he should do some reading on that, Vichy is not a thing to be proud of in France.

    But throughout Europe you had those working with the nazis, to save their skin, or out of idealism ; you had those trying to survive under occupation, and you had those going into the resistence.
    Those were sometimes idealists, quite often adventurers, and using a lot of the same methods.

  • Michael Sacal

    That’s cool.

    The question remains, though, why is it that when Future Peter and Future Walter went back in time to the prehistoric period they changed history (thus becoming The First Ones), but when The Observers do it they don’t cancel themselves out? Is it a set paradox that makes time/history a loop, or are they using some sort of MaGuffin like The Master did in Doctor Who when he stole the TARDIS?

  • Juliea123

    IMO fringe has gotten ridiculous. It has become a one-themed show instead of the interesting show that started out. Also why whould Olivia’s daughter wear her hair the same way as olivia some 30 years later-it is just silly