Though last week's season 5 premiere, "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" was a complex outing with plenty of great character moments, it's easy to say that it was topped by "In Absentia," Friday's second episode of the season. While there weren't any beautifully reflective character moments like the premiere's final scene, "In Absentia" still dove headfirst into the developing relationship -- and tensions -- between the battle-hardened Etta and her fresh-out-of-amber parents.
The episode saw our heroes returning to their lab at Harvard, which was under Observer control. Hoping that Walter had left some indication of what September's plan was, the group crept back into the lab through the heating vents, dodging the Observers who had taken over campus. As they discovered the Betamax recorder that Walter had been using right before he ambered the lab, they were interrupted by an unexpected visitor -- loyalist soldier Gael Manfretti, played wonderfully by Eric Lange (or, as LOST fans know him, Radzinsky).
Before we go further, let's just talk about how great Georgina Haig is, shall we? She's anything but predictable as Etta, who revealed her much darker side this week as she tortured Manfretti by taking years off his life. Of course, she rationalizes her actions as necessary in wartime, but the fact remains: that's some pretty harsh stuff. It's hard to see how Etta's impulsiveness won't eventually get the best of her (after all, she is a recurring guest star, not a main cast member), but if she's done this much with a character in three episodes, I can't wait to see how much she evolves each week. She's Fringe's best discovery since Anna Torv.
As it turned out, Etta's torture of Manfretti did some good, though probably at too high of a cost. Acknowledging that he wouldn't make it out alive, Manfretti decided to help the team, telling them how to turn the lab's power back on so that Walter could power a laser to cut the Betamax recorder out of the amber. To get access, Walter manipulated a pig's eye to resemble Manfretti's, a scene that really pushed the boundaries of belief just a little bit.
With that done, Peter and Etta broke into the Harvard science building to turn on the power. There, the Observers are performing experiements on humans, in one of the most chilling sequences the show has ever done. Through one window, Etta sees her old friend, Simon Foster (Henry Ian Cusick), the man who helped Peter escape from the amber, decapitated (and reanimated) by the Observers. I don't know if Fringe has ever done anything quite this shocking to such a major character, but it definitely had the heartbreaking effect it was intended too. (And it's too bad -- I was hoping to see Henry Ian Cusick back on the show.) It's here that Etta's impulsiveness seems to hint at her eventual demise, but she's stopped from exacting revenge by Peter, who calms her so they complete the mission.
Manfretti makes Olivia promise to inform his son of his death, before he is taken by Etta to be given to the Resistance. Halfway through the journey, though, Etta decides to let Manfretti go, her mind having been changed by Olivia. Interestingly, Manfretti admits to not having a son, though he claims to be throwing his lot in with the resistance movement, Olivia having too changed his mind. Etta sends Olivia a video of Manfretti running away (with no Sprint logo on the phone! Whoa!), and Olivia seems reassured that her daughter is a good person.
Meanwhile, Walter plays the damaged video and discovers that he's hidden a series of tapes that have clues to September's plan. It looks like we've got a bit of a formula established for the season, now, though whether that actually sticks remains to be seen.
Overall, "In Absentia" was an even better than the season premiere, and another indication that Fringe's final season might also be its best.
Check back into TVRage for more Fringe news and reviews -- "The Recordist" airs Friday, October 12 on FOX.