It seemed as if the observers had destroyed Walter’s mind at the end of last week’s episode of Fringe, as he wandered down a street in his pants and listened to some music while sitting in a car. But it appears that they just scrambled his memories, making the plan he had to stop the observers become fractured in his mind, and the transilience thought unifier isn’t working (although it is making him speak Swedish and Portuguese).
Olivia knows Walter’s methods though, and wonders if he would have written anything down. If he had, it would still be at Harvard, but the university is now a no go area, as the observers have taken it over for unknown reasons. But as Walter points out, that’s not a problem for people who’ve taken acid, because he knows about tunnels that run under the campus buildings and can get them into the laboratory undetected. When they reach the laboratory, they discover that Walter ambered it to keep the observers out. But they find Walter’s old betamax camera trapped in the amber, and try to find a way to carve it out, hoping to find tape inside that could help them.
Before they can figure out a way of getting the camera out of the amber, they are interrupted by the arrival a loyalist guard. They’re able to get the drop on him, but they still face a problem; finding a way to get the camera out of the amber. They need to switch the power back on in lab, and find a laser strong enough to melt the amber around the camera, but the only way of doing that is by getting to a substation in the science building of the campus. The problem with this is that they don’t know what the observers are using the campus for, but Etta thinks the guard will, and she decides to interrogate him.
This is a key part of the episode, as we discover the difference between Etta and Olivia. Despite being mother and daughter, Etta appears to be a much less compassionate woman than Olivia, and she’s not interested in reasoning with the guard. She produces a device that immediately changes his demeanour. He recognises it and fears it, and we sound find out why, as one blast of the device appears to age the guard significantly, with Etta warning him that he won’t have much time left to waste unless he starts answering her questions. When Walter notices a pigeon in the lab, Olivia realises something, and wants to speak to Etta. She discovers Etta is using the ‘angel device’ a machine that disrupts every atom in the body of the person it is being used on, significantly reducing their life at full charge. Olivia is disturbed by Etta’s tactics, but Etta tells her that it’s the only way to get loyalists to tell the truth and warns Olivia not to get to close to the guard, who will lie to her in order to try and get his freedom.
Walter calls Etta away, giving Olivia the chance to use her compassion to appeal to the guard. If he tells her what he knows, she’ll make sure Etta doesn’t take any more of his life away from him. He tells Olivia a story about his son and why he joined the loyalists, but while Olivia seems to believe him, Etta still thinks he is a liar. When he agrees to tell them about the science building, there’s a slight drawback. A two part code is required to gain entry. The first part is a simple number combination, but the second is a little more tricky; ocular scanners on every door.
At first it seems like the only solution might be to whip out the guard’s eye and have Peter (who’ll be posing as the guard) carry it around, but Walter has an alternative solution. He can work with pig’s eyes to create a replica of the guards. He can’t quite make them match exactly, so it’s a case of wait and see (pun intended) when Peter gets to a scanner. The plan needs a bit of improvisation when the fake eye does work, but the guard isn’t supposed to be in that sector, but he tells the other guards what they need to hear, and Peter and Etta are able to switch the power back on in the lab, and Walter and Astrid can release the camera.
They find that Walter did in fact record a message on the camera, telling whoever is watching that a series of tapes will help them find the answer to stopping the observers. It still seems like Etta is determined that the guard has to die, but when she takes him out to the countryside, she instead lets him go. It’s clear that she’s learnt something from Olivia, and the guard promises that he’ll join the resistance.
Like the first episode of the final season, ‘In Absentia’ is tighter than previous episodes of Fringe. There are interesting character moments throughout, but the team are solving problems more quickly than in the past, and are ready to move on to the next challenge by the end of each episode. It’s a very good start to a season that promises much.