'Fringe' recap: 'In Absentia' digs into Etta's psyche but not her history

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fringe-peter-uniform-etta-502.jpgWith only 13 episodes in the final season of "Fringe," one might assume that the show would pick up the pace in order to cram as much action and mythology into the remaining time -- but you'd be wrong. The second episode, titled "In Absentia," slowed things down. Without a concrete "freak of the week," the episode served to give us, and Olivia, a better understanding of Etta, while starting to draw a road map for the season's overarching mission.

Walter's brain: When the episode opens, Walter is using the Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11 again, but as it attempts to unify the fragmented plan in his mind, it seems to make him even more addled. He's pretty adamant about not taking it off, though. With all the manipulation of Walter's brain that's happened over the course of five seasons -- not to mention, you know, a whole bunch of drugs -- we're starting to have some concerns that the damage might go too far. He didn't even remember ambering the lab.

Loyalists vs. The Resistance:
Etta captured a Loyalist soldier and tortured him with an aging device in order to get him to tell them about the Harvard science building, which housed the power source they needed for their laser. Her methods were pretty ruthless, and revealed quite a bit about how vicious the war between the Loyalists and the Resistance has become. When we heard Etta say that the Resistance would "dispose" of Gale, our hearts broke a little bit. She barely batted an eye. This is not the little girl blowing dandelion seeds.

Mother vs. Daughter: Gale's story revealed weaknesses in both Olivia and Etta. Olivia's maternal instinct and her inexperience with the Loyalists left her extremely vulnerable to manipulation by the soldier -- she believed his elaborate lie because she didn't understand how bad things had gotten, and because she could relate to his worry that his son would always be waiting for him to come home. Etta, on the other hand, had his number right away and could easily pick out his lies -- but she still didn't see the humanity in him until her mother opened her eyes. Ultimately, it was Olivia's and Etta's trust in each other that helped them to meet in the middle and do the right thing by him.

Agent Foster: While in the Observer territory, Etta got a gruesome look at what's happened to her friend, Agent Simon Foster, who sacrificed himself to save the team last season. His disembodied head was hooked up to a disturbing contraption -- and then he blinked at her. She flew into a rage, as one might expect, but Peter used his Serious Dad Voice on her and she eventually came to her senses.

Etta's backstory: It seems like Peter and Olivia are so relieved to have Etta back, that they haven't bothered to ask the obvious questions. What happened to her that day in the park? Who raised her? How did she get into the Fringe Division? Why did the Observers target her when they arrived? Until we see some concrete evidence that she wasn't raised by Observers to be a double agent, we're going to hold her at an arm's length.

The plan to defeat the Observers: Walter didn't write his plan down -- that would be far too easy. Instead, he put it on a series of videotapes of himself. "It is important that you follow the tapes," he said -- and it felt as if he was speaking not only to his team, but to us as viewers. "You must begin this journey right away. You are humanity's only hope. Now, you must retrieve the first tape." (Seriously, it felt like the start of a video game.) It sets in motion the team's journey for the first part of the season: getting their hands on those videotapes, and then carrying out the plan as the tapes advise. But... where is that first tape?

While we're asking questions...
 

What's up with Etta's necklace? Once again, the writers made sure to draw our attention to Etta's necklace in this episode. She handed over the chain, but held onto the mangled bullet she's been wearing as a charm.
Could Agent Foster still return? That head blinked, y'all. We're not giving up hope.
Where is the rest of William Bell? We've got his hand, but we're curious about whether his head has also been removed from his body at this point -- and we still don't really get why

What did you think of the episode? Any theories brewing? Weigh in below!

Photo/Video credit: FOX