Even if I don’t particularly care for the direction that this final season of ‘Fringe’ is taking, I’m certainly not going to drop the series now, five years in and so close to its conclusion. This puts me I a position where I’m forced to accept and evaluate each episode for what it is, regardless of its placement and relevance to the mess that the show’s greater mythology has become. To that end, Friday’s episode was… OK, I guess.
Walter still can’t remember his plan to defeat the Observers, despite using the Thought Unifier thingamajig. The Observers have wrecked his mind too much. As ‘In Absentia’ starts, he hopes that he may have written down or left record of what he’d been doing before freezing himself in amber. This seems rather foolish. If the plan was so important that he had to scramble his own brain to prevent anyone else from getting it, why would he have just left notes about it scattered around his lab? Nonetheless, he wants to go back to Harvard to search. There’s just one problem: The Observers have been using Harvard as a base of operations, and the whole college is heavily secured. “That’s not a problem for someone who’s done acid,” Walter declares.
Conveniently, the university has a secret tunnel system beneath its buildings that only Walter knows about. He, Peter, Olivia, Astrid and Etta sneak into his old lab, only to find half the room ambered. Among the items frozen in stasis is a video camera. Walter must have taped the plan! In order to get the camera out, Walter breaks apart an old Laserdisc player (cue funny quip: “Criterion Collection, forgive me!”) in order to use its laser to cut through the amber. Apparently, the show’s writers have no idea how weak the laser in a videodisc player actually is. Walter fires the thing like a ‘Star Trek’ phaser.
While working on this, the team is interrupted by a security guard, a human “Loyalist” named Gael (Eric Lange, who played the nutty Radzinsky on ‘Lost’). They capture him, and Etta tortures him with a device that causes him to age rapidly. He feeds Olivia a sob story about how he only became a Loyalist in order to protect his son. Olivia sympathizes, and tries to talk Etta into letting him live, but Etta is extremely hardened and cynical. She believes that Gael is lying. Long story short: Etta eventually has a change of heart and lets him go, even though Gael admits that he never had a son. Olivia got through to her daughter. A grateful Gael promises that he’s going to join the Resistance.
Walter eventually frees the camera and plays the Betamax cassette inside. On it is a message that he recorded years earlier, in which he explains that the pieces of the plan are hidden on not one, but a series of videotapes that he’ll have to retrieve. This would seem to set up the rest of the season, which will be devoted to a treasure hunt where Walter and the gang search for all of his secret tapes in order to put the whole plan together. How very ‘National Treasure’.
The episode plot is coherent enough (a rarity on ‘Fringe’ these days) and has a few decent character moments. (It’s nice to see Walter with a sense of humor again.) But this treasure hunt thing is so hacky I can’t stand it. I hate to say it, but I think I wish that ‘Fringe’ had been canceled at the end of Season 3.