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Fringe: 'In Absentia,' and the Importance of Olivia

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Olivia Dunham's greatest strength has always been her ability to remain still.

No matter how insane things got in her job and in her personal life, her talent for keeping herself absolutely calm in the face of it all has served her and her team well (and in those instances when she lost it, that's when you knew things were really bad). When Friday night's story took a turn away from the big picture and toward the smaller one, we momentarily feared she was being cast in some sort of messianic role; that she was somehow meant to teach her daughter, and by extension, the rest of the world of 2036, just what it means to make moral choices in a time of war. We started getting annoyed with her. After all, she's been literally out of it for the last two-plus decades and she's a stranger to this world, unlike Etta, who's had to live and fight in it her whole life (which brings up the major question of just what Etta's been doing with herself for the past 20 years). Who is she to get all preachy with anyone? But by the end of the episode, Etta did learn the lesson Olivia was trying to impart, not because Olivia pleaded with her or made long speeches espousing the correct point of view, but because Olivia remained perfectly still while her daughter's hardness was revealed to her. And then, instead of lecturing her, merely quietly revealed her own despair at what has become of her. Only Olivia could have changed Etta's mind. No one else was capable of it. It was a wonderful summation of the character's strengths as well as a perfect way to place her in this new world. Peter will fight and Walter will go off on grand tangents with wild ideas, but Olivia will remain calm and true, acting as a rudder for the team as she guides them toward their destiny. Love that.

Now, we'll be annoyed if that's the end of that particular discussion. No one who grew up in a time of war is going to suddenly change everything about themselves simply because their long-lost mother shows up and registers her disappointment. But we have faith in the writers this season and they seem to be setting this up as one of the major themes. As Olivia put it best, it's not just about what the Observers did to people; it's also about what they took away from them. Last week's theme was hope and this week's theme was morality. We suppose they're going to cycle through the various other concepts listed in the new credits, like free will, due process, and ownership.

Which brings us to our next point: A quest! A quest for Walter's long lost BetaMax tapes! Is that not the most perfect thing in the history of ever? We love a good quest tale and this one looks to be a lot of fun. We were worried that this season was going to be a directionless and depressing slog through dystopia, but this new hook immediately raised our expectations.

And it also looks like the season won't be spent entirely in 2036, which pleases us quite a bit. Flashbacks are slowly doling out the details and we're dying to know what exactly happened to Henrietta after Peter and Olivia lost her and who took care of her while they were off doing their Jurassic Park mosquito routine. We want to believe that Etta is the ally she appears to be, but there's an awful lot un-answered and this episode made it clear that it's very hard to tell who's being truthful about what in this world. Yes, the loyalist guy lied about having a son (but what's the deal with that address he gave Olivia?), but are we so sure Etta let him go just because she saw the disappointment in her mother's eyes?

And speaking of eyes (which were something of a motif this week), we have to make one final note about the casting of Henrietta. She has Olivia's face (and her fondness for tight leather jackets), with Peter's eyes. It's hard as a viewer to keep up the suspension of disbelief when a show goes gleefully off its own rails like this, but every time Olivia and Etta interacted in a scene together it was never hard to believe that this 25-year-old woman is the daughter of the two 30-year-olds in the scene. An offspring character is not required to look exactly like the parent characters, but in this instance, the resemblance is so eerie that it helps the story tremendously.

Last week was all action-oriented and we loved it. This episode was almost entirely character-based and we loved it as much, if not more. So far, we have no reason not to believe this season's going to be an awesome sendoff for the show. But please, writers, let's not forget about Astrid.

Now, who's willing to throw out theories as to what Walter's long lost master plan really is?