“In Absentia” began by mirroring the opening sequence of last week’s premiere, with a dream-recollection of the day the world went cold, this time from Olivia’s point of view. Her daughter, Etta, was blowing dandelion seeds. The man she loved was basking in the sun. “I could stay here forever,” Peter said. Party pooper Olivia pulled away from her paperback and said no, they couldn’t. They had to go home.
Homecoming-- the essential theme of “In Absentia,” expressed in various ways.
A skyscraper disintegrated, The
Observers Invaders materialized, Etta disappeared. Observageddon 2015 – the apocalyptic 9/11 of the Fringe-verse. Olivia regained consciousness in the triage tent, ears ringing, straining to hear Peter. What the hell happened? Where were the children? Where was Etta –
New York City, 2036. The morning after Olivia’s amber extraction. Former special agent Dunham was in Etta’s apartment, trembling from a memory of a moment that -- from her perspective -- had only happened months earlier, but historically occurred 21 years ago. Peter tried to soothe her: “She’s here. We’re here. We’re okay.” For those who live on the Fringe, just being alive to fight another day, for another day, was the very definition of “okay” being.
Oh, but everything wasn’t “okay.” S—t happened during Olivia’s epic amber nap. Things had changed, for the worse, and in response, people had changed, and not for the better. Case in point: Etta. Raised in dystopia; warped by the harshness Observer-ordered society; unshaped by her missing parents. Olivia would come to understand the woman her daughter had become. And what momma saw, momma did not like.
It was a bottle episode plot, a budget-season chamber drama – that chamber being the Fringe squad’s old HQ, Walter’s Harvard lab. They trekked there on a hunch that he had documented the Operation: Observer-Purge plan he cooked up with September back in 2015, the one that Windmark erased from his brain in the premiere. The Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11 was of no use, no matter how many times he crowned his noggin with the mechanical memory extractor. All that came out of him was expressive aphasia or Pentecostal xenoglossy – scrambled rambles about Macy’s sales and Christmas trees, strands of Swedish and Portuguese. Good thing Olivia was back in the fold, for she could remember what the brilliant but cracked scientist and no one else could – that Walter kept notes about everything. Maybe he left some in the lab. Maybe they were still there -- provided the lab was still there, in the same condition as Walter left it 21 years earlier.
But getting into Harvard was going to be a challenge, and not in a 1600 SAT sort of way. Etta reported that about five years ago, for reasons unknown, The Invaders locked down the university, and were using it for… something. The bad baldies had set up a 4 mile “no-go zone” around the entire Longwood campus.
Bah! “That’s not a problem for someone who’s done acid!” Walter declared madly. He knew of “mysterious passageways” – steam pipe tunnels. They found an entry point buried in an overgrown lot, just beyond the perimeter. Walter opened a Hatch. He beamed. “Yahtzee!”
The underground passages were unpatrolled, so they traversed them undetected. They followed graffiti markers – crimson fork-tongued dragons – that were most likely painted by Walter back in the day, when he and Belly roamed these tunnels in an altered state, their heads full of Moody Blues. "Acid" + "Dragon" = Acid Dragon, a French prog rock music mag. "Steam" + "Dragon" = Smoke Monster. Or Smaug. And then there is physicist John Archibald Wheeler's "Great Smoky Dragon" -- but more about him later.
Of course, a dragon marker is also a warning. HIC SVNT DRACONES. Here Be Dragons. Denoting dangerous, unexplored territories. Ominous. What awaited our heroes within the Terra Incognita of the Invader-occupied Science Building? What secrets? What monsters?
They found Walter’s lab, unmolested, like a derelict Dharma Station waiting to be discovered. Half of it dirty with cobwebs and dust, the other half sealed in amber. Among the stuff trapped within: Sticks of alien licorice ("When did I switch to grape!?" Walter wondered) and a Betamax video recorder mounted on a tripod. Had Walter recorded the plan on tape? They needed to get it out to find out. (Was Gene frozen inside, too? I wondered...)
NEXT: Radzinsky in the house!