Dum spiro, spero.
“While I breathe, I hope.” This Latin phrase could be the rallying cry of any resistance movement thus is especially perfect for the core message delivered by Olivia Dunham in the second episode of Fringe: The Final Season.
For one moment we’re able to forget. We‘re able to forget and be taken in by the glimpse of happiness and contentment we see as Peter, Olivia, and Etta share a moment together. The day in the park, the same snippet of time we saw in last week’s season premiere right before the Observer invasion. This time it’s Olivia’s dream—or nightmare—we’re dropped in the middle in before Peter wakes her. Though 20 years have passed since that day, it’s only been a few months for the couple; the grief of losing their daughter, despite Etta alive and well now, still haunts them.
But there is no time to dissect the memories for time is not on their side. They join the rest of the crew in the kitchen of their current hideout and find Walter testing out the Thought Unifier. Though not where they want it to be, the device shows its ability to access buried parts of Walter’s brain (evidently Portuguese and Swedish had been on mad scientist’s docket of knowledge). Tempering Walter’s frustration, Olivia, knowing his proclivity for documentation, suggests he must have written something down about the plan and what better way to look than his Harvard lab. Etta informs the group—with a voice inflection and mannerisms eerily similar to her mother—that the Ivy League university has been taken over by the Observers and converted into some type of base, impossible to get into without detection. Fear not, Walter to the rescue! He knows of the tunnels leading under the university, perfect for their objective.
They use the tunnels to get to Walter’s lab only to find the majority of it encased in amber. After a bit of searching Walter spots hisThe team makes their way to Walter’s old lab
Betamax camcorder staring back at him. Walter surmises he’d taken some sort of video pertaining to his formulation of The Plan but several feet of amber stand between it and the crew. A loyalist guard stumbles upon the group and they quickly take him into custody. As Etta trusses up the unwelcomed guest, Walter says he’ll need a laser to cut through the amber. “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” he offers smartly, again showcasing that, while he’s not wholly himself, he is much further along than the broken man we’d come to know over the last four years.
While the others work on the laser problem, Etta interrogates the loyalist about the contents of the Science Building. When she pulls out a device similar to the shifter technology, the guard (later to be identified as Manfretti) gets a bit nervous. It doesn’t take long to understand why; one shock charge and he’s aged more than a decade.
The disturbing reality of Etta’s actions are temporarily muted by Walter’s comical reluctance to crack open his laser disc player to obtain parts for the build-a-laser. When Olivia walks in on Etta’s interrogation she is appalled by the scene. The years and lost comrades has hardened Etta and her drive is more Jack Bauer than Buffy, understanding that in war, sometimes good people have to do bad things. That’s not to say we lose ourselves and stoop to the level of our enemies but we can’t always take the high road, especially against those like the Observers who outgun us in technology and biological abilities. There is a fine line, though and this is what worries Olivia; losing Etta to the hardness of war. When she leaves the room, Olivia tries to persuade Manfretti to give them the information they need. After she promises to contact his son, he gives in, telling her that the main power grid is located in the Science Building. He gives them the numerical portion of the access code but they also need his eye to pass scanners all the way through. Using a bit of creative ingenuity—and a large jar of pig eyes just lying about—Walter creates a replica of Manfretti’s eye. As he preps the eye, Olivia helps Peter get ready for the infiltration. He talks to her about how much the world has changed; they are out of their element but will need to understand this brave new world if they are to survive. With Etta’s earlier actions still weighing on her, Olivia admits she’s not sure whether she wants to understand such a bleak and brutal place.
As Peter and Etta start their trek to the main power grid (necessary to divert power for the laser to Walter’s lab) Manfretti gives Olivia his reasons for joining the occupational forces. He offers keeping his son safe as the driving factor but written in his eyes and tone is the fact that he’d given up hope and taken the path of least resistance. “The world would be a much safer place if you stop trying to fight them,” he tells her and that line is the blueprint for success so many dictators over the course of history have used to take control over populations.Peter and Etta infiltrate the Science building
When Peter and Etta use the faux eye for entry, Manfretti has to come through when they are questioned about accessing that particular area and he does before father and daughter are captured. Glancing through windows of test subjects, Etta is horrified to see the living head of Simon, her resistance partner and fringe agent, on display. It’s nearly too much for her and she nearly snaps but Peter is there to stop her. He vows to her the Observers will pay for the atrocities they’ve committed.
As they wait for Peter and Etta to reroute the power (which they successfully do)Manfretti asks Olivia if she thinks they can win. “We have to win,” she replies with such a quiet confidence that even a coward such as Manfretti is helpless to do nothing else than believe her. Peter returns with a distraught Etta, sharing what they saw with Olivia. We can see Etta is not herself—she’s tried turning it off, the emotion. Olivia tries to reach her and mother and daughter find out just how different they are. Olivia’s empathy is on full display and she tries reaching past the hardened soldier Etta has become to her daughter’s core.
Etta takes off with Manfretti while the others remove the camcorder from the amber. As she pulls off a country road, ready to kill him, Manfretti admits to his own cowardice as the reason to aligning with the Observers (he never had a son). When she offers to let him go we see that Olivia did in fact reach her. But that’s not the only person Olivia’s words touched. Manfretti vows to join the resistance, explaining the certainty he saw in Olivia’s eyes that they were meant to fight, to win. Etta admits that the pity she saw in her mother’s eyes for this world is what stayed her hand.
Back at the lab, the rest of the fringe crew watch the tape and, on it, Walter says there are three other tapes out there and all three are needed in order to complete The Plan to destroy the Observers. As they listen Etta messages Olivia, showing Manfretti going free. The recorded Walter implores those watching that they are humanity’s only hope.
Though it’s possible spending years in such a future world would eventually wear down even Olivia’s determination to win the right way, there’s something about her, something we’ve seen over the course of the show’s history that makes me believe she will always maintain that dogged determination. Ere have been many message board complaints on Olivia’s strength of character being lost during her romance with Peter, and being transformed into a caricature of herself. Though it may be only one episode, “In Absentia” proves that quiet resolve is just as effective, just as powerful as a constant declaration of one’s convictions. Olivia’s confidence and resolve will be the driving force to not only focusing her team into the tip of the spear, it will be the power behind the thrust into the Observer’s heart. For as Olivia lives and breathes, so goes the strength of her army.
Next Up: The quest for the three parts of Walter’s plans begin as the group is exposed to a leper-like colony.