Season 5 of Fringe can’t truly be judged until we see how all the storytelling and planning comes together, as well as whether or not we feel the ending was earned and justified. (See Lost, season 6 for how to fail at that; see Chuck, season 5 for how it can work tremendously.)
But one tenet that will determine final judgment, of course, is what we think of Etta. She’s now a regular cast member and a central player. But we had never met her before one singular episode last season and so there’s a lot of ground to cover with her before the end.
Would she come out of the gates right away and make an incredible impact the way John Noble did with Walter even in the first episode? Would she grow into her role, as Olivia’s portrayer did? Or would she, you know, be lame?
Luckily it’s not the latter. And it’s seem more like she’s not going to need to grow into the role over time—she makes a huge impact in this episode and seems primed to do more later on in the season.
Peter, Walter, Olivia and Astrid only see a few years of the Observer’s rule over the planet. It’s pretty bad—of course it is. But they skipped a few decades and didn’t suffer the way others have.
So Olivia wants to believe a man, grieving over her son the way her own husband did, would make a difficult decision to join the enemy. It’s why she gives him the benefit of the doubt and wants to get him to change.
And it’s also why she’s shocked and appalled to see her own daughter torture someone else just to get information. More importantly—the torture she inflects, is permanent. It’s not like the pain will go away. She has now ruined that person’s life. And she didn’t seem that bothered by it.
We don’t see the entirety of the last twenty some odd years that drove Etta, raised initially by decent and loving parents, to this kind of decision. (Perhaps we will in future episodes?) While we see her grief over her partner’s, well, decapitation, it’s a brief moment and she had already tortured her prisoner by that point.
So, like Olivia and Peter and the rest, we still don’t know the horrors that Etta has seen. So we, likely, are sickened by the methods she takes. Maybe if we knew what she went through, we would sympathize with the hard choices she makes more.
While the actress sells all the highs and lows Etta demonstrates in this episode, it was almost a bridge too far when we see Etta let her prisoner go, instead of turning him over to the Resistance which would outright kill him.
What makes their final scene work, however, is that both prisoner and capturer are honest with each other. He admits he lied about the son because he wanted to survive. And he joined the Loyalists not out of some grieving parental act. No… he did it because he was a coward, and again, wanted to survive.
That decision and that viewpoint, was endlessly more fascinating to watch and hear, as opposed to what I was expecting the Fringe producers would do—have him pull out a weapon, twirl a mustache and call in the Observers to come collect Etta.
While our heroes get what they need to start what sounds like a treasure hunt for the pieces of a plan to take down the Observers, they are starting to come to grips with how truly awful this future is. Then again, maybe the victory isn’t what they discovered in Walter’s lab – which basically amounts to a Hero’s Call and gung-ho speech – but more the moral victory that was achieved when Etta chose hope and freedom over vengeance and death.
Two other thoughts:
– Weren’t they taking a huge risk with that laser when they were trying to cut through the amber to get to the video camera? What if they had miscalculated and burned it up?
– Sorry for the Lost reference above, but since Desmond and Razinsky were both in this episode, it seemed awfully appropriate…