The Fringe Files – Episode 2: “Criterion Collection, Forgive Me”

Well this has been a long-time coming. Back in September, when I was figuring out what I wanted to blog about for the rest of the year, I came up with the idea for the “Fringe Files”. Fringe was entering its final season, so I wanted to write about every episode as it aired, like I did with Lost’s finale season. Only I stopped blogging and I stopped watching TV. Now that we’re in 2013, however, I’m getting back into the swing of things, and I’m finally starting the fifth and final season of Fringe, as the series finale airs later this week. So I thought that I may as well record my thoughts as I viewed, no matter how random and scattershot. So here we go. Spoilers, obviously, to follow.

Fringe 5×02 – “In Absentia”

“Criterion Collection, forgive me.”

I loved this episode, particularly because it reminded me so much of Lost. You can’t blame me, as it’s clearly something that the writer’s had in mind, what with that fantastic “hatch shot” (which I have to believe was an intentional reference to the season 1 finale of Lost) and Walter’s damaged old video that revealed crucial plot information (Walter prefers Betamax to a projector). The video was even found inside of the “hatch”, which was actually just Walter’s old lab at Harvard. There were other, more subtler things that also brought Lost to my mind: We got a flashback that treated us to more back story (okay, that one’s a bit of a stretch), Desmond’s blinking, severed head (I guess this means that Cusick’s Agent Simon Foster won’t be joining us for these final 11 episodes, which is a shame), Eric Lange as Manfretti (Lange played Radzinsky in Lost), and a visit to an old, familiar location (Walter’s lab). Okay, that last one was also a bit of a stretch, but I can’t help but think of Lost’s final season and how cyclical it was, bringing back locations, characters, and plot points from the first season, and I wonder if the Fringe writers aren’t trying something similar.


This episode gives us a bit of road map as to how the rest of the season is going to play out:

“Whoever you are, if you’ve found this tape and retrieved it from amber, if you are watching this, then you know very well that the Observer’s have invaded and I am most probably dead and unfortunately my plan to stop them has failed. I have documented all of the parts of the plan on video tapes. You must recover each tape and follow the instructions on each of those tapes to retrieve all of the parts of the plan. Once you do so, what you need to do will be clear to you. If successful, this plan will restore us and rid the world of the Observers. You were chosen for this. This is your destiny. I understand that you’re frightened, it will not be easy, but I trust that the same will that brought you here will keep you going. It is important that you follow the tapes. You must begin this journey right away. You are humanities only hope. Now, you must retrieve the first tape.”

Walter's Orientation Video

I wasn’t far off in my prediction that season 5 would be all about finding the different components of Walter and September’s plan to eliminate the Observers, only it’s not just different objects that they’re trying to find (ala William Bell’s hand), it’s different video tapes. Since the plan that was partitioned in Walter’s mind has seemingly been lost, the Fringe team now has to track down a bunch of Walter’s video tapes, all of which contain a different part of the plan. That Walter, always thinking ahead. $10 says that those video tapes are all hidden in locations we’ve been before… and will involve familiar characters and objects. I’m telling you, Fringe is going “Lost season 6” on us. I wonder if we’ll get an entire episode devoted to a flashback involving none of the main characters?

As previously mentioned, this episode starts with another flashback, although it’s merely an extended version of the one we’ve already seen twice before, this time from Olivia’s perspective. After finishing the premiere, I was left wanting to know more about what happened in the time between the end of season 4 and “Letters in Transit”, so I’m encouraged to see that the back story is slowly being expanded upon. Will we continue to see this flashback at the beginning of every episode? I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing an entire episode set in the past, but I’m not sure how likely that is, considering the fact that there are only 11 episodes left.

And now it’s time for me to read way too far into something that is probably meaningless. Something that struck me about this episode was how it was lit. I usually don’t pay attention to stuff like that, but it caught my eye in this episode and I found myself focusing on it. There were many scenes in this episode in which characters faces were only half lit, leaving one side in shadow. Now, I know that they were all hiding out in Walter’s poorly lit lab, and this is most likely the result of having a single light source, but I kept seeing Olivia and Henrietta with their faces split into a light half and a dark half. In this episode, we are given a glimpse into how grim this Observer-controlled world is. This is done not by showing us the world itself (although there is a bit of that, what with the paved-over Central Park), but by showing us the effect it has had on people. We see the fear that drove Eric Lange’s loyalist

So dark, yet still so beautiful...
So dark, yet still so beautiful…

Manfretti into serving the Observer’s. We see Manfretti being tortured by Henrietta, this young woman who grew up in the middle of a hopeless war. Peter, Olivia, and the others don’t know what it’s like to live in this Observer-occupied world. They are newcomers to this war. Henrietta and Manfretti, on the other hand, are veterans. They know what each side is capable of, and it’s not pretty. While the resistance has resorted to blowing up buses full of Observers, regardless of the casualties, the Observers have come up with devices that age you with the press of a button. War is awful, and we are shown that both sides have sunken to each other’s depths. It doesn’t matter who provoked who, what matters is that there aren’t really “good guys” anymore. Unlike the faces of our characters, things aren’t so black and white. Or are they? Olivia, in talking to both Henrietta and Manfretti, brings something out in them. She convinces Manfretti to turn on the Observers and help the resistance and she convinces Henrietta not to kill him. Sure, she placed a little too much trust in Manfretti, who was ultimately lying to her in order to save his own life, but Olivia chose to believe that there was still something good left inside of Manfretti – and she was right. The point that was trying to be made is that there’s really no point in saving the world if there’s nothing good left to save. Even if the Observers are defeated, you’re still left with a world full of resistance fighters and loyalists who are really no better. Olivia shows Manfretti and Henrietta that the war doesn’t have to define them – they have a choice. We all have light and dark sides. We can let the bad things that happen sway us to the darkness, or we can choose the light. In the scene in which Henrietta lets the reformed Manfretti go, the two of them are outside and their faces are clearly visible. They’ve made their choice. I suppose it’s probably unrealistic to think that the director was hinting at any deeper themes when he framed those shots, but that’s what I got out of it.

Yeah... probably means nothing.
Yeah… probably means nothing.

I’d imagine that that’s the deepest the “Fringe Files” will ever be getting, so I hope you enjoyed that.


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