Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 3
“A Life Spent”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD continues its outer space mission with intrigue and further attempts to learn how they got there.
So far this season has been building around the mystery of why the characters are in an Apocalyptic future where Earth is rubble outside the window. The “where” and “when” were solved pretty quickly so now it’s all about the “why”. Not lingering on these mysteries longer than they have to shows that the writers have learned a lot about plot movement since the show began. Early seasons let threads linger for far longer than they should have but it’s a problem that has largely been solved by now as shown but how this season is approaching storytelling.
If the first two episodes dealt with the “where” and “when” questions and this episode is concerned with “why” then the real question is whether that information is delivered. This episode doesn’t quite tell us why the team have been brought to their new surroundings but it does move the plot forward and deliver a promise that the answer is coming soon.
The arc portion of the story is focused on further exploring what Virgil was up to and how he knew about the team coming into the future. It turns out that he was communicating with someone over radio who seems to be transmitting from what’s left of the surface of Earth. This is learned through another mission on the Trawler to investigate a larger fragment of the planet that turns out to be a red herring. In some cases red herrings exist to extend plots but in this case it feels like another stop on their journey to learning the truth. If everything went smoothly it might feel like the plot is moving too quickly so it’s good to have complications cropping up here and there.
Coulson is starting to lose hope in a very particular way. The prospect of returning home starts to feel less and less likely for him as time goes on and he genuinely wonders if their destiny is to stay where they are and help the people around them. It’s a perspective that’s easy to understand as most of the people he cares about are already with him so the prospect of trying to do good in this dark future would naturally be appealing. It’s especially true considering Coulson and the others have been dealing with back to back situations with almost no down time between them so it’s conceivable that he’s simply tired of the constant struggle and wants to settle into something more stable.
May is tired too but in a very different way. Dealing with back to back situations has taken a toll on her as well but her belief is that she’s been through so much that she has earned a night in her own bed. It’s such a simple desire but it’s also been so long since she’s had that luxury that the simplicity of it appeals to her more and more. All May wants is some quiet time to herself in the comfort of her own home. Her admission is enough to make Coulson reconsider his position on the matter because it forces him to think outwardly rather than inwardly.
Even if he is willing to give up on himself he’s not willing to give up on May -or the rest of the team- so the expression of her desire is enough for him to find the motivation to move forward. It’s a reminder that they are fighting for each other more so than themselves or even the people around them. Coulson showing his support by putting his hand on May’s shoulder with the response of her holding his hand was a great moment showing the familiarity and depth of their relationship. May also brings up her time in the Framework which reminds the audience that it’s something the characters still need to process once things settle down…if they ever settle down.
This plot also reinforces the difficulties Humans have in this future. Having Zev (Kaleti Williams) tag along with them is less than ideal but he does so because he doesn’t trust them and is right not to. He interferes with the mission by discovering what they are actually planning to do which results in the team beating him up in an impressively kinetic claustrophobic action sequence.
Tess is the voice of the native in this situation; she is clearly terrified of the consequences of their actions because she knows what happens to the disloyal. The only way out of this situation according to her is to kill Zev and make it look like a workplace accident. Mack is dead against this plan because he doesn’t see murders as the solution to any problem. The debate over killing is familiar in comic books and their adaptations because it’s an easy ethical argument to have that is difficult to solve. Unfortunately this episode doesn’t tackle the problem in a terribly interesting way mostly because Mack’s side of the argument is entirely principled rather than practical. He doesn’t like the idea of killing Zev but he no alternate solutions so in this case adhering to his morality would get them all killed.
The problem is solved when Elena plants a gun on Zev which causes Grill (Pruitt Taylor Vince) to see him as a traitor and banish him to the surface of Earth where he is promptly eaten. Ethically this is questionable as the burden of killing him was simply passed onto someone else but the end result was the same. Arguably Tess’ idea was far more humane but whatever way you choose to look at it the team were complicit in Zev’s death just in a more indirect way.
Elena’s role in the episode was nicely handled. Her cover is that she’s a really slow worker which keeps suspicion away from the idea that she has super speed. It won’t be long before she’s found out but for now it’s working well enough for Grill not to be suspicious. Having her use her abilities to steal things to help her friends makes for some tense moments especially when Grill is immediately suspicious of a traitor in his midst. That problem may be solved for now but this episode establishes how sharp Grill is so the tension still exists.
Daisy’s focus this episode is entirely on rescuing Simmons and she is very reckless in her approach. This irritates Deke who mentions to her that he’s playing “the long game” because it’s the only way to survive. He insists that there’s a better way to go about getting what she wants as long as she’s willing to wait which isn’t something Daisy is good at doing. Her actions in this episode ultimately get her captured which proves Deke right though it appears that he is the one who sold her out. I suspect that there’s almost no chance of him actually betraying her as shown by the other mention of “the long game” but we shall see how that turns out.
I really enjoyed Daisy’s scenes in this episode as they were in keeping with her established characteristics while also providing an excellent elevator action sequence showing how capable she is as a hand to hand combatant as well as how seamlessly she has incorporated her powers into her fighting style. Having her captured is another example of things not running smoothly while still moving forward.
There is some movement on the revelation that she might be responsible for Earth’s destruction. Daisy is clearly taking steps to not think about it but Deke seems to be almost afraid of her especially when she uses his powers on him. Having the question of if she’s capable of destroying an entire planet in the background provides an emotional arc for Daisy while intensifying the mystery surrounding what led to the destruction of Earth.
Simmons’ scenes were the most interesting. As with Daisy her contribution to the episode is in keeping with her established character. She’s in the ideal position to learn about the Kree being in service to Kasius and she’s clearly using that opportunity to soak up as much information as she can. It’s unfortunate that her hearing is impaired most of that time though she can still make observations and eventually those will add up to something useful for her.
Her medical knowledge is the most useful thing about thing about her to Kasius at this point. She is tasked with tending to a young Inhuman girl named Abby (Ciara Bravo). Abby has recently been through Terrigenesis so isn’t able to control her powers and is terrified by them. This manifests as seizures that cause her powers to behave unpredictably. She has the ability to change her molecular density which means she can either phase through solid objects or become immovable; exactly like Vision. Simmons uses this opportunity to learn more about her current situation from someone native to it but also goes about helping the young Inhuman accept the changes and control her powers.
The real sting comes from the reveal that her efforts were in vain as Abby learning to control her powers resulted in her being sold into slavery to the white skinned Kree Lady Basha (Rya Kihlstedt). It’s a harsh lesson in how brutal this future is to Simmons though there was no real way to win in this scenario as the alternative was Abby’s death. It’s left up to the audience to decide which outcome is worse.
Regardless of the outcome Simmons’ scenes with Abby were really well done. Simmons innate compassion comes through clearly and Ciara Bravo does an excellent job making Abby sympathetic and innocent while also being hardened by the world around her. More character development is achieved in these short interactions than the entirety of Marvel’s Inhumans which is a testament to the difference in skill level between both writing teams. the reminder of Simmons’ philosophical belief that everything in the universe is made out of the same building blocks was a great callback to season 1 and shows a vulnerability to Simmons rarely seen during the intense situations that define her life.
The Inhuman fight club sequence is really brutal but in a really obvious way. A brutish man throwing around a teenage girl is always going to be a distressing image so the episode goes for something fairly obvious on that score though Abby’s retaliation involving phasing her hand through his body to stop his heart is equally distressing and shows the potential this character has. Whether we will see her return again or not is unknown but there’s no denying that she definitely made an impression.
Another strong episode that moves the plot forward and continues to build the unfamiliar world the characters are currently in. Coulson resigning himself to working with the situation he has and give up all hope on ever getting home is an interesting prospect especially since he knows that almost everyone he cares about is already around him so it almost doesn’t matter where he is as long as he’s able to do some good. May’s opinion on the situation is enough for him to change his approach as her point of view is valid and Coulson has always been committed to helping his team. It’s a great character moment and it reminds the audience that there are still things to process from last season. This plot also allows Tess to provide the native perspective on how things work along with her fear at what will happen to them if Zev talks about what he knows. It does devolve into an uninteresting comic book killing debate but parts of it were strong.
Daisy’s efforts to help Simmons help us learn more about Deke and show how he has managed to survive. Repeated mention of “the long game” as a better approach should be paid attention to especially when Daisy’s actions get her captured. It’s very in character behaviour for Daisy while allowing Deke to be developed. Simmon’s scenes were the most interesting thanks to her interactions with Abby. These conversations allow Simmons to learn more about her current situation and help a young girl come to terms with her transformation. The end result of having Abby sold into slavery is a brutal lesson for Simmons and the fight sequence that leads to it is really violently intense. Abby certainly makes an impression in her small appearance making the tragedy of her being sold into slavery come across effectively.
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