Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 18
“All Roads Lead…”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD brings a race against time as the team try to find a way to track down Hale and stop Ruby before she makes herself powerful enough to destroy the world.
This is the episode where everything starts to come together and the tension rises to add to the list of complications in the lead up to the finale. Much of the episode is focused on Fitz and Simmons being coerced into fixing the essential component of the Infusion Chamber that they broke last week. I found this part of the story to be really effective and tense. Ruby’s crazed impatience makes the situation really tense as she has no problem threatening Fitz and Simmons when she feels that they aren’t working fast enough.
Fitz and Simmons further confirm that their biggest weakness is each other. The entire world is at stake and they’re very aware of that but they still can’t bear to see the other come to harm so they comply with Ruby’s demands in order to protect each other. It does seem short sighted considering what’s at stake and feels at odds with them being in agreement that they would have to make tougher calls to achieve their goals. Saying this is good in theory but it’s not so easy to go through with it when the situation actually exists. It’s a very Human reaction and easy to understand why they’d both struggle with the notion that they can’t stop Ruby because they can’t bear to see harm come to the other. Last week showed that Fitz had basically resigned himself to being part of the cause of Earth’s destruction because he could never make a decision that would indirectly cause harm to Simmons.
This part of the episode is basically filling time before the other characters can catch up in time for the climax but it does the right things to not feel like simple filler. Fitz and Simmons connection is used to great effect and Ruby’s obsession with becoming powerful and gaining what she feels is her birthright becomes the driving force of the entire episode.
For whatever reason Daisy is still calling the shots back at the Lighthouse despite telling Coulson he could have his old job back when he was rescued. They have managed to locate Hale’s base so they get to go on the offensive for a change. Daisy feels good about going on the offensive because it has been so long since any of them felt like they have any control over the situation or their actions. Finding Hale’s base seems like a lucky break that they can all feel good about.
May is equally eager to go on the offensive because she has a lot of pent up frustrations that will be alleviated by inflicting some pain on whoever gets in her way. It’s a very small thing but that catharsis is important to her as she has spent so much of her time being unable to do anything lately. In short both of these characters badly need a win and that adds so much more meaning to their actions in the episode.
The capture of Hale seems a little too easy though it does makes sense in terms of the wider narrative. She is dealing with an attack that she doesn’t have time for and wants to get to Ruby before the situation spirals too far out of control so surrendering is a strategically sound option. This also adds to Hale’s bigger picture thinking. She believes that stopping the incoming invasion is more important than the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. and is willing to put that aside in service of saving the Human race.
Hale’s desire to find Ruby is given greater urgency by the brief appearance of Creel who is being driven out of his mind by his recent exposure to the Gravitonium. He makes frequent incoherent references to Franklin Hall and Ian Quinn who both want out and points out that they hate each other but are stuck with one another. Hale sees what Creel is going through and sees that Ruby is likely to experience the same thing so really wants to prevent that from happening.
Creel’s ramblings add to my theory that Franklin Hall and Ian Quinn will be freed from the Gravitonium both with Gravity powers. There are a number of possibilities that could cause the end of the world at this point and I would really like to see two Gravitons fighting one another fuelled by nothing more than their hatred for one another and being far too powerful to contain. It will have high stakes and be emotionally driven even though these characters haven’t been seen on the show for a long time.
Coulson, Mack and Deke are left back at the Lighthouse so that they can discuss their problems with the women in their life. Deke is making it painfully obvious that he’s interested in Daisy and asks them for advice. Mack points out that last time he saw Elena she tricked him and locked him in a cell, Coulson is no help either because May has her issues with him as well. Deke decides to go with a romantic gesture carried out in the future. Apparently expressing romantic interest in the future is done by leaving a lemon as a symbol of the desire to start a relationship. It’s definitely played for laughs as are most of Deke’s antics but there’s something about it that’s really endearing. It’s such a simple gesture that means a lot to him and I look forward to seeing Daisy’s reaction to that. Moments like this are superfluous to the story at large but they are great reminders of the Human element of the show and give the episode much needed levity. That seems to be Deke’s primary purpose at the moment and for now it works really well.
Having these characters benched in the lighthouse has a couple of wider story purposes. Mack has to start working on readying the Zephyr for flying in space just in case the future they are trying to prevent comes to pass. It’s not significant or even that interesting but it does deal with that particular loose end.
The more interesting plot that is dealt with is Talbot’s H.Y.D.R.A. programming. Ultimately his actions don’t really come to much other than briefly threatening Ruby. This does show how deeply affected Talbot is by his brainwashing as his main motivation at this point is protecting his wife and son so the idea that he would harm an innocent child is so far beyond what he is supposed to stand for. Adrian Pasdar does a great job playing Talbot as highly confused and in something akin to a dreamlike state. He’s not in control of his actions but he has some awareness of what he’s doing so there is an internal conflict there that doesn’t need to be explored as such because it’s obvious what is happening. When he knocks out Ruby’s mother he’s apologetic about it and holding Ruby hostage is clearly the opposite of what he wants to do but he’s lacking control. Ultimately he’s knocked out but there could be a hard road ahead for Talbot to overcome this programming and get back to some semblance of normality.
Daisy, May and Hale arrive too late to stop Ruby entering the machine but it goes wrong very quickly as she experiences what looks to be unimaginable pain. The procedure is stopped but she still absorbs 8% of the Gravitonium so comes out with limited yet formidable gravity based powers. This comes at a cost as she seems even more crazed than Creel is. She talks about the voices in her head and the people that want out just as he does but she also seems to be losing herself in the confusion.
Dove Cameron’s performance in this scene as well as the rest of the episode is excellent. She transitions from being motivated by selfish greed to being a scared and helpless young woman who made a huge mistake and badly needs help. No amount of training or preparation can help her overcome the consequences of her terrible decision and in theory she has to live with what she’s done. Daisy tries to help her by relating her experience of gaining powers and not knowing how to control them. When Daisy first got her powers she was also considered dangerous to others so feels that Ruby can be helped through the benefit of her experience. Interestingly, Daisy’s mother took on a similar role when new Inhumans came through Terrigenesis though Daisy isn’t nearly as skilled in helping confused newly powered people control their abilities.
Daisy’s presence here offers some closure on Ruby’s obsession with her. She tells Daisy that she was her hero implying that meeting her has changed that opinion. She did once look up to Daisy and aspire to be like her to some degree but Hale’s training and general H.Y.D.R.A. conditioning has warped that perception somewhat. After seeing Daisy in the flesh and recognising her inability to help she rejects the notion of Daisy being her hero and tries to kill her. It’s a simple yet powerful declaration of giving up on everything she previously believed in.
Hale takes on a distinctly maternal role in this situation when she promises to help and try to help Ruby realise that she’s not alone. As the seconds go by she loses more and more of herself but it Hale is determined to protect her daughter. It’s really touching and even more tragic when Elena cuts this interaction short because there was the suggestion that Hale was starting to get through to Ruby and now it will never be known if she could have been saved.
Ruby’s desire to go into the chamber was really obnoxious and arrogant because she showed a complete disregard for the risks involved. Creel’s reaction to his own exposure to the Gravitonium should have raised flags for Ruby but it’s consistent with her character that she would be arrogant enough to assume she would be exempt from the same consequences.
The situation created by her being infused with a small amount of Gravitonium is really tense. Ruby isn’t in control of herself or her new powers so is a danger to everyone in the room including her. This is shown by the brutal death that Alex endures acting as a sign of what could happen to everyone else in the room. Hale works to talk her down and encourage her to get control of the voices in her head but Ruby simply isn’t strong enough and keeps lashing out in violently unpredictable ways.
This comes to an end when Elena kills her in a really brutal way. The shock value is at least equal to when Ruby cut Elena’s arms off and could be seen as payback. Elena justifies her action as saving the world though it seems fairly obvious that Ruby wasn’t capable of cracking the Earth apart with only 8% of the Gravitonium in her system. Arguably death was the only option for her rather than live a constantly tortured existence where she presents a danger to those around her but it was too early to make that call.
Either way it’s a really harsh and dark moment given the time to sink in that it deserved. Elena not only killed Ruby, she slit her throat and left her to bleed out slowly on the floor. It comes across as a really painful death and Elena’s decision is clearly deliberate. Elena made a clear choice and the aftermath creates a really disturbing atmosphere. It does tie into Elena agreeing with Fitz and Simmons that making tough choices is mandatory and it could be argued that she made that tough choice though it seems that there’s a lot more behind that than is currently known.
Elena’s action changes things in a really big way. First of all there’s an explosion of energy once Ruby dies that will likely become significant in the coming episodes. It’s possible that the residual Gravitonium bonded with Daisy in some way but even if it didn’t then there’s bound to be a consequence of some sort. Hale goes to Qovas to update him on the situation and enlist his help in getting the Gravitonium back from S.H.I.E.L.D. both of these things suggest that Elena’s actions may have been motivated by preventing the end of the world but could be one of the things that helps make it happen.
Another excellent episode that starts to bring everything together. Fitz and Simmons repairing the broken component could be seen as filling time but the episode makes great use of it by focusing on the characters and ramping up the tension with Ruby’s crazed impatience. Fitz and Simmons demonstrate a very Human resistance to making the tough decisions by realising that they are unable to do so when it means allowing harm to come to the other. Daisy leading an assault on Hale’s base is an important character moment for both her and May because it allows them to be on the offensive and acknowledges their shared frustration about being more reactive than proactive lately. Both of them badly need a win which gives the action sequence more weight. Hale’s decision to surrender makes strategic sense because there isn’t time for this conflict when Ruby is so close to being infused with Gravitonium. Creel provides a clear example of what will happen to her so Hale has to get to Ruby before that happens.
Ruby’s reaction to being infused with a small amount of Gravitonium makes for a great moment as she transitions from selfish greed to a helpless young woman overwhelmed by what has recently happened to her. Daisy tries to relate her own experience of gaining powers unexpectedly but Ruby is too far gone to consider it and has a corrupted idea of what Daisy means to her at this point. Elena’s decision to kill Ruby is a really harsh and dark moment that is layered with different motivations. It could end up being a bad decision because it looks likely that it move events towards the end of the world rather than away from them. Deke as always is there to provide the comic relief with his difficulty dealing with his feelings for Daisy. the lemon tradition from the future is an amusing idea that should provide levity in a future episode. Talbot’s role as a sleeper agent disappointingly doesn’t really go anywhere damaging as it is more geared towards exploring his internal conflict. Ultimately he’s dealt with but it could be the beginning of a long road towards recovery.
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