Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 9
“Best Laid Plans”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD continues to build towards the return to the present as Kasius struggles to maintain control over the human population.
Last week suggested that the characters are caught in an endlessly repeating time look that always ends the same way. It was unclear if there was some kind of alternate reality at play or if the characters would eventually make it back to the present day and live out the events depicted in the flashbacks. This episode all but confirms that they are doomed to live out the events we have already seen and set things up for their past selves to repeat the process. Fitz confirms this by seeing that he upgraded the Zephyr thanks to ideas he got from the future which allows him to confirm the horrific scenario at least in his own head.
It’s a very grim suggestion and fairly complicated if you give it any thought as time travel scenarios often are but the simple fact appears to be that the team are a prisoner of events they can’t change and are doomed to fail. When keeping that fact in mind the plot is fairly simple and filled with tragedy as it’s likely that anything the characters do will be for nothing.
This does present potential problems for the upcoming episodes. Not least of which is the fact that this show exists as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which means that the overall sense of jeopardy is lost since the Earth can’t be destroyed in this show as it’s unlikely that future MCU films will be set in a Post-Apocalyptic landscape. This means that something will have to happen fairly soon that gives the characters some kind of proof that things can be changed. It doesn’t have to be huge but it will have to happen and might be more interesting if it’s something really small that can divide the team between those that are defeatist and those who are hopeful. We see a hint of this when Fitz and Simmons discover the Gravitonium and realise that a time loop is at play. It’s good if brief and hints at what could be a really interesting exploration of how everyone else reacts to potentially being doomed to fail.
Putting aside the MCU it’s also interesting to consider that they are stuck in a time look and deluded into thinking that they can change things when they can’t. If this is to be the last season of this show then having it end by them completing the loop as in 12 Monkeys -the film not the TV show- could be really effective and tragically bittersweet. This definitely won’t happen but it’s worth thinking about at least for a short time.
This particular episode is all about getting back to the Lighthouse to use Flint’s powers to manipulate the monolith shard to create a new one that can send them home. Most of the scenes on the Zephyr are focused on trying to get it in the air which does get incredibly tiresome after a while. The episode spends too much time on this without delivering meaningful insight into the characters involved so it feels like the episode is spinning its wheels just to kill time rather than taking the time to explore the situation.
Some of the individual moments are well done such as May taking the time to reflect on the fact that she became a mother to Robin despite never seeing herself in that role. Coulson assures her that the potential definitely exists within her and Daisy supports her in a humourous way by poking fun at how she sees May’s parenting style. It’s almost a running gag through the episode and shows how character driven this episode could have been with more moments like this.
Deke’s issues with Voss are also nicely handled because of the different perspectives at play. Voss seems to be fairly candid when explaining why he killed Deke’s father and appeals to him to consider the very real consequences of letting the team go back in time. As far as he’s concerned allowing them to do this secures Earth’s destruction and that definitely can’t be allowed to happen because the result of it is the world they currently live in. It’s a relatable position and certainly gives Deke a lot to think about though it doesn’t come up again. I suspect it is being tabled for later.
Daisy’s discussion with Coulson about removing the inhibitor and restoring her powers is really interesting as it highlights how afraid she is of her potential to cause Earth’s destruction. Her view is that if she doesn’t have her powers then she can’t be responsible for the destruction of Earth so perhaps it’s better to keep them suppressed. There are questions of identity for Daisy as she is clearly tired of the labels attached to her. “Quake” and “the destroyer of worlds” are thrown around casually when describing her and she’s developing a complex around her identity thanks to the burden of expectation placed on her. The “destroyer of worlds” moniker is an obvious negative one but being defined as “Quake” is just as harmful. Coulson points out that S.H.I.E.L.D. needs Quake and stops just short of ordering Daisy to have her inhibitor removed. This is something she clearly objects to as she feels that it is better for her to be Daisy Johnson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the time being.
This is a fascinating character beat for Daisy as it reflects a desire to break free of what others expect for her and focus on what she wants. Everyone around her doesn’t seem to realise that and this possibly contributes to the video of her running away from a Quinjet before apparently destroying the world. Daisy’s thoughts and feelings need to be embraced by others rather than ignored.
Further to that Daisy shows just how useful she is as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. when she fights Sinara. She has been competent in hand to hand combat for quite some time and the fact that she is able to go toe to toe with a physically stronger opponent while holding her own is a testament to her skill and creativity in a combat situation. Sinara’s raw strength and skill does overpower Daisy eventually before Deke steps in to help but she is unrelenting and fearless when taking Sinara on despite not having access to her powers. This says a lot about Daisy as a character and ties into her overall identity issues that are largely being ignored.
Despite these strong character beats it still feels like the scenes on the Zephyr crash due to clumsy plot mechanics. It’s clear that a sense of urgency is trying to exist but it never quite comes to anything and basically amounts to the characters scrambling around complaining about things not working. A particularly tiresome and repetitive aspect was May’s lack of tolerance for Enoch which doesn’t really seem to come from anywhere.
Once the episode eventually gets the Zephyr back into the air things pick up in a really impressive sequence showing the aircraft being tossed around in a gravity storm. It looks great but the external danger doesn’t seem to match what is going on internally. The characters are restrained to stop them being thrown around and yelling about the situation but the terror isn’t at the level it should be to sell the threat level that is supposed to exist. It also doesn’t help that Daisy’s fight with Sinara takes place in a much calmer location than the rest of the Zephyr for some unknown reason. The inconsistencies make the sequence feel like it isn’t joined up and I was disappointed that we were robbed of a zero gravity fight beyond the few seconds that existed.
On the Lighthouse Mack is working to manage the situation and help the Human population fight back against Kasius. These scenes are marred by poor pacing and a decreasing sense of urgency as they progress. It never feels like the threat of retaliation from the Kree is as present as people fear it is and Mack is unfortunately saddled with the thankless task of countering the eagerness to fight. This is best seen through Flint who really wants to take the fight to the Kree and help those he cares about.
Mack’s concern is that he is getting a taste for killing and apparently wants to prevent that. I can see where Mack is coming from here as he doesn’t want someone so young to be corrupted by taking lives but he must surely acknowledge the situation might demand people to act more like soldiers and unfortunately use lethal force to win freedom from Kasius. Mack’s protective streak feels at odds with deciding to stay to help Flint in the first place. This makes even less sense when he doesn’t object to Flint being present during his attack on Kasius. The inconsistencies in Mack’s attitude make these scenes more frustrating than they should be.
Elena is also relegated to being very one note. She is hot headed, eager to fight and in opposition to Mack’s way of thinking. Her attitude makes sense at least but it only seems to exist to contrast Mack’s more reserved and pacifistic approach. Their different approaches on preparing Flint do make for some interesting scenes but they are overwhelmed by the distracting nature of Mack’s unearned attitude.
Tess’ return is most welcome and an effective callback to the method of resurrection used on Coulson. It’s good that the writers are tying these things together and remembering that Kree blood can be used to bring people back to life. It also matches up with Kasius’ prior tactic of using loved ones to torture people. Her resurrection also develops Kasius delusional personality in seeing himself as a God. He can bring the dead back to life so he must be a God as far as the Humans are concerned, at least as far as he sees it. Tess seems to share that sentiment in her post resurrection haze which shows how Kasius has been able to manipulate his way into that position.
I really liked how the conflict with Kasius played out as it ended with a definitive victory for the Humans who are now no longer under his control. The removal of the devices that keep them in line was one step but the destruction of the Inhuman blood and Terrigen Crystals is a significant blow to his operation. He can now no longer create more Inhumans which was a significant portion of his power base so he is effectively screwed as far as everything he has built goes. He does seem to have something else up his sleeve but he is clearly aware of what has been lost.
Tess’ return is to mess with Flint and it definitely works though an intriguing twist is brought in when Flint is actually inspired by her return which strengthens his resolve. Their scenes together are really well played and special attention should be given to Eve Harlow who delivers a fascinatingly haunted performance. Her delivery of the line “knives are cold” perfectly encapsulates how difficult it is to process the fact that she is no longer dead. This is very different from Coulson who had plenty of conditioning following his resurrection and a capable exploration of the psychological effects of this process.
An uneven episode that isn’t lacking in engaging characterisation but fails to deliver in several key areas. The sense of urgency diminishes in both plots as the episode progresses and the Zephyr scenes largely amount to people complaining about things not working rather than focusing on the character reactions to the situations. May’s thoughts on motherhood and Daisy’s concerns about her loss of identity make for compelling character beats but these are exceptions rather than the rule. The visuals when the Zephyr becomes airborn are really impressive and Daisy’s fight with Sinara is well executed but there’s a bizarre disconnect between the external threat of the gravity storm and what is happening inside.
The scenes on the Lighthouse have similar pacing issues and Mack’s character isn’t well represented at all. He is saddled with countering the eagerness to fight which plays out in really inconsistent ways as the episode progresses. His reasoning for not turning Flint into a killer is sound enough but the approach doesn’t make a lot of sense especially since he has no problem with Flint’s involvement by the end. The return of Tess works well as a way to solidify Flint’s position and explore their connection. Eve Harlow delivers a great post resurrection performance and I’m pleased to see the character back. Kasius losing the ability to make more Inhumans and having his hold on the population destroyed is really satisfying as an ending and as a way to knock the character down a peg.
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