Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 1 & 2
“Orientation Parts 1 & 2”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD begins its 5th season by sending the team into space and exploring their new surroundings.
The cliffhanger ending at the end of last season was a really compelling one as it set up a really compelling altered premise for the show to explore. These episodes capitalise on that and offer fans a soft reboot of the series that places familiar characters in very unfamiliar circumstances.
To begin with the narrative plays out like a claustrophobic mystery. The opening of the first episode shows the events of last season from the perspective of the team’s captors which lets us see the morning routine of the mysterious bald man who took the team into custody when we last saw them. A lot is learned from this well put together sequence; most notably that he’s an alien as shown by discarding his skin suit and the obvious non human shape in the shower. This sequence also tells us that he has cultivated his disguise very well and found a way to blend into Human society as well as serve a specific yet mysterious function. Who he is, what he is and why he does what he does are left as open questions to be answered later but it’s a really effective way to begin the new season.
The appearance of a different looking Monolith that sends the team into space only adds to that mystery as well as creating a sense of dread given what we know about the previous Monolith that appeared. It’s a very small plot point for this episode but signifies hope for a potential way to bring the team back or bring others to them.
I really liked the mystery aspect to the opening minutes. Each of the characters dealt with their new surroundings in ways that made sense for them. Coulson was confused yet remained the level headed leader, Simmons falls back on her experience being thrown across the Galaxy by a Monolith and applies the scientific method, May is ready to fight, Daisy is keen to work the problem as well as support the others and Elena takes it in her stride to a degree. The exception here is Mack who freaks out in a way that feels somewhat uncharacteristic for him. It could be explained away as lingering trauma from his experience in the Framework or abject terror at being thrust into a particular situation but either way Mack doesn’t appear quite right especially when compared to the other characters. His dialogue is the most meta though such as when he points out that space is the one thing they haven’t done yet or reminds everyone of horror movie Clichés that come into play when people split up.
One thing that is done very well is not withholding answers. The mystery isn’t entirely cleared up but enough information is teased over the course of the narrative to escape the feeling of lingering on unanswered questions. Very early in the episode most of the team are introduced to Virgil (Deniz Akdeniz); a Human who talks about the prophecy of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. coming to save them. Of course Coulson has no idea what is meant by this prophecy which suggests that it isn’t to be taken seriously though we are very early in the season so there’s plenty of time to come back to that.
My working theory is that Fitz is the one who engineered this prophecy since he is the only member of the team not taken. This provides him with an opportunity to work on bringing them back which may involve creating stories that will be retold throughout time to the point that Virgil is a believer in the team being the thing that saves Humanity. The postcard with a message from Fitz saying that he’s working on it supports this and I wouldn’t rule out Virgil being a descendent of Fitz.
The reveal of where and when the team are was handled really well. It comes at a point in the story where they are all separated by circumstances but they all come to the realisation at the same time. Coulson is told, May and Simmons see the evidence for themselves when out on a ship while Daisy, Elena and Mack gets the information from the station’s computers. It’s a really impactful reveal that resonates with the characters in equally profound ways. Finding out that they are isolated in the future with the destroyed Earth right outside their window is obviously distressing and time is allowed for the revelation to sink in though the team aren’t overly morbid about it.
Since they are all well trained professionals who have to deal with the situation they react as they should and focus on survival first with all other concerns being secondary. There will be time to mourn the loss of the Earth once their situation is a bit more stable but for now the priority is figuring out how to exist in this dark and desolate future.
The best plan to be followed at this point is blending in which involves the really painful procedure of installing devices known as Metrics which allow them to be tracked. Not having one is far more suspicious so everyone has to go through the pain to keep up appearances. The Metrics are an obvious symbol of subjugation as they are devices that track location and overall population. They are also used to facilitate cruel death games where people have to kill in order to justify their existence. There’s a lot of potential for social commentary attached to these devices and so far their use doesn’t disappoint.
Simmons is the exception to this as she is brought to Kasius (Dominic Rains); the man in charge of this facility. He takes a liking to her because he admires and expects perfection so he dolls her up like the rest of his subjects and makes her part of his entourage. Kasius is an interesting character so far who gives off a really sinister vibe thanks to Dominic Rains’ subdued yet intense performance. Elizabeth Henstridge does a great job playing off him and shows the confidence that Simmons has organically achieved over the lifetime of the show. She is able to lie convincingly and say what needs to be said in order to ensure her survival without letting the paralysing fear take over. The position she ends up in is unique as it will allow her to be privy to what Kasius might have planned for the population while being a constantly source of tension as she could be seen as less than perfect at any second.
This trip to a darker future comes with a number of new characters. Virgil is killed off very quickly but he has connections to the characters that survive. Deke (Jeff Ward) is introduced fairly early on as someone who can hold his own against May longer than most people could which makes him a formidable addition to the cast who will clearly prove useful. He’s established as an opportunist making clandestine deals under the table to improve his standing within society as much as possible but there’s the hint of hope underneath all of that as well as the suggestion of a tragic backstory that he is trying to forget. His role in the episode juggles his desire to only look out for himself and his compassion for others as shown by his reluctant decision to help out the team when pushed into it.
The fact that he sells technology based on the Framework to people looking to escape the horrors of their lives says a lot about his own desire to find something better than the hand he has been dealt. His Framework fantasy is a very simple Earth bar where he can sit and have a beer without fear of anyone coming from him. It’s something he never experienced but he has pieced together what the experience might be like from all of historical research. He mentions that he doesn’t know what beer tastes like but what he has achieved here is close enough as far as he’s concerned.
His simulation tells us a lot about him as a character. It proves how resourceful he is when he lists what he did to pull together the information to create this simulation. He’s very nostalgic for a past he didn’t live in and has an obvious desire to escape the life that he has been forced to lead.
I really liked his conversation with Daisy detailing his feelings on the arrival of the team. He points out that they represent a massive disruption to the delicate ecosystem of the facility and their actions will have far reaching consequences for the current inhabitants. He points out that the inhabitants will be punished and that’s not something he’s prepared to tolerate.
He also doesn’t really trust Daisy -though seems attracted to her- because historical data points to her abilities being the cause of the destruction of Earth. Even if that isn’t true -and it probably isn’t- that’s still a shocking reveal for Daisy to process. When she first got her powers she was motivated by fear that they would do harm to those around her. The thought of destroying the entire planet is the most extreme extension of that and definitely shocks her.
It’s important to bear in mind that historical records are fragmentary so what they know about the past may not be true. Daisy has the potential to destroy a planet if her powers were applied in a certain way so it seems believable enough that she could be responsible but the details are vague enough that there could be a completely different reason. How time travel works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to be established so it’s unclear whether the Earth’s destruction is an event that definitely will happen. I would suspect not as the knock on effect to the rest of the universe would be significant though that does contradict the previously mentioned rules around the visions of the future experienced earlier in the run of the show.
Naturally the aim for at least the early part of the season will be returning to their own time and changing events so that the planet isn’t destroyed. Whether this is possible or not remains to be seen but at least it provides a clear objective for the characters to work towards. Of course this presents the question of whether anything really matters in the current situation if the objective is to change it. I’m of the belief that what they do matters here because they are in the situation and have to deal with it. If everything is changed then the whole thing serves as a cautionary tale of how the future could turn out to be. How they react to the suffering of others around them is important for the characters as well so erasing this timeline doesn’t necessarily render everything that happened invalid.
Another new character is Tess (Eve Harlow). She is clearly a hardened survivor judging by the way she conducts herself throughout. Under that confident exterior she is clearly an idealist yearning for a better life. It comes out during her conversation with Coulson that represents an excellent bonding moment from them. Coulson represents a tie to the past that she is so fascinated by and their shared obsession for collecting historical artifacts connects them in a really simple yet effective way. Coulson looking around her room at everything she collected is a reminder of what he has lost as well as what he is fighting to return to. Tess is clearly a believer in the prophecy and wants to be a part of it.
The whole prophecy notion is intriguing as it adds to the mysterious nature of the overall setup. Why are the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so revered and the Avengers not even mentioned. My first thought was that the destruction of Earth might be related to the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War which teases the possibility that Thanos might succeed in whatever his plan is. This is very much a long shot as I’m fairly certain that the characters from this show won’t be involved in that movie. As much as I’d like to see the climax of the movie involving Daisy faced with a choice involving using her powers to destroy the planet I can’t see it happening. I wonder if there will be references to the legendary Iron Man or Captain America as the season progresses. It’s also possible that descendants of these characters might appear as part of the dark future timeline.
Using the Kree as the antagonists is a good idea as it helps preserve the connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe without being overt about it. So far they are little more than part of the overall tapestry though there is plenty of scope to develop their involvement as the season progresses. For now they’re a formidable enough presence allowing for an obvious obstacle to be overcome. Kasius represents leadership to be brought down and an abundance of Kree provides henchmen to continually be problematic.
Visually these episodes are on another level compared to what the show has brought before. The CGI on the ship and the destroyed Earth is breathtaking and the overall aesthetic of the Lighthouse facility is great. As a location it feels functional and lived in while being simultaneously cramped yet massive at the same time. There’s clearly a lot of it to explore and the community aspect of it comes through clearly. There’s certainly enough potential here to carry a good amount of episodes.
An excellent opening to the new season that establishes the new status quo and creates plenty of intrigue. Framing the early scenes like a claustrophobic mystery is a great idea that works really well but doesn’t leave the audience hanging with unanswered questions for too long. There is still plenty of mystery but also the sense of momentum attached to the solving of that mystery. The characters also play to their strengths with the exception of Mack who seems somewhat out of sorts. Deke and Tess make for intriguing new additions to the cast as well.
The reveal that the team are in the future in orbit of a destroyed Earth is shocking and effective. I like that the characters are given time to react to it before deciding that there will be time to process it once their survival is assured. They fall back on their training and worry about other details later. Using the Kree as antagonists and having Simmons become a member of Kasius’ entourage are all interesting elements and the show definitely steps things up with the visuals. So far there is plenty to recommend about this season.
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