Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 13
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has the team try to figure out their next move while dealing with with the various problems presented to them as General Hale continues to build her team.
Last week’s episode was the celebration of a milestone for this series that focused on the core relationships. This episode follows on from that and concentrates on putting things in place for the rest of the season. What results is an experience where both a lot and very little happens. This doesn’t mean that the episode is ever boring; the writing team on this show have gotten to a point where they deliver a watchable experience each week even if it isn’t a particularly memorable one.
The rift allowing the Fear Dimension to leak into our world is still causing problems for the team. Fitz’ fix from last week was a temporary measure so a more permanent solution needs to be found which requires a MacGuffin hunt field trip to find some Gravitonium to seal the rift more conclusively. The problem is that it’s not exactly the most plentiful substance on Earth so finding it is no easy task. Chasing leads requires digging up names not mentioned since the first season such as Ian Quinn and Cybertek in a fun callback to bygone -relatively speaking- simpler days. Revisiting things not mentioned since the first season makes a lot of sense given the recent reports that the finale of this season could mark the end of this show. Shows in a planned final season often reflect on their own legacy and this is what’s happening here.
Fortunately the references aren’t empty as they are meaningful in the context of the overall story. Gravitonium may be a MacGuffin substance with a stupid name but it’s important because it has a an important purpose that allows for meaningful character development for Mac in particular. The search allows the team to meet Tony Caine (Jake Busey); a former classmate of Mack’s who has some amusing anecdotes about Mack for everyone to laugh at such as his former nickname Mackhammer given to him because of his apparent love of M.C. Hammer. Everyone has a good laugh at this revelation along with an old class photograph of Mack in his younger days.
I’ve applauded the use of levity emerging from the character relationships in prior reviews and I continue to applaud it here because it offers a welcome diversion from what may otherwise be a really grim collection of scenes. The characters know each other and like each other so it’s great to see them diffusing the tension with some good natured ribbing. It helps make them feel more real and grounded amidst the insanity going on around them.
Tony aka the Candyman as dubbed by Mack is a fun presence who has a natural back and forth with Mack and the rest of the team though the character doesn’t actually do an awful lot other than give the team some information that helps their search progress. It’s good to have another outsider looking in and commenting on how bizarre developments are mundane to the core characters with hilarious reactions but his contribution to the mission is minimal.
Another outsider looking in is Deke who has taken on a more cherubic quality since appearing in his past. It makes sense as the world he has found himself in is nothing short of overwhelming and difficult to wrap his head around so the excitement associated like that would likely manifest as being childlike. Couple that with the recent realisation that Fitz and Simmons are his grandparents and there is ample justification for a lack of maturity on his part.
His approach to dealing with this is to look from validation from Fitz by basically hanging around and annoying him. It isn’t the right way to go about it which is something that Deke needs to learn but for now any sort of recognition appears to be enough for him. Fitz on the other hand finds his presence distracting and wants nothing more than for him to go away. There are some amusing touches such as Deke wanting Fitz to play catch with him because it’s such a mundane yet formative family activity that he clearly never had with his own father and wants to experience. The fact that he is denied that is difficult for him to deal with and causes him to feel neglected.
Deke does offer Fitz some valid advice about problem solving that does actually help. Fitz is growing so frustrated by a sense of urgency that he isn’t thinking clearly so is failing to think properly about a problem. His own thought process is a barrier to that and Deke suggests that taking a break is the best thing he can do as it will allow his mind to focus on something else. He proves that to be true when his own break from seeing validation from Fitz allows him to come up with a theory as to what happened to the Gravitonium. It proves that Fitz is incapable of seeing obvious solutions as the possibility to cause a ship to fly rather than sink is a likely scenario when Gravitonium is involved.
The Fear Dimension affects Deke by creating a manifestation of his mother (Katie Amanda Keane) who encourages him to leave because caring about people always results in loss for him. This is punctuated by watching her be killed by a Kree as a very powerful reminder of what he has lost in the past. This scene works really well from a performance review with Jeff Ward successfully conveying that Deke is conflicted between knowing that this is a hallucination and simply enjoying being able to speak to his mother once again. The fear aspect of the encounter isn’t overpowering because he takes comfort in the small interaction he has. The main purpose of this scene is to remind him that his mother used to say “the steps you take don’t need to be big, they just need to take you in the right direction”. The advice actually came from his grandmother which means that a countdown starts until he hears Simmons say it which happens by the end of the episode when she gives that advice to Elena.
Elena is handling her own losses reasonably well all things considered. She is noticeably deflated by the whole thing as she adjusts to her new reality and definitely has her moments but she isn’t as morbid as she could be. It’s a testament to the strong support system she has around her and Mack’s unwavering loyalty is definitely a source of comfort. Another source of levity comes from Mack’s endearing comment showing that his feelings for Elena haven’t changed after the loss of her arms. There is an amusing misunderstanding over what he means by the parts that count that cheers Elena and everyone else up. By the end of the episode he’s offering her a sense of normality by bringing beers back along with some robot arms.
Her conversation with Coulson is an interesting insight into what it’s like to cope with a loss like that. He’s open and honest about the true reality of having a prosthetic fitted in that it looks real to an external observer but the awareness of what is gone still exists on a personal level. This honesty shows how much Coulson respects the others by not trying to make Elena feel better with a comforting lie. He does assure her that she will get used to her and this offers as something of a metaphor for what the team will have to deal with once Coulson dies. They will be aware of the loss but they’ll adapt.
On the villain front General Hale continues to work on her own super team. Her sights are currently set on Werner Von Strucker (Spencer Treat Clark) who now goes by Alex and starts the episode begging a therapist for Thorazine before stabbing him. It turns out that Lincoln using his powers to force him out of a coma while connected to a memory enhancer has caused him to remember all of the suppressed painful experiences. To make it worse he experiences them as if they’re happing right now and this torture is constant. His enhanced memory is something that General Hale is very interested in as remembering every fact he is exposed to in excruciating detail is a very useful skill. I’m all for this character being featured more as his newfound tortured persona makes him a very interesting addition to the cast. Werner Von Strucker was nothing special before but at this point he’s a fascinating character.
Ruby is a character who is consistently hard to read but appears to have a genuine hatred for her mother who makes her do things that she doesn’t want to do. General Hale orders her to gain Von Strucker’s trust through any means necessary even if it involves seduction. It’s safe to say that she won’t be up for the title of “Mother of the Year” anytime soon and Ruby’s disdain for this treatment is clear. Instead of following orders she comes clean to Von Strucker about what her orders were and offers him the opportunity to join her in defiance of her mother. His reward will be an opportunity to be part of a team where members aren’t exploited.
Dove Cameron continues to impress in this role. She is noticeably a teenager but there’s a detached menacing side to her as well. Ruby is clearly biding her time until the right opportunity to overthrow her mother presents herself. Cameron’s performance is subdued and deliberate suggesting that Ruby is someone carefully planning her next move and has conditioned herself to go along with the horrible things she is being made to do. I like that the show is taking its time developing the villain story as it allows time for the audience to invest in them as characters.
This episode was light on action but what it did deliver was really impressive. The floating ship was a really cool image and the 90 second countdown to escape it once retrieving the Gravitonium as General Hale’s robots attacked was really tense with good sprinklings of M.C. Hammer humour as an amusing callback to earlier in the episode. This show still demonstrates an ability to craft impressively creative action sequences.
A well put together episode that has both a lot and very little happen. The character beats were really strong from Deke desperately seeking validation after learning that Fitz and Simmons are his grandparents to Mac lovingly showing his support for Elena after losing her arms. Deke’s scenes are really interesting as they reveal a fear of losing those he cares about as well as looking to be part of something. The scene between him and the manifestation of his mother was really touching and informative. Mac meeting up with a former classmate revealing some embarrassing anecdotes was a good excuse for levity to offset the grimness and the information gained here pays off in satisfying ways later in the episode.
On the villain front the return of Werner Von Strucker with an ability to remember everything in painful detail is handled really well along with the development of Ruby as someone who is unhappy with the current status quo and has plans to overthrow her mother in some way. It builds the villain team narrative while allowing the audience to invest in those involved. The episode was light on action but delivered a creative one in the form of a floating ship, tense 90 second count down and a cool fight sequence further demonstrating this show’s ability to craft creative action sequences.
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