Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 17
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD delivers the promised conflict between Ruby and Daisy as Fitz, Simmons and Elena try to find a way to save the world.
The bulk of the episode is focused on Fitz, Simmons and Elena who head to England in order to take down H.Y.D.R.A. tech that may result in the destruction of Earth. This happens to be the group of people who all consider themselves invincible due to future knowledge so they tackle the problem with a concerning sense of arrogance. Each of them feels that success is inevitable because they can’t be killed which results in a lot of reckless behaviour on their part.
Initially the facility doesn’t seem to be all that well defended with Ivanov and a couple of robots being all that prevents them from entering. Of course there are hidden forces but at first it seems like a really easy infiltration that leads them to the answer they have been looking for. They find a stored infusion chamber and the components to finish assembling it. The chamber itself looks exactly like the one used on Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger. If it isn’t the same one then it is definitely the same design which makes sense when considering that the plan is to artificially graft super powers onto a Human Being.
This appears to be an easy victory for the group as they are able to damage a necessary component in order to render the machine useless though Fitz rightly points out that it’s highly likely their previous selves in other iterations of the time loop followed exactly the same course of action meaning that everything they do is ultimately pointless. Fitz’ speculation is interesting because it’s another sign of the characters second guessing their actions because they don’t know what it is that ultimately dooms Earth to certain destruction. At this point they can either follow their instincts or act against them with no clear idea what decision will be the more positive one. Deciding how to proceed with that level of uncertainty must be a terrifying prospect and it’s clear that the lack of answers proves frustrating.
Fitz and Simmons treat this mission as their Honeymoon which is probably the best they can hope for given everything they’ve been through. As a couple they decide to see the positive side of the situation and be happy with what they get. All things considered it could be a lot worse as at least they get to spend time together and work to make the world a better place. Ultimately as long as they have each other they are very content and their relationship seems to be stronger than ever despite all of the recent hardships endured. Fitz’ simple statement “We never leave each other’s side any more” is a clear indicator that they don’t need anything else but each other and have learned that bad things happen when they are apart so have decided that they will stay together from now on. It’s a sweet statement that fits their relationship perfectly.
The assumption of vulnerability comes into play in a big way during this part of the plot. Fitz and Simmons recklessly take on a superior force of H.Y.D.R.A. Androids because they feel that it is impossible for them to be killed. I keep wondering when the show will shatter expectations by proving one of the “invincible” characters wrong in a really shocking way. It would be a powerful confirmation that the future can be changed while creating a shocking moment for the audience while allowing loss to be a motivating factor.
A big problem with declaring any of the characters invincible is that it can mean there is no jeopardy at play in their scenes. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD gets round that nicely by never confirming that the characters can’t die and making it clear that it’s only an unconfirmed believe on their part. That belief can also be shaken such as when Simmons clearly fears for her life when her gun jams followed by the collective realisation that the only way to survive is to surrender.
This is followed by a threat on their lives that Ruby will carry out if they don’t fix the component. Fitz comes to a realisation in this moment that they are actually playing out events as they are supposed to happen and have no choice in how they play out. Simmons tells Fitz that they can’t let thing happen as they did before but he’s clearly conflicted and sees saving Simmons as his personal priority. Letting her die means that Ruby has no leverage over him meaning that he doesn’t need to repair the component but this is also something he can’t bring himself to do so he takes this as confirmation that the future can’t be changes. It’s doubly interesting because simple inaction is all that is required to change the future so the show still flirts with the idea of destiny vs. freedom of choice.
Elena approaches her apparent invulnerability in a slightly different way. She is always shown to be determined to fight throughout the episode suggesting that she has unresolved emotional issues that are manifesting as rage. This comes to a head when she fights Ivanov and doesn’t hold back in the least. She acknowledges that he’s a machine who can die pretty much an infinite number of times so she can get away without thinking of him as Human and unleashing all of her strength on him to gain a form of catharsis by violently expelling all of her pent up emotions. It’s a well choreographed action sequence with a lot of emotional heft to it that makes it really engaging to watch. Elena rushes into the fight with no regard for her own safety and even throws herself out of the window without even considering that it might result in her own death.
Ruby gains a lot of development in this episode in various ways. She finds the courage to step out of her mother’s shadows and begin to forge her own path. The exchange between Ruby and her mother is brilliantly written and acted with Ruby pointing out the hypocrisy of Hale’s plans for her. She was very much forced into the position of giving birth to the future of H.Y.D.R.A. and is bitter about the loss of choice in her own life. Ruby says “You wanted a choice but you never gave me one”; it’s a strong statement of the mistakes Hale has made as a mother and what this has done to Ruby.
She is kept locked in a room on the base when she isn’t required so much so that the door can be left open and she won’t leave because Ruby feels entirely imprisoned beyond that single room. Her entire life is her prison and it will take a lot to escape that. There is also a sense of futility to the way she lives her life because she’s unable to truly please her mother despite learning every lesson and passing every test. She says that she has no weaknesses except her mother.
This turns out to be an ingenious ploy to weaken her mother’s resolve and turn the table on her. Dove Cameron plays the change in tone from hysterical to almost robotically calm brilliantly showing that she has learned her lessons a little too well. It could be read that she was being dishonest about her feelings but I don’t see it that way. It was definitely carefully calculated to throw General Hale off her guard and make her vulnerable. This shows that Ruby can no longer learn anything from her and has moved beyond the plans that defined her existence. It’s a really powerful scene and Dove Cameron outdoes herself.
Extra weight is added to the conversation with it coming after Ruby’s first confrontation with Daisy. It is something she has been building up to for quite some time and has fuelled a lot of her training so it’s a very important moment for her. The fact that her mother is responsible for stopping the fight proves to Ruby that she has absolutely no control and ultimately inspires her to take that important step.
Considering how this fight was built up ever since Ruby’s introduction it was disappointingly brief and failed to be a good showcase of their skills. I like the way it is confirmed as a significant event for Ruby while Daisy sees it as nothing more than a standard confrontation. Having it mean so much more to one side of the conflict makes for an interesting dynamic though I wish more work had been put into them squaring off against one another. I fully expect this not to be the only time they face off but I was hoping for something more monumental.
The surprise injury of Deke and the battle to save his life is really well done. Up until this point Deke’s place as a necessary part of the team hadn’t really been confirmed but the near loss of him proves that he has become an essential part of the group. The frantic attempts to stop him from dying are portrayed as they would be for any of the longer serving characters which forces the audience to consider what will be missing from the dynamic if he were to die.
His delirious admission of the feelings he has for Daisy is both hilarious and an organic point of development for the characters. He has always had a flirtatious dynamic with Daisy and his drug addled confession confirms that he would like more from her than the banter they have previously shared. Whether this will go anywhere based on Daisy’s focus on bigger picture issues is anyone’s guess but it’s an endearing look into the mind of Deke.
Coulson and May revisit their feelings when May chews him out for behaving recklessly. As far as Coulson is concerned he acted in the only way he could and got results through his actions. This isn’t something May is prepared to accept as she doesn’t want him to assume that his life is expendable just because his days are numbers. She passionately declares that she loves him as a way to remind him what he has to live for while also making her position on protecting him abundantly clear. It’s not a shock revelation as we already know this but it’s an effective motivator to force Coulson to consider other people when making decisions instead of throwing himself into danger constantly. It has weight because it comes from May and the episode makes it clear that Coulson isn’t redundant yet because Daisy struggles with the notion of leadership as she doesn’t have proper guidance on how to be an effective leader.
The tragedy associated with Talbot’s current situation makes for a really strong addition to the episode. At first he is characterised as someone who has lost everything and has no real direction in life. He’s put in a room in the Lighthouse like a spare part that has outlived his usefulness and has a lot of time to deal with that. Adding to that is his personal confirmation that he has surrendered a lot of information that puts the team in danger.
He is also dealing with the fact that he snapped at his family causing them to be afraid of him. Talbot has to live with causing his son to be afraid of him and he isn’t even able to contact them so that he can apologise. Daisy hears his words and feels sympathetic because she clearly feels that he has suffered enough so she manages to find a secure way he can call his family. This action motivated by kindness will end up being a grave mistake as Talbot’s wife is coerced into saying a series of phrases that triggers H.Y.D.R.A. programming meaning that there is now a dangerous element within their own base
Adrian Pasdar is great in all of his scenes in this episode. The pain and regret is always evident and the gratitude when Daisy hands him the phone comes across really well. After all he has been through Talbot really deserved a win which makes the ending all the more tragic.
An excellent episode that focuses on emotional development above story development. Fitz, Simmons and Elena exploring their apparent immortality is handled well by putting them in a situation that tests it and still leaving it ambiguous as to whether the future can be changed allows for plenty of jeopardy. Fitz’ realisation that he can’t sacrifice Simmons even though doing so might save the world seems to confirm to him that the future is inevitable though that is only his opinion. Ruby’s development is brilliantly handled with a really powerful and raw scene where she points out the hypocrisy in the way her mother raised her. This culminates in Ruby turning the tables on her mother in a really satisfying way.
Ruby’s confrontation with Daisy is a little underwhelming considering Ruby’s obsession with taking her on. There’s merit to the idea that it means nothing to Daisy but I expected a more impressive fight for the first time they meet. Deke’s near death experience inclusive of him confessing his feelings for Daisy confirms how important he has become to the overall team dynamic and delivers amusing insight into Deke. May chewing Coulson out on his reckless behaviour and reminding him that she loves him in order to force him to consider others when he acts is a great character moment made more impactful when considering their relationship. Talbot’s role in the episode is really tragic and powerful with all the guilt and regret as well as feeling useless coming to a head. His conversation with his wife leading to his programming being activated was a great cliffhanger and further adds to the tragedy of this character.
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