Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 5 Episode 7
“Together or Not at All”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD reunites the majority of the team and starts to move towards the end game of the future set outer space story arc.
Nobody could accuse this season of being slow so far. Things have moved along at an impressive clip which means that there are fewer instances of plot points outstaying their welcome. The flip side is that things often feel like they’re moving too quickly such as the death of Tess last week when the character still had a lot of potential. In the grand scheme of things many of these characters won’t matter because the endgame is surely returning to the past to ensure that this future never happens.
The problem with that mindset is that it’s difficult to invest in any of the new characters since they will be erased by a changing timeline meaning that any focus on them could be seen as a waste of time. I don’t see it that way necessarily because the team don’t really know what their endgame is at this point so they don’t devalue the people they meet here. Mack takes the time to console Flint after Tess’ death because he sees a young man in pain after a significant loss. It’s likely from an audience point of view that the team will return to their own time but for now Mack can’t ignore the fact that there is a young man in need of his guidance and support.
This is one of the strongest scenes in the episode that reinforces Mack’s position as the heart of the team. At this point he is very much defined by the loss of his daughter in the Framework and is starting to come to terms with what that means for him. He won’t be able to fully process it quite yet because of the situation they’re in but that doesn’t mean he can’t empathise with someone in need of his help. The lesson he relates is that bad people hurting good people isn’t fair and that life often doesn’t treat people fairly. It’s not an optimistic lesson but it’s very much a realistic one and it’s something Flint needs to hear. His arc for the episode involves deciding what his powers mean to him in a place where violence is the only thing that gets noticed by those who enslave humanity. Once again, life isn’t fair and Flint is the perfect example of that.
Mack’s empathy comes through clearly especially when he bluntly mentions that he has also lost people and it never gets any easier. In many ways he’s preparing Flint for a harsh existence and suggesting to him that a choice needs to made about how he will decide to handle loss as it certainly won’t be the last time he experiences it. Tess’ death may have been abrupt and ultimately a mistake but at least it has weight where Flint is concerned.
His decision to avenge her by appearing to turn himself in before using his powers to kill a Kree using a blade made of rocks makes sense when you consider Flint is an angry young man who actually has the power to seek revenge in a very tangible way. It won’t bring Tess back of course but it’s a believable way for a young man to act when he is grieving, angry and has the ability to lash out.
Ultimately this transitions into something more positive when he makes the decision to use his powers to help the others on the Lighthouse which allows him to become a superhero fighting for those who can’t protect themself. It’s a dystopian future version of the superhero concept but that only shows how versatile the idea is. Surprisingly Mack and Elena decide to stay and help Flint which makes the reunion of the team something of a tease and suggests that there’s still quite a lot to do before the inevitable return to the present day can happen.
Flint’s decision to use his powers to protect those around him is a natural end point for his arc in this episode though it feels that he transitions from grief to affirmative action far too quickly. This is an inevitable consequence of burning through plot so rapidly. It’s not terrible plotting but it feels slightly clumsy as a result.
Having the team back together with the exception of May was really satisfying as it has been some time since we have seen the majority of them in the same room. Fitz being back in the mix was particularly entertaining thanks to his great dynamic with Mack who wants to know about his trip through time despite the urgency of the situation. The later conversation about the S.H.I.E.L.D. tech left on a dangerous level was equally hilarious thanks to Fitz’ reaction. Moments of levity help to maintain the character relationships on this show by further reinforcing how close they are and that compelling dynamics have been built over a number of years.
Deke is also along for the ride and contributes very little other than complaining about being locked in his room. I don’t mind the character though it feels like he largely exists for nuisance value with no real development of his own. There is still the flirtatious edge to his interactions with Daisy but that also doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There is potential for Deke to be developed to some degree once the team gets to the Earth’s surface as it was previously established that it was his father’s voice coming from the surface.
Some time in the episode is devoted to May on Earth being hunted by the Roaches. Fortunately for her she is saved by Enoch who has been tracking her for some time. May is immediately suspicious of Enoch especially after learning he has no flesy parts. She is understandably wary of anything that could be considered a robot which forces Enoch to repeat his backstory to put her at least a little bit at ease. The episode ends with the reveal that Robin (Willow Hale) is still alive and very active in this time period. It’ll be interesting to see how her ability to predict the future will play out now that the future has come to pass.
Despite May’s role in the episode being a small one I found the conversation she had with Enoch to be fascinating. Outside of her obvious mistrust of artificial beings there is a hint that May’s role as a fighter may change at some point in her near future. Enoch suggests to her that it might be time for a career change considering her current injuries. Perhaps it will get to the point where she fighting risks permanent injury so she can’t do it any more. It would be a drastic change for the character but these kinds of changes can bring with them some fascinating opportunities to take characters in a different direction.
I mentioned last week that Kasius’ relationship with his brother Faulnak was mentioned but largely glossed over so I was glad to see time devoted to developing it in this episode. Their discussions are somewhat expository though not in a bad way as they fill in a lot of back story along with the emotion associated with that back story. It is mentioned that Kasius was sent on a suicide mission by their father and survived because he allied himself with Sinara who saved his life. It’s clear to Kasius that he isn’t someone meant to be on the battlefield and would rather use his intelligence along with his resourcefulness to find another way to manage a situation. The entire setup of the Lighthouse proves that he has an ability to make things work in his favour though this obviously doesn’t meet with Faulnak or his father’s approval.
Faulnak makes some very cutting remarks about Kasius such as calling him a coward along with the poetic “God over a dead rock” who stabs his enemies in the back. These statements aren’t untrue based on what we as the audience know about Kasius. He does keep himself at arms length and uses other people to do his bidding while reminding everyone that Kasius is the one they should be afraid of. It works for the terrified Humans living on the Lighthouse because he appears to be an omniscient figure controlling their fates but it’s something his brother sees through and being called out on it really gets to him.
Kasius killing Faulnak is very satisfying and shows how well the writers develop their relationship in a very short time. Faulnak talking about the intimacy of bladed weapons being used for hunting and killing adds extra meaning to Kasius killing him as he turns the intimacy back on him and makes him suffer in a way that will humiliate him before he dies.
There is also some depth added to the Kasius and Sinara partnership as there appears to be a codependency to their relationship that hasn’t really been explored before. Sinara clearly sees him as someone in need of her support and Kasius definitely feels safer with her around. Both of them seem loyal to one another for their own reasons that aren’t really explained though there is definitely something interesting that the remaining episodes of this arc could delve into.
One disappointment from this story is that Faulnak doesn’t have the opportunity to make use of his boasts about hunting down people with their own weapons. This role is filled by his assassin Maston-Dar (Remington Hoffman) who comes across almost Terminator like in his commitment and unstoppable nature. All the team can do is slow him down and keep ahead of him. He appears threatening throughout the episode thanks to really tense moments such as slowly poking holes in a wall separating him from his targets. It’s visually compelling and the ticking clock aspect builds tension wonderfully. There’s nothing to the character other than his unstoppable nature but sometimes that’s enough.
Another great episode that moves the plot forward and allows most of the cast to interact. Brief moments of levity reinforce the strong connection the team have. Fitz and Mack’s banter was great to see and appropriately hilarious. Deke’s presence in these scenes felt somewhat unnecessary but I feel that more development is incoming for this character. Flint was used well in the episode though his arc from grieving lost young man to wannabe superhero feels unnaturally quick and jarring as a result. It’s great to see Mack as a mentor figure and use his own experience to reassure Flint but it happens too quickly.
The strongest moments in the episode were between Kasius and his brother Faulnak. Their strained relationship plays out really well and the fact that Faulnak is far from impressed with his brother’s control over the Humans is interesting to watch as it’s clear who the dominant personality is. Kasius killing Faulnak is really satisfying especially with the implied intimacy of killing him with a blade putting Kasius on top. The codependent connection between Kasius and Sinara is interesting as well so I hope this is developed. Maston-Dar may be a very underdeveloped character but his relentless Terminator style hunting of the team works really well and creates a lot of tense moments.
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