Friday, January 26, 2018

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5, Episode 3: A Life Spent

I am criminally behind on my Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews, so I'm gonna do my best to catch up this week.

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. we get whatcha call your Setup Episode. One in which little of consequence happens, as the episode spends its entire runtime doing nothing but maneuvering everyone into position like pieces on a chessboard. 

For some reason I'm just not feeling these episodes, which is surprising to me. I love spaceships and sci-fi, so you'd think I'd be totally invested in this story arc. I don't hate it, but so far the whole future space plotline feels kind of "meh" to me.

This week I think I finally figured out why it's because none of it matters. See, last week we were informed that at some vague point in the past, Daisy used her quake powers to shatter the entire Earth into a billion pieces. That was a pretty good trick, considering she was plucked out of the timeline in 2017 and brought to the future. How the hell could she destroy the planet in the past if she wasn't there to do it?

Deke attempts to explain it in this episode, by saying Daisy and the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew are currently in a parallel world in the multiverse. A completely different universe if you will, one in which a different Daisy shattered a different Earth.

That means none of this matters. It wasn't OUR Daisy's Earth that was destroyed, it was somebody else's! Sure, you could argue that if the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are true heroes, they'd strive to save ANY Earth, but it kind of takes the punch out of the story when you realize they're no longer in their own universe.

To further distance this storyline, the agents are all working to prevent this parallel Earth from being destroyed. In effect they're trying to erase this universe's timeline! 

That means you shouldn't get too attached to characters like Deke, Tess and Abby, because if S.H.I.E.L.D.'s successful, they're all going to vanish! 

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
After the events of last week, Simmons is now one of Kasius' servants, and can only hear him when he speaks directly to her. She watches as a representative of the alien Lady Basha arrives, informing Kasius that she won't be attending his lavish dinner. This causes the unstable Kasius to freak out and flip a table. Sinara calms him down, and tells him Simmons may be able to help them.

Meanwhile, Coulson, Mack and Yo-yo owe a debt to the slimy Grill, and are working in the Lighthouse to pay it off. Grill uses his remote to zap Yo-yo for working too slowly (heh). This causes Mack to try and attack Grill in his office, but the doorway's magnetized and pins him the wall. Grill then zaps Mack, telling him he won't accept any shenanigans.

Yo-yo tells Mack he's stupid for trying to rebel, but he says he did it as recon. While being zapped he noticed an iPad and a gun in Grill's office— both contraband items that only the Kree are supposed to have.

Then we check in on the third plot, where Daisy and Deke are looking for the others. Much like the audience, Daisy's confused as to how she could have blown up the Earth in the past, when she was transported to the future. Deke infodumps some hooey to her about the multiverse or something. He meets with a local, who says the S.H.I.E.L.D. team must be in hiding. You think?

Coulson tells Tess that he wants to take a short jaunt into space to check out what the late Virgil was up to. She reluctantly says OK and speaks with Grill, who says she owes him a double haul of... something. Space rocks, I guess? She says she'll need help scooping them up in her trawler, and suggest taking the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents along. Grill agrees, saying they're expendable (but... doesn't he expect them to pay their debt to him?). Tess takes Coulson, Mack and May with her in the trawler, while Yo-yo stays behind.

Sinara unblocks Simmon's hearing, and takes her to a room containing a young girl named Abby. Simmons tries to take Abby's hand, but passes right through her. Abby says she's an Inhuman who's just gone through Terrigenensis. She can alter her density, becoming super solid or completely intangible. Unfortunately she can't control this power yet. She's upset that if she doesn't learn to do so before the "ceremony," her family will be punished. Simmons agrees to help her.

Tess and the others take off in the trawler. Unfortunately Grill sends his enforcer Zev along with them, to make sure they come back. On the bridge, Coulson notes that the number "616" turns up over and over in Virgil's journal, and believes he was searching for something in the rubble of Earth that surrounds the Lighthouse. Tess says there's a large hunk of Earth labeled 616, but it's just a lifeless rock. Coulson insists on checking it out anyway.

Meanwhile Grill's monitor keeps showing that Yo-yo's gone, yet every time he looks over at her, she's there. Obviously she's using her superspeed to fool the sensor, but he assumes her metric's broken. He lumbers over and removes her old metric. Yo-yo immediately sprints into his office, grabs the iPad and hands it off to Daisy, who's waiting outside. She also grabs Grill's gun before returning to her starting point, all before he even notices she was gone. He replaces her metric with a "working" one.

In the trawler, Coulson sees what's left of Earth for the first time. Tess holds up a tiny globe that belonged to Virgil and tries to imagine what the planet looked like before it was shaken apart. Coulson takes the globe and opens it, revealing a knob inside (I guess it never occurred to Tess to do this). Tess is gobsmacked, saying it's the "Lost Knob" from the trawler's interior (?). Coulson uses the knob to open a cabinet in the wall, revealing a secret ham radio.

Just then Zev enters, sees what's going on and magnetizes their metrics, pinning them to the walls. May rams the ship into a small meteor, which throws Zev off balance. Mack enters and knocks out Zev, taking him below. Tess is horrified, saying they'll all be killed for assaulting a superior.

Simmons works with Abby, teaching her about the space between the atoms in the human body. This allows Abby to pass her hand through a glass pitcher. That was easy! Kasius enters and says it's time for the ceremony.

Daisy uses the stolen iPad to scan for Simmons. Deke sees her with the contraband device, and warns her she'll be captured or even killed if she's found with it.

In the trawler, Tess wants to kill Zev and make it look like an accident, in order to save all their lives. For some reason Mack's horrified by this notion, and says they're not killing anyone. Just then they approach the 616 fragment, and hear a weak radio signal coming from it. Once again Tess says that's impossible, as no one could live on 616. Coulson realizes the signal is bouncing off 616, and is actually coming from the surface of what's left of Earth. None of this makes any sense, but let's just roll with it or we'll be here all day.

In the Lighthouse, Lady Basha finally arrives and attends the ceremony. She, Kasius and their respective entourages sit in a balcony overlooking a small (very small!) arena. Suddenly Abby's thrown into the center of the arena. She looks around nervously as the Incredible Hulk, er, I mean Lady Basha's Champion appears. He's a huge, lumbering brute who dwarfs poor Abby. He begins (very) violently throwing her around the ring, as she begs him to leave her alone.

Just as the Champion's about to finish her off, Abby looks up and sees Simmons. She remembers her advice and relaxes. Her body becomes super dense just as the Champion punches her, which breaks all the bones in his arm. She then hold out her hand as he lunges toward her. Her hand becomes immaterial and passes through his chest, killing him.

On the trawler, Tess and Mack continue to argue over what to do with Zev. Just then May notices a leak, and realizes Zev cut the fuel lines. I guess no one thought to tie him up so he couldn't cause any trouble? She says they need to return to the Lighthouse immediately.

Simmons then watches as Kasius sells Abby to Lady Basha, for some nefarious purpose. She's horrified by the fact that slavery exists in this world, despite the fact that she's one herself. She tries to stop him, but Sinara threatens her with her balls (there's gotta be a better way to write that).

Tess and the others return to the Lighthouse, and Zev tells Grill what happened. Grill threatens to report them all to the Kree, which will mean their death sentences. Just then Yo-yo uses her superspeed to plant the forbidden gun on Zev, too fast for anyone to see. She then accuses Zev of having a gun. Grill searches him, finds the gun, and forgets about the others. He says he won't stand for such actions from anyone, even Zev, and reports him to the Kree.

Daisy searches for Simmons, but is spotted by two Kree. She takes them both out in a pretty impressive fight. She then locates Simmons in Kasius' quarters (I think?) and starts quaking through the floors to reach her. Suddenly the corridor she's in fills with gas, and she drops to her knees. Kasius and Deke enter then enter. Deke betrays Daisy by presenting her to Kasius. She vows to kill him.

Later, Coulson wakes up and looks out the window at the remains of Earth, which for some reason is a repeat of the Season 4 finale. He joins Mack, Yo-yo, May and Tess, who are trying to decipher the radio signal from Earth that he recorded earlier. The signal mentions someone looking for the "delegation," which is obviously code for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Tess tells them yet again that this is impossible, as nothing can live on the surface of Earth.

Cut to the surface of Earth (or what's left of it). It's a hellish, storm-filled place that somehow still has an atmosphere and normal gravity, despite the fact that it's a wedge-shaped piece of the planet. We see Zev's been exiled there as punishment. He staggers around a bit before he's surrounded by bloodthirsty "roaches," the creatures we saw last week. They close in and eat him as the camera pulls up.

Thoughts:

• I'm very confused about exactly where everyone is in this story arc, and just where the Lighthouse is located. Last week I assumed it was inside some kind of space station.

This week's episode begins with an impressive tracking shot, as the camera zooms in on a hunk of the shattered Earth, and keeps on zooming in, finally coming to rest near what appears to be Lady Basha's ship docked near Kasius' complex.

This would imply that the Lighthouse is not in a space station at all, but actually inside this giant space rock. If this is truly what's happening here, then the show did a piss-poor job of depicting it last week.

By the way, if the Lighthouse is really inside this sliver of Earth, wouldn't the gravity be much, much lower than normal? Gravity's related to mass, right? There ain't a whole lot of mass on this rock. Maybe the Lighthouse has artificial gravity generators?

• Last week Deke revealed that Daisy used her powers to quake apart the Earth at some point in the past. This week, Daisy quite rightly asks him how the hell that's possible, since she was shanghaied to the future. She couldn't have destroyed the Earth in the past, because she wasn't there!

The writers make a half-hearted attempted to explain this, by having Deke describe the multiverse theory. He says, "You probably never heard of it, but in quantum physics, there's a theory that, for every universe, there are infinite parallel universes. So in my universe, you destroyed the planet."

Apparently this means that Daisy and the others are now in a completely different universe from their own, one in which the Earth's been shaken apart. So why the hell should the audience care what happens to Deke or Tess or any of the others? And why should the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents risk their lives to save any of them? They're like fictional characters to them!

Also, this is really nitpicky,but whatever. Deke says, "There's a theory that, for every universe, there are infinite parallel universes." I think he means "for every ACTION" here.

• Coulson spends most of the episode looking for a large hunk of the destroyed Earth labeled 616.

Fans of Marvel comic will recognize that number. Much like DC, Marvel has a multiverse of parallel worlds, each with its own I.D. number. The main Marvel Comic Universe, in which Spider-Man and the Avengers and everyone else lives, is 616.

• In the trawler, Tess holds up the little globe and compares it to the shattered Earth. She says, "Virgil would always do this. Said he liked seeing what Earth will look like when it's fixed."

Fixed? FIXED?? How in the name of Stan Lee's Toupee could anyone ever fix THAT? Gather up all the space rocks and put 'em back together like a mammoth puzzle?

• Coulson twists open the little globe, revealing a small object inside. Tess gasps and says, "It's The Lost Knob!" Note that she says this with all the reverence of someone finding the Lost Sea Scrolls, or the Ark Of The Covenant.

She then immediately rushes over to a cabinet in the wall of the trawler. She inserts The Lost Knob and at long, long last, is finally able to open the mysterious cabinet, revealing a radio inside.

Seriously? She's never been able to stick a screwdriver into the cabinet's lock and open that damned thing before now? Oy.

• Coulson picks up a radio signal coming from Earth Fragment 616. Tess tries to explain to him that that's impossible, as it's a lifeless rock without an atmosphere. Eventually Coulson realizes that the signal is simply being reflected off of 616, and is actually coming from Earth.

Yeah... I don't think so. It's implied that Virgil was monitoring signals bouncing off 616 for quite some time. That means the rock had to be hanging in the exact same spot in space for months, maybe even years. That seems unlikely. Every time we see a shot of space, it's filled with thousands and thousands of rocks and asteroids, tumbling along and crashing into one another. There's no way in hell that 616 has been completely stationary this whole time.

• At one point Abby, who has the same powers as the Vision of the Avengers, alters the density of her hand and sticks into through a glass pitcher. She then loses her concentration as her hand becomes normal, busting the pitcher into a million pieces.

It's a good thing the pitcher shattered. Otherwise when her hand regained normal density, the glass would have probably sheared off all her fingers.

• If Grill looks familiar to you, that's because he's played by prolific character actor Pruitt Taylor Vance. You may remember him as mass murderer Malcolm Rivers in the movie Identity.

• I very much liked the depiction of Yo-yo's superspeed. As she runs along, she leaves a series of "afterimages" of herself, which makes for an interesting effect. Have they depicted her superspeed like this before? I don't remember seeing the effect before, but it's possible they did and my addled brain just forgot.

Since we already see speedster effects every week over on The CW, I assume they were trying to come up with a different look for Yo-yo's power here. It worked! Kudos, FX team!

By the way, isn't it funny how superspeed always seems to be depicted by filming a person in slow motion? They've been doing that since the 1970s, all the way back to The Six Million Dollar Man!

• Lady Basha (and her entourage) are aliens of an as-yet unidentified species. You can tell she's an alien because of her elaborate effects makeup, which consists of a pair of red contact lenses. Awesome! And you thought Star Trek: The Next Generation's "wrinkly forehead of the week" aliens were lame!

• That old devil the TV Budget rears its ugly head in the gladiator scene in this episode. I'm sure the writers envisioned as a spectacular sequence, taking place inside a vast arena, surrounded by thousands of rabid spectators.


Something like this, perhaps.

Unfortunately Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could only afford this. A small pit slightly larger than my house, attended by ten people. (Cue falling slide whistle)

It would have been nice if Lady Basha's Champion had looked like this.

But we'll just have to settle for a beefy Bane knockoff.

I'm sure the writers had this in mind when they imagined the gallery watching the ceremony.

But we'll have to settle for these bored people sitting behind a railing.

By the way, isn't it funny how this gladiatorial combat scene just happened to pop up on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. the same month that Thor: Ragnarok was playing in theaters?

• At the end of the fight, Abby holds out her hand to ward off the Champion. Apparently she instinctively dials down her density and becomes intangible. The Champion lunges for her, and her hand goes through his chest. He roars in pain as he backs up, collapses and dies.

Of course the scene's filmed this way to absolve Abby of any responsibility in the Champion's death. He literally killed himself by walking into her phased arm. It's like a Disney Villain Death, in which the bad guy's evil antics always result in him accidentally killing himself, to keep the hero pure and responsibility-free.

Unfortunately I don't think the writers understand how intangibility works, as the scene makes little or no sense.

Earlier we saw her pass her hand through a glass pitcher, with absolutely no effect. The same thing should have happened here. When the Champion walked toward her, Abby's hand should have passed harmlessly into his chest, with no ill effects. It'd be like shining a flashlight at the Champion's chest— absolutely nothing should have happened.

Also, if she really was intangible here, then her hand wouldn't be covered in the Champion's blood when she pulled it out of his chest. The blood wouldn't be able to stick, and would go right through her arm.

As filmed, the only way the scene could work is if Abby became intangible right as the Champion lunged for her, then increased her density once her arm was inside him. This means it wasn't an accident after all, and she willingly killed him.

• After the ceremony, Lady Basha's so impressed with Abby that she immediately buys her from Kasius. Simmons is horrified by this transaction, and seems completely surprised that the concept of slavery exists here in the future.

Um... she does know that she herself is a slave of Kasius, right? Did she somehow miss that fact?

• In the trawler, Zev incapacitates Coulson, May and Tess, threatening to turn them in to the Kree. Mack then appears and knocks him out. This terrifies Tess, who says Mack just signed their death warrants by assaulting a superior. She wants to throw Zev into space and say he died in an accident, but Mack refuses, saying "S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't kill."

(Insert spit-take sound effect here).

Since when? S.H.I.E.L.D., and Mack himself, have never had a problem with killing in the past! They've left a trail of bodies a mile wide the past four seasons. Why' Mack all of a sudden becoming a peacenik? Especially when doing so ends up endangering their own lives?

In the end Mack's charitable behavior doesn't matter one bit, as the minute they all get back to the Lighthouse, Yo-yo frames Zev, which results in him getting killed anyway. Take that, Mack's Principles!

• Yo-yo frames Zev by planting a gun on him and alerting Grill. This is a serious offense, as the Kree don't allow humans to own guns inside the Lighthouse.

Why is Grill making such a big deal about Zev having the gun? IT'S GRILL'S OWN GUN! Yo-yo stole it out of his office! Is he making a show about it in front of everyone to deflect the blame from himself? If so that's a pretty slimy plan, and some decent writing from the staff.

• At the end of the episode, Daisy's sneaking around the Lighthouse looking for Simmons. She enters an elevator, and before the door can close, a couple of burly Kree start to enter. Fortunately she's able to hide from them in a ceiling alcove.

Look, I get it— it's a comic book show. It's filled with superpowers and outrageous, impossible action. But throw the audience a bone here. You've got to ground the show in a tiny bit of reality. Just look at the way she's suspended in that elevator! Tell me how the hell anyone— even someone with quake powers— could possibly jump nine feet straight up and then suddenly spread their arms and legs out to wedge herself into that alcove!

All that said, when she's eventually discovered in the elevator by the two Kree, there's a VERY impressive hand-to-hand fight between the two of them! If nothing else, this show has an AWESOME stunt team!

• As she's looking for Simmons, Daisy does the Superhero Landing!

• This Week's Best Lines:
Meh, not a lot of them this week.

Zev: (to Yo-yo) "Hey! New Girl! You get any slower, you're going in the crusher."
(HAW HAW! It's funny because she secretly has superspeed!)

Coulson: "The answer to why we're here might be out there."
May: "Then we go."
Mack: "I'd rather not go where no one can hear you scream, but okay."

Grill: "I knew someone was stealing. Squirreling things away."
Mack: "Yeah, like you know what a squirrel is.

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