Monday, February 5, 2018

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5, Episode 4: A Life Earned

I am criminally behind on my Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews, so bear with me as I desperately try to catch up.

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.Dwe get another setup episode, as the writers continue to move the characters around the board, spinning their wheels a bit until everyone's in place.

Last season the series was divided into three "story pods," which consisted of seven or eight episodes apiece. 
It was an interesting idea, one that worked out very well for the show. These mini-stories were faster paced and exciting, with little or no room for filler.

So far it looks like the writers have abandoned that idea, as this "Shattered Earth" plot is already ten episodes long and still going (I think). Maybe the writers are doing two twelve-episode storylines this season? All I know is so far this plot has featured way more talk than action, making me wish they'd go back to the Season 4 structure.

As I said last week, I'm just not feeling these episodes, mostly because nothing that happens in them matters. In effect the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are working to erase this future timeline, meaning the whole thing's moot!

A Life Earned was another solid, but unremarkable episode. We find out that Deke's father may be alive and well on Earth, Kasius plans to blow up the Lighthouse once he leaves, and we finally see the return of Fitz. Granted, that sounds like a lot of plot revelations, but they were all delivered in the blandest and most off-handed way possible. Hopefully episodes 5 through 10 (which I still haven't watched yet) will up the ante a bit and be a little more exciting.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
After capturing Daisy last week, she and Kasius verbally spar with one another while he has her blood drawn for reasons. He tells her about the legends that say S.H.I.E.L.D. will one day arrive and save what's left of humanity. He's afraid the sudden appearance of both Daisy and Simmons means the old stories might be true.

Daisy asks Kasius what he plans to do with her. He says he's planning a big gala in order to auction her off to the highest bidder, and her sale will allow him to finally buy his way off the shattered Earth.

Meanwhile Coulson, Mack & Yo-yo are still working off their debt to Grill in his factory. May joins them for some reason, as all trawler flights have been restricted. Yo-yo scouts the entire station at superspeed, but can't find any trace of Daisy. Grill pulls Mack aside and says now that Zev's dead, he wants him to be his new "enforcer." He says his first task will be to rough up a guy named Gunner, who owes him some money.

Daisy's taken to the Kasius arena (that we saw last week) for training. She watches as two men spar with one another. One of the men easily wins, as he seemingly anticipates all his opponent's moves. The winner introduces himself as Ben, and answers all her questions before she can even ask them. She realizes he's a fellow Inhuman, with the ability to read minds. 

Coulson overhears Grill talking about a mysterious package on Level 35, a floor forbidden to humans that houses Kree technology. He thinks they'll find answers there, and begins planning how to infiltrate the level.

Kasius brings his entourage— including Deke and the snooty Lady Basha— into the arena to observe Daisy's abilities. Daisy says she doesn't feel like performing, thank you very much, which enrages Kasius. One of his henchmen begins taunting and goading Daisy, and she eventually quakes him across the room. Lady Basha's so impressed she immediately offers to buy Daisy, but Kasius— clearly reveling in his newfound power— refuses to sell to her.

Kasius then pays Deke for capturing Daisy, giving him a single rhodium coin— which is considered a literal fortune in the Lighthouse. He tells Deke to let him know if he spots any more time travelers.

Later Coulson and May wait till Grill leaves, and then waltz out of his factory (even though they're supposed to be working triple shifts). They run into Deke and demand to know where Daisy is. He lies and says she's on a lower floor along with Simmons. Coulson asks him about Level 35, but he says he's never been there. Coulson says he wants to infiltrate the level to steal Kree tech and use it to investigate the surface of the Earth. When Deke asks why, Coulson plays the signal he receivedl from the supposedly dead world. Deke perks up when he hears this and agrees to help, but says he needs to gather a few things first, which isn't the least bit suspicious.

Yo-yo goes along with Mack to rough up Gunner (I guess she assumes Grill won't miss her either?). He's upset with her for framing Zev and causing his death last week. Yo-yo's pretty unconcerned about it, saying she did what she had to in order to survive. Mack's afraid they'll lose themselves in this violent world, but Yo-yo assures him that won't happen. Just to prove it, she says she can simply scare Gunner into paying so Mack won't have to beat him up.

Meanwhile, Kasius summons Simmons to his quarters. He then brings in Daisy and Ben. He asks Daisy how many time travelers are on the station. She lies and says it's just her and Simmons. Kasius looks to the telepathic Ben, who also lies and says Daisy's telling the truth. Kasius then shuts off Simmons' hearing, and asks Daisy how they got to the station. She spins a half-true story, saying Simmons was upset after breaking up with Fitz, so she took her to a diner to talk. While there they were abducted by men in black, and the next thing they knew they were in the Lighthouse in the future. Ben confirms this again.

Kasius then reactivates Simmons' hearing, and says her story had better match Daisy's exactly. Amazingly, Simmons tells the same story, word for word. Satisfied, Kasius lets them go. Sinara doesn't trust the humans, and Kasius admits he's suspicious of their stories as well.

Back in their quarters, Daisy asks what the hell just happened, and how Simmons was able to repeat her story verbatim. Ben reveals he doesn't just read minds, but can implant thoughts into them as well, which was pretty obvious to anyone watching the scene. He says no one— including Kasius— knows he can do that. He also tells Daisy he read Kasius' mind, and that once he sells her to the highest bidder, he'll have enough money to leave the Lighthouse. When he does, he intends to destroy it, along with everyone inside. Uh-oh! Suddenly the plot has a ticking clock!

Since the elevators won't take humans to Level 35, Coulson, May and Deke ride one to Level 36. They then climb through the top of the elevator and into the forbidden level. They find a lab where a Kree scientist is working on a project. He steps out for a bit and they investigate the lab. There they find the "package" Grill was talking about— it's a human child.

Deke explains to Coulson that the Kree have sterilized humanity, and the only way they can reproduce is through artificial means. The Kree design most babies to be potential Inhumans. While Deke's talking, May checks out a computer and sees Daisy's being held by Kasius. She confronts Deke, accusing him of selling out Daisy. Before he can explain, they're interrupted by a Kree soldier.

The Kree attacks, and the three humans fight back. They eventually defeat the Kree, but not before Deke is injured. May says more Kree are coming, and sends Coulson away to interrogate Deke and find out where Daisy is. Just then Sinara enters, and sends her flying metal balls at May. She holds her own against the alien assassin for a while, even managing to destroy one of her balls (!). Sinara smiles and sends the other one right at May's head...

Meanwhile, Yo-yo and Mack follow Gunner to his quarters, and try to intimidate him into paying Grill. When he tells them to shove off, they threaten to take the package he's expecting from Level 35. Gunner's aghast, saying he can't believe they'd threaten a baby. Yo-yo and Mack realize then just what the "package" is— it's Gunner's child, that he and his wife apparently had specially engineered for them.

Gunner hisses that people like Mack don't deserve children. This causes Mack to snap, since he's already lost a real daughter and a fake Framework one. He starts beating the ever-loving crap out of Gunner. Yo-yo manages to pull him off before he kills him.

Elsewhere, Deke tries to explain his actions to Coulson. He says his mother was an elder who was killed by Kasius. His father was then sent to Earth's surface as punishment. It was his voice he heard in the radio message to Virgil. Coulson's still suspicious. He asks Deke for his rhodium coin as proof he's telling the truth. How he knows Deke even has that is anyone's guess.

Deke willingly hands over the coin, which surprises Coulson. He says he still doesn't completely trust Deke, and locks him up in a sealed room. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents give the rhodium coin to Gunner, to make up for all the trouble they caused him.

Later Yo-yo asks Mack why he lost it when dealing with Gunner. He says he was able to get over losing his real daughter Hope, but not the virtual version inside the Framework. Grill shows up and says Gunner paid him off, and congratulates Mack for "working him over."

Meanwhile, Kasius' guests arrive at his big bash, in order to bid on his slaves. He brings out Daisy, boasting that she's the top prize, and that her power can belong to the highest bidder. Suddenly a masked man steps up and accuses Daisy of being "The Destroyer Of Worlds." The man takes his mask off and we see he's Fitz! Gasp! He looks at Daisy and for some reason says she should be forced to fight to the death! Double Gasp!

Thoughts:
• Coulson, Mack and Yo-yo are still working in Grill's sweatshop in order to pay off their debt to him. This week May joins her pals and starts working along with them. As far as I know, May doesn't owe Grill anything. So I guess she just decided to work triple shifts for fun?

• In a related note, Grill orders everyone in the factory to work triple shifts, to fill some vague quota from Kasius. He then leaves for a bit to run an errand. The minute he's gone, Coulson, May, Mack & Yo-yo all leave to attend to their various missions.

How the hell are they able to just waltz out of Grill's factory whenever they want? Won't Grill notice they were gone when he sees the quota's not filled? What if their coworkers get fed up and report them? How long will it be before he's had it with them and sends them to the Earth's surface as punishment?

Plus we've seen in the past that Grill can use the metrics to pin unruly workers to his doorway by magnetizing it. Wouldn't it be a good idea to set up something like that when he leaves, to keep everyone inside and working? Of course if he took this logical step, then the plot couldn't happen, so...

• I feel like I've asked this before, but... is Kasius wearing a wig? So far he's the only Kree male we've seen with a full head of hair. When he came to the Lighthouse did he become jealous of human males and their hairy scalps, and start donning a toupee?

• Kasius seems quite worried about the prophecy that states a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents would someday come from the past to save humanity and the world. 

What I don't get is why this prophecy is even a thing in the first place. Yes, this is a future world with aliens and spaceships, but time travel doesn't seem to be a possibility. So why would the remnants of humanity hold out hope that heroes from the PAST would appear and save them?

• Remember back when Daisy had to wear special vibration-dampening gauntlets whenever she used her power, to keep her bones from being pulverized? I do. Too bad the writers don't.

• The scene in which Daisy and Simmons have to tell Kasius the exact same story— or else— was very suspenseful and very well done. It was a clever use of Ben's power to listen to Daisy's tale and then psychically broadcast it to Simmons. Well done, writers!

• In the season premiere, I assumed the Lighthouse was some kind of artificially constructed space station. You know, one made out of metal or whatever. Then last week we got a shot that sort of implied it was actually built inside a chunk of the destroyed Earth. I was very confused by all this, as I honestly wasn't sure what the hell was happening here.

This week it's confirmed once and for all that the Lighthouse most definitely IS located inside a chunk of Earth. Glad I got that straightened out. I still think the first episode did a very poor job of communicating this though.

• This may all be clarified in later episodes, but right now the future timeline is a bit murky. I don't know if they've ever stated the current year onscreen, but according to the interwebs it's 2091. So when exactly did Daisy destroy the Earth? 

It had to have happened at least thirty years ago. Why? Because this week Deke says he was one of the last humans to be born naturally. He looks to be about thirty years old (actor Jeff Ward is currently thirty one), so that means the Kree have been enslaving the remnants of humanity for at least that long. Most likely longer!

That means the Earth was destroyed sometime between 2017 and 2061.

But then there's Grill. He seems to have lived his entire life on the Lighthouse, and he looks to be close to sixty (actor Pruitt Taylor Vince is currently fifty seven). So that means it had to happen at least six decades ago, between 2017 and 2031. I'm betting it was probably closer to 2017, maybe in 2020.

• Kasius' buyers are all either very unobservant, very dumb or very hard to impress. He presents Daisy to them as the legendary Destroyer Or Worlds. From what I discussed above, we know the Earth was blowed up real good sixty or seventy years ago. Yet Daisy appears to be a young woman in her twenties. 

Somehow none of the buyers notices this discrepancy and wonders how a ninety year old woman can look like she's twenty. What's her secret? Good genes? Cryogenics? Time travel? Are these people really so blasé that the possibility of time travel doesn't even impress them?

• After Coulson and May repeatedly punch Deke for selling out Daisy, he asks how he can make it up to them. Coulson replies: "Let's start with the payment you got for Daisy. Someone else needs that more than you do."

Of course Coulson's talking about the Rhodium coin that Kasius gave to Deke, which he intends to give to Gunner so he can pay off his debt to Grill.

I watched the episode twice now, and cannot for the life of me understand how Coulson can know about ANY of this stuff. OK, so it's probably a good guess that Kasius paid Deke for his help. But there's no way he could possibly know he gave him a Rhodium coin, which is worth a vast fortune in this future world. For all Coulson knows he gave Deke fifty bucks.

I also don't see how Coulson could know anything about Gunner or why he's in debt. Heck, Mack's just now finding out about it at this point in the story, so there's no way he could have relayed the info to Coulson yet.

• In the third act, Mack tells Yo-yo that the death of his real, flesh & blood daughter was painful, but he's having a really hard time coping with the loss of Framework Hope. He worries about what kind of father that makes him.

It actually makes perfect sense. Losing real Hope was no doubt a blow to Mack, but she only lived for four days. He barely had a chance to know her. From his point of view, he raised Framework Hope for ten years! OF COURSE he would miss her more, even though she wasn't really "real!"

This is something that's easy to overlook, and a nice bit of writing.

• At the end of the episode, we see Sinara cleaning blood off her steel ball. The entire scene's designed to make us think May didn't survive their battle. Eh, I wouldn't worry about it. There's no way they'd kill a major character like her offscreen, so I'm sure she'll be just fine.

• In the final scene, a man in a Star-Lordesque mask accuses Daisy of being the Destroyer Of Worlds. He then steps closer to the camera so he can whip off the mask and reveal he's actually Fitz.

It wasn't hard to figure out who the mystery man was. Any time you see a character wearing a mask in a movie or TV show, it's a good bet that their identity is meant to be a jaw-dropping reveal. It's Screenwriting 101.

This Week's Best Lines:
Coulson: "So now they even have the pilots working as crushers, I guess. That's a little slang I picked up here. 'Crusher.' It's when you..."
May: "Phil. I get 'crusher."

Grill: (zapping Mack after seeing all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents yakking) "You're not here to stand around and gossip!"
Mack: "We were all talking. Why me?"
Grill: "Cause you're bigger. Makes it funnier."

(Kasius insults Lady Basha, who storms out of his quarters in a huff)
Deke: (to Kasius) "She seems nice."

Kasius: "But Sinara is concerned about the prophecy that others from the past might have come, as well."
Deke: "Guess that means you are, too."
Kasius: "Prophecies are hard to decipher. Could be two people, could be twenty."
Deke: "Well, maybe the prophecy wouldn't be such a mystery if you didn't kill everyone that knew anything about it."
Kasius: "Yes. Life is full of regrets."
(Really? Kasius lets Deke talk to him like that without killing him?)

Deke: (after finding out Coulson wants to go to the surface of Earth) "What is actually wrong with you people that you keep going places you are not supposed to be going? Are you all very suicidal?"

Coulson: "They're using newborns as a commodity?"
Deke: "How do you think things are done around here? It's the only way anyone can have kids."
Coulson: "I'm sorry, 'the only way?"
Deke: "People don't get pregnant anymore."
Coulson: Super. And the vibe goes full-dystopian."

May: "Why would you lie about Daisy unless you sold her out?"
Deke: "Okay, well, this is probably the part where I should explain."
Coulson: "No. This is the part where May breaks your face. You explaining kind of secondary."

Deke: (after being punched in the face for the third time by a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent) "I really need you people to stop doing that."

Coulson: (to Deke) "That's a good story. But stories are what you do, so excuse me if I don't buy it just yet."

Mack: "I survived the pain of losing my real child, but I can't get over the pain of losing a fake one, so what kind of a father does that make me? Maybe Gunner was right about me. Maybe I really am already lost. I..."
Yo-yo: "Hey. Hope might not have been real, but your love for her was. And that makes you a great father and a good man."

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