Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Past Life

"Are you telling me to go back and change the world or are you warning me that I can't?"

Can you imagine a sci-fi show sending its characters to the future to establish that the world has been destroyed, then returning them to the present and following through with the world’s destruction? That would be bonkers, but since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is part of the MCU, odds are the team will prevent the Earth from cracking. Still, this episode did a great job of creating an atmosphere of doom: no matter what the team does, they are stuck in a loop, inevitably heading to the same outcome.

"Past Life" was a solid conclusion to this season's first arc, anchored by strong performances from Clark Gregg, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Henry Simmons and Dominic Rains. As the characters rushed to get back to their time, they also had to make tough calls and face the consequences of their choices. In Elena's case, she had to face what would become of her, quite literally.

Kasius' "seer" was indeed Elena, an older, tortured, mutilated Elena, who has lived a life that is incredibly disturbing. In the "flashbacks" to 2022, we saw that Yo-Yo went to fight the Kree, and now we learned that she was captured and killed, then revived and killed as many times as Kasius wanted or needed to. Her DNA was the basis for his experimentations on human and Inhuman DNA.


Cordova-Buckley did an excellent job portraying both Elenas, conveying the confusion of “our” Elena and the numb horror of older Elena, as well as how they reacted to one another. Nearly everything that older Yo-Yo said was haunting, from "I practiced so many times what to say. I wanted to be better" to "the more we fought, the closer it came." What stood out for me, though, was the moment she tried to tell younger Elena that she could forge a different future, but was unable finish the sentence. As if for a brief moment she had a glimmer of hope but then it slipped through her fingers. She has been too crushed by life to believe there is an escape.

There is something to be said about how these characters are unable to break free from the loop. By 2022, May has seen the Kree enslaving humans, but she accepts their help anyway. Elena has seen her older, mutilated self, but she still goes to fight the Kree. But the most interesting bit is this: in 2091, when she hears the noise of approaching guards, older Elena tells her younger self to go. She has lived this moment and she knows that when the guards come, younger Elena is no longer there. But if things play out pretty much the same way as before, aren’t the chances of repeating history bigger? So why don't they change their actions? I'd say that it's either skepticism that the events will unfold as "before" (2022 Elena when she goes fight the Kree) or fear that the outcome will be even worse (2022 May and 2091 Elena).

Older Elena revealed that Coulson died, just in time for us to learn that "our" Coulson is already sick, and that things started to spiral out of control when the team tried to save him. "Phil Coulson is dying, and you have to let him" were her exact words. So what happened? This has to have something to do with the Ghost Rider, but when did Coulson get sick? Did he get infected when Tye cut him or was it something before that? Whatever it is, I wonder if the writers will go through with it and I think they will. The way this has been building up, it doesn't look like it's headed to a twist in which Coulson will be saved. It feels more like we are being prepared to say goodbye to him. A couple of episodes ago I theorized that Coulson would die, and what tipped me off weren't the clues, but Clark Gregg's performance. In the past few episodes, Coulson has had an expression of quiet sadness in his eyes, the look of a man who knows he is living his final days but is trying to spare his beloved ones of that knowledge.

Daisy is understandably determined not to go back, as the sings that she will destroy the world are messing with her head. I liked her rationalization that having a power inhibitor isn't enough and it shows how good a person she is that she is willing to sacrifice her chance to go home if that could mean saving the world. Coulson has none of it, of course. Now more than ever he needs her to continue his work, and even if he weren't dying he would not let her stay behind. He has Yo-Yo's approach of "break his legs and bring him with you", which is exactly what Daisy didn't do to Mack in the Framework. She will probably be mad at Coulson for icing her and going over her decision, but I doubt she will hold it against him for too long.

So, the 2091 arc is finally over and Kasius is finally dead. He had been defeated already, but he simply couldn't conceive the idea of being overpowered by humans, a lower race. I didn't care a lot about his mourning of Sinara, but I thought it was interesting how much of a power the shadow of his father had over him, how it guided his actions. How he thought that any success would result in him getting some validation from his old man. As he beat the hell out of Mack, he was still thinking of his father and of what he could do for him. Mack and Kasius' fight was a very cool showdown. Dominic Rains embodied the craziness of Kasius' final moments so well that, when Mack went through him with the axe, you knew that a worthy opponent had been taken down.


Foreshadowing and Full Circle

This arc had lots of foreshadowing and "come full circle" bits. Here is a few of them:

- In the premiere, Yo-Yo said "I was starting to picture myself with two hooks" after she nearly lost her arms.

- Just last episode, something slammed Coulson's head and Deke said "that's definitely going to get infected."

- Jemma took the weird shiny device out of Ava's ear and later inserted the device into Kasius' ear, which was such a badass moment. "Silence."

- Coulson talked to Tess about the trauma of being resurrected. You know, considering how horrible it was to Coulson, Tess and especially Yo-Yo, it's a good thing that they erased Coulson's memory back then.

- Tess gave Virgil's tiny globe to Flint and semi-joked about it being his blue print to assemble the pieces of the Earth back together. That was a lovely scene to conclude the 2091 arc at.


Did I miss any other?

Intel and Assets

- Mack's reunion with Elena left me teary. It was the first time that Mack thought he had lost someone and actually got them back. Not a Framework illusion, the real deal. Henry Simmons played Mack's mix of confusion and relief beautifully.

- But where the hell was Yo-Yo during the fight?

- Deke made the ultimate sacrifice for the team, but I doubt he is dead. That piece of the Monolith must have activated just in time to send him back with the others.

- I was wrong about Flint being the key to keep the world from exploding. He didn’t go back. I'm somewhat disappointed by that, as he was becoming a nice surrogate kid to Mack and Yo-Yo.

- The specifics of how the Monolith would send them back were totally glossed over. I mean, did they at least set a specific moment to which they would return?

- From what Kasius said, his father had his eyes on Earth before it cracked, so it's a safe bet that Papa Kasius will show up later this season. How long do the Kree live anyway?

- Simmons taught Flint how to control his powers better. You know, if S.H.I.E.L.D. ever rebuilds itself again the Academy, Simmons should totally be a professor there. Or the Dean.

- Was Simmons amazed or scared at how Fitz killed the Kree guards? At first I thought she was scared, but later she came up with an idea that killed even more Kree guards, so I dunno.

- I loved how May smiled when she met Flint, but quickly switched her expression to "get to work."

- So, what was Enoch exactly? I thought he wasn't a robot. In any case, rest in peace, Enoch. I'm going to miss you a lot.

- Cool BTS info: Elizabeth Henstridge was the body double for Natalia Cordova-Buckley.

- Major kudos to the visual effects crew, they did an excellent job through this entire arc. Flint's spacewalk was gorgeous.

Deke: "Guns, man. It's like cheating. They shouldn't give these to anyone that's not a really, really good person."
May: "You think there'd be a law."

Deke: "You drive me out of my skull, this part of you... This impetuous, bullheaded squab..."
Daisy: "I was offering backup, genius."
Deke: "No, when the other side of you is a friggin' hero who can't help herself but do good, then be great. The world needs that person to make it home. Just try not to destroy it when you get there."
Daisy: "It was almost nice knowing you.”
Deke: "And you're a pain in my ass.”

Coulson: "The world is never safe. The job goes on. We go on."

Deke: "I always knew that working with you guys was gonna blow up in my face, but it's about to get literal."

May (re: Daisy): "You know she'll never forgive you, right?"
Coulson: "I have to hope."

Three and a half out of four spacewalks.
--
Lamounier

5 comments:

William Russell said...

For a season that I was sure was just going to be a fun romp and set up for Infinity War, it's turned into one of the best shows on TV.
I love that they exist in the MCU but are not bound by the other shows or movies. They have their own stories, their own issues and definitely their own character development. Enjoying this season a lot.
I'm hoping that Coulson does not die (again). Really love Clark Gregg.

televisionandotherrantings said...

Yeah you were right about being vague on how to aim the portal to get them where they want to go. Also based on the next time trailer could they maybe not have aimed the portal a couple months earlier so that they might be able to prevent their reputations from being drenched into the mud. If we're altering the future anyway does it really matter if we decide to change something. I mean as long as they don't encounter themselves they should relatively be fine.

I'm kind of hoping Daisy a bit pissed just cause it'd probably be interesting to see. Coulson's been pretty reckless and emotional and there should be some consequences. My totally probably not gonna happen theory for now is that Coulson will be given the blame for all the stuff that happened at the end of S4 in order to clear the names of the rest of the crew. That way they can focus on saving Earth.

As for him dying at this point it's either down to the Ghost Rider deal, the TAHITI procedure starting to fail or when he got attacked in this episode. You know it's a shame future Elena couldn't just tell our Elena what was up with him but I guess we still got to be cryptic to fuel the season (and part of why it's been frustrating me so much). Also nice catch to the people who saw the similarities to Coulson's condition and Tony's in Iron Man 2, I probably wouldn't have picked that up. Anyway kind of hoping he does die just to shake things up (Maria Hill is unlikely to replace him but it'd be nice, maybe Agent 13?)

So what happened to those other aliens that were bidding on the Inhumans? Did they just hightail it out of there after Daisy escaped. They didn't really go into it that much. Also I really hope she is able to get that implant out of her soon because it's a pretty frustrating narrative device, especially since it seems like there a bunch of things they could try to get the remote to turn it off. Like did none of the Kree transporting the Inhumans in this episode have one of them. I swear if this whole plot only existed to justify turning her powers off (and I guess make Kassius look like an asshole) that's pretty disappointing. Plus the arena/Spartacus stuff was done better in Thor Ragnarok anyway just on the grounds that it didn't take itself as seriously and didn't feel a constrictive.

Also kind of weird that that Black Oil steroid thing was never brought up before now. Like I guess it kills the person who uses it anyway (I guess) but setting that up might have been a good move. It also kind of reminded me of Caleb's condition in the Buffy series finale so that's kind of amusing.

Lamounier said...

I think it makes sense that Elena would be vague about Coulson's condition. I mean, she said that saving Coulson was the first event in the chain of events that led to the world's end. But I agree that she was very vague in general... except for "let Coulson die", there was no specific instruction. Maybe that was the only instruction needed, we have to wait and see. Regardless, I thought that was the best scene of the episode and one of the best of the season. Emotionally dark and powerful and Natalia knocked it out of the park.

televisionandotherrantings said...

I guess I figured if she told her what was up with Coulson she'd be able to know what to look out for to not save him. I suppose you could be right that not going into specifics could make them not try and cure him but I dunno. I still feel that it couldn't be too difficult to just say what it was or at least provide more of a hint, especially since it apparently led to the apocalypse that you're at kind of trying to prevent. And yeah more information could explain this but I got to be honest and say my patience is wearing a bit thin. Just seems there were better ways to use time travel in this show but whatever.

It was a fairly well done scene in spite of all that though.

Patryk said...

Of course they had to kill or abandon all he new characters. Especially Enoch will be sorely missed.

The episode did belong to Yo-Yo, great scene. Kasius went out with a bang, really good fight scene and the Shotgun-axe delivers again. :)