Photo: Byron Cohen (ABC)

Good lord, that was upsetting. After all our heroes went though in the future, caught under the thumb of the Kree and trying to escape back to their own time (while simultaneously freeing humanity and learning how to prevent the destruction of the earth), you’d think they could have a moment’s peace. Nope.

Instead, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. not only took immediate and definitive steps toward advancing the prophecy, via the beacon (it may have been a backup, a “prop,” as Hale calls it, but it sure seemed to be transmitting something), it also gave us further evidence that things were still on the preordained path—in the most brutal way possible. I’m not entirely sure how Hale’s daughter managed to throw her razor-sharp weapon in such a way that it could hit Yo-Yo mid-run, but the abrupt maneuver, and the dazed look on Elena’s face as she slowly processed what was happening, was already unsettling before the camera pushed back to reveal the grisly results. Yes, this is Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. There are heightened risks and consequences to their struggles. Good people die. Moments of darkness are part of the narrative. But this isn’t The Walking Dead. We’re not used to gruesome violence being visited on our characters out of the blue. It was intended to be disturbing, and it was—and I’m not sure the stakes were properly introduced before Yo-Yo Ramirez’s goddamn arms were cut off.

“All The Comforts Of Home” actually does give us a few minutes’ relaxation, thanks to the initial fake-out of the outdated video clips that Fitz activates when he turns on the power in the Lighthouse following everyone’s safe arrival from the future via the monolith. Patrick Warburton’s cameo is reliably silly, as old-school S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Rick Stoner—head of the agency before Nick Fury—explains the exciting technological advancements of this fortified underground base. (“Electronic mail” is one of the fancy futuristic tools!) But after the unsettling discovery of several more monoliths hiding in one of the rooms, it’s not long before Noah (Joel David Moore), another Chronicom, arrives to warn them about the strange lights beaming into the sky, and we’re off investigate.

Honestly, it was refreshing to see even a moment’s happiness on all the assembled faces, as the entire team steps outside and breathes fresh air for the first time in weeks. Just that beat of smiles passing across everyone’s visage helped lend at least a little emotional balance to later events. Because there was certainly nothing fun happening once Piper pulled a gun on them after their seemingly happy reunion at the beacon. It may have been naive, but Piper’s actions made a kind of sense—she’s happy to see them, but she’s been given orders to make sure Coulson and team don’t vanish off the face of the Earth again. It’s not until the bodies start flying that Piper realizes why Coulson is so hesitant to trust the U.S. military. Consider this one more lesson from the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Piper: Individual people may often have good intentions, but soldiers are trained to check morality at the door.

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Photo: Byron Cohen (ABC)

And speaking of enjoyable counterweights to this episode’s gut-punch of an ending, another prediction I made from the midseason finale came true: Deke joined us back on earth circa now. And just as I suspected, it was a delight seeing the man from the future stumble around in our time without a real clue of how to blend in. His response to beer was superb—“Do you have anything that’s like this, but delicious?”—and the subsequent montage gave us an all-too-rare chance to indulge in some genuine fun, an item that’s been in short supply thus far this season. It somewhat eases the disappointment that comes with robbing his genuinely moving final moments of their force, and hopefully sets up some emotional stakes while also providing a replacement for the job of “wise-cracking goofball” that was left when Hunter departed with Bobby. Still, Deke’s going to need some training, and I’m not certain we’re going to have that kind of time.

Especially not given the disastrous results of the beacon mission. Look, Hale is an intriguing villain, one who was smoothly set up during Fitz’s stand-alone episode earlier in the season, and whose mindset was at least partially provided by the cold open here. She’s got the whole doing-wrong-things-for-the-right-reason shtick down cold, and her chilly relationship with her daughter adds another layer of depth to her motivations, however ambiguous they may be. And it was a hell of a reveal to realize that her “child” (who knows if Ruby’s biologically related) is the government’s deadly tool, her bedroom a prison and her fascination with Quake devoid of empathy or humanity. The entire idea of Hale putting together an ersatz Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (sorry, “Inhumans”) for the government by recruiting Carl Creel (a.k.a. The Absorbing Man, whom we last saw working as a bodyguard for poor General Talbot) is fun. But we just got back from space and the future, and before anyone could say so much as “mission of the week,” Yo-Yo’s arms were severed from her body in grotesque fashion. Sometimes, keeping the audience off-guard isn’t clever, it’s just unnecessarily harsh. If more work had been done to build up this new threat of Ruby, or if we had any clue that one of the most distressing scenes in the show’s history was possible during this hour, it may have landed with more emotional force. Instead, it felt gratuitous, like button pushing for its own sake rather than a clever continuation of the prophecy.

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Still, everything else largely worked, including the few nice CGI flourishes, like the Zephyr landing in a Batcave-esque opening in the water. Much like the first half of the season, little moments like that—and the presumable opportunities for superpowers from Hale’s team of Inhumans—will give us some good opportunities for visual flair on the show, something that will be sorely needed if we’re going to keep using the dreary confines of the Lighthouse as a base of operations. (Say what you will about the weaknesses of the “Afterlife” storyline in season two, at least living on a mountaintop somewhere in Asia was visually striking.) There’s going to need to be some moments of light, especially if we’re cutting off people’s limbs immediately after returning home, a surefire plunge back into the bleakness of the dark.

Stray observations:

  • The most human moment of the episode came when Daisy returned from springing Deke from jail—way to fool us into thinking that cop was the one who alerted Hale to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s presence, show—and upon learning what happened to Yo-Yo, she immediately went to Mack and hugged him. That’s what old partners do.
  • It was a treat to hear everyone rattle off all of the most horrible things they’ve endured so far on this series, and then end with May mentioning, “Dancing.”
  • Hi, Noah. Bye, Noah, assuming the beacon really did turn out to be a bomb.
  • Rick Stoner, bragging about the wildly outdated tech in the Lighthouse: “The 1980s got here a bit early.”
  • Another funny bit, since I’m looking for anything to distract us from what happened to Yo-Yo: Daisy lamely explaining her poorly chosen fake name. “Sinara Smith...it’s Portuguese...well...not ‘Smith.’”
  • I didn’t bring it up in the review above, because the moment came and went so quickly in the episode, but I’m having a really hard time buying that Phil Coulson would hide a slowly creeping infection that is wrecking his body. Not after TAHITI, not after losing a hand, not after what he knows those kinds of secrets can lead to. There better be a damn good justification for that choice, or else I call bullshit.

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