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Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. rushes forward trying to assemble a way back

Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC
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Well, that was unexpected. Not the reveal of who the Kree’s secret “seer” was, mind you, or how the team ended up getting into position to try and return home; no, it was watching Kasius—the big villain of the “Ragtag” storyline—suddenly transform into essentially a WWE wrestler.

It’s a popular narrative tactic in sci-fi and fantasy to have someone drink a potion/inject a serum/summon a spell that gives them one final burst of superhuman power before killing them. It appears in everything from Thor: The Dark World to Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Crank, and tends to function exactly like it sounds: a means of elevating the action above and beyond what was previously established. Here, it’s split into two separate instances, with the Inhuman trainer first being sent on the attack, followed by Kasius’ grand suicidal gesture to his father. The force of the latter is somewhat blunted by the former being dispatched so quickly by Daisy and Coulson, unfortunately, but it’s still a potent enough grudge match to make Mack seem in danger. However, it’s also a little goofy to have the previously brittle and physically wilting Kasius suddenly grunting and roaring like it’s Wrestlemania. Luckily—if that’s the word for it—the violence against Mack is horrifying enough that it overcomes the awkwardness, creating real stakes. Right up until Mack shoves an axe through Kasius’ chest, of course.


“Past Life” is a bit of an odd conclusion to this arc, given our heroes are jumping back in time with the knowledge that everything in the coming weeks is leading inexorably to a moment when Daisy supposedly rips the planet apart. So while it’s good to have the team all returned via the monolith (unless the show is really planning to fuck with us, it seems safe to assume everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. returned safe and sound to the present day), the biggest problem with the past few episodes—the time loop paradox—is still fully intact. True, now that the pressing concern of saving the Lighthouse and returning home is over, maybe the show will have enough breathing room to deal with it in a less hectic and confused manner. At the very least, it means we won’t have to watch every other scene taking place in the same dispiriting gray room.

But for all the ways this arc stretched on a bit too long, just by virtue of closing the book on the future (in a relatively satisfying manner) the episode rose above the past few installments to provide a solid story. Most surprising was the pathos granted to both Enoch and Deke in their final moments. (Presumably final—more on that in a minute.) The way that Enoch accepted his impending demise was unexpectedly moving, the way it often is when seemingly dispassionate characters are suddenly granted a moment of tragic humanity in death. There’s a genuine grace in watching someone quietly and without overt expressions of feeling accept the end; it’s not exactly subtle, but it’s undeniably affecting.

Screenshot: ABC

Just as powerful, however, was the final stretch of time during which Deke rose to become the hero others saw in him. (Well, maybe not Daisy, but others.) All his sullen grumbling about how he was sacrificing his life for these bastards he didn’t even really like actually made those last moments quite sad, his final “Son of a—” a distressing coda. Which makes the following prediction less pleasant: I’m almost certain he’s still alive. His remaining seconds found him staring wide-eyed at the small hunk of monolith-rock in the machine, and I’m willing to bet long odds on the fact that it was just enough rock to teleport him as well. I hope I eat crow on this one, given how effective and moving his final act was, but I just don’t think we’ve seen the last of Deke. Like many, I went back and forth on his character, but in the last couple episodes he’s been pretty great. So even if I’ll enjoy watching him again, it’s going to rob this moment of its force.

What won’t be drained of efficacy any time soon, however, is the sight of Yo-Yo without her arms. As I predicted last week, she turned out to be the “seer” Kasius was referring to, captured in the past and kept on ice for whenever the Kree leader needed to revive her. Unfortunately, it’s so much worse than imagined: He’s been killing her, over and over, resurrecting the Inhuman whenever he needed more blood with which to experiment. And there’s been no escape—“Stuck in the loop,” as she says, all hope drained—so seeing her tortured and brutalized is a gut-wrenching sight, but the details make it truly awful. By the time Kasius cuts her throat, it’s practically a welcome end to the punishment she’s been enduring all these years. (Poor Mack, though; watching his pain turn to befuddlement when Yo-Yo suddenly reappears was a relief, even if he was still in shock.)

Screenshot: ABC

Coulson and Daisy are the other emotional anchors of “Past Life,” the two of them butting heads over what the “right thing to do” could possibly be, given the circumstances. It seems like we’re all in agreement that Daisy herself almost certainly can’t be the reason for the earth’s destruction, though some outside force or villain seizing control of her powers would make sense as a cause. But when she tries to make the self-sacrifice play, and stay behind, Coulson just outright shoots her with the I.C.E.R., a move May mentions Daisy won’t be forgiving him for anytime soon. The team’s commitment to one another is part of what makes them so admirable and heroic, but in this case, it does seem a bit like playing dice with the universe. Besides, as we learn from Yo-Yo, the real problem isn’t Daisy, it’s Coulson. The team will try to save him from the infection slowly spreading through his body (from the wound delivered by the trainer in the throes of madness, one assumes), and that’s the mistake that brings about the end of the world—or so we’re told.


What makes it all more interesting, though, is how the coda to the episode promises exactly the kind of restoration of the earth Robin spoke about. Flint and Tess are flying the Trawler to join the others, discussing the new opportunity for life, thanks to the hard-won freedom they’re suddenly earned. (“You were right—we can fight back,” a suddenly hopeful Tess told Coulson earlier.) She tosses him the little model of the earth, and the implication is that this new Inhuman is going to be hard at work remaking it for the foreseeable future. If this universe doesn’t just disappear if and when S.H.I.E.L.D. is successful at stopping the earth’s destruction, that’s a nice thought for its future.

Stray observations:

  • Yo-Yo, reaffirming how well she and Mack know each other: “Take care of the big guy—he worries.”
  • Deke had multiple good lines tonight, including his promise to go “save the weird robot.”
  • Deke: “Guns, man—it’s like cheating! You shouldn’t give these to anyone who’s not a really, really good person!” May: “You’d think there’d be a law.” Subtle, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Fitz’s decapitation of the Kree? Good. The reveal that Jemma was the one who came up with the plan for Flint to murder all the other Kree warriors? Better, especially in the midst of Mack and Fitz’s ruminations on how there’s been “too much death” in this place.
  • Also, Jemma feeding Kasius back his own literal earworm was a nice touch.
  • While I won’t miss the drab, colorless location of the Lighthouse, I will miss the show’s brief attempts to compensate via excellent moments of cool CGI: The ship docking at the station, Flint in the spacesuit gathering monolith material, all the outer-space imagery.

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Alex McLevy

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.