Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. sets up some big questions, along with a sprinkling of answers

Illustration for article titled Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. sets up some big questions, along with a sprinkling of answers
Photo: ABC/Mitch Haaseth

After installments which were much more invested in delivering fun moments for the cast and viewers alike, here’s “The Other Thing,” an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode which seems more dedicated to moving the plot forward than significant character development.

And that’s said after watching multiple flashback scenes featuring May and Coulson, including an opening sequence which blends Mean!Coulson (my super-creative nickname for the newest iteration of Clark Gregg on this show) with May’s beachside memories of the original Coulson, suffering not from the effects of too much wine, but the titular “other thing,” the return of his previously presumed fatal injury which was now slowly killing him.


It is, however, an episode which gives new cast member (and legendary character actor) Barry Shabaka Henley the spotlight, as he not only gets questioned on his choice of off-the-clock activities (always interesting, when a genre show acknowledges a character’s all-too-human weaknesses). Meanwhile, Yo-Yo and Mack’s relationship getting complicated by the death of her previous love interest is the most downer way to wrap up this sort of forced love triangle, which is only barely deflected by her concern over Dr. Benson’s abilities.

That said, Davis and Piper do get some fun back and forth, especially Piper’s brutal salvo to Davis: “I was being nice—you’re a whiny bitch.” And Enoch’s exclamation of “bestie!” upon seeing Fitz’s hologram is heartwarming.

The most important nugget of information delivered here is the fact that Mean!Coulson and his team of alien oddballs are on Earth to eliminate alien threats to the planet, as opposed to any sort of world-conquering goals. It’s technically a noble pursuit, but also the fact that “Sarge’s” methods include locking May in a room with a dangerous creature speaks to the fact that the original Coulson “was a dream. I’m your nightmare.”

Speaking of the new (and effectively disgusting) monster of the season—in Dr. Benson’s words, “parasitic alien birds,” but officially known as the Shrike (spelling unconfirmed)—gets another showcase as Mean!Coulson confronts May with the danger of this creature. Ever since Alien, things that fly down someone’s throat and erupt out of the body later have been a lynchpin of sci-fi body horror, and the crystalline twist on what happens to victims of this particular threat is appropriately terrifying.

The end of “The Other Thing” seems initially like it might bring together the separate threads of season six, thanks to the return of Daisy and May to H.Q. But Fitz and Simmons still remain in the control of the Chronicoms, and so at least some portion of this show’s story will remain interstellar for the time being.

Brooke Williams, not the creepiest part of this episode (only because she didn’t explode into a crystal monster).
Brooke Williams, not the creepiest part of this episode (only because she didn’t explode into a crystal monster).
Photo: ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Which, speaking of that: Perhaps the most interesting twist of the episode is Enoch deducting a basic fact of this show’s elemental plotting—when Simmons is in danger, Fitz will do whatever it takes to save the day. The fact that Simmons willingly enables this behavior by surrendering herself to the Chronicoms could speak to future issues within this relationship, and the episode’s ending doesn’t imply that Simmons’ reason for doing so will lead to her actually getting the chance to help Fitz develop whatever magic sort of time travel he might be able to conjure up. But it’s both characters remaining all-too-true to form — and to each other.

What proves most intriguing about this episode is how it highlights a lingering issue from Season 5—not that it was easy for the S.H.I.E.L.D. gang to return to their original timeframe and save Earth from ultimate disaster, but the fact that they did it at all means that you can’t blame other people for wondering “hey, what if that was possible for us?” The Chronicoms want to save their world, and it’s not like S.H.I.E.L.D. has presented a solid reason for why that would be a bad thing (though their methods of coercion are a bit brutal). The ethical question of when it makes sense to employ time travel to fix a massive tragedy feels like one this show has set itself up to answer. The issue that lingers is—will it?

Stray Observations

  • So, hello Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans! I apologize for not being Alex! But I’ve been lucky enough to inherit this beat from him, and will be covering the season going forward. Bear with me, please, especially when it comes to my absurdly deep affection for FitzSimmons as a couple.
  • For a show that has sometimes cheaped out on the CGI, the scene where the Chromicons’ ship docks with the Zephyr looked impressively cool.
  • “So serious, and with such a pretty face...” Having seen Ming-Na Wen at press events, the fact that she’s cast as this show’s heaviest hitter is always fun to behold (since out of character, her goofball qualities can’t help but come out).
  • “I told you I’d make it hurt”: Proof that Ming-Na Wen has earned her aforementioned status as the show’s heaviest hitter, by virtue of her truly dedicated performance.
  • Chronicoms aren’t presenting here as the good guys necessarily, but hey, you can’t say enough times how gender is a construct.
  • The May vs. “Dead Man” fight scene stood out, if only because credited actor Mark Aaron Wagner pulled off doing charging at another actor while doing bridge pose—no easy thing for any stunt performer.
  • “I never got certified for parasitic alien birds, so who the hell knows.” Been there, Dr. Benson. Been there.

Liz Shannon Miller is a L.A.-based writer who recently spent five years at Indiewire. Her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, THR, the Verge, and Thought Catalog.