As any science fiction nerd can tell you, there’s just something about setting stories in space that makes them more fun. Bland plots are still bland, true, but then a character looks out a window, and you remember, “Ooh, outer space—neat!”
The exotic setting and outsized villains are what helps keep “A Life Earned” lively, as there was a lot of table setting all over the place, and even some necessary character beats dragged a little. It was a goodly amount of telling, not showing, which is an occasional issue S.H.I.E.L.D. struggles with; but then you get something like May going up against Sinara, the Kree warrior with the flying balls, and it returns tension and excitement to the screen. Honestly, it was impressive that May lasted as long as she did against Sinara—even with one injured leg, she held out against Kasius’ toughest enforcer. Unfortunately, that probably just means she’s in for a rough imprisonment.
Events were a bit scattershot this installment, as the team splits into several groups in order to try and fit in and not make waves while simultaneously entering a restricted area and revealing their presence to the Kree, thereby making a whole lot of waves. One baby-discovery step forward, two antigravity steps back. By episode’s end, May is presumably captured, Deke’s been sealed away for his duplicity, and we’re no further along in contacting the human outpost on Earth than we were before. That’s not a great track record, even if our people did manage to both keep Grill happy and make sure Gunnar—a guy we meet for literally thirty seconds before he gets justifiably punched in the face by Mack—got to receive his little infant.
The big reveal came through Daisy’s storyline, as it became clear that Kasius isn’t just trying to get enough money to leave the outpost behind. He’s planning to destroy the station and everyone in it on his way out the door, which provides all the impetus our psychic Inhuman warrior needs to get on board with Daisy’s rebellion. (If they gave that guy a name, I didn’t catch it, though IMDB lists him as “Ben.”) The implants restricting Inhumans’ powers are going to have to be dealt with in some way if she hopes to foment a resistance, and given that Kasius has already invited all the guests to the Lighthouse to bid on taking Daisy as their slave, there’s not much time in which to do it. Unless, of course, Fitz has a plan! (That was a fun and well-done stinger, and it looks like next week will fill in the backstory on how he went from being left back on Earth in our time to being one of Kasius’ bidders, as I predicted after the season premiere.)
I’m not really sure what Deke thought the value was in lying to Coulson and May about what happened to Daisy. Sure, he knew they’d react poorly, but once he learned his father and the other elders were possibly alive on earth, there was no point in drawing out that fakery. Even after he bared his soul about his childhood and the ill-fated family he lost, it just made him look untrustworthy, and with good reason. He made bank by selling out Daisy, and Coulson would be a fool to trust him at this point. At least they got to punch him in the face a few times after discovering Kasius had harvested Daisy’s genes in his quest to make more Inhumans. That was satisfying, as was his, “Oh, ok, we’re fighting?” when his efforts to bluff their way past the Kree segues immediately to Coulson hitting one of them with a chair.
Speaking of bluffs, Kasius’ interrogation of Daisy and Jemma was surprisingly nerve-wracking. Something about having the Kree leader stand in between them to block Simmons from reading Daisy’s lips, even though it would be almost impossible to pick up on what she was saying, made for an elevated level of stress in the scene. The subsequent reveal of the extent of the psychic’s powers was a good confirmation of the obvious inference—that he was somehow facilitating communication. For all his arrogance, Kasius is genuinely worried about the prophecy. Between the interrogation, recruiting Deke to find more members of S.H.I.E.L.D., and plotting to get out of there before anything else happens, the Kree leader is acting a bit (understandably) paranoid. Petty, too: His demonstration of Daisy’s powers to Lady Basha, just so he could then bar her from bidding on the Inhuman agent, is the very definition of a small-minded “fuck you.”
Finally, the show addressed Mack’s state of mind following the loss of his daughter in the Framework, and while the whole “losing his cool and beating up a guy” was a clumsy way to force the issue, it at least provided an opportunity to reveal the sadness and anger he’s been carrying since they were taken. The idea that he’s furious at himself for being crushed and depressed about the loss of a fictional daughter—on top of just being, you know, really sad about the loss itself—is a potent and insightful one, showing that the grieving father has layers to his pain, instead of some facile “I was sad, but now I’m better” direction the series could easily (and lazily) have taken. Yo-Yo responds with an understanding but firm rejection of that anger, as well as emphasizing that he’s beating himself up for feeling something that actually demonstrates his goodness, rather than vice-versa. Hopefully it helps him start to accept that it’s okay to grieve, which could finally allow Mack to start processing the whole experience.
So Coulson and company are a bit stuck for the time being. They don’t have a way to get to earth without being noticed, so presumably they need to figure out how to communicate with the elders. The show is trying to find a way into this story, but it’s getting a bit bogged down in the particulars of the Lighthouse society and the need to splinter the team, while having the various groups working at cross purposes to a degree. Fitz, your arrival couldn’t have come at a more propitious time.
- “This is probably the part where I should explain.” “No, this is the part where May breaks your face.”
- A little odd that both May and Coulson see Daisy’s information on the screen explaining her addition to the genetic material the Kree are using to try and create Inhumans, yet neither one thinks to wonder about her listed nickname, “Destroyer of worlds.”
- I would’ve killed to have seen a reaction shot from Daisy when Fitz pulled off his mask.
- S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be referring to this initial arc as “Ragtag,” which feels appropriate.
- The show’s been doing a great job making a budget cut look like a budget increase (I don’t think I’ve seen as impressive a case of doing more with less since Angel season five), but the seams show a bit in episodes like this one.