When your job involves continually doing whatever it takes to save the world, it must get very difficult to maintain any sense that your life is your own. When danger beckons, you don’t get to stay home because you had other plans. You give up your time—and what is life, if not your time?
That’s the mindset that’s starting to creep into Phil Coulson’s way of thinking, now that they’re marooned in the future on a Kree outpost alongside a destroyed planet earth. He’s been doing this for so long, giving of himself whatever is needed, that the lack of any identifiable way home is making him question whether going back is even necessary. “Maybe our destiny’s here, in this time. Helping these people,” he says, and it’s an understandable perspective. Most of the people he really cares about (or at least the ones who don’t think he’s dead) are already with him, so if the rest of his life involves staying here and trying to build a better world with the time he has left, what’s so bad about that?
Thankfully, Melinda May is there with an answer, one as simple as it is appropriate. “I’ve earned a night in my own bed,” she responds, and it’s all the rebuttal Coulson needs, because if he doesn’t value his own needs, he certainly values hers. The wordless moment that passes between them prior to that exchange might be the emotional core of “A Life Spent,” a reminder that these people are fighting for each other as much as they are everyone else: Coulson reaches out and gives May’s shoulder a squeeze, and she reaches up to squeeze his hand in return. It’s a beautiful gesture that conveys the depth of feeling between these two lifelong agents, a silent affirmation that all the emotional turmoil they endured last season is still there, waiting to be picked up once they have a minute to actually process all that’s happened. Their love can survive, even when the whole world’s been blown apart. Cue the strings.
Any worries that the show would slow things down to stretch out this outer-space arc are quickly dispelled, as we get three storylines, two of which push things forward in a major way. The primary narrative here is still the mystery of who brought them to this place and why, and thanks to another voyage on the trawler, Coulson, May, Mack, and Tess all learn a communication signal from the earth has been in contact with Virgil. (The post-credits sequence which confirms this also brings us up to date with the flash-forward we saw at the end of last season.) Not only that, but the person on the other end of the line asks if Virgil has organized “the delegation,” which Coulson quickly intuits to mean them. If there’s still someone alive out there who knows why (and how) Virgil arranged for their monolith-aided transport, that’s probably someone worth knowing.
Whoever they are, they’re almost certainly preferable to Grill and his accommodations. The brutal taskmaster (played by the reliably great and omnipresent character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince) has a very simple set of rules, but he’s also not shy about exercising cruelty to make sure the trains run on time. Sure, Yo-Yo sets a brilliant trap for Zev, planting the gun on him to convince Grill he’s the traitor working against the boss. But that will only buy them so much time, and Grill has already decided he doesn’t much care for Mack after that little test of the side room’s defenses. (Mack’s retort to Yo-Yo about his excursion was great. “You see? Not stupid—recon.”) Our heroes will need to move fast and stay out of his crosshairs if they want to keep up with their little plan.
Maybe not as fast as Daisy, however. The argument with Deke was a believable one, in large part because whatever Daisy is imagining happening to Jemma in her head is probably within the realm of possibility, and therefore horrifying. In hindsight, obviously, it seems idiotic—you’re going to storm into an unknown Kree compound and just, what, grab Simmons?—but her frantic need to act is at least understandable, if foolish. Deke was right: Daisy didn’t know what she was doing. It wasn’t necessarily deflecting from the (supposed) knowledge that she’s responsible for quaking the world apart, but it was impulsive and ill-considered.
Also, let me go ahead and say I think there’s basically zero chance Deke is actually betraying Daisy. Or rather, there’s no way he’s not still trying to help her in some way. That’s what he meant at the end by telling her that he’s “playing the long game”—those were the exact words he used earlier, when telling her there was a better way to go about getting what she wanted. Combine that with his worried aside to himself that he hoped she wouldn’t do anything stupid, and you’ve pretty much got a textbook case of someone acting one way in hopes of secretly achieving the same goals as the person he ostensibly betrayed. Let us in on the plan, will you, Deke?
Jemma is learning about the world of the Kree back in the Earth-bound compound of Kasius, meanwhile, and while this third storyline doesn’t do much besides outline the fact that Kasius is selling Inhumans (in case you forgot that he’s a bad guy), it allows the stranded S.H.I.E.L.D. agent a chance to see a bit more of these people and this environment in which she’s stuck. She’s still suffering from the very creepy mute button made of silver goo that Kasius implanted in her head, but the brief time she spends with Abby provides a chance to try and save a young girl while gathering whatever intel she can. It’s also a reminder of something Jemma holds to be true not just scientifically, but philosophically: We’re all made up of the same stuff, and there’s always room to maneuver between things that seem might immovable.
By the end it’s all horrible, of course: Abby has been forced to murder a guy just to survive, she’s been sold into slavery to Lady Basha, and Simmons is no better off than when she started. But we get a brief moment of insight when we learn that the relationship between Kasius and his ball-twirling enforcer (there’s just no good way to write that) is a bit complicated. The Kree woman sees compassion in Jemma, but Kasius suspects she may have tried to set up his newest pet human to fail. It’s an angle Jemma could exploit, if only she could hear a damn thing.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. still managed to inject the requisite action into this episode, and it didn’t even feel perfunctory, as the sparser installments sometimes do. The scuffle with Zev on the trawler was a short but solid moment of kinetic excitement, even improved by Mack poo-poohing how it looked and Coulson being a little disappointed. (“Huh. I thought it was cooler than that.”) The future tech makes for some nice opportunities to play around with choreography, and being able to throw everyone’s metric-side wrists against the wall with the push of a button allows for imaginative fight scenes. Daisy’s elevator-set beatdown of two Kree was a nice reminder she’s become a May-level ass kicker, even if director Kevin Hooks leaned a little too hard into the slo-mo during that sequence. Going into the next episode, our team is ready to make contact with their unknown earthbound interlocutor—too bad there’s now another member of their team needing rescue.
- If you want to argue that Deke really did sell out Daisy to Kasius, your best evidence is probably the change in his tone after she uses her powers on him. “There she is—the destroyer of worlds.” The same title Kasius assigns her, as well.
- It’s quite unnerving watching an adolescent girl get the crap beat out of her for sport while others sit around and watch, even when those people are evil.
- Actually, as long as we’re on the subject of unnerving, turns out watching things from Jemma’s point of view—especially Kasius raging and throwing martini glasses—while not being able to hear any of it is also quite unsettling.
- May, upon Zev’s endless yelling from the back of the ship about how they’re all dead: “Can’t find the mute button.”
- Daisy would 100 percent have already heard of multiverse theory. Come on, now.