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A death-defying taste test can't quite anchor a middling Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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What would you do if you believed you were invincible? Would you enter an MMA fight? Go cliff diving? Start a really aggressive parkour team? Or would you just go through your day with a little more confidence than normal? If you’re a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, your day probably involves life or death choices already—no parkour needed.

Watching the decisions made by Yo-Yo and Jemma during this episode, it became clear there’s a dangerous kind of fatalism at work in their belief that neither they nor Fitz can be harmed for the time being. Just because you might be fated to make it to the Lighthouse, there’s nothing to suggest you can’t walk into a glass door because you don’t care about the consequences. Or get someone else killed—maybe they were supposed to die, but the due date got bumped up thanks to the actions of those blithely unconcerned about outcomes. Fitz’s conviction about the future being unchangeable hasn’t addressed these possible fluctuations, and certainly doesn’t account for how such knowledge might factor into the path of events. Or, as Mack puts it, when Yo-Yo again scorns his efforts to keep her safe: “Did you ever stop to think that maybe you’re alive in the future because I did?”


Maybe it’s just the team starting to get a little stir-crazy, but aside from a few impressive moments toward the end, there was a whole lot of conversation this episode, and very little of it advanced the narrative, enriched character beats, or raised the stakes of the current predicament. Yo-Yo and Mack rehash the same old argument of him wanting to keep her safe and her chafing against that desire, both because she believes it’s pointless (see: the invincible debate) and because Yo-Yo isn’t one for sitting on the sidelines to begin with. Fitz is torn between blaming himself for being a bad guy and feeling wholly justified in his actions. Daisy isn’t ready to be a leader. None of this is new, but none of it progressed much further over the course of “Inside Voices,” at least until Daisy’s “water or poison?” shenanigans ended with Mack locked up and the three fatalistic team members absconding in search of a Hydra weapon.

The entire taste test was an enjoyable bit of deception, especially once it became clear it was all a ploy to feign disaster and have Mack open Fitz’s cell. Jemma was in no harm—the show isn’t going to kill her off with a poorly thought-out game of Avoid The Poison—and the pleasure came in the pivot, with the realization Fitz wasn’t in on the faux-death strategy. “A little head’s up would’ve been nice!” he fumes, after Mack has been safely stashed away in holding. But regardless of whether the show is trying to play coy about these three being truly invincible for the time being, the scene was already great, so the gun accidentally going off and everyone being fine was gilding the lily pretty hard.

Photo: Byron Cohen (ABC)

But if events at S.H.I.E.L.D. involved an awful lot of table setting, the story playing out in Hydra’s base moved along at a much more satisfying pace. Creel plays human guinea pig with predictably bad results (to be fair, his own curiosity-killed-the-cat desire is partially to blame), but at least it got him back on Team Coulson. After freeing Talbot, the three of them fight off some robots and Creel sacrifices himself to allow the other two men to escape—to a remote snowy mountain, apparently. But the struggle again demonstrated the difficulty of this whole predestination storyline. Robin says flatly that Coulson is going to die. Well, technically he did, right there on the floor of Hydra’s base, before Creel channeled some electricity and shocked him back to life. Does that count? Seems like it should.

It also gave us a chance to see Ruby’s increasingly impatient attitude toward her mother’s plans. True, by the end of the episode, when Ruby flings her death-disc into Creel’s chest (don’t worry, he turned into wood first), Hale finally appears to be on board with the plan to let her daughter become the Destroyer Of Worlds, in direct contradiction to her statements last week about Ruby not being ready. Whether it’s a result of Coulson’s escape and the attendant loss of Daisy as an option for the Particle Infusion Chamber, or a genuine move toward instability on Hale’s part, remains to be seen. Either way, there’s very little chance we don’t see a showdown between Ruby and members of S.H.I.E.L.D. soon. Also, let us not forget, we still don’t know if Ruby is actually the one who blew apart the earth in the first place: The only footage we ever saw was just of Daisy seeing off a helicopter, than entering the danger zone from which the planet was broken. Who’s to say the actual history?


But despite Robin’s presence adding little to push the narrative forward, it did contribute the two strongest emotional beats of the episode. One was almost beside the point when it comes to our heroes, but it landed hard: Robin’s mother, Polly Hinton, knows her time with her daughter isn’t long. “I’ve seen the drawings. I know that I’m not in them.” It’s a little thing, but it’s quietly heartbreaking, and it leads to the other big moment: Robin being reunited with May. “Mommy,” Robin says to her, as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent reels. “I missed you...I told you Flint would get you back.” May’s kryptonite is this unassuming little girl; Robin blasts through all her defenses, triggering that same sense of protectiveness that ended in disaster so long ago (the cavalry incident) and pushing May to embrace her role as Robin’s guardian.


But again, all this is up in the air. Unless we’re going to let the earth crack apart—something I don’t see happening any time soon, at least not in the MCU—all of these roles and narratives are about to be rewritten in a major way. It could cause joy (yay, we still have a planet), but for people like Melinda May, it includes the possibility of real heartbreak, of losing Robin as her ward. For Fitz and Simmons (and Yo-Yo), it could mean anything is again possible. But most of all, it means there’s a chance Phil Coulson could live. And let’s be honest: Right now, this painfully fractured team desperately needs their leader.

Stray observations

  • In addition to being a nice little cameo from Ruth Negga as Raina, the stinger helped explain why Creel is hearing two voices shouting in his head: Both Dr. Francis Hall and Ian Quinn were absorbed by the Gravitonium.
  • Daisy’s response to Deke thinking she was sympathizing with his trouble adjusting to the time jump: “I’m sorry about your...brain.”
  • Both Jemma and Fitz have more than noticed that Daisy is being a hard-ass, Deke.
  • Talbot, giving the episode its title: “This is my inside voice!”
  • We also get a reminder that Alex (don’t call him Wolfgang Von Strucker) is hard at work translating his father’s journals, hoping to help Ruby fulfill her plan of becoming the Destroyer Of Worlds.
  • Okay, Jemma and Fitz’s split responses to Yo-Yo’s reaction upon being told Deke was their grandson was superb. Yo-Yo: “Wow. I’m sorry.” Fitz: “Thank you.” Jemma: “No, no, he’s really quite sweet!”
  • Seriously, S.H.I.E.L.D., stop playing around with this killing-Coulson nonsense. Hey, he died for a second tonight! Problem solved! There’s the death Robin saw! Right?! [Sighs, looks up from computer, frets.]

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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.