Photo: Mitch Haaseth (ABC)
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This isn’t Sarge’s first rodeo. That much is clear before we’ve even hit the first act break of “Window Of Opportunity,” the second episode of season six of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. “This rock has it all, Sarge,” says Pax, as our newest villains help themselves to the stock of a convenience store, chatting with the easy rapport of people who have done this a number of times, on numerous planets. Sarge, a.k.a. the being with Phi Coulson’s face, voice, and DNA, even casually mentions being able to assess a culture by its currency. One of them, Jaco, hasn’t breathed “his own atmosphere” in almost 10 years. These folks are here to do a job, and if the video deciphered by Dr. Benson is any indication, completing their mission probably means the end of earth as we know it.

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This is a solid S.H.I.E.L.D. outing, which means the plotting is fast enough and the character beats entertaining enough to make up for the fact that not a whole lot happens in terms of actual change or progress in our various stories. Really, one of the most interesting things about the season thus far has just been watching the show trying to move things forward in the wake of what was pretty clearly originally thought to be a series finale at the end of season five. (Who can blame them? ABC has consistently treated the show as an also-ran since season two, and I’m pretty sure no one saw the two-season advance renewal coming, even after the dismal failure of Inhumans.) The search for Fitz was a no-brainer, but that mission got sidelined for this entire episode, a sensible choice now that even those who missed the promo spots advertising the return of Clark Gregg know some alternate version of Coulson is back—and a bad guy, now. The series needs to explain what the deal is with Sarge, and “Window Of Opportunity” fulfilled that requirement nicely.

Our new antagonists, in a nutshell: They seem to be some sort of advance-team fighters, sent to planets and tasked with doing something to the world that looks a lot like radical terraforming, or maybe just collapsing all the matter into inter-dimensional fuel, who knows. Either way, it probably spells the end for any native species, so S.H.I.E.L.D. presumably wants to put a stop to it. And Sarge, i.e. Coulson, seems to have no memory of his life here. Sure, he shares the exact DNA as our beloved former leader, meaning he’s no LMD, but it also doesn’t appear as though he’s just playing dumb to hide from his new colleagues. (When Jaco asks why the earthlings keep saying the word, “Coulson,” Sarge admits that while he has no idea what it means, the term itself rings a bell.) They’re looking for crystals (or “p.e.g.s.,” an acronym meaning “polarized something-something gems”—like it matters), to help them in this task; hence the jewelry store robbery that serves as the centerpiece of the episode.

Photo: Mitch Haaseth (ABC)

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If there’s any emotional stakes in this episode, they belong to Agent May. She’s the one who’s been confronted with an evil version of the confirmed-dead (by her, anyway) love of her life, and is now forced to do her ass-kicking face to face with a doppelgänger of that man. She pulls it off with her usual gusto (aided by returning MVP of S.H.I.E.L.D. action sequences, director Kevin Tancharoen), but even she admits it’s already messing with her head, as in the moment she immediately walks back her encouragement of Yo-Yo pursuing a relationship with Keller by warning the inhuman of the consequences to workplace romance. Mack puts it best when asking Benson if he’s familiar with the kind of life-altering pain that can be caused in life, the kind you can never forget: “Well, May’s pain is running around killing people.”

Still, even if the first half of the episode is another heaping round of table-setting, the robbery itself is kinetic and fun, with plenty of clever moments that elevate the already strong action scenes of May beating down Jaco and Butterfly. The portal created between the truck and the vault is the best of these, with May yanking it down mid-struggle to send a portal-jumping Butterfly smack into the floor, and Butterfly returning the favor by knocking May off her feet and into it, leading to a shot of Sarge looking down into the ground as May stares back at him into the wall of the vault. It’s not a lot, but it’s far superior to another round of kicking and punching in a gray, anonymous hallway.

Photo: Mitch Haaseth (ABC)

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The other attempts at emotional drama on earth largely fall flat—we haven’t spent enough time with Benson or Keller yet to really care about whatever feelings they may have about Coulson or the anonymous agent who died last week—so The Wacky Space Adventures Of Enoch And Fitz delivers the only other narrative of interest. The struggle to save his fellow crewmen and take out Vero, the alien jerk in control of the ship on which the two had tried to hide, is less a story-of-the-week than it is a killing-time-of-the-week, meant to illuminate Fitz’s current predicament. While the troubled scientist knows the sooner he gets back in cryosleep, the sooner he’ll supposedly see Jemma (the altered timeline/multiverse theories change all of that), he also feels a sense of responsibility to the aliens he recently saved from certain doom, and wants to make sure all is well before going back into his little machine. Plus, there’s a good chance he just wants to take a look around. He’s in space, for god’s sake! How cool is that? There’s no way someone like Fitz could pass up the opportunity to experience something basically no other humans (as far as he knows) have ever encountered. Xandarian snails, though? Sounds like a delicacy Peter Quill’s seen once or twice.

Much like the larger MCU, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is making a hard pivot into cosmic territory, even more so than last year’s outer-space arc with the Kree. Part of that is probably the freeing nature of getting a reset on sorts on everything—one year later and all that—but I’d argue the decision to say “fuck it” to the events of the MCU and Thanos’ snap heard ‘round the world is the best choice the show could’ve made. As fun as the little in-universe references are, and as much as we’d welcome a return visit from Lady Sif or whoever, being chained to whatever universe-shattering actions get made on the big screen has often felt like a millstone around the neck of the series, given its mandated subservience to the big-screen playground. It can be waved away with an alternate timeline, or even casually justified with a “What a coincidence we were all spared in the snap, huh?” (though this has multiverse written all over it), but the show turning its back on all of that is refreshing. It’s just getting started, and the season has the promise of truly unboxed storytelling. Like Jemma and Daisy arriving just as Fitz and Enoch are blasting off, the irony of the flagship Marvel TV series leaving the MCU behind just as it disrupted the entire universe may be a bit obvious, but it’s certainly understandable.

Stray observations

  • That being said, the Jemma-just-misses-Fitz spaceship move is your one “Oh, the irony!” card you can play for the season, show. Let’s get subtler.
  • Speaking of the need for a little subtlety, I rolled my eyes a bit at the use of slo-mo in the opening scene as Sarge and company left the convenience store. We get it, they’re badasses.
  • With most of our team being so dour at present, it was largely left to Sarge and the aliens to bring the funny, which they did. From Pax’s bad improvisation at the shipping yard (“We’re from...the shipping department? I dunno”), to Coulson’s dry retort to seeing the store clerk running to safety (“Really?”), the comedy was all from the antagonists this episode. Well, and Enoch, of course.
  • Am I the only one who got Portal 2 flashbacks during the fight scene?
  • Many thanks to Kate Kulzick for stepping in last week to cover the premiere.
  • Who doesn’t love a good airlock gag?

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