There are a lot of contentious debates between people who aren’t really listening to each other in “The One Who Will Save Us All.” How to save the world, how to do the right thing...even whether or not to high five gets discussed. But these people are in their own heads—so much so, two of them come to blows.
Actually, you could say more than two people come to blows in the antepenultimate episode of season five, but one of them, by his own admission, isn’t really a person any more. For all the outer-space intrigue, the gist of this narrative can be boiled down to three words: Talbot goes nuts. After bonding with a massive dose of gravitonium, the general flies up to the alien ship, Phil Coulson in tow, in order to show the invading Confederacy who’s boss. But very quickly, Glenn Talbot goes from cavalier, to menacing, to murderous, and finally to megalomaniacal, turning on his friends after being so easily manipulated by the Kree head of house Kasius, thanks to his ravenous desire for more of the super-powered element that sustains him. After all the efforts to stop the earth from cracking apart, it’s looking like the guy who used to provide comic relief as part of the wise-cracking duo of Coulson And Talbot might come out of nowhere to be the true Destroyer Of Worlds.
The entire story here is basically a waiting game: The countdown to when Talbot snaps. And snap he does, going from eerily confident to dangerously unstable in the course of what might be little more than an hour or so (the timeline is a bit vague). It’s a narrative conceit that works even as it rings a bit cheap, because the whole “someone could go crazy at any minute” paradigm can be used to justify any old behavior; thankfully, Brent Fletcher’s script works to ensure Talbot’s paranoia and arrogance stem from longstanding character traits—essentially his worst qualities being magnified tenfold and pushed to the forefront. His willingness to so quickly give credence to an alien he just met ten minutes ago is a little more suspect, however. Once he’s tempted by the promise of more gravitonium it falls into place, but prior to that there’s no real reason he should believe a damn thing Papa Kasius says. (Though cheap flattery has worked on Glenn in the past, to be fair.)
The power of the gravitonium infusion gets a workout in this episode, all of which backs up Talbot’s braggadocio. He crumples up Hale into a ball of blood and bones, an effect just as horrifying as it was when Ruby unintentionally murdered Von Strucker. And the most outspokenly anti-human member of the Confederacy suffers a potentially worse fate: Being absorbed into the gravitonium itself, perhaps to join the now-weaker voices of Ian Quinn and Dr. Hall in Talbot’s warped mind. Lastly, we learn the disturbing fact that Talbot isn’t affected by Daisy’s quake powers. He just casually stands there while she blasts him in progressively harder waves, the General barely pushed back a couple of inches before flinging Daisy into the ceiling and knocking her out. While I don’t know if Glenn’s earned the right to call himself “earth’s mightiest hero” (that’s the Avengers’ line, after all, and the “hero” designation really doesn’t fit), the part about being “earth’s mightiest” is looking unsettlingly plausible.
Unfortunately, Coulson’s colleagues were already in a pretty bad place prior to the failed Zephyr trip into space to rescue their boss. The worst of these exchanges is the knock-down drag-out between Daisy and Yo-Yo, which, as far as I can tell, is caused largely by Yo-Yo’s bull-headed stupidity (and, I’d wager, more than a little anxiety and guilt over her actions and Mack avoiding her). The idea that everything would be fine if Daisy hadn’t left to go try and find a cure for Coulson feels silly in light of Talbot’s let’s-go-to-space powers manifesting, and trying to steamroll over Quake and treat her like some college intern is fucking ridiculous. What did Yo-Yo think was going to happen when she literally used her powers to rip the bag containing Daisy’s mother’s remains out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent’s hands? Admittedly, Daisy shouldn’t have gotten into it with Elena—what a spectacular waste of time in the middle of a crisis—but if we’re playing the “who’s being stupider” game, Yo-Yo wins by a landslide.
Conversely, a far more understandable argument plays out between Fitz and Mack. This is one of those conflicts that feels all the richer because nobody’s really wrong, and no one’s entirely right. Mack has the high ground when he tells Fitz it might be time to reconsider his beliefs—that the guy Leo has been lately “needs fixing”—because that’s absolutely true, as even Fitz himself would likely acknowledge, which is why it appears to land with such force on the scientist when Mack says it. But Mack is also retreating into his own simplistic mindset, falling back on a black and white notion of justice and ethics because it’s easier than admitting that sometimes there are no good answers. (Indeed, you could argue that the entirety of Infinity War is a progression of heroes screwing up because they can’t make the tough call). Fitz is correct to insist things are rarely that simple; unfortunately, once you decide that you’re the person who gets to make the hard call, it makes it all the easier to do it the next time. And the next time. Until you end up like Fitz in the Framework—the malevolent Doctor, sacrificing anything and anyone with his ends-justify-means logic.
[The next two paragraphs contain spoilers from Avengers: Infinity War. Please skip ahead to the subsequent third paragraph if you don’t want to have the ending of that movie spoiled for you.]
It’s important to mention the way this episode addresses the events of Infinity War, because the show will presumably have some real troubles no matter where it goes from here. Talbot is told that Thanos is waging war on earth as we speak—that while we’re up in space, his forces are already on the ground. It’s what provides the pretext for Talbot to go power-mad and plan to burrow into the earth to find more gravitonium, an idea proposed by the Wormtongue-like Kree that sounds an awful lot like something that would trigger the earth breaking apart. So Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still doing its best to remain a part of the MCU on the same timeline as the films. But that means we’re faced with two possibilities. One, either next week or in the season finale, roughly half our team is going to vanish thanks to Thanos snapping his fingers and wiping out 50 percent of life; or two, no one vanishes, and the universe of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a definitive break with mainstream MCU, much the same way the Netflix shows only tangentially acknowledge the happenings of the larger universe.
It feels like a lose-lose proposition. Part of the fun of the series has been watching the way it integrates the happenings of the MCU into its narrative; on the other hand, abandoning that requirement would really free up the series from juggling franchise obligations. True, the Winter Soldier-based reveal near the end of season one was cool, but how much cooler would season one have been if the show wasn’t forced to tread bland water for its first 14 episodes? Whereas going the other direction—committing to Infinity War’s events, and obliterating a few of our heroes (it has to be at least a few to be plausible; I ran the numbers, and the odds of no one on the team dying through sheer chance is around 0.19 percent), means we lose a good chunk of the team for reasons completely incidental to the series. Plus, would that mean an entire (still worryingly hypothetical) season six without those cast members? Avengers 4 doesn’t come out until May of next year, remember. So while I’m very curious to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. threads this needle, something tells me it’ll be at least partially frustrating.
[End of Infinity War spoilers.]
As we hurtle toward the endgame of the season, it’s becoming all too clear that we’re still very much on a collision course with the prophecy. And with Talbot essentially an unstoppable madman at this point (maybe a confrontation with his son could pull him back to reality?), options are running low. Things are so dire, even poor Deke withholds his feelings from Daisy. The time-traveler is pitiable here—stuck in the Lighthouse even after liberating himself from a nightmare future, he’s confronted with a woman who appears incapable of returning his affections. (Her supportive hand on his leg during the Zephyr’s launch just added to the sympathy.) We’re racing towards the finale, and almost no one—not Mack and Yo-Yo, May and Coulson, Daisy and Deke—can share their feelings, let alone be together. FitzSimmons, are you our only hope at happiness?
- May, when discussing the Odium, the Kree potion that grants fleeting super-strength before killing whomever consumes it: “Of course it would have a dumb name.”
- Even Coulson has to admit that Glenn looks pretty cool in his Confederacy ceremonial robe.
- R.I.P., General Hale. Your bitterness and regret over Ruby and your life made you a genuinely tragic figure in the end. Plus, gross death.
- Talbot, after forcing the aliens to kneel over the objections of Coulson: “Really good teamwork, Phil.”
- What is Daisy talking about with this still “kinda” being in love with Lincoln nonsense? That came out of left field, unless she just meant it in a general reminiscence type of way, but it sure didn’t seem like it.
- Deke: “What’s in the bag?” Daisy: “My mom.”
- And now Papa Kasius has Daisy. That’s just great.