Photo: Mitch Haaseth (ABC)

You know what they always say: Don’t kill a potential Destroyer Of Worlds if it’s just going to force someone else who you never even suspected would get involved to become the Destroyer Of Worlds instead, thereby setting in motion the very events you hoped to avoid. Pretty sure that’s a direct quote from Socrates.

Glenn Talbot entered the Particle Infusion Chamber, cranked it up to 100, and absorbed the entirety of the gravitonium supply. It was startling, but in retrospect it makes sense that Hydra (and Hale) would want a backup plan, someone to take over in case the other handpicked choices (Daisy and Ruby) failed to get it done. Hale was always playing both sides while her daughter was still alive, seeming to work with the aliens yet simultaneously planning to fight them off upon their arrival. Hence, Talbot’s somewhat skewed programming; he’s got the coordinates for the Lighthouse blaring like a siren in his head, but now he’s one of the stronger beings on the planet, capable of crushing aliens with a thought and blasting Coulson and himself into the sky through a fortress built to withstand a nuclear blast. I wouldn’t want to be that invading alien force right about now—but then again, I also wouldn’t want to be the planet earth.

Phil Coulson is back in charge, and not a moment too soon. If “Option Two” proved anything, it’s that the team still needs him, badly. The squabbling that erupted at the start of this jam-packed episode was the result of some seriously fractured S.H.I.E.L.D. dynamics, caused by actions that may still have happened had Coulson been calling the shots, but that were almost certainly exacerbated by his placing Daisy in charge. It’s funny to watch the series try to push the idea she’s ready to lead, while simultaneously playing out a narrative which undercuts that notion at every turn. Everyone wants to stop the destruction of the planet, but they’re working almost at cross-purposes in their efforts to do what they think is best in pursuit of that goal.

Daisy and May team up in their efforts to save Coulson, with Daisy going dark after delivering Robin, her mother, and Creel to safety. Tony “Candyman” returns briefly, both to make a fleeting reference to the inaugural events of Avengers: Infinity War (“You see the weird stuff happening in New York?”) and to deliver a key to helping Coulson: The old centipede serum, last seen at the end of season one as John Garrett’s blood-based upgrade—before he was blown to smithereens, of course. But the serum seemed to have some unfortunate side effects at the time, so if Daisy is successful at acquiring the necessary healing element of the formula, there might be further issues. Still, one thing at a time, and saving Coulson—especially if Robin’s statement about the S.H.I.E.L.D. leader being the one to put everything back together is a good thing, and not the doomsday scenario Yo-Yo thinks—should be at the top of the agenda.

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Screenshot: ABC

Speaking of Yo-Yo, she’s in a weird place at the moment. People are pissed at her for acting on her own to take out Ruby, despite the possibility of further violence that might have ensued had the Hydra soldier been allowed to live (at least Fitz and Simmons are on her side). “That’s not what we do,” Mack insists, and the words coming from him hit Elena with far more force than Daisy’s I’m-in-charge haranguing. And that’s before Mack threatens to walk away from their relationship. This episode did a much better job of making both of their perspectives sympathetic: She fears he doesn’t even look at her the same after her injury, and he thinks her single-minded drive to alter the future and break the loop is causing her to sacrifice anything and anyone who might get in the way, no matter who it hurts. Such an ends-justify-means mentality is the antithesis of everything Mack believes in; the conversation nicely encapsulates both the emotional stakes for their romance and the character developments that each have undergone over the past weeks. It’s a more plausible and grounded turbulence they’re dealing with, and it makes the relationship stick in a way it hadn’t before.

Similarly, the interplay between Fitz, Simmons, and Deke finally becomes more than just comic relief with the events of the alien assault on the Lighthouse. Deke and Fitz have been butting heads since he appeared on earth, but two things here helped push the relationship somewhere new. First, there’s the fact that even Fitz feels bad that Deke is the “canary in a coal mine,” to use his analogy. Their grandson might only exist in the timeline created by cracking the world apart, therefore success in preventing the earth’s destruction will most likely be proven when Deke blips out of existence. Sure, Jemma may hem and haw and act like anything’s possible, but it does seem an awful lot like they’re both convinced that’s the obvious outcome of victory. Deke wants to stick around for trees and tacos, yet he seems to know deep down he may not make it. He’s keeping his grandparents alive at all costs, even trying to force them to stick with the “don’t leave each other’s side” plan, because he believes they have to survive for him to survive. It’s hard not to assume he secretly knows the reverse is true if S.H.I.E.L.D.’s efforts to break the loop succeed.

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Screenshot: ABC

Phil Coulson really takes center stage here, though, for more reasons than just reassertion of authority over his team. Clark Gregg has made this character soar, even back during the dullsville moments of season one, and “Option Two” is a continual reminder of why he’s so vital to the show, the Michael Scott to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dunder-Mifflin. Even great gags like having Coulson select the nuclear war choice on the automated menu end up getting a boost of exasperated humanity from his performance, and his reaction shots at the end are phenomenal, as he slowly realizes what’s happened to Talbot.

The aliens who emit a localized EMP as they move, creating darkness under which to use their claws, are a terrific antagonist, and the horror-movie elements of them slowly surrounding the team were a great source of tension in the finale. Even if the Talbot reveal was dragged out a little too long—we get it, there’s no reason to gild the gravitonium lily—it made for an exciting episode. Again, the only real issue is a surfeit of riches: There’s so much to get through, and so many moments of exposition dump combined with action and back again, that it feels overstuffed. But better to cram in too much than pad for time: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will always over-deliver, and if that’s the biggest critique of the series as it enters the fifth-season endgame, then it’s on solid footing.

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Stray observations

  • Glad Coulson finally got a chance to say, “Light ‘em up.”
  • Do we want to talk about the odd attempts to introduce backstory to Agent Thomas? (I even had to go look up his name.) That whole recurring exchange between him and Piper, where she calls out his one scar and luck, felt very strange.
  • Fitz’s Deke-directed zingers were a delight as always. “Let me be clear: Deke is never right.” “Whatever happens next...never call me ‘Gramps’ again.”
  • I really liked the dialogue between May and Yo-Yo, where the elder agent explains it’s not just Elena’s own feelings that matter about killing Ruby; it’s that it changes how people see her. It was a smart and sophisticated idea to introduce into the complex reactions to Ruby’s murder.
  • Patrick Warburton’s recorded messages were even better than before, sealing the Lighthouse for 15 years. Though May’s admonishment wins the prize for best line: “You always listen to the whole menu. Always.”
  • Well hello there, grave of Daisy’s mother. This should be interesting.

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