Screenshot: ABC

Marvel’s Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns in the new year with some big surprises: the return of Fitz to the team, and Clark Gregg’s directorial debut. Season five so far has been both pretty wild and pretty contained, a tightly constricted sci-fi epic in which the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. heroes weave and bob among the remnants of future humanity, their Kree captors/controllers, and the strange society that has been established. I personally have been a little confused by some of the proceedings–specifically, the layout of the Lighthouse, both internally and externally, is a bit confusing–but the story has been moving quite briskly, the tension is always palpable, and the action has been rather sublime. It’s only been a few weeks, but I really, really missed this show.

“Fun & Games” is anything but. Two very helpful characters, Tess and Ben, are killed, quite gruesomely, and May has been sent off to the surface to face off against the Roaches. Two tense, impressive fight sequences mark the midpoint and end of the episode, showcasing some deeply sturdy directorial skills for Gregg’s first time behind the camera. A young boy is thrust into Terrigenesis and is then hunted. Those terrifying moments are buoyed by levity (seriously, they don’t even have tacos in the Lighthouse?) and tenuous moments of hope, with the death of Grill and Sinara, and the thoroughly enjoyable escape and unification of Fitz, Simmons, and Daisy. But in an ecosystem as teetering as this, with both Kasius and now his brother on the presumable warpath, things will certainly be heating up.

Screenshot: ABC

A lot happens in this episode, to be sure. Yet things take their time to get there, with some pretty awkward exposition in the early run. Brett Fletcher’s script has to utilize Enoch to (re)explain Fitz’ cover story as a space Marauder called Boshtok to him (i.e., the audience), which, could have been perhaps done a bit more smoothly. Likewise with Senator Ponarian, who explains to Kasius his own family exile-but-not-REALLY-exile to what remains of Earth. I’d defend that though, because Better Call Saul’s Patrick Fabian infuse his lines with those hints of dickishness that makes Howard Hamlin the kind of guy you love to hate–and Ponarian makes an impression with only a few scant lines. But it’s Fitz who stands out, a man still reeling from the darkness that he espoused in the Framework and who believes that darkness is still inside him. His near slip-ups are smoothed over with horrifying, fatalistic detail. Watch as he describes the best way to control humans, or the small ways he cozies up more and more to Kasius. Even as he embraces his dark side to maintain his ruse, Ian De Caestecker imbues a struggle with every delivery, indicating his own attempts to maintain his humanity.

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The stuff that occurs in Kasius’ domain and in The Crater (which is apparently what the fighting area is called) is where the real meat of the episode lie. Fitz and Simmons’ reunion is constantly interrupted, with deafness, by Kasius, by other servants–until the final sequence, an almost Han Solo/Princess Leia-like save where the two kiss and immediately agree to get married. May is forced to fight Ben, and even while injured and at a disadvantage to a telepath, she still puts up a damn good fight, before she’s set to her presumed death on the surface (“thanks” to Fitz interference). And Daisy is forced to fight Sinara, a well-earned battle after witnessing the Kree kill Ben essentially due to him helping her. The Daisy of the past would probably wallow in her guilt, but here, she refocuses and lays a heck of a smack down on the Kree protector, but doesn’t get caught up in her need for vengeance when the breakout goes down. Fitz cleanly puts a bullet in her head instead. It’s a lot, but Gregg’s direction is solid and clear, juggling a lot of balls at once and ensuring it all comes to fruition.

Screenshot: ABC

Down below, things get very hectic when Flint is captured and forced through Terrigenesis; but the second he breaks free from his stone cocoon, Yo-Yo whisks him away to safety. There’s a nice, small moment where Tess speaks with Flintbefore his Terregenesis session, a needed moment that makes up for the fact that we barely know Flint at all. It’s a beat that showcases a small mentorship between her and the teen, which is rendered moot when she’s found hanging by the noose, with a sign beckoning his return. It’s shocking for sure, but the beats that follow imply that Yo-Yo herself will be indirectly taking up the mentorship position; her story about her first display of her powers was delightful, and the kind of story the teen needed to hear at that moment. Because Grill walks in and is ready to turn them all over to Kasius, but he is take out by a mass of rocks formed by Flint’s developed powers. Yo-Yo mentoring an emotional, confused teen with powers through an immensely stressful situation is going to be challenge–he killed a guy on his first real go with his powers!–only adding to the insanity and chaos that will be unfolding in the next few weeks.

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That’s where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does its best work, though. Lots of drama, lots of action, lots of balls in the air, with powers and aliens and space ships and time travel. Gregg’s direction, if not a standout, manages the material with aplomb, fitting perfectly within the run of episodes out here in the Lighthouse. But now it’s time to head to the surface to see what–or who–lies beyond those Roaches.


Stray observations

  • Thanks to Alex McLevy for letting me sub in for tonight!
  • The brief scene with Daisy and Simmons speaking after Ben’s death was so, so sweet; it’s been said many times but Chloe Bennet and Elizabeth Henstridge work together extremely well.
  • Enoch and Fitz also make for a fun odd couple of sorts, Enoch’s deadpan directness contrasting with Fitz’s controlled-but-apparent emotional determination. The end tag was interesting, which looks to be Enoch forcing his own way to the surface. Does he had his own agenda?
  • I wonder where Deke is in all of this?
  • ***Update: Many people are mentioning that Fitz used an Icer in the final escape scene. I rewatched it, and... man, it really just comes across as regular bullets for some reason, and I think it’s because Fitz nail a lot of direct headshots and *some* blue-esque CGI squibs out. Also, Gregg mentions his directorial debut will be bloody, so that, coupled with Simmon’s throat-slash, made it seem like a massacre. But I’ll leave this point here on the off-chance that Sinara was indeed only iced.

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