It’s odd that our actions are so often ascribed to our moods or views of ourselves. Whether you like yourself or not, your treatment of others doesn’t seem to vary, so much as the way you treat yourself. When Daisy began blaming herself for Lincoln’s death, and abandoned the team, she didn’t turn evil, or start being unnecessarily cruel. She continued to fight the good fight, just in her own way, and has largely only caused physical distress on her own person (bad guys notwithstanding). When James was given what he always wanted—to become an Inhuman—only to learn he couldn’t stand himself in this new form, he lashed out at others. In both cases, it seems, switching their opinion of themselves only made them become more of who they already were, albeit it in inverse ways. They’re not turning into different people so much as barreling towards who they think they deserve to be.
“Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire” moves in fits and starts (or starts with Fitz looking to move in with Simmons, rather), but the overall picture of the season’s first major arc is a lot clearer by the end of it. The Darkhold, the big McGuffin of this story, is somewhere out there, and Lucy possesses the power to make her formerly comatose coworker open his eyes and start talking. It’s not clear yet if he’s coherent, but the fact that all she needs do is plunge her incorporeal hands through his head and perform some gentle massage techniques to bring him out of it is worrying. Robbie’s uncle supplies much of the backstory—the Quantum Particle Generator, the book—but it’s Coulson’s speech at the end which brings it all into focus. The bad guys want the Darkhold, our heroes don’t want that to happen, and now that Daisy and Robbie are (temporarily) onboard the Quinjet, Coulson is ready to take action.
But the emotional beats landed harder than almost any punch tonight (unless that attack was being delivered by Ghost Rider), and none of them were more affecting than the flat brevity of the Coulson-Daisy reunion at episode’s end. When she thanks him for saving them, there’s a world of hurt feelings and betrayal to sort through. But rather than address any of it, Phil blows right through all that. “I’m just glad you’re safe,” he says, like any caring parental figure would do with their long-lost child, letting her know that, regardless of how she may have behaved, he cares more about her safety than anything else.
It takes a few sentences beyond that with Jemma, but she and Daisy are back on the same team quickly tonight, too. Maybe it’s Daisy being in such bad shape, but Simmons warms quickly to her old teammate, and before long, the two are scheming like old times. Well, not quite old times, because when Daisy explains her intricate plan to break in and hack the Inhuman servers at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Simmons just hops out of the car and hands it to the woman. After all, Simmons is her boss. Daisy may have been keeping tabs on the team this whole time, but she has some learning to do. Still, there were touching moments here as well, with Daisy bequeathing the apartment to Jemma and Leo. It’s still unclear how all the crimes committed by “Quake” are going to be commuted, but if this mission was any indication, it shouldn’t be too long before Daisy is back on the team. She can’t stay away any more; both for the sake of her mental health and her fragile bones, she needs her old S.H.I.E.L.D. team.
But the action this week came from Robbie Reyes, who had more than a couple hero moments to make up for holding back his powers throughout the majority of the episode. (I’m actually fine with the limited use of the Ghost Rider flaming skull effect, as it tends to be a bit on the CGI-shiny side.) Catching James’ flaming chain before it hit Jemma and Daisy, and then catching James himself, both made for excellent beats, and revealed the series’ view of the character as firmly on the side of the angels, despite all the deals with the devil—though that could change next week. But for now, Robbie made with the teamwork, even if it took driving almost full speed into the Quinjet for that to happen. Mack is right: We should all be so lucky as to have a car that can survive that with barely a dent.
Speaking of James, we now know who’s been working with the Watchdogs. The depths of his self-loathing radiate outward, leading to his handing over the tracking device so they can access the list of Inhumans (a wobbly narrative justification at best) and target his fellow super-powered beings for extinction. But the fact he’s already been captured suggests there’s more at play here. Clearly, James isn’t the one coordinating the Watchdogs internationally, or even regionally, and now that he’s been caught, even his universal Inhuman death wish won’t matter much. It’ll be interesting to see if the show tries to acknowledge how flimsy his connection with the Watchdogs seems to be, or if his capture will genuinely lead to the terrorist group no longer being able to hack the S.H.I.E.L.D. servers. Still, rarely does the phrase “when do we get to the fireworks factory” become manifested quite so literally.
The much more intriguing long-term story, however, is happening right under the noses of most of the team. Aida’s subplot is intriguing for a number of reasons—not least of which because she makes Fitz anxious, and anxious Fitz is a delightful sight—but most of all because it offers the unusual opportunity for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to dig into some juicy subtext and weighty concepts, things to which it rarely has time to do justice. When Aida questions Radcliffe about lying, and reveals the core tenets he hardwired into her (never to lie, never to harm people), her gaze afterward suggests layers to her programming. It has immediate repercussions for Jemma once she realizes Aida is an android, and making difficulties for the new S.H.I.E.L.D. has been teased long enough. It’s time for Simmons to start lying—and our heroes to start challenging the new status quo.
- It’s heartening to see how casually Fitz and Simmons can exchange “I love you”s now, as they search for a new apartment. (Searched for a new apartment, rather; Daisy knew Jemma couldn’t resist a breakfast nook.)
- Only May could be more annoyed than freaked out by dying. I will say, though, she was a little too quick to not develop any suspicions about Fitz suddenly launching into a lengthy explanations of Aida’s origins. It was a good gag, but May’s sharper than that.
- The whole car chase was breezily enjoyable, but Coulson’s final line was the best: “I get his car now, right? Isn’t that how this works?”
- Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ridiculous Explanation Corner: Daisy tells Simmons the reason she doesn’t wear her arm gauntlets is because they’re not “incognito” enough? Coming from one of the most publicly wanted Inhumans in the country? Give me a break.
- At least her line about James working at the fireworks store made up for it. “Whoever’s working in the terrible ideas division is crushing it.”
- Robbie also got a good line in, after James tells him what a big mistake he just made. “Funny—I was gonna say the same thing. But without the accent.”
- Fitz was killing it tonight, humor-wise. The awkward thumbs-up to May? The brief and ill-conceived attempt to pretend Aida wasn’t an android to Simmons? Great. “That’s a weird thing to say about a person.”
- Thank goodness Robbie and the Watchdogs are both around, because thus far, Lucy isn’t winning any awards for most compelling villain.