Where Agents Fear to Tread.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Agents of SHIELD went big for its landmark 100th episode, though not in the way you might think. Yes, there was plenty of action, and various elements of danger, but this was a very internal and personal episode with some very grand and wonderful emotional moments.
Sure, the idea of a timespace rip unleashing a “fear” dimension that can weaponize someone’s various anxieties was a convenient way to bring back a few Ghosts of Christmas Past, but it was also so ludicrous that it actually played really well into Coulson’s big “Total Recall” moment when he was confronted by Mike Peterson (the returning J. August Richards) and told he was, in a sense, Jacob’s Ladder’ing the entire show.
As it was in Total Recall, Phil was taken back to the very start of his new life, to the point when Loki stabbed him, and told that he was in the middle of a medical crisis and had been imagining everything. How else could he explain, basically, the high-concept world of adventure and intrigue he’d fallen into after getting resurrected? The virtual worlds and time travel and robots and all the elements of the show that, over the years, have almost felt like someone checking off things on an action-series wish list. Like back at the top of this season when Mack meta-spoke “Space. Well, that’s the one thing we haven’t done.”
And like Total Recall, the story can (sort of) work both ways. You can see Peterson as the trickster, trying to play off of Coulson’s fear that he, in fact, hadn’t made a difference or formed a new family – or you can see this all as Phil’s death bed delusion. Except, there’s no real way of explaining how Phil’s dreams lined up with the MCU films (Thor’s Dark World fight, Winter Soldier’s Hydra twist, etc). But that’s a catch that we, as fans, can see from the outside. Coulson couldn’t know that as a character.
Overall, this worked really well. Clark Gregg’s performance as Coulson, here confronted not only by his own mortality (and not wanting to be greedy about getting a third chance at life) but the idea that everything he now held dear might not be real, was very moving. As was the show’s full embrace of Coulson and Daisy’s powerful father-daughter bond. It’s usually an unspoken thing, but it’s never not clear.
And – oh, man – there were tears. Daisy learning that Phil was dying, even though there’d been a way to save him in the future world, was very powerful. It was the most wrenching scene of the episode. Kudos to both Gregg and Chloe Bennet for this very stark, bare moment. “You were what I believed in,” she screamed, crying her eyes out. It left me very shaken.
And then there was – oh, I don’t know – Fitz and Simmons getting married! To make this even more of an emotional scrambler. We whiplashed from sadness to shock to joy in the space of about 10 minutes and it’s exactly what this show needed for Episode 100. Sure, seeing Lash and Hive and Deathlock was cool, but what we were all looking for here, as we head toward what might wind up being the series finale, is love and family and sense of closure. Sure, there’s a good chance Coulson will die, and they made no bones about the fact that Fitz and Simmons needed to get married quick because something usually horrible happens to one of them, but we still needed this type of rest stop before the world blows up.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of Deke back in the space arc, but he’s surprisingly adding a lot here down on Earth. His comedic contributions are very welcome and now that the show’s established that he and Daisy “have never had a moment,” he feels a bit looser. There’s a freeing aspect to his new outsider status and while everyone else has to be sullen while they try to maneuver their way through the latest batch of horrible happenings, he can act like a newborn dork.
And yes, the reveal that he’s the grandson of Fitz and Simmons was cute. It’s not exactly anything we didn’t see coming since we knew, with all the talk how much his parents believed in the “prophesy” (plus, never getting to see said parents), but it was still a fun way to close out the episode. He’s basically proof, at least proof in one timeline, that Fitz and Simmons’ happiness lasts for a little while. Of course, his timeline is also the one where everything goes ka-boom, so…