As disappointing as I found the last season of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, I actually looked forward to another run of episodes, if only to wash away the stench of the ‘Inhumans‘ spinoff debacle this year. The new season brings the show to just about the only place it’s never been before.
No, not just outer space (as teased in the epilogue that ended the finale last season). We’ve been there before when Jemma was trapped on another planet and the team had to rescue her. This time they go to… oh, just wait for it.
The season premiere opens with a bizarre and amusing prologue following a bald guy we’ve never seen before, in a montage played to the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” After a few minutes of watching him go through a fairly mundane daily routine, it’s revealed that he’s the leader of the strike team that captured Coulson and crew in a diner. Also, it’s suggested that he’s an alien wearing a human disguise, but we never get to see what kind of alien. The man orders one member of the team to be left behind (later we’ll learn that it’s Fitz) while the others are frozen and carted away. The S.H.I.E.L.D.ies are awoken in front of a monolith space portal and forced through.
Coulson materializes on board a space station with a big breach in the side that sucks some random people near him into the void. He survives and meets a guy named Virgil, who’s very excited to see him but doesn’t do a very good job of explaining where they are or what’s happening. Yo-Yo and Jemma arrive in another room filled with dehydrated corpses. Mack comes next and is very grumpy about the whole situation. Assuming that Virgil is a threat, he punches the man out before Coulson can get any clear answers out of him. The team soon find each other, only to discover that the corpses are the work of nasty alien monsters called “Roaches” stalking through the station.
Virgil wakes up and knows every one of the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies by name. He tells them that they’re the only hope to save humanity. He also all but flat-out states that they’re in the future now, but nobody quite grasps what he’s talking about, and Virgil is killed by a Roach before he can explain further. Bummer. A Roach chases the team, but fortunately Daisy arrives in the nick of time and uses her powers to save them.
May materializes separately from the others, with her leg impaled on a pipe. She meets and fights with a guy named Deke who seems to have ill intent, but turns out to be a petty criminal who was hired by Virgil to transport the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies somewhere. He has no idea who they are or where they’re from, and is reluctant to help at first.
As the pieces to this mystery are unraveled, we learn that the space station is called “The Lighthouse” and it’s ruled by blue-skinned Kree aliens, who have subjugated a human population as indentured servants. Coulson initially believes the station to be a staging ground for an Earth invasion, but the first hour of the premiere ends with everyone coming to the realization (long after the audience already figured it out) that they’ve been transported to the future. The asteroid belt around the station is in fact a debris field comprised of the remnants of a destroyed Earth, the shattered husk of which floats in the distance.
The second hour introduces a new ally, a girl named Tess who was friends with Virgil. Although it’s still not clear exactly how far in the future they are (at least 90 years), Tess and Deke explain that the Earth was destroyed by a mysterious catastrophic event, and the Kree arrived afterwards to take advantage of the situation, erasing all historical data so that future generations of human survivors would not know what the planet had been like. The human race is now on the brink of extinction.
Coulson and crew split up and try to get the lay of the land, but are not particularly good at acting incognito. The station is ruled by a Kree named Kasius and his henchwoman, Sinara. When Kasius’ human servant is wounded in the crossfire of a dispute between other humans, Jemma rushes in to help him. This is a shocking, unprecedented event. Sinara brings Jemma before Kasius, who takes an interest in this strong-willed human. When she talks back to him too much, he sticks something in her ear that causes her to be deaf except for the sound of his voice, then forces her to have a weird makeover involving gold spraypaint on her face and to serve as his geisha.
Yo-Yo steals a tablet from a Kree, which Coulson then trades to a black market profiteer named Grill (Pruitt Taylor Vince) in exchange for installing electronic discs called “metrics” in their wrists, essentially giving them fake IDs so they can move around the station. He also lies to the Kree on their behalf after they get caught in the middle of a strange ritual called “Renewal” that involves humans hunting and killing other humans for reasons that are not well explained. The downside to this deal is that now Coulson, Mack and Yo-Yo are indentured to work for Grill.
Daisy follows Deke around and finds that he runs an illicit drug den. Instead of narcotics, the opiate of choice is an opportunity to be plugged into a VR simulation of old Earth, built off stray code left over from the Framework. She argues with Deke about taking advantage of people, and he angrily reveals that she is personally responsible for the destruction of the Earth. Her quake powers shook the planet apart.
The premiere ends with the arrival of a big spaceship that Kasius has been anticipating. Whoever’s on that ship we won’t find out until the next episode.
The Framework is back, huh? Who wants to lay odds on how long it will take for that to be used as a convenient excuse to bring back Grant Ward yet again? The last we saw him, Ward’s VR alter-ego was trapped in the Framework as it was shutting down, but we never actually saw him get erased.
As far as plot setups go, I think the space station seems stronger than any of the three story “pods” we got in Season 4, and the characters have a lot of fun bantering about their predicament. On the other hand, the premise is filled with innumerable sci-fi clichés with (so far) little effort to subvert them. The first episode is better and more interesting than the second episode, which turns silly with the introduction of Kasius and Sinara, who look less like aliens than like Blue Man Group rejects going through an awkward Ziggy Stardust phase.
Also, the premiere fails to address a pretty big time travel paradox. If Daisy is responsible for the destruction of the Earth, but she was transported to the future before that happens, shouldn’t that mean that the Earth doesn’t get destroyed? Or are we to take it as a given that the S.H.I.E.L.D.ies will eventually return to their own time so that Daisy can then wreck the planet? Where the hell were the Avengers to prevent that apocalypse, anyway?
Still, at least there’s no sign of Ghost Rider yet. I’ll be glad to never see that loser again.