In a move I personally find surprising, ABC reportedly may have renewed ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ for a sixth season despite weak ratings* – and despite the obvious creative ennui of the current season. In the meantime, Oscar nominee Ruth Negga returns for a very quick cameo.
*See the Comments below about the renewal news not being official yet.
The series continues to dredge up old storylines from the early seasons. Call this narrative cohesion or call it cheap fan-service, but we’re seeing a lot of it lately. Episode ‘Inside Voices’ harkens all the way back to the show’s third ever episode, which saw a scientist named Dr. Hall sucked into a giant ball of gravitonium. At the time, it was assumed that Hall would turn into a minor-league comic book villain named Graviton, but we never heard from him again… until now. Sort of.
The episode opens with Gen. Hale, who has ditched her military uniform and let her hair down, asking Carl Creel to touch some gravitonium as an experiment to see if he can absorb its properties. He’s eager to do this, until he gets too close and the gravitonium forms a hand that reaches out and grabs him. Some of Hale’s robot soldiers have to pull Creel out. He survives but has after-effects, including visions of Dr. Hall screaming in pain (all old footage and some CGI).
Yo-Yo trains with her new robo-arms, which make her even stronger than before, but she hasn’t quite mastered their finesse yet. Deke reveals that he knows his grandparents (Jemma and Fitz) as “Nana and Bobo.”
Jemma makes a plea for Daisy to release Fitz from captivity because he can help figure out what HYDRA has planned, but Daisy is unsympathetic. She’s totally focused on her own plan, which involves using psychic child Robin to find Coulson and put him back in charge. Jemma recruits Yo-Yo to help her bust Fitz out. The three of them share a common bond of knowing that they will all survive to make it to the Lighthouse in the future, which means that they can’t be killed in the present.
In Daisy’s absence, Mack is left in charge of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Yo-Yo asks him to let Fitz out, but he refuses. Jemma then brings Mack in front of Fitz’s cell to show him an experiment that will prove that she cannot be killed. She wheels out a tray with four glasses filled with clear liquids, and says that three of them are water but the fourth is a toxic poison. She has Yo-Yo shuffle the glasses around while she looks away, then proceeds to randomly drink from three of the glasses. Mack and Fitz both scream at her to stop. The first two glasses go fine, but at the third, Jemma grabs her throats and collapses to the floor. In a panic, Mack lets Fitz out to help. Yo-Yo immediately grabs Mack and locks him in the cell, and Jemma gets up off the floor. To sell the ruse, Fitz wasn’t in on it. He commends Jemma on her trickery, and assumes that all of the glasses must have been filled with water. She proves otherwise by dumping out the fourth, which eats a smoking hole through the tray. “We are invincible,” she tells him again. Then the three of them steal a quinjet.
Daisy retrieves Robin and her mom from the safe house where they’ve been hiding. The girl is uncommunicative until she sees May, whom she immediately hugs and calls “Mommy!” Robin’s actual mother is heartbroken, but already understands from the girl’s drawings that she won’t be around in the future.
Robin starts drawing pictures again, and says that Coulson’s going to die. Daisy doesn’t want to hear that. One of the drawings depicts what look like Coulson and Talbot standing in front of a mountain range. Daisy tries to match this crude sketch against geographical maps.
The HYDRA Base
Werner von Strucker works furiously to decipher his father’s incomprehensible notes on the particle infusion chamber. Ruby makes it clear to him that she distrusts her mother. They make a secret pact to work together against her.
Creel is drawn to Coulson, and tells him that the gravitonium hates him. (Coulson is the one who threw Dr. Hall into the gray goo.) Creel feels compelled to kill him, until Coulson tells him that his old boss Gen. Talbot is being held prisoner too. Creel was unaware of that. He agrees to break Coulson out so they can find Talbot.
When they locate him, Talbot is a raving loon who can’t control the volume of his voice. That makes sneaking around very difficult. He inadvertently alerts some robot guards. Hale sends Ruby to retrieve them, making it very clear that she wants them alive.
During a fight, one of the robot soldiers punches Coulson in the chest so hard that his heart stops. Creel kills the android, then turns himself into metal in order to conduct electricity from the robot and jump-start Coulson’s heart.
When Ruby catches up with them, Creel hangs back to hold her off as Coulson and Talbot sneak into the room with the alien teleporter device. Coulson futzes with some knobs and buttons, hoping to select a destination somewhere on Earth, then he and Talbot grab the handles and vanish.
Disobeying her mother’s orders, Ruby tries to kill Creel. He turns himself into wood so that the blade will just get stuck in his chest. Hale is stern with her daughter and orders her to stop.
Coulson and Talbot materialize in the middle of a snowy forest in a mountain range, which looks pretty much just like the one from Robin’s drawing.
Identified as a flashback to four years ago, we see Raina (Ruth Negga) and Ian Quinn (David Conrad) riding in the back of a truck with a metal box between them. At a guess, this must take place immediately following the Season 1 finale. Raina opens the box to reveal an orb of gravitonium, which reaches out and pulls Quinn in.
Whether Ruth Negga and David Conrad actually filmed new footage for this episode is unclear to me. The scene is presented with little context, which makes me suspect that it’s actually an unused outtake from an old episode (likely the S1 finale). It was unnecessary at the time, but now explains what happened to Quinn after Season 1, and also provides an extra reason that the gravitonium hates Coulson. (Creel mentions that he hears multiple voices arguing in his head.) I could be wrong and maybe Negga actually did take a break from shooting AMC’s ‘Preacher’ to do a 30-second cameo here, but that somehow seems less likely.
I know that I’ve been feeling down on this entire season of the show, but the prior episode was pretty good and this one is solid as well. I liked some of the debate about whether the timeline can be changed or whether it’s set in stone, including a moment where Yo-Yo complains about Mack babying her and he suggests that perhaps the only reason she survives to the Lighthouse is because he kept her safe.
Does this mean that the show is on an upswing? I’d like to think so, but it’s too soon to tell.