Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 5.03 “A Life Spent” REVIEW
Airing Sundays on E4 in the UK at 9pm
Writers: Nora Zuckerman & Lilla Zuckerman
Director: Kevin Hooks
Essential Plot Points:
- Kasius commands Jemma to help a young Inhuman girl control her new powers in time for a “ceremony” that will take place in the presence of Kasius’s honoured guest – the snooty Lady Basha.
- The girl, Abby, should be able to make her body either intangible or super dense at will but she’s too freaked out by her new abilities to be able to regulate them.
- Jemma turns out to be a fantastic sensei, and soon Abby is making progress. She says that success in the ceremony will mean she’ll become an intergalactic ambassador and her family will be rewarded. If Jemma does think, “Load of bull,” she holds her tongue.
- The ceremony turns out to be a gladiatorial combat: Abby against Basha’s champion, who’s clearly a big fan of Mad Max films.
- Although Basha’s champion starts well, once Abby remembers what Jemma’s taught her, she swiftly deals with him by going all Vision – phasing an intangible arm inside the guy, then making it tangible. Yuck.
- Basha is impressed and buys Abby off Kasius to be her slave (presumably). Jemma is distraught, but Kasius thanks her for helping to up the price on Abby.
- Coulson, Mack and Yo-Yo are now indentured to Grill and forced to work in his junkyard.
- Grill has slightly more trust in May (Ming-Na Wen) and Tess who jointly subdued and killed the guy who was trying to kill him.
- When May and Tess go off on a trawler mission, Tess asks for more bodies to help out. Grill gives her Coulson and Mack.
- Then he asks his number one, Zev, to tag along as well, to suss out if these newcomers are planning something.
- On the trawler, Mack takes one for the team – allowing himself to be Zev’s metaphorical punch bag to distract him from the fact that Coulson, May and Tess do indeed have a secret side mission: they head for a rock mentioned time and time again in Virgil’s journal, listed as 616.
- When they get there it appears to be lifeless. Then they find a secret compartment in the trawler containing a communications device. Virgil was communicating with someone who was bouncing the signal off rock 616.
- Which is when Zev – clearly bored of taunting Mack – bursts into the bridge and a big fight ensues.
- Mack turns up just in time to win the fight for Team SHIELD, knocking Zev unconscious. Tess demands they kill Zev and dispose of the body, claiming he died in an accident, because otherwise they’ll be executed for attacking a superior. Team SHIELD refuses to kill a man in cold blood.
- They head back to Earth Base to face the music.
- Meanwhile, back at the scrapyard, Yo-Yo uses her powers to trick Grill into replacing her metric. In the brief moment between taking out the old metric and inserting the new one, she super-speeds into his office and steals back the door-opening scroll she nicked off a Kree last episode, plus a handy hand gun. (No human is supposed to own a weapon but Grill looks like the kind of guy who’d uphold the Second Amendment come hell or alien invasion.)
- Daisy locates Yo-Yo thanks to some intel from “the shoe guy” and some good guessing from Deke.
- By the way, Deke and Daisy pretty much loathe each other which probably means they’ll be shagging by midseason.
- Yo-Yo secretly gives the scroll to Daisy.
- Daisy wants to use the scroll to get to where Jemma is being held. Deke advises that this is a very bad idea and that she should play the long game.
- But Daisy’s always hated Monopoly and ignores him.
- She ends up getting caught by Kasius who’s been tipped off by, gasp, DEKE! The rotter.
- (Except that as Daisy falls unconscious from some knock-out gas, Deke whispers to her that he’s playing the long game.)
- When Coulson and co return to Grill’s junkyard, Zev tells Grill about their treachery…
- …But Yo-Yo secretly plants the hand gun she stole in Zev’s jacket for Grill to discover. Grill thinks Zev stole his gun and so hands him over to the Kree. Coulson manages to sweet talk Grill into believing they helped expose Zev.
- Some time later, Mack gets Virgil’s communication device working and Coulson and co receive a message from the surface of what’s left of the Earth.
- Tess says that’s impossible, because nothing can survive on the surface of what’s left of the Earth…
- …As Zev finds out when he’s attacked by a pack of roaches on a storm-whipped landscape.
This season of Agents Of SHIELD is certainly getting into its swing a lot faster than previous seasons. Two (or three, depending on how you’re counting) episodes in and already this show feels like it should stay in space forever more; the idea of returning to dodgy politicians, inept global crime organisations and constant references to MCU superheroes you know they’ll never be able to afford to use seem a thing of the long-distant past. Space opera and Team Coulson are made for each other. Sorry May. Maybe you’ll find a nice bed somewhere in this future.
“A Life Spent” is another incident-packed, action-driven, confident slice of small screen sci-fi that benefits from the fact you can actually see this action this week. Did a memo come from on high to turn up the dimmer switches a little?
There are some satisfyingly meaty scenes for Jemma, whose plight – only being able to hear when Kasius allows it – is being realised on screen with uncomfortable credibility. Deaf-blind author Helen Keller once said that “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people” and the show is disturbingly putting across just how severe the second half of that statement can hit someone who’s had their hearing suddenly deprived them.
It’s also great to see Yo-Yo using her powers intelligently and Daisy discovering that just because she’s comfortable with her powers now, they aren’t the answer to everything. While the arc story is resolutely plot-driven at the moment, there remain plenty of compelling little character moments that keep things engaging; the sparky relationship between Daisy and Deke; Sinara spitting out the word “Compassion” to describe Jemma; May having a rare moment of world-weariness with Coulson; and Jemma’s horror when she realises what exactly she’s helped Abby to achieve. “If not for you she wouldn’t have fetched such a high price,” purrs Kasius, with a face so smug we don’t know how Jemma resists punching it.
Kasius is still one the season’s stand-out new elements, especially now that we see he can be rattled. He just about keeps his cool at Lady Basha’s surgically-precise needling comments, but you can see the magma churning beneath the surface. He’s not just a pantomime villain; he’s a villain with his own very – excuse the word – human hang-ups, and that makes him all the more dangerously unpredictable.
There are a few minor niggles (see below) but if the episode has any serious drawbacks it’s that both the Daisy plotline and the Jemma plotline have rather obvious twists. Jemma’s is so obvious, in fact, you’re surprised she didn’t guess it and refuse to play along (or at least agonise over training someone up to be a slave or letting them get their head mashed up by a Humungus fanboy).
Not many Earth-shattering shocks, then (sorry), but a lot to enjoy otherwise.
- The shot of the trawler ship munching up rocks against the backdrop of the remains of the Earth was a beaut.
- And this shot was near-poetic.
- “It’s not like I don’t want to help. I do. But after that, I’m going home. I spent weeks in the Framework, strapped to a board, thinking I was Hydra. I’ve earned a night in my own bed.” There’s something deeply melancholy and touching about the usually stoic May admitting she needs a break.
- Yo-Yo’s ruse to get hold of the Kree scroll and hand gun from Grill’s office was a fun set-piece.
- Mack: “You were all pinned to the wall, flailing around like a bunch of hungry, hungry hippos.”
Coulson: “Huh. In my mind, it was cooler than that.”
- The shots of Lady Basha’s champion throwing Abby around are so uncomfortably brutal you can’t help having a guilty punch-the-air moment when Abby finally skewers him.
- Daisy’s fight in the lift was impressive too. The action scenes in this episode were way, way better than in the two-part season premiere.
- While the look of this series often falls a little flat, you can’t fault the soundscape of this episode. Bear McCreary’s edgy, percussive score – with occasional insect-like musical punctuation – blends seamlessly with the doomy, atmospheric sound effects to create a near-cloying claustrophobia.
- Early in the episode Deke tells Daisy she needs to play the long game, then later he tells her that he’s simply paying the long game when he appears to sell her out to Kasius – which to us as good as says, “Good guy after all…”
- “Shoe guy knows all.” You’ll be seeing that on T-shirts at your next convention, we bet.
- Some of the set design is still disappointingly bland. Kasius’s reception at the start of the episode was held in a room with what looked liked Artexed walls, so presumably he’s made his base in what used to be student digs in the ’70s.
- Admittedly, Daisy trying to hide herself on the ceiling of the lift was played for laughs, but it did look very silly anyway – poor Chloe Bennet was so stretched out, it looked impossible for her to get any purchase on the sides of that cavity.
- “It’s the lost knob.” Hang on – has a scene been cut somewhere? Nobody’s mentioned a lost knob before. We would have remembered sniggering. Plus, Tess came across as a bit dim not realising that Virgil’s little model Earth was more than a good luck charm.
- Why Mack wasn’t pinned to the wall in the trawler along with the others when Zev triggered his gizmo. Maybe Mack was beyond its range? But it’s not made clear.
- It’s all very well Team SHIELD getting moralistic with Tess when she suggests killing Zev, but nobody gives Yo-Yo a dressing down for planting a gun on him and thus sentencing him to death anyway.
And The Random:
- The segment of Earth which Virgil wrote about “again and again” in his journal (the one Coulson and co visit in the trawler) is numbered 616. This is a reference to Earth-616, which is the prime universe in Marvel Comics. Not that Marvel tends to use that term, preferring to simply refer to “the Marvel universe”. However, ever since the term was coined in a throwaway line by writers Alan Moore and Alan Davis in a 1983 Captain Britain story (omnipotent being Saturnyne uses the term to differentiate Captain Britain from the other members of the Captain Britain Corps, who come from various different universes) fans have continued to use it.
- Just in case you didn’t recognise it, the scene near the very end with Coulson waking up, looking out at the window at the space rocks and announcing to himself, “All right, Phil. Enough sight-seeing. Get back to work,” is the same scene that provided that intriguing epilogue to season four.
- Before you ask, no we don’t knock which race Lady Basha is from.
- The Shoe Guy is played by Mark Casimir Dyniewicz who’s never had a major role but whose CV is full of such wonderful credits as “Drug Induced Shunga Man” (in Ad Astra, 2019), “Weirdo” (in Valley Girl, 2018), “Hippie Stoner” (in Zeroville, 2018), “Aryan Prison Visitor Dino” (in Wisdom of the Crowd, 2017), “Straight Satan Biker” (in Aquarius), “1860’s Schrute Farm Dandyman) (in The Office) and “Pirate in Silent Film” (in The Artist, 2011). He will be back in Agents Of SHIELD.
- And if the season’s prepublicity is anything to go by, we’ll be seeing a lot more of this guy too – Flint.
- What was Yo-Yo doing when she tricked Grill into swapping her Metric? Sorting lumps of coal into size order?
- Deke refers to Daisy as “destroyer of worlds”. This echoes Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quotation after he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” He, in turn, was quoting a famous line from Hindu scripture’s Bhagavad-Gita, although, as scholars have pointed out, his interpretation is a mistranslation of the text. Maybe Deke is misinterpreting Daisy? Maybe we should stop getting all pseudy.