Agents of SHIELD Season 5 Episode 13: Principia Recap

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This week, SHIELD goes back to its roots as a spy organization, and does some legwork that the Black Widow would be proud of. It’s a quieter, more light-hearted episode after last week’s emotional roller coaster ride, but family and loss are still themes. Deke figures out who his grandparents are and remembers his beloved mom, while Mack reaffirms that he’s not going to think of Elena as a robot just because she has robot arms. In the run up to Infinity War and Thanos, the show also brings up familial abuse, both as physical abuse and as the abuse of power. Hale becomes a stand-in for Thanos, and her team, especially Ruby, become alternates for Thanos’ children.

And Werner von Strucker is back! He’s still institutionalized, but out of his Ward-induced vegetative state and being threatened with heavy doping via Thorazine. He’s also using his favored alias of Alex Braun, but his therapist seems to know his full history and identity anyway.

His therapist wants Werner to show motivation toward making progress in therapy by revealing as much information about his past as possible, so that Werner can avoid the thorazine. Werner, however, has developed powers after being trapped in a particular memory in the memory recall machine while in a persistent vegetative state, then being shocked out of the memory loop by Lincoln Campbell zapping Werner with inhuman electrokinetic powers.

Now Werner remembers everything that’s ever happened to him, and every detail of his surroundings, no matter how small. He also seems to have enhanced senses, though I’m not sure Werner realizes that yet (or the writers 😉). He read the small type on an envelope in the trash from across the room, and heard the other side of a phone conversation through a wall. That’s not normal hearing or vision, and may be part of why he’s so out of control. Both hypersensitivity and psychic powers have a long tradition of driving people mad until they get a handle on their powers.

Werner spills personal information about the doctor, laced with threats, then stabs the doctor in the hand with a pen. Werner must hit the major blood source to the hand, because blood pours out like it’s a major head wound. Then he asks for the thorazine, because SHIELD left him a tormented, mismanaged soul. Thugs orderlies drag him out of the room.

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Yoyo is improving, with all of her vitals having stabilized in normal range now. Jemma, and especially Mack, are still hovering though, and Yoyo is becoming a very cranky patient. Coulson arrives to check on Yoyo, and Jemma asks about his health. He gets a little cranky with her. SHIELD agents are really terrible patients.

Coulson tells Yoyo that Fitz is going to create the best arms ever for her, but they need to get arm parts for her first, so it’ll take a bit of time. In the meantime, she should rest. He’s the third person in three minutes to tell her to rest, and she hasn’t even attempted to get out of bed, poor kid.

Coulson tries to cheer Yoyo up a little by showing off his own cool robot arm, but Yoyo cuts him off by asking if it feels the same. He has to admit that it doesn’t really feel. Maybe Fitz can get on that in all of his downtime between projects.

Elena asks Mack. “How are you going to feel about dating someone with robo parts?” Mack answers, “Those aren’t the parts that matter.” Jemma “Mind in the Gutter” Simmons is scandalized, her thoughts on only one thing now that she’s a newlywed, and misinterprets what he said. Mack explains that he meant that robots don’t have hearts and souls like people do. Everyone agrees that it was a nice save, then Jemma enforces Elena’s need for rest and shoos them out. Elena requests a beer as Mack leaves.

Out in the hall, Fitz brings warnings of doom and gloom. The tiny amount of Gravitonium that they used to seal the rift was really only enough for a band aid. It’s beginning to fail already, so they need to find more, quickly. Fitz wants to put the entire team on the Gravitonium problem, but Mack wants Yoyo’s arms to be a priority as well, so that she can get back into action.

Daisy has solved the issue of priorities, or rather, Ian Quinn has. His company, Cybertek, was the last known location of the stored Gravitonium, and also created the Deathlok technology for Mike Peterson’s advanced prosthetics. Unfortunately, Ian Quinn is missing, his coconspirator Raina is dead, and Cybertek was dissolved. All of its scientists have mysteriously had death certificates signed in the last 2 years by a photo shy guy with a lot of aliases, the most useful being Murray Jacobson. They need to talk to Jacobson about Quinn’s supposedly deceased Gravitonium scientist, Dr Joseph Getty, so it’s off to Baton Rouge, where Jacobson was most recently sighted.

Deke enters the room and Fitz bristles. When did Fitz start to dislike Deke so much? Coulson wants Deke there, because he has the most experience with Gravitonium, and it gives the writers an opportunity to throw out explanations of stuff from previous seasons, like who Ian Quinn is (season 1 tech billionaire/villain with close ties to HYDRA).

They make their plans to go find Jacobson, leaving under cover of darkness. Daisy invites herself along, so that she can keep an eye on Coulson. Coulson orders Deke to help Fitz work on plans to solve the rift. Fitz balks that he’s not a babysitter. Fitz is being very unFitzlike this week.

Werner wakes up in Hale’s compound, and wanders down the hall of closed doors to find a communal dining hall. He snags something to eat and sits down. Then Ruby enters, earbuds in her ears, grabs a snack, and leaves again, all while pretending Werner, who’s yelling questions at her, doesn’t exist.

The SHIELD team was supposed to be getting a change of scenery, so of course they find, and chase, Jacobson in a parking garage. Guns are drawn, threats are made, but then Mack and Jacobson recognize each other as Candy Man and Mackhammer. They were roommates freshman year at the SHIELD Academy. Daisy even pulls up yearbook photos. Jacobson is really Tony Caine, known as Candy Man because he was the guy who could get you anything, legal or not.

Back in those days, Mack was anti-violence and followed all of the rules. Together, Mack and Tony were known as the Saint and the Sinner, until Tony got thrown out of the Academy for skipping too much school and getting into trouble.

Coulson asks for more information about the connection between the Cybertek scientists and the death certificates Tony signed. Tony explains that they had a program similar to Operation Paperclip for HYDRA scientists after Winter Soldier. Anyone who was valuable enough got a new identity and a new life working for the US government. Tony gave them their new identity, and continues to be their handler. Tony agrees to take the Agents to Dr Getty.

Deke brings a baseball and mitt upstairs to the command center to try to get Fitz to take a break and play ball. Fitz is in serious scientist mode, and insists that he can’t take a break, no matter what. Deke’s appreciation of the 21st century eventually wears him down, and he condescendingly agrees to play fetch/catch for a few minutes. Just as they get started, the fear anomaly alarm goes off again. Fitz alerts the team, telling them to kill anomalies by any means necessary.

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Jemma returns to Yoyo’s room to find her collapsing onto the floor. Yoyo says that she forgot for a moment that she doesn’t have arms anymore and tried to get up. 😭😭 She’s finally feeling the enormity of what happened to her and what her future self said to her. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s while Mack is out on an op. She wants to be strong for him, but she needs to give in and experience these feelings sometimes, too.

Yoyo tells Jemma that she wants a future with Mack, kids and all, but the future looks so bleak, between her physical state and the unbreakable time loop. In her heart of hearts, she doesn’t believe it can be broken, since her future self was so desolate and certain, and everything Future Yoyo predicted is happening. Add in the enormous pain Yoyo is in, and the depressant effect of the painkillers, and she’s a basket case. Jemma comforts her and tries to be as optimistic as possible.

Tony and Mack take a moment to catch up. Tony can’t believe that his nonviolent friend is now one of America’s Most Wanted and carries a shotgun-axe. Mack explains that he knows a lot more about the dark underbelly of the universe than he used to, and somebody’s gotta protect the kids. Or words to that effect.

Coulson thinks he might have issues with Operation Paperclip- The Sequel Operation Let’s Find the New Arnim Zola Cause That Worked Out So Well the First Time, Just Ask Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers granting amnesty to evil HYDRA scientists. I can’t imagine why Captain America’s biggest fan would have a problem with this. It’s only how HYDRA infiltrated SHIELD in the 1940s, eventually took it over completely, then almost took over the world. It’s not like Coulson and his team were on the front lines as SHIELD fell to HYDRA at the end of season 1. Oh wait, that was them. Yeah, bringing home any HYDRA scientists who weren’t working under the “incentive plan” is a very bad idea.

Then again, I never get tired of HYDRA showing up onscreen again, either. 🤷🏻‍♀️😘

Anywho, Daisy points out that Cybertek had an entire team devoted to keeping John Garrett, aka The Clairvoyant, alive. Maybe one of those doctors would have an answer for him. Coulson shuts the discussion down. He’s had one unnatural life extension, he doesn’t want another. As he makes his dramatic exit, Daisy and May look at each other and agree that there’s no way they’re letting him die.

They don’t plan to give Coulson a say in the matter. The guy who iced Daisy and forced her through the monolith really doesn’t have a leg to stand on as far as who makes these decisions. The team has always operated with the understanding that it’s better for them all to live, no matter what someone says or feels in the moment.  The deal amongst them has always been that the core group keeps each other alive and brings each other home, no matter what the obstacles, no matter who seems like they’re dead or dying or evil. He can’t expect them to give up on that now, when it’s all they’ve got left.

Werner finds Ruby working out with a punching bag in the gym. She’s willing to talk this time, but is still cryptic. They’re in a safe house run by Mother (the way she says it sounds like Tony Perkins in Psycho), who will answer his questions when she feels like it.

After a moment, Werner recognizes Ruby as someone he played with as a child. She hit her head and got a deep cut once, and his father beat him for it. The story distracts Ruby enough for Werner to grab her and hold a knife to her throat. He demands to see Hale.

Mother Hale and her stormtrooper mechs make an entrance, surrounding Werner and Ruby and ordering him to release her. Hale tells Werner that the hospital was going to chemically lobotomize him, so she had him transferred to her facility. Werner says that maybe the lobotomy is what he wanted. He lets Ruby go as Hale greets him by name and says it’s good to see him again.

Hale says that she always hated Von Strucker, and HYDRA was such a boys club. She asks Werner what he remembers about what SHIELD did to him, and tells him that she creating a new world order something new here. She wants him to be part of it, but if he refuses, a car will take him wherever he wants to go in the morning. He’s free to go. It’s her gift to him.

Once Werner leaves for his room, Hale instructs Ruby to gain his trust in whatever ways necessary, but she’s to stick to the books and not go off the rails. Seduction is, of course, within the standard methodology.

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Tony and Mack find Dr Getty, the Cybertek Gravitonium expert. He was working for Cybertek/HYDRA under the “incentive program”, meaning they threatened his family. Getty tells Mack that the Gravitonium was put on a cargo ship called the Principia, then sent to a facility in the Pacific, but it went down in a storm before it got there. It’s lost at the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

Fitz uses every kind of instrumentation available to search for the ship and the Gravitonium under the water, but they’re not there. He’s frustrated and even crankier than before. Jemma tries to relax him, noting that he hasn’t been sleeping. Deke is in awe of the sheer mass of water in the ocean. He asks what it’s like 5 miles under the surface, and if they can visit, until Fitz loses his temper again and shoves him out the door. On his way out, Deke reminds them that he’s never seen an ocean before, because they’d already blown up the world where he came from.

Jemma and Fitz take a short moment to admire Deke’s taste in wedding rings and flirt a little. Jemma thinks they should hyphenate their names. Fitz sarcastically notes that Simmons-Fitz doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Deke goes down to the pantry storeroom to rummage around. He finds a case of Hostess Twinkies that’s probably been there since the 70s when the Lighthouse was stocked by Director Rick Stoner. The joke is that they are 45 years old and still just as fresh as ever. Deke loves them and wants to meet the chef that invented them.

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Deke’s mom appears behind him as a surprisingly friendly fear anomaly. She’s a cute, insightful, supportive redhead. She wants to know all about how he’s settling in with his new friends, especially that cute Daisy girl. He should make an effort to get to know her- “The steps you take don’t need to be big, they just need to take you in the right direction.” She always said that to him, just like her mom said it to her.

But then Mom’s attitude turns dark and she reminds him that he shouldn’t get close to anyone, because he’ll just lose them anyway. And, oops, a Kree arrives and runs her through with his battle axe. Going to guess that watching her die was the fear part of the apparition. Deke fights and kills the Kree apparition.

Jemma finds Deke and tries to convince him to go back to control with Fitz so that he won’t be alone with a fear anomaly again, but Deke knows Fitz doesn’t like him. He goes into a rant that’s all anger and science, and talks himself right around to a solution to finding the Principia. He and Jemma race upstairs to tell Fitz.

Since the Principia was carrying a significant amount of Gravitonium, if it got hit by lightning it would lose its relationship with gravity. They should look for it up in the sky. Fitz does the math, and sends the potential coordinates to the rest of the team in the Zephyr, who easily find the flying boat. Tony is impressed, and the rest try to pass it off as an everyday occurrence, but they’re getting a kick out of a floating ship, too. Some things just never get old.

Werner wakes up from a nightmare (that’s really a memory of his father’s abuse) to find Ruby in his room. She tells him that everything that’s happened so far at Mother Hale’s Home for Powered People, everything, has been carefully planned to convince him to stay. She confesses that her mother wants her to keep flirting and even use her body to convince him to stay and join their cause. Ruby hopes that he’ll join her own personal cause of breaking free from her mother and forming their own team. He’s non-committal, and Ruby gives him until morning to figure it out. She let’s him know that sex is still an option if he makes the right choice.

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In a high tech team effort, Coulson, Mack and Daisy board the Principia after the Zephyr drops them onto its deck while they’re in the containment pod. Davis, May and Tony stay on the Zephyr, ready to perform an emergency rescue should the Principia suddenly lose gravity. Fitz, Jemma and Deke monitor the operation from the Lighthouse. The remote groups watch the Principia team’s bodycam footage, and everyone’s on coms.

Coulson’s team searches the ship for the Gravitonium that must be keeping the Principia in the air. They find the ship’s dead crew first, on one of the upper decks. They don’t notice a mech coming to life as they walk away. Daisy finds the Gravitonium containment unit soon after, but it’s empty. Mack keeps looking, and quickly finds a softball sized hunk of Gravitonium floating free.

Deke instructs him to find a plastic box and capture the Gravitonium inside without touching it himself. Once Mack does that, they have 90 seconds before the Gravitonium’s gravity field dissipates and they drop 25,000 feet to the ground. Coulson makes a MackHammer/MC Hammer/science joke, saying, “MackHammer, U Can’t Touch That.” Coulson’s making Dad jokes now.

Infinity War Trailer! Thanos! Keep your hands off my Stevie! Killing national icons is not okay.

I should probably just set aside that whole weekend for emotions.

The Mech found a friend and makes Mack’s nightmares come true, attacking just when they have seconds remaining to get to the containment pod before the Principia drops into the ocean, potentially killing them through a combination of height and drowning. But it’s Hammer Time- yes, Mack went there- so he sends Coulson and Daisy ahead while he finishes off the mechs, then grabs a mech body to bring home as a useful souvenir, and runs for the pod.

Mother Hale is on her way to visit her powered charges again when her assistant informs her that the mechs on the Principia have come back online. The assistant suggests that they should have blown the Principia out of the sky when they had the chance, but Hale says that it was too risky. They didn’t know how the Gravitonium on board would react. It could have set the Ozone Layer on fire.

Something isn’t quite adding up with that conversation. Do they not know about Franklin Hall/Gravitron? Why would they have bothered to leave a small amount of Gravitonium behind and leave the ship in the air if they don’t have the rest of it/Franklin Hall/Gravitron, and need to hide evidence of what they’re doing?

The assistant is worried about who knows about the Gravitonium, but Hale already knows it’s SHIELD.

Tony had a great time hanging out with SHIELD. Before he leaves, he tells Mack, Coulson and May that he’ll find out what he can about the Deathlok program and what happened to its scientists. Is Tony a new recurring character? They do need to rebuild their network of suppliers and contacts, using people who operate outside or just straddling the law.

As Jemma gets Elena ready to go the command room to welcome everyone home from the mission, Elena apologizes for her moodiness the day before. Jemma understands, and tells her healing is a long, grueling process. She’s going to have rough days. Elena notices that Jemma has a piece of the monolith, the piece that was Deke’s family heirloom. When Elena asks about it, Jemma says she just felt like she should hang onto it in case of emergency. In case of emergency space or time travel? Or as a weapon?

Elena becomes more positive, deciding that they will change the timeline. Jemma agrees, and reminds Elena that she doesn’t need to rush. Jemma tells Elena, “The steps you take don’t need to be big. They just need to take you in the right direction.” Deke sees the monolith shard and overhears Jemma. He understands the implication that she ‘s his grandmother.

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He’s totally thrown and stares awkwardly at Jemma and Fitz. When Coulson and the gang return, Fitz grudgingly calls for him to get back to science work. Deke mutters, “After you, Grandpa.”

Mack asks Yoyo to guess what he got her. She says, “I don’t know. I’m stumped.” Too soon? Nah, never too soon. He got her a couple of beers and a mech with intact robot arms, perfect for repurposing into Elena’s prosthetic arms. But is Jemma going to allow her to combine alcohol and painkillers???

Back at Mother Hale’s, Ruby finds Werner waiting for her in the mess hall. He tells her, “The future’s ours.” She takes him to meet Carl Creel, the Absorbing Man. Hale finds them all in the gym and asks Ruby how she convinced Werner to stay. Ruby enigmatically answers that she told him the truth.

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Daisy mentions that, “The last time we saw the Gravitonium in this timeline was…”, which sounds like the Agents have moved to the multiverse/multitimeline view of time and time travel, or are at least getting there (or the writers are). Deke explained the theory of the multiverse way back in the beginning of the season, which makes me wonder now if the explanation was passed down from FitzSimmons, to his parents, to him.

At any rate, with multiverses and branching timelines, they don’t actually have to “break” the loop. The loop is like a circle continuously being redrawn over itself, without erasing what came before. The old timelines still exist, and won’t stop existing, no matter what changes are made in the future. It’s future versions of the timeline that will change- if the loop is repaired, the circle will become a straight line again from that point onwards, but the circular knot in the timeline that’s already been created would still be there, as would any other events that caused branching or looping to occur. They don’t need a big change to form a branch, a small change could do it, but this is TV, so it’ll be big.

More importantly, everything that happened previously will continue to exist in a separate timeline. Unlike Back to the Future, the timeline isn’t being rewritten or erased, we’re creating a new timeline with every pass through the loop, so anyone who time travels out of one loop into another, like Deke, will continue to exist when the repeating cycle is broken, because their own timeline won’t be affected.


 

I’ve never understood Coulson’s abject horror over how he was brought back to life. He essentially got a modified transfusion from an alien and some sort of electrical stimulation to his brain. What’s so terrible about that? We use drugs made from anything and everything we can get our hands on already, from mold and slime to deep sea creatures to rocks (minerals). Something from off planet is still part of our universe/greater environment. And that Kree was probably all natural and organic, nothing unnatural about him.

Or is the objection that it was painful and he was lied to afterwards? One the doctor was unrealistically upset afterwards, in my opinion. You don’t look at a happy, healthy patient and tell them that the procedure that saved their life was a mistake because it was painful. I live with pain every single day of my life. I’ve experienced trauma. Should I give up and die rather than deal with the pain and the memories? It seems like that’s what AoS’ message is about the TAHITI procedure.

The lies were a mistake, and Coulson has a right to be bitter about them, but that’s life with Nick Fury, and, honestly, life dealing with the medical-industrial complex. Welcome to the complexities of life with a chronic illness, Phil. You can’t always get a straight answer from your medical professionals and caseworkers. I suspect only healthy white people (men) expect that they always will.

So, Coulson is doing the same thing with his health that Daisy is with regards to her powers. They’re both afraid. He’s dealing with the fear of the horrific procedure he went through, the unprocessed trauma of the events from the first Avengers movie, and the loss of control that he experienced by having the TAHITI procedure done without his consent, then being lied to about it for months.

Daisy is afraid that she’ll end the world, and that fear is being fed by her memories of Hive and season 3. She’s afraid she’ll make the wrong decisions or be influenced by the wrong person again, and she doesn’t want the responsibility of her powers and having to control them at all times. Coulson’s pushing her toward leadership, when she’s not sure she can figure out who’s evil or good, or if she’s being manipulated. It’s easier for her to give up her powers so that she doesn’t have to deal with the ramifications of using them for the “wrong” purpose.

I wish we could get a Nick Fury cameo right about now to come in and tell both of them to get their acts together, the world needs them, their team needs them, and it’s time to be the heroes they’re both meant to be.


 

We’ve been rewatching season 1 lately, which has reminded me that I used to think of Daisy, Jemma and Fitz as the Muppet Babies. The babies have grown up so much. Deke has become a 4th Muppet Baby since he’s arrived in our present day. If there’s a season 6, I have a feeling it will be “The Muppet Babies Take Back the US Government (Again)”. Talbot and his amazing metaphors also need to come out of the coma and join our side, stat.

We need seasons 6 and 7 of Agents of SHIELD so that all of the dangling plot and character threads from seasons 2 and 3 can be revisited. That flashback structure worked for Arrow for 5 years, why not Agents of Shield? Plus, I really want to see Daniel Whitehall and Daisy’s mom and dad again, and for more than just a cameo.

If you haven’t watched them lately, a peek at season 1 episodes Pilot (1), FZZT (6), The Hub (7) and Seeds (12), which have a lot of bearing on the characterizations and callbacks we’re seeing this season. Seeds (12) also introduces Donnie Gill/Blizzard, currently missing and presumed dead, but probably living in one of the rooms in General Hale’s Home for Wayward Powered People. Franklin Hall and the Gravitonium make their appearance in The Asset (3). It’ll be completely anti-climactic if Hall isn’t behind one of those doors, having absorbed enough Gravitonium into himself to be able to control gravity fields. He may have fused with all of the Gravitonium that he was stored with, or Hale may have the extra to use as part of her evil plans.

The TAHITI story, which is about Coulson’s death at the hands of Loki and his rebirth using Kree juice combined with torturous brain stimulation, unfolds throughout the season, in tandem with the return of HYDRA, but the two main episodes are The Magical Place (11) and TAHITI (14). I still say, “It’s a magical place,” every time I hear Tahiti mentioned. 😉


Werner Von Strucker, son of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, one of the heads of HYDRA, was a season 3 character. He became involved in Ward’s quest to rebuild HYDRA when WARD tortured him for his fortune and an artifact/monolith piece hidden in his family’s vault. SHIELD took control of him when Ward tortured him into a coma/persistent vegetative state.

In the comics, Werner is the brother of Andrea and Andreas, the superpowered Fenris twins currently being used on The Gifted on FOX. I really want Werner to survive this season on AoS and then have the same actor play him on The Gifted. If DC can do it wth John Constantine, Marvel can make it work with their TV characters.

Coulson used the memory recall machine that Raina once used on Coulson to help Werner remember the information they needed. But the memory recall machine caused Werner’s mind to get stuck in a memory of torture. Lincoln Campbell used his powers to direct of surge of electricity at Werner’s brain to break him out of the loop. This episode reveals that the memory recall machine brought out all of his memories, good and bad, then the electroshock solidified his ability to remember everything. Did he gain other telepathic abilities?

 

Images courtesy of ABC.

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