Hale HYDRA! Hail the squid-bellied Destroyer of Worlds! Hail the Calamari Mata Hari, and the return of that silver-tongued devil himself, (former) General Talbot!
This week, we get a HYDRA history lesson and a nostalgic visit with some old friends. (RIP, Jasper Sitwell. I will always believe that someone saved you after the Winter Soldier crossed you off in the most spectacular of his on-camera assassinations.) We also discover just how deeply the misogyny ran in HYDRA.
After the Hydra background reveal, Hale takes Coulson on a tour of HYDRA and its goals as it stands today. The two leaders have a surprising amount in common, until Coulson slips and tries to give Hale orders based on his experiences in the future. Hale thinks that he’s just another male authority figure deciding that his gender makes him smarter than her, and shuts down in anger. Did they just bring us one step closer to the end of the world?
Meanwhile, the leaderless SHIELD team is still trying to muddle through. Jemma and Mack install Yoyo’s prototype arms. Daisy and May gather intel on Hale and try to determine where she’s taken Coulson, but Daisy is mostly sulking over having her powers back and being forced to do something she didn’t want to do.
The smooth talk and one upsmanship continues between Hale and Coulson as he’s brought into the newbies bedroom still hooded. The mechs remove his hood so that he and Hale can make eyes at each other while they engage in another round of spy flirtation. Hale likes her men fresh and rested, so after dropping the bomb that not only is she HYDRA, but she wants to work together to save the world, she sends him to bed for the night with the promise that she’ll be open and ready to reveal everything the next day.
After the cracking earth title card, we come back to the same room, as it was 28 years ago, in 1990. Back then, it was teenage Hale’s Hydra High School dorm room. She gets orders from a disembodied voice to “Rise and seize the future,” which is her call to put on her school uniform and head to breakfast in the same mess hall that Ruby and friends use today. Hale has a large, friendly dog that purposely reminds us of Buddy, the dog Garrett gave to Ward, then made him kill.
She is the only girl in the mess hall and she sits with my poor, lost Jasper Sitwell, class nerd destined for middle management in a group of HYDRA legacies meant for greater things. Adam Faison, the actor who played Sitwell in this episode, did such a fantastic impression of Maximiliano Hernández that everyone I watched with immediately knew that’s who the character was.
Hale is an enthusiastic student who can’t wait to graduate in a few days and get started on her HYDRA career. She’s excited by the new developments in the science division and wants to make a difference in the world.
This morning the seniors are having another lecture by a prominent HYDRA scientist who’ll inform them of the opportunities on his project. Our old friend Daniel Whitehall is working on a Particle Infusion Chamber, a machine which will force human cells to take on the property of a raw material. With that, he hopes that HYDRA will finally be able to produce its own supersoldiers.
I guess the Winter Soldier doesn’t count or is a secret? This would be 1990, an era when he was successfully completing high level missions for Karpov. Maybe they don’t count him because he’s with the Russians.
The possibilities for abilities that could be given to the supersoldiers are unlimited. Young Baron von Strucker suggests they use the Tesseract. Hale disagrees and says that they need to be more forward thinking. They need to look to space for materials. The class laughs, but Whitehall approves of the way she’s looking toward the future instead of the past.
Later on in the gym, von Strucker has two friends pull a dangerous prank on Hale. His family’s position makes him one of HYDRA’s golden boys and he wants revenge for her showing him up in class. Hale publicly fights all three boys.
That evening, the graduating students take the same final exam that Ward had- disposing of their dogs. HYDRA’s best can’t have attachments or show weakness. The next morning, everyone in the mess hall is looking over their placement letters. Sitwell is on his way to SHIELD Academy, Admin Division, as expected. Hale hasn’t gotten her placement, and Sitwell is sure it’s because she punched the future leader of HYDRA in the face.
She’s called in to talk to Whitehall. As one of the few women to make it to graduation, he’s impressed with her, and has chosen her for his program. Not to work on the Particle Infusion Chamber. Von Strucker will be given that slot. HYDRA leadership are impressed with her strength, endurance and uterus. She will be the mother of the perfect human.
Whitehall explains that she should be honored to be chosen as the best female DNA in HYDRA. Until her uterus is needed, she’ll be placed deep undercover with the Air Force, and will be expected to drop everything when the “seed” is ready. She can refuse to “comply” with her orders, but we all know what a loaded word that is when HYDRA’s involved.
Hale is obviously very disappointed to be reduced to nothing more than DNA and a uterus, but knows that she has no choice. She keeps herself under control in front of Whitehall, and obviously continued to follow orders.
The next flashback takes place 2 years ago (or 26 years later) in 2016/AoS season 3. It begins in the same dorm room, which now belongs to Hydra High senior Ruby Hale. The graduating class is still almost all boys, and the same misogynist teacher is still in charge of the school. Ruby wakes up to the same recording telling her to “Rise and seize the future,” puts on her school uniform, cuddles her big, adorable dog, beats up some boys, and deals with the HYDRA leadership deciding to sideline her, despite her superior abilities.
But HYDRA isn’t what it used to be. The students aren’t of the same caliber, and there are fewer than 10 of them instead of dozens. Their uniforms and postures aren’t being given the kind of attention they would have in Hale’s day. And General Hale herself, a mere walking uterus, has risen through the ranks by process of elimination alone, despite the HYDRA leadership’s intentions to the contrary.
Ruby is the baby Whitehall designed to be the perfect supersoldier, but Whitehall is dead, and the current HYDRA regime isn’t interested in his work. Hale argues with HYDRA High Professor Steger over Ruby’s abilities the same way she had to fight for him to recognize her own.
While she’s having lunch with Ruby in the mess hall, Hale gets a message from General Fisher, another HYDRA military plant. Gideon Malick had been arrested, and Fisher has been outed as HYDRA. He’s placing Hale in charge of HYDRA communications.
Fisher hands Hale a card and tells her to find the device it matches in his vault.
Fisher: After NY, we found transceivers in the wreckage of one of the Chitauri cruisers. We reached out. Someone answered.
Hale: You made contact with aliens.
Fisher: It’s an alliance of several races. They call themselves the Confederacy.
Hale: Well, why the hell wasn’t I brought in on this?
Talbot bursts into the room and tries to arrest Fisher, but Fisher gets to his cyanide pill first. Hale uses the distraction to slip the card under her bra strap, and pretends to be overwhelmed by Fisher’s betrayal. Talbot buys her act and plays the strong man comforting the distressed woman, promising she’ll never have to see one of those squids again.
Thank goodness the Air Force general had an Army general around to save her from an old man. 😡 It’s no wonder she fooled Talbot so easily for decades.
After being patronized by both Fisher and Talbot, Hale returns to HYDRA High to find Ruby in a shouting match with Professor Steger over the kill your dog to prove you’re not weak final exam.
Ruby: I don’t understand what my dog has to do with me graduating.
Steger: Your attachment to that mutt is a liability. You cannot serve until you complete the test.
Ruby: I’m the only one left. You’re seriously going to stop me from serving because of some barbaric ritual?
Steger: Do not question the HYDRA way. You trust in the system.
Ruby: Why not? Look where it’s gotten us. We’re this close to being wiped out!
Steger: All the more reason to devote yourself now. Eliminate your weakness.
Ruby: Wake up! Me obeying you? That is weakness. You, with your blind faith, with your stupid tradition, that’s weakness.
Steger: No! It is a rite of passage to a life built on control and survival! That is why when you cut off the head, two more spring up.
Hale has been listening to the argument in the doorway, but she’s heard enough. She shoots Steger, and as he falls to the floor he grabs the HYDRA banner hanging next to them and pulls it down with him. Out with the old, in with the new. Ruby stares at her mother in shock.
Hale: And now we’re the last two.
Moving forward, we flashback to 6 months ago, when Talbot woke from his DaisyBot induced coma. One of Aida and Ivanov’s army of Daisy LMD’s shot Talbot in the forehead in the middle of a meeting full of witnesses so that real Daisy would be blamed.
Talbot appears to be making progress with his therapy and be in good spirits, so his wife doesn’t understand why his doctor and General Hale want to move him to a long term rehab facility for more in depth treatment. Then something goes wrong with the memory game that Talbot is playing with his son, and his temper flares to the point that he needs to be sedated. His wife agrees to the transfer.
Talbot wakes up in the usual HYDRA High dorm room. He sadly doesn’t get a puppy. He gets the Werner von Strucker treatment. He wanders out to the mess hall, eats some Captain Crunch while gloating that he outranks the Captain, and falls for Ruby’s silent treatment. Talbot follows Ruby to the gym, and is surprised to find out that “Crossfit Tinkerbelle” is Hale’s daughter.
Hale informs Talbot that his career in the Air Force is over, his family won’t come near him, and his lack of impulse control makes him a threat to himself and others. She wants to help him find a new purpose in life, just as she once had to.
Hale shows Talbot the alien communication device that Fisher handed down to her. It can be used to move ships throughout the galaxies. She uses it to travel to meet with the aliens of the Confederacy. There is a war coming to earth, and Hale’s predecessors in HYDRA made a deal with the Confederacy for earth’s protection.
Talbot wants to know why he was never informed of this before. He quickly figures out that this is a HYDRA operation and Hale is HYDRA. Hale tries to turn him using the fact that Daisy shot him while working for SHIELD, but Talbot is smart enough to know that it was one of Ivanov’s DaisyBots.
Talbot realizes that what Hale really wants is to know where he hid the confiscated HYDRA weapons and artifacts. Talbot vows to never break his silence because he has a mind like a steel trap. Hale insists that he has to let go of old allegiances and worry about the planet as a whole if they are to win the war and save humanity. Talbot stands firm, so Hale sends him off with Ruby. Talbot claims that he’d rather die on two legs than slither on eight with her.
Ruby and the mechs strap him into a wheelchair. Ruby informs Talbot that hydras don’t have 8 legs, they have tentacles. They’re cephalopods. She wheels Talbot out of the room with him screaming that Coulson will rescue him.
Last flashback, to 24 hours ago, when it was Phil’s turn to wake up in the HYDRA High guest suite. He takes a walk to get breakfast, isn’t fooled by anything, and gives the place a mediocre grade. Then he notices that Hale is a considerate enough kidnapper to pick up his favorite cereal, so he bumps her up half a letter grade.
Hale finds Coulson in his room, hogging the good cereal. He asks her if Ruby is the one who took off Elena’s arms. Hale explains that Ruby is her daughter.
After breakfast, they jump right into Hale’s space device presentation, with included field trip. Hale dials up latitude, longitude and altitude on the device, which has alien symbols instead of human writing. She introduces Coulson to Qovas as one of earth’s mightiest heroes. Told you she had a thing for him. Coulson gets all humble about it.
She wants Qovas to convince Coulson that they need to work with the Confederacy. Qovas explains that war is coming, and his protection rates are much lower than these guys:
It doesn’t seem to be Thanos’ ship from Thor: Ragnorak, so it could be almost anyone with access to big ships and heavy artillery. Quite a few wealthy buyers showed up at Kasius’ inhuman displays. It could be a younger version of any of them, or their relatives. Kasius’ Dad was part of the Confederacy, so theoretically it shouldn’t be him. He must wait to try to subjugate earth until later.
Last time I saw Peter Mensah, the actor who plays Qovas, he was playing an energy draining vampire in Midnight, Texas, so I was sure Coulson was done for when Quovas’ hand came toward his head.
Weird fast cut back to earth. The Confederacy wants Gravitonium and inhumans in payment for saving earth. Hale needs Coulson because he’s the contact person for the inhuman network. Coulson points out the obvious, that an alien organization called the Confederacy maybe can’t be trusted. Hale agrees with Coulson that the deal needs to be altered so that earth doesn’t become enslaved at the end of the war. Coulson finally understands why SHIELD and HYDRA need to work together.
Hale and Coulson begin to compare notes and strategize. Hale explains Whitehall’s supersoldier program, and her plan to use Gravitonium as the material to be infused. She’s taken aback when Coulson tells her that he buried Whitehall. Maybe should’ve saved that for the third date, Phil.
Hale: It’s a Particle Infusion Chamber and it’s designed to create the most powerful man.
Coulson: Like Captain America.
Hale: Better than that. Personally, I’d like to see the most powerful human not be a man.
Coulson: If the idea is to put your ninja daughter into that chamber, this is going to be a long conversation. Cap was selected for his heart, not cutting off hands.
Hale: Ruby is a perfect fit. Her biometrics were optimized for particle infusion.
Coulson: I’m sensing a “but.”
Hale: She’s not ready. I’m not sure she has the temperament. I’m wondering if your Daisy Johnson is a better fit. You’ve made her into quite the formidable soldier.
Coulson: Made is not the term I would use.
Hale: Well, as far as her heart is concerned, I heard she sacrificed her own boyfriend for the greater good. Those decisions are not easily made.
Coulson: Now wait a minute.
Hale: Look, she’s powerful, she’s intelligent, she’s calculating. If the Confederacy needs Gravitonium, Daisy Johnson is the one to deliver it.
Coulson: By infusing her with Gravitonium?
Hale: Yes, she would have the power to level alien armies, blow their ships apart. She’d be worthy of Whitehall’s codename for the project: Destroyer of Worlds. Obviously the guy was overcompensating for something, but…
Coulson: NO. No, stop. This is a huge mistake. A broken planet sized mistake. Listen, my team wasn’t hiding all these months. We traveled to the future. We saw the aftermath of that program.
Hale: You traveled to the future.
Coulson: And back. I saw the earth cracked apart. But not because of the Confederacy or that alien ship.
Hale: It was because of my actions?
Coulson: Exactly. Call off the search. Do not let anyone enter that chamber.
Hale: Let me ask you something- In this fever dream of yours- Are you the big strong man who’s saving me from my mistakes?
Coulson: It’s more complicated than that.
Hale: I’m sure it is. I can’t tell if you’re delusional or playing games with me. This is very disappointing. I thought you of all people could see the bigger picture. Clearly you’re just like the rest of them.
Coulson: I listened to you, now listen to me, General.
Hale: I’ve heard enough. Let’s try this conversation again when you’re feeling more reasonable.
Coulson: You’re making a huge mistake. No, you have to listen to me!
So, there we have it. The outline of a plan that could end in a broken earth. Or clearly one explanation for how it could happen. Is it the explanation for what we saw in the first half of the season? These writers love to write about Daisy, so maybe, but it seems so obvious- They had Deke tell us that this is what happened in episode 3 of the season, and he suggested then that Daisy’s powers would be enhanced somehow. There has to be a twist coming that we don’t expect.
Now, class, can anyone explain how Coulson totally blew that encounter by mansplaining all over Hale’s lifelong dreams?
Had he stayed calm and suggested that they sit down and each calmly talk about their experiences and information, then try to hash out how they could still try to make her plan work, it likely would have been fine. Instead, he decided that he was the superior officer with the superior information and she needed to follow his orders without question. He talked down to her as if she was a child instead of speaking rationally to her like an equal.
He made a whole lot of assumptions in his thinking to get from the title Destroyer of Worlds to the conclusion that Daisy went through the process and was the Destroyer of Worlds, most of them based on evidence Deke hasn’t shared or explained beyond an inconclusive video clip. Coulson asked Hale for proof of concept and she gave it to him. Perhaps he should have offered that to her first, instead of humiliating her.
Hale has had a lifetime of men assuming that she can’t handle leadership and can’t think for herself. In rapid succession, Coulson told her he killed Whitehall, one of her idols, he insulted her daughter, and completely rejected her leadership and strategy abilities. It went very much like one of her interviews with the HYDRA leadership, or that time Fisher told her she was only being put in charge because their was no one else left, then Talbot treated her like she was too weak and stupid to be HYDRA.
Most anyone would have shut Coulson down at that point, and he should have known better than to blurt it out in such an insulting way like that. They spent the entire episode explaining to us why Hale was primed to shut him down when he spoke to her that way. If they play the story from here on out as if she’s just an evil villain, it will be clear that this has become a misogynistic Joss Whedon show again, where women’s reasons are just seen as lame excuses that don’t count, but anything to do with a man is vitally important.
Later, Ruby stops by to chat about the future. She wants to know how she, as the Destroyer of Worlds, cracks the earth apart, so she can avoid making the same mistake twice. Phil is back to being a rigid, paternalistic jerk, the Phil I can’t stand. She’s giving him an opening for dialogue here, since he blew it with her mother. Ruby is the second in command, not the bimbo he’s her pegged as. But he wants to taunt her with the idea that her arch rival Daisy Johnson is the supersoldier instead, so he blows this chance, too.
Ruby’s much more upbeat about challenges than her mom, and bounces to the door to show him the last guy who was full of bravado with her. A scraggly bearded Talbot is dragged in, mumbling wildly to himself. He sees Coulson and asks where he’s been. Talbot tells Coulson that he tried to hold out for SHIELD to rescue him, but they never came. He cracked and told HYDRA everything. As Talbot is dragged away again, Coulson realizes how badly he’s messed everything up, and just how dangerous Hale and Ruby are.
Meanwhile, back at the Lighthouse, Daisy’s back in her terrorist Quake suit, HYDRA Nazi boots and all. The way they’ve positioned her in that chair ⇑⇑ is so reminiscent of the Winter Soldier when he was getting wiped that it has to be on purpose, combined with the threat to wipe and retrain Hale if she didn’t voluntarily comply.
Daisy and May are trying to figure out where Hale’s taken Coulson. They know that Hale must be HYDRA, but they can’t interview any HYDRA prisoners for intel without fake papers, which they don’t have the resources to acquire at the moment.
Honestly, I imagine that Deke and Fitz could easily come up with something if everyone would lighten up about the two of them, but let’s play along for now.
It’s becoming more and more obvious that the world ends because nobody in SHIELD takes a nap or gets over their petty arguments, though.
May realizes that they have a HYDRA supervillain in the facility, and runs downstairs to question Fitz. Without Daisy around, they have a sensible conversation:
Fitz: Go on. Let’s get it over with. Tell me I can’t be trusted any more.
May: You forget that I was HYDRA in the Framework, too. I know how this works. I made decisions I regret.
Fitz: This isn’t the Framework, and truthfully, I don’t regret it. Just did what had to be done.
May: Well, I’m not asking you to apologize for it. I’m asking you to embrace it.
Jemma and Mack are attaching Elena’s new arms. He reassures her that Fitz was still a good person in the Framework. Mack asks if Elena will be stronger than before. Jemma says yes. Mack is a bit disappointed, because of Elena’s theory that she can’t be killed until she gets to the point where she met herself 70 years in the future. Jemma is intrigued by this theory.
Fitz tells May that he can tell that Hale is building a weapon, but he doesn’t know what she needs Coulson for, just based on the limited information May’s shared with him. Fitz says that they have a lot of intel in their files. If they gave him a few hours access to the computers and labs, he could figure it out. Daisy storms in and tells him that there’s no way he’s getting near a computer. Fitz assumed that Daisy was listening.
Daisy and Fitz argue about the way he restored her powers and had her seal the rift. Fitz argues that he didn’t have a choice. Daisy uses her power to throw him up against a wall, then complains about how sadistic he was when he was forcing her to save the world. Yeah, not feeling her argument while she’s beating up the imprisoned, unarmed guy. She admits that she would NEVER have agreed to the procedure on her own, and Fitz says that the rift was going to spread to the town in a few hours. Sorry Daisy, game over, stop whining, hand over leadership to a grown up already and stop abusing your power, both as a leader and as an inhuman.
Fitz: I don’t feel good about it either, but in a few hours, the town up there would have been affected as well, so… I’m sorry. I don’t need your forgiveness. I just need you to trust me.
Daisy: You are not leaving this room. You are HYDRA.
Fitz: Well, that’s an advantage. I saluted the same flag as those people.
Daisy: Yeah, but we don’t turn on our own here.
Fitz: Do you want me to recount all the times that you did?
Daisy has nothing to say to that, since it would take an entire episode to do justice to all of Daisy “Skye” Johnson’s many, many betrayals. Instead, she walks away, saying they’ll find another way to track down Hale. Not that Coulson’s missing and already dying or anything. No rush. May argues that they don’t have any leads, and Daisy says she’ll figure something out.
Fitz says that they’ve already made one crack in the earth. With Daisy having regained her powers, and Hale having the Gravitonium, it doesn’t take a fortune-teller to see how the earth might be destroyed. Does Daisy take this warning seriously? No, she gets inspired to go bring a child out of hiding. Really not a hero right now.
May chases Daisy and tries to get her to reconsider, for Robin’s sake, but Daisy’s mind is made up. They need every weapon they can get. Yes, Daisy said it. She wants to weaponize a child. Coulson really should stop pretending that SHIELD are the good guys.
Fitz hears someone else come into his cell and tells them that he still can’t help them while he’s locked away like a “hideous freckled stepchild”. It’s Jemma, who’s tells him he’s not hideous at all. She’s brought them a drink to share, and has a serious look on her face, making Fitz nervous.
But she tells him some good news. Deke is their grandson, proven by showing Fitz Deke’s version of one of Fitz’ engraved tools, and Fitz’ present day version. Deke is living proof that they will be okay and live long enough to have and raise their daughter. Jemma thinks Deke is perfect.
Fitz is dismayed that their daughter will grow up and marry a space goon then give birth to a Deke. Jemma tells him that Deke’s existence means that they’re invincible.
I don’t appreciate this storyline where all of the women are coming unhinged. Next we’ll find out that May is still an LMD.
I don’t know why people keep saying that Agents of SHIELD doesn’t tie in with the movies any more. Has anyone brought up the Faustus method and compliance since season 2? Now here is Whitehall, who is tied in to all three time periods that Bucky’s connected to- the 40s, 90s and the present day. That one word, “comply”, combined with Whitehall’s history and his sinister air, subtly reminds us why Shuri needed to work on Bucky’s brain.
Hale, HYDRA, Tentacles, Whedon and Misogyny: What Do Fish Have to Do with It?
Hale puts the new men in the same room that she once slept in for their ritual
hazing welcome by Ruby, which is some interesting poetic justice.
It’s great that General Hale is becoming a fully rounded person, and not just a cardboard cutout villain. I just wish that the woman who is trying to make the world a better place for women, and arguing for women’s equality, wasn’t a villain. This show has taken a step backward in its treatment of women in season 5. None of the women who aren’t HYDRA have been able to take care of themselves this season. Not a single one. Sinara came close, but she ended up dead. And Daisy needed Deke’s help to kill her. This is starting to look like a Joss Whedon show again, which is not a good thing.
Within Hydra, it doesn’t even matter that everyone who was born in the early 20th century is gone. The men who were born in the mid to late 20th century have kept HYDRA just as misogynist. Remember that time in the season 1 finale that Ward told Hill that the HYDRA/SHIELD operatives lost respect for Fury when he made Hill his 2nd in command, because not only was she a girl, but she wasn’t as attractive as Romanov? Yeah, that wasn’t a joke.
Which brings us to Ruby’s porn doll look, which Metamaiden has been bugging me to mention. I’d like to think that Ruby was genetically engineered to look like a porn doll in order to draw her targets in and seem nonthreateningly attractive. This show has almost never sexualized its women without a reason, especially the level of hypersexualization Ruby’s been given.
I hope that we eventually get confirmation of that, because I’m not going to give them the benefit of the doubt this season. Not with the way Daisy’s being written as regressing in maturity, and the way that all of the women are losing their fights unless the men step in to save them. Lately this is looking more like a CW show than Agents of SHIELD, with Hale spouting feminist lines while the show itself undermines women.
There are overall themes of playing with time and rotating victims this season. Now we’ve been to both the past and the future. In the past, women and enhanced people were treated as property to be used as tools and objects for personal and organizational gain by HYDRA. In the present, many women are hidden slaves and/or sexually/violently assaulted while inhumans are persecuted to the point of genocide. In the future, the most attractive women were kept as slaves and inhumans were treated as property to be used as tools and objects for personal and financial gain by the Kree. The abuse of women throughout history and the use of inhumans as a metaphor for women is clear.
I can’t help but agree with Hale’s implicit attitude that a greater feminine touch might have made HYDRA stronger. Reliance on operatives who will turn on anyone at any time and feel little loyalty to anything but a symbol seems like an obviously bad idea, when you think about it. That’s why they needed their incentive plan to get the best from employees. Ironically, the incentive plan must have been expensive to run, since it had to require a lot of man power to operate.
It’s disturbing that HYDRA has bred a female slave. Ruby has been brainwashed from birth to view herself as a science experiment meant to follow orders and allow the male scientists and leadership to mutilate her body on a molecular level. She’s been lead to believe that this will make her the Captain America of the HYDRA world, but it seems more likely that she’s female so that she can be viewed as disposable. If the experiment goes wrong, or she dies fighting, they can take the knowledge they gained from their prototype and use it on men. If she survives, they can attempt breeding experiments with her.
I’ll wait until the end of the season to see where this is going, but I hate how much Agents of SHIELD is starting to look like a typical Joss Whedon show lately. I hate him for being one of the influences who took the many varied female archetypes of the 80s who had earned equality in film and TV and then undermined them.
Buffy and her friends reinforced the idea that women were really girls who cared more about being girly than anything else and who were too emotional to ever accomplish anything on their own. In the Joss Whedonverse, self-loathing depression is the acceptable female response to adversity and hypersexuality is the acceptable physical presentation for women.
Agents of SHIELD has skirted the edges of Joss Whedon’s typical character types since the beginning, with May serving as the grown up Buffy, Skye acting as Buffy Lite, Ward taking the Angel role (he even lost his soul once he admitted his feelings for her at the end of season 1), Coulson as Giles, Jemma as Willow, and Fitz as Oz. Like Oz, Fitz turned into a metaphorical werewolf in season 2. Thankfully Cordelia and Xander were left out of the original team of regulars. If I had to assign them to anyone, it would be Lance and Bobbie. The two most sexualized regular female characters have been May and Bobbie Morse, just like Buffy and Cordelia. Buffy Lite gets in on the action periodically as well. But it’s been toned down from Whedon’s Buffy days, until now.
This is the first time that they’ve actually had a character who catered to the pornified manga look, with the big eyes, pouty lips, attention-getting hair, and overtly sexy clothes over teenage curves, including a mini-skirted school uniform. They even had Ruby bring up tentacles. (Tentacles aren’t just for HYDRA.) And then they had her become a sex slave, with her own mother pimping her out.
Actually, the HYDRA symbol is a tentacle monster combined with a death symbol. Maybe HYDRA has really been written with one of its main functions as an anti-female organization all along. At the very least, tentacles are usually seen as phallic and rape is a common tentacle depiction. Raping, pillaging and murdering are HYDRA’s basic activities, it’s just a matter of the scale and sophistication of the operation.
I’ve never thought about how explicitly that was represented in their logo. Is this the AoS answer to #MeToo? Are we going to explore institutionalized misogyny in HYDRA and SHIELD further than we have before? Are we going to find out about the porn, slavery and prostitution rings that HYDRA has undoubtedly always run? Are we going to do something about how male dominated and condescendingly paternalistic SHIELD has always been, even though its first director was a woman?** Or was this episode their little nod to political correctness, and Dove Cameron will now resume pouting and attempting to seduce men two or three times her age on Mommy’s orders?
Are the Characters Who Were Alive in Robin’s Flashbacks Currently Invincible?
The idea that time is unchangeable, so that anyone who was alive in the future is now unkillable, is an odd one for the characters to accept. My opinion is that no, they aren’t invincible. For one thing, we know that Jemma died young in Robin’s flashbacks, so she’s only invincible until their daughter is born, at best. But it’s not like Jemma be so certain that they can’t be killed without having more information. That’s not a good sign for the current state of her own mental health.
Future Yoyo said she’d told her younger self different things in each repetition of the loop. That proves that changes can be made, because Future Yoyo changed her own behavior during the future portion of the loop, even if she didn’t change the outcome of the next loop. The characters are failing to recognize that everything is part of the loop, including their time in the future.
The show could be going with the concept that time is, for the most part, mutable, but certain events are unchangeable, fixed points in time, which is currently a popular trope. In that case, the events leading up to certain important fixed points in time are changeable, but the events that are fixed points will always occur.
For example, Fitz or Jemma might die childless, but in that case someone else would have a child that would replace Deke’s mother in the timeline, to pass the monolith shard down to her child, who would then travel back to the present day. Or Daisy might make it so that she can’t destroy the world, but then Ruby will instead. The fixed points in these examples would be the destruction of the earth by the Destroyer of Worlds, and a member of the team having a child and grandchild to complete the circle of the loop by carrying the monolith shard forward through time, then traveling backwards to the present with the team.
Deke has seemed to subscribe to this theory, since he doesn’t seem to think that the events of the loop are unchangeable. He just thinks the outcome is. Lately he’s slowly started to hope that the outcome can be changed, too, while the others are losing hope and becoming fatalistic.
In S5, Ep3, A Life Spent, Deke told Daisy that his research led him to believe that she was the Destroyer of Worlds. She argued that it was impossible for her to destroy the earth:
Deke: Don’t you think you’re kind of deflecting from what I told you about [makes gestures and noise to illustrate earth being destroyed]?
Daisy: I’m not deflecting because I didn’t do it.
Deke: Yeah, that’s what deflecting is.
Daisy: How could I split the world apart? My powers aren’t that strong. I’m not that strong.
Deke: Maybe not yet, but you will be.
Daisy: How do you know that?
Deke: Because planet earth went from smooth to chunky and Quake is the one who did it.
Daisy: And you don’t think I’d remember that?
Deke: Not according to the multiverse theory.
Deke goes on to explain his version of time, the multiverse and quantum physics, probably handed down from his grandparents, which I transcribed and discussed in my episode 14 recap.
Deke knew that something would happen to make Daisy more powerful. He already knows that the time loop can be changed, because he knows that Daisy will change from one version to the next.
Deke doesn’t realize how much he knows because so much of his knowledge was handed down in the form of stories from his grandparents to his mom to him when he was a child, in order to make sure that the information came back around to Fitz and Jemma at the beginning of the loop, and to make sure that Deke would have what he needed to survive Kasius in the Lighthouse. He’s never had time or a reason to examine the family stories much beyond that, other than determining that Daisy was the Destroyer of Worlds.
Now he has a different context for the stories, so the team needs to sit him down and do a thorough debriefing. They need to find out everything that he learned from his parents and grandparents, and everything he knows about the future of the loop just from living in the Lighthouse for his entire life.
So to me the important questions are: What are the fixed points, if they exist? Can the team find a way around them? Can the team get their own mental health back in shape quickly enough to stop the end of the world? Will it take another circle through the loop before it can be stopped? What about Deke’s multiverse/branching timeline theory? Can he and Fitz figure out a dimension jumping solution from that, now that we can tear holes in Space/Time?
Jemma asked for a Tardis once. Maybe she’ll have some theories.
More on Daisy vs Fitz vs the Fear Dimension
Normally, I’d be agreeing with Daisy that Fitz violated her, and having a fit that yet another man decided that he could do whatever he wanted with a woman’s body. This time, the show has made it clear that it has nothing to do with her gender, and everything to do with her stubborn refusal to do what was necessary as a SHIELD agent and a decent human being.
Plus, during this episode alone we saw both Coulson and Talbot being manhandled and abused by a female authority figure and her female minion, while Hale was coerced into allowing her body to be used by HYDRA and has allowed her daughter to be brainwashed the same way. Captain America’s transformation at the hands of the US Army was discussed. The theme seems to be not just what’s done to female bodies, but what military and paramilitary organizations do to human bodies in the name of the government, science and justice.
For Daisy, internally this came down to having to make a difficult decision, and being unable to bring herself to do the right thing. Once she knew what the Doctor’s plan was, she could have stopped the forced nature of the procedure, agreed to let him do it and have Jemma help, and been given proper sedation in the operating room that was used for Elena’s procedures. I suspect that Daisy is particularly mad at Fitz because he didn’t give her enough warning so that she could run away instead of facing this difficult choice. He just dug in and faced it for her, so now she can pretend that he’s the bad guy here.
Then there’s the childish, impulsive way that Daisy’s handled herself for the entire season. On the one hand, I don’t appreciate that Daisy’s being written so immaturely, but, on the other hand, this is all consistent with her character. She deals with difficult personal situations by avoidance and withdrawal, and if those options aren’t available, she turns to anger and depression. She becomes self-destructive, and lashes out at the people around her.
This season, she’s been written multiple times as choosing the impulsive option that’s a terrible choice, rather than maturely choosing the slower, more complicated choice that required patience, cooperation and listening to someone else’s opinions. Then we’ve seen the men physically force her into the right choice after she made the wrong choice. Deke forced her to become one of Kasius’ slaves rather than trying to rescue Jemma using a full frontal attack. Coulson iced her and forced her to return to the present when she wanted to remain in the future. And now Fitz has forced her to reclaim her powers. The men’s choices were all the right decisions, but that just means that it’s the writers who are misogynistic rather than the characters. Daisy is a grown, sensible adult SHIELD agent. Surely she’d listen to reason when the situation was as dire as it has been this season.
Daisy does have some reasons for acting the way she has. She’s still processing everything that happened with her parents, both Ward and Lincoln’s deaths, and her guilt over the Hive arc. She blames herself for Andrew’s death as well. Coulson had to drag her back into SHIELD last season, and now it turns out that she’s going to cause the end of the world (or so she believes). Plus she became a powerful inhuman not that long ago, and inhumans are hunted and persecuted. She has nearly as much to deal with as Fitz.
Daisy has had more time to deal with it than Fitz, though, because she’s taken time off/run away from SHIELD on multiple occasions when she couldn’t cope anymore, or needed to explore a situation. Given how much forgiveness she’s been shown by the rest of the team after betraying them in large and small ways every single season, it seems like she could give Fitz a break.
All Fitz did was force her to save the world. He has said repeatedly that he didn’t want to do it the way he did, and he didn’t enjoy it, but he didn’t feel he had any other choices left. Even now, no one else has come up with any alternatives that he should have tried. Daisy still says she wouldn’t have done the right thing, so he truly didn’t have a choice. And he knew her well enough to know that.
Plus, did she really plan on indefinitely wearing the alien tech implanted against her will by Kasius? Under any other circumstances, she would have wanted it out the minute they hit the present time.
And now she’s going to bring Robin, a young child, and her mother, out of hiding, putting them in grave danger, rather than giving Fitz a chance to keep working. This will likely be when Robin’s birth mother dies and May adopts her. That’s not the action of a wise or selfless leader.
It’s interesting that Mack and May both don’t seem to have much of an issue with Fitz. They both have their Framework personas rattling around in their heads, too, and understand what happened. They are also grown ups who understand the severity of the situation and why Fitz did what he did. Both have shown their own personal growth because of their framework experiences.
Jemma seemed divided during this episode, like she intellectually understood, but needed some time to work through the trauma. Or maybe she was just hesitant to talk about it with Mack, because she thought he’d be disapproving of Fitz. She seemed to have adjusted to their new reality by the end of the episode. It seems like it’s Fitz who’s pushing her away more than Jemma rejecting him. Daisy is the only team member who actually said anything negative to or about Fitz in this episode.
How will Coulson react, if they get him back in time for his reaction to matter? Even if he’d been there, it’s hard to tell what approach he would have taken. He’s made ruthless decisions in the past that have resulted in agents dying or being injured so that the mission could succeed, but he tends to favor Daisy over mission success. Would he have pushed Daisy to go through with the surgery, and forced her if necessary? What would his moment of truth have looked like?
Why Talbot’s Injury and Treatment Matters
It’s a miracle that General Talbot survived being shot in the forehead. He should be grateful that he has the gold-standard federal government employee health insurance package and a nice government pension for his family to live on now that he’s permanently disabled. Most Americans would be financially ruined by that injury, if they were able to get decent emergency treatment to begin with. He gets those benefits because the US Armed Forces function as a labor union when it comes time to make sure that they receive adequate pay and benefits. Sadly, most of the rest of the jobs in America have had their unions busted or been prohibited from unionizing, one way or another, so they have no collective bargaining power for better wages and a social safety net like the rest of the industrialized world has.
I have very mixed feelings about the way Talbot’s disability is handled in this episode. Adrian Pasdar is a gifted comedian, and the scenes are funny. But the reality of this situation is that he’s a severely brain-damaged middle-aged man who really needed the therapy Hale promised his wife. Instead of treating the ongoing symptoms of his injury, Hale has been torturing him for 6 months, making his symptoms worse, possibly making some permanent that could have been fixed if treated in time.
Of course, he looks physically fine, so he’s not coding as disabled for most people, just crazy, on drugs, or dumb, and people with those conditions don’t count, as virtually everyone, not just Donald Trump, will tell you. Hale is a villain, so I’ll accept that she’d treat Talbot this way and think it was no big deal. But Coulson had better try to rescue Talbot and get him the treatment he needs.
Talbot’s story is being paralleled with Fitz’ story of brain injury relapse, and Fitz is also being left to his own devices. No one even did a brain scan on him after his dissociative episode to see what might be going on in there. Normally one of the first things you do with someone who’s had issues in the past is a scan to make sure they aren’t developing a tumor or something similar. Jemma should be able to do a scan on the Zephyr.
Infinity War will deal with the ramifications of Rhodey’s physical disability, which is left over from the injuries he sustained in Civil War. AoS might be revisiting Fitz’ disability and showing Talbot’s new disability as a tie in to Infinity War. And of course Bucky has had brain injuries that Infinity War will at least touch on.
Who Is the Next Supersoldier?
General Hale’s supersoldier plans haven’t exactly undergone rigorous testing. She’s making them up as she goes along, depending on Whitehall’s decades old research and a machine that’s been in storage. She’ll need Fitz to make sure the machine works properly, and both Fitz and Jemma to figure out how to use the machine and the Gravitonium together.
Unless Hale has Dr Franklin Hall hiding in one of her dorm rooms, waiting to make a grand entrance and show off his genius and his new look as Graviton. That could explain why Fitz couldn’t find Hall’s notes. Hall himself could have wiped them from every database to keep the knowledge of Gravitonium’s properties his exclusive property.
It’s hard to imagine fusing with Gravitonium going well for any human. It’s such a strange element that finding the right amount to infuse, an amount that would give powers but not be toxic, would require several test subjects, if it could be done at all. Maybe the Odium is some sort of Gravitonium extract, and we’ve already seen a miniature version of its effects.
I’m also reminded of the Agent Carter season 2 characters actress/inventor Whitney Frost and scientist Jason Wilkes, who both fused with the Zero Matter/Darkforce and gained superhuman abilities. On AoS, scientist Marcus Daniels and inhuman General Andrivich were also able to manifest and manipulate Darkforce. Gravitonium and Zero Matter/Darkforce have a lot in common, so I’ve always wondered if they’re related.* Maybe Darkforce is sometimes a product of Gravitonium’s negative effects on Space/Time, and the powers humans develop from Gravitonium will be similar.
Gravitonium fused into Daisy would probably make her powers so volatile that she’d destroy the earth as soon as she came out of the chamber. Maybe that’s what happens in the time loop version of the future. Hale offers to trade Daisy for Coulson, Daisy turns herself in, and they force her into the procedure on the grounds that it will save the world. Hale isn’t Fitz, so she doesn’t get to make these unilateral decisions and be right. And Future Yoyo’s prediction that saving Coulson ends the world would be correct.
Either Coulson or Fitz could also end up in the supersoldier machine, in which case let’s hope it’s relatively safe. Like Hale, I’d prefer to give a girl a chance to be the next supersoldier, but they’ve been foreshadowing Fitz as a supersoldier for the entire season, and even last season. How many times have I compared him to Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier:?
[Both Fitz and Bucky were subjected to brainwashing and were convinced to commit evil murders while thinking they were doing the right thing; both have had serious brain injuries with ongoing consequences; both spent decades in cryofreeze; both are extremely loyal to their best friend, who they’ve been willing to die for or go to any lengths to save. Now, Fitz has caught up with Civil War Bucky, and had a relapse into his brainwashed persona. As with Tony and Bucky, one of the team leaders doesn’t trust Fitz to an irrational level. Daisy’s making impulsive, risky decisions and blaming it on Fitz, just like Bucky received more blame than he actually deserved for the break up of the Avengers.]
Fitz actually fits Hale’s description of supersoldier material better than Daisy does. He’s the one who’s calculating, intelligent, and able to put aside his personal needs for the greater good, but is still able to maintain his humanity and his cool detachment in difficult situations. Presumably the machine would either help him reintegrate the Doctor into his personality or it will be a plot point for him to keep working through it.
Mack said that Fitz was always good, even when he was the Doctor. That will turn out to be important. It’s also important to remember that Steve Rogers is sweet, good and loyal, but also angry and defiant. He’s disciplined, but he’s killed a lot of people, and broken a lot of laws.
Coulson might end up in the machine as a way to save his life. There have been hints that he’s going to go through a transformation, as I discussed last episode. The last director of SHIELD, Jeffrey Mace/the Patriot, was a fake supersoldier, who became a real supersoldier in the Framework, then died saving people. Daisy and May could organize a secret op to force Coulson to go through the supersoldier procedure without his or Hale’s permission, in order to save his life. Becoming a supersoldier saved Steve Rogers from an early death, and Coulson certainly has the heart and bravery to become one. According to Hale and Fury, he’s one of earth’s mightiest warriors.
If the machine will only work once, that could be what Future Yoyo meant when she said that they prioritized saving Coulson over saving the world. It might not be Daisy who breaks the world, but it could be that Daisy would be able to stop it if she were the one who went through the machine. If she puts Coulson through instead, that chance is lost.
Or it could be that Ruby will secretly put herself through Whitehall’s machine, then tell the aliens that she’s Quake, Destroyer of Worlds. Because of her obsessive rivalry with Daisy, Ruby may want to feel like she’s taken everything from Daisy, even her name.
I don’t want anyone from the team to go through the HYDRA version of a supersoldier transformation, but it could be used as a plot device the way that Ward being a HYDRA agent fueled his story and death. Coulson could be saved by the supersoldier procedure, then go to the alien warship and die saving earth again. The Confederacy will be lurking, with their life-saving Kree juice, to bring Coulson or anyone else back from the dead.
Fitz could sacrifice himself, figuring he’s so morally compromised that he’s lost anyway. He could secretly do the procedure on himself, then take on the alien ship. We are not going to discuss Fitz dying. Deke needs his Grandpa. We all need Deke’s Grandpa.
Daisy could realize that she’s the only one who’ll have the ability to stop whatever’s coming, with her Quake powers enhanced and combined with Gravitonium powers. Any of the others could also be the ones to undergo the procedure, but Coulson, Fitz and Daisy are the characters who are set up for major story arcs.
And of course the machine could be used with materials other than Gravitonium, especially if its being used primarily to heal Coulson or Fitz. GH325, Extremis, or any of the other life saving but ultimately failed supersoldier serums could be made to work if they’re infused on a molecular level.
Fitz’ Mental State
I wish we’d seen more Fitz this episode. He was very rational about what he’d had to do to close the rift and Daisy’s unwillingness to make the hard decision. She called him HYDRA, indicating that she believes that he’s stuck in his hallucination, but he used the past tense when he talked about HYDRA, indicating that he isn’t the Doctor and isn’t loyal to HYDRA, but he’s able to think like the Doctor. Mack can still think like a dad, too. May tells Fitz that she understands what’s happening with him, and doesn’t say when she made the decisions she regrets.
I don’t think that Fitz is much worse off than Mack or May, it’s just that what happened to him in the Framework was so much worse than what happened to them. It’s easier to integrate the memories and personality of a loving dad, and not too terrible to come to terms with having been a loyal field agent who made the choice that May always wished she’s made.
Fitz also got what he wanted, a childhood and beyond with his father, but his choices in the Framework were just as shaped by the necessity of turning him into what Aida wanted. No one else was influenced by a second, stronger person’s wish fulfillment like that.
[Oddly enough, Jemma and Daisy also got what Aida would perceive as their “regrets” fulfilled, even though they weren’t scanned into the Framework properly. Jemma wanted more adventure and a more masculine partner, whether that meant another chance with Trip or a hardened version of Fitz. Both were on her mind frequently in early seasons. Daisy wanted her parents or parent replacements and for Ward to have been a good guy who was sincere about his feelings. In the Framework, she found a father figure who remembered her when he couldn’t remember anything else about his life, unlike her bio dad who’s forgotten her on purpose. And she found a version of Ward who fought for the right side and put her safety first.]
Fitz is still coming to terms with his experiences in the Framework. Part of that means embracing his analytical side, which is neutral, not evil, and allows him to fully use his intellectual powers. The potentially dangerous results of both Jemma and Fitz following their scientific research to its extreme limits have been a concern since season 1, and are frequently revisited. The LMD storyline came out of Fitz giving in to the temptation to see how lifelike he could make an android.
The hyperanalytical part of the brain isn’t polite and pleasant, and it doesn’t stick to socially acceptable results. Fitz seemed to have resigned himself to accepting that his filter dividing the results he normally doesn’t want to consider from his conscious mind is gone for the time being. That’s really what the Doctor is. Simply the side of himself that will consider solutions that Fitz would normally reject as too harsh, just like the Doctor said. But a leader has to be able to acknowledge those options, because they may become the only choice, or the enemy may choose to use them.
What Daisy is missing is that Fitz didn’t really turn into the Doctor. The Doctor would choose the ruthless, sadistic option as his first choice. Fitz only went down that road when it was literally the end of the world and he’d exhausted all other options.
Fitz seemed to be much more like his usual self again when he and Jemma were talking about Deke and their daughter. Daisy is the one I’m actually worried about. Jemma will pull Fitz through this and help him heal. Daisy will run off and make every situation worse, including her own. Given how tied Robin is to the end of the world, I can’t help but think everyone would be safer if Robin was kept out of it.
Unless Robin can figure out how to jump the entire Scooby Gang to a new, better timeline.
*Capabilities and properties of each substance:
Darkforce: “Darkforce is an extra-dimensional substance that, in its pure form, absorbs all ambient energy, reducing the temperature of the surrounding area. It resembles a viscous, black liquid, and has the properties of a Perfect Fluid, according to Jason Wilkes, a scientist in the 1940’s who observed its properties. Darkforce has such a strong attraction to itself that it can defy gravity and destroy matter to reconnect to the larger mass. In its impure form, Darkforce has different properties, depending on the person manipulating it.” Abilities have included intangibility; invisibility; absorbing ambient energy, including life force energy; emitting the substance as focused blasts; and projecting Darkforce manifestations in the form of a sentient shadow, which shifts its density at will.
Gravitonium: “Gravitonium possesses unique gravitational properties. A mass of Gravitonium atoms distorts gravity fields within itself, giving itself an undulating, amorphous shape that is akin to liquid. However, when stimulated by an electrical current, the mass of Gravitonium will solidify into a uniform sphere and causes powerful gravity fields to emanate outwardly from it. These gravity fields cause changes in the rules of gravity in various ways within a certain proximity of it. This can range from phenomenon such as levitating objects by reversing the pull of gravity or increasing gravity and shifting the direction/point of attraction.”
**Fury is the absolute worst for need to know paternalism. As director, he didn’t even trust his closest advisors, male or female (Coulson and Romanov). That being said, right now I’m appreciating his ability to run a tight ship. Coulson’s ship frequently descends into chaos.
Images other than manga courtesy of ABC/Marvel Studios.
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