This week Agents of SHIELD features two daring prison breaks by two death-defying groups of people who are being treated unfairly by their captors. The captors themselves feel that their prisoners betrayed them and their trust, and that the prisoners aren’t listening to reason, so they feel justified in containing the prisoners indefinitely, while they attend to other matters.
The prisoners also feel like they aren’t being listened to. They seek out unlikely allies and use their wits, skill and reckless bravado to pull off their escapes. Someone almost dies in each escape. Meanwhile, the leaders and seconds in command are distracted with their own plots and plans, so they underestimate their prisoners need to escape and deal with issues. The leaders don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late to prevent the escapes.
Hale and Daisy are mirrored as soft-spoken leaders who fail to pay attention to what’s happening within their teams, and the HYDRA and SHIELD gangs both rebel as a result. Neither leader has either the history as team leader or the watchful muscle to back her up in order to be able to expect absolute loyalty from her best people. As a result, they lose the control they’re holding so tightly.
Chances are, this will lead to the big confrontation between HYDRA and SHIELD, but it also leaves each group splintered within itself, and unable to fight as a united front against any enemy, large or small. The Confederacy has hinted at a large, destructive war against the incoming aliens, but it may turn out to be a smaller event in which the new enemy easily picks off divided factions, one at a time.
Inside Voices opens on Coulson sitting on the floor in his now barren Hydra High room, talking to the security camera. He’s bummed that Hale has taken not only his furniture, but his favorite cereal as well. That last was a low blow. It’s almost worse than her plan to accidentally destroy the world.
Hale watches the security feed with Carl Creel to show him that they’ve captured Coulson, as promised. She tells Creel that Coulson will pay for what happened to Talbot once he’s given them his inhumans. In the meantime, she has a special treat for Carl. Unlike all of the other HYDRA greats (Whitehall, Strucker), or Talbot, she’s not interested in mere compliance. Hale wants to transform Creel into a hero. The first step is for him to try using his powers to absorb some Gravitonium and then tell them about its capabilities.
Hale has the original mother lode of Gravitonium that ate Franklin Hall in season 1. Creel goes into the lab to touch it while Hale and Ruby wait in an observation room. Ruby doesn’t understand why Hale is giving Creel the Gravitonium first. Hale explains that the only person who understood the substance was Ian Quinn, and he’s been missing for years. She doesn’t want to infuse Ruby with something that they know nothing about. They’re waiting for Werner to finish transcribing his father’s work, but that’s taking time. Creel can act as a test subject and provide specific information. Ruby wants to further question Coulson, but Hale refuses to speak to him again until she’s kept him awake and hungry for a week. Seems like she has a thing about compliance herself.
Creel reaches his hand toward the Gravitonium, which reaches back and surrounds his hand and wrist. He can’t pull free. He sees flashes of Franklin Hall, and begins to float. He yells to be pulled free. After a minute the guards yank him free. Hale asks what happened. Creel says the Gravitonium is alive.
Now that Hale has revealed she’s HYDRA and told us her semi-evil plan, she doesn’t have to maintain her Air Force cover any more. She’s gone for the full sexy, evil queen look this week, with tight, black leather pants, a loose, low cut black shirt that’s belted at the waist, hair that’s hanging loose, and more prominent makeup. Her evil cackle can’t be far behind.
Elena is practicing punching the heavy bag with her new arms. She’s able to hit it nearly as hard as Captain America. Mack warns her to slow down and be careful. He brings up her certainty that she can’t be killed and how much that worries him. Elena says it was just the pain meds talking. Mack asks her to let him run a diagnostic on her arms later, and leaves her with a water bottle for hydration. Elena accidentally crushes it.
Deke and Fitz stare at each other, Fitz from inside his cell, as Deke stands outside the window, like a kid with empty pockets looking inside a candy store. Fitz says that he doesn’t see a resemblance between them at all, and wishes that Flint had been his grandson. Deke says his mother must have married a real man. Good one, Deke. He reminds Fitz of how loved he felt when the mech was pointing a gun at his head. Fitz says he didn’t want to hurt anyone, but Deke says it’s fine. He respects Fitz for it.
Deke agrees that when Fitz removed the inhibitor, Fitz was doing what needed to be done and playing the long game. It’s the kind of thing Deke had to do all the time to survive in the Lighthouse of the future. Deke gets ready to leave, but first he notes that Daisy’s been a hard*ss since she’s been in charge. Fitz says he’s noticed, obviously.
Jemma grabs Deke in the hall and asks to pick his brain about her and Fitz’s future, as far as major injuries and physical scarring. She wants to make sure they aren’t risking something nearly as bad as death in the near future. Deke says that he doesn’t remember either of them, and never knew their real names. Everyone changed their names in the Lighthouse so that they wouldn’t get caught. He knew them as Nana and Bobo.
Deke says that his mom talked about her a lot, but never mentioned their health, so he thinks they were fine. Jemma reminds him of his mom. His voice gets soft, and so does her face. Deke offers to tell her stories, but Jemma says that it’s a bad idea to know too much about their future. She’s just glad to know they live long enough to create her. Then the conversation gets awkward for a moment, and Deke changes the subject to Daisy and what a hard*ss she’s become. Jemma’s noticed.
Deke reports to the Zephyr for the mission to retrieve Robin. May is still trying to talk Daisy out of it, but Daisy won’t budge. Jemma approaches Daisy next:
Jemma: I was hoping to have another word with you about Fitz.
Daisy (using a patronizing tone of voice): We can’t have that conversation again, Simmons.
Jemma: Yes, well, Robin may have answers, but she may not. Whereas Fitz has a concrete lead on a HYDRA weapon. We get there first, we get to Hale. That could lead to Coulson-
Daisy: Fitz is sick. You should be worried about that. Look, you can compile his intel and we will review it when we get back, alright? But right now, Zephyr 1 is leaving. Simmons- Mack is in charge while I’m gone, and he’s under strict orders Fitz stays locked up while I’m gone. Understood?
Jemma: I understand what you’re saying.
May looked shocked and annoyed when Daisy said that Fitz is sick. If he’s sick, so are she, Mack and Coulson, who also have second lives in their heads. May, especially, also has a HYDRA identity. Plus, she just alienated Jemma into feeling like the Simmons-Fitzes need to take drastic actions again, because Daisy is so self-absorbed and out of touch with the urgency of the situation.
May’s response is so tepid that it doesn’t even begin to get through to Daisy, who’s dug in.
May: You might want to dial it back.
Daisy: I think she’s wrong.
May: You made that perfectly clear. But you’re leading us now, and it’s new to everyone, not just you.
Daisy: I’m just leading us to Coulson, then he can have his job back.
Why doesn’t Daisy just hand temporary leadership over to May? Letting the pouty, bitter child make the decisions is a bad, bad way to run an organization, and May has enough experience to know that. Why on earth is Coulson forcing command on Daisy before she’s ready? But also, if Daisy doesn’t want to lead or step down, why doesn’t she just do what May advises? It’s insulting that the writers don’t think that the two of them could run SHIELD together.
Jemma’s had enough of Daisy’s leadership style, or lack thereof. She and Elena meet in front of Fitz’ cell to discuss the new plan. They all agree that they need to start thinking differently, with a bolder approach, if they’re going to change things. All three have future proof that they don’t die for a significant amount of time, so they can form a team (the Invincible Three) and take action. Elena tells them she’s sorry when she hears that Deke is their grandson. Fitz says, “Thank you.” Jemma says she thinks he’s sweet.
Fitz believes that Hale is after a weapon powered by Gravitonium. It’s probably in a location that Gideon Malick turned over to SHIELD. But Fitz doesn’t think that he can go anywhere. Jemma tells him that she trusts him and his mental health. She’s going to get him out of his cell. She just needs him to trust her. He does. Elena says that Mack will stop them. Jemma says, “No. He’ll try.” Ruthless Jemma is back.
Creel sits in his room listening to Dr Hall clips from season 1 repeating in his head. Hale stops in to check on him, and misinterprets his distress as homesickness for the old HYDRA. He tells her she’s wrong, but she ignores him and says that the next test is coming up. It’s up to him if he’s the test subject or not.
Davis loads Polly and Robin Hinton into a quinjet. Robin is withdrawn and quiet. Polly tells Daisy that Robin’s been like this for a couple of weeks. Daisy says she’ll try talking to Robin.
Werner von Strucker is frantically transcribing everything that he remembers from his father’s work on the device, but it’s not fast enough. Ruby confides in him that she thinks her mother is up to something. She’s afraid that Hale is going to make someone else the Destroyer of Worlds. Werner vows to do everything he can to help her. He has Coulson’s desk, too.
Daisy sits down to talk to Robin about why she’s not communicating. It quickly turns into Daisy asking Robin to find her BFF Coulson. Robin shrugs her off. Smart kid.
Mack does the diagnostic on Elena’s arms and discovers that they’re just as fine as they were that morning. Elena tells Mack that she’d like to get back into action. She wants Mack to let Fitz out so that they can enact their plan to get the weapon before Hale does. Mack gets angry with her. He doesn’t want to make any decisions or let her take any risks. He wants her to forget about the future, but she can’t forget about what she saw. She tells him he can’t protect her forever. He says that maybe she’ll be alive because he did. He reiterates his and Daisy’s orders that nobody goes anywhere.
Inside his head, Creel hears Hall yelling at Coulson. Creel goes to confront Coulson, to find out why the Gravitonium hates him. Coulson tells Creel to tell Hale that he’s still not joining her Evil League of Evil (Dr Horrible™). Creel roughs Coulson up and they discuss human guinea pigs and forced human experimentation. Then it comes out that Hale didn’t help Talbot like she promised Creel. She’s been holding him hostage for months instead.
Daisy asks Polly what Robin’s last drawing was. Polly has it with her in a folder of drawings. It’s Old Robin dying in the future. Polly asks if Daisy knows what it means, and Daisy says no. Robin drew it about 2 weeks ago, when she would have died in the future. She’s been upset about her own death and the time loop restarting.
While they talk, Robin goes to the front of the plane to visit May. She calls May “Mom”, and tells May that she missed her and that she knew Flint would get her back. May hugs her back.
Creel breaks Coulson out of his room, then uses his powers to get them into the secure wing where Talbot is kept. They find him talking loudly to himself and playing with a pair of scissors. Talbot vouches for Coulson, and they try to sneak Talbot out of the facility. Coulson asks him to use his softest inside voice, but he’s beyond that concept.
Jemma and Elena decide to do a test to prove to Mack that Jemma can’t be killed, which will also prove their time theory is accurate, and that he should let them go on their mission. They’ve set up three beakers of water and one of phosphoric acid, a deadly poison. Elena switches their positions of the beakers so that Jemma doesn’t know which is which. Jemma drinks 3 of the 4, certain that she will drink the water, rather than the deadly phosphoric acid, because she can’t be killed.
The first two are water. On the third, Jemma becomes ill and falls to the floor. Fitz screams for Mack to let him out so that he can get the antidote, alkaloid phosphate. Mack unlocks the door and Fitz runs out of the cell. Elena whooshes Mack into the cell, then locks him in. Fitz realizes what happened and stops running. He hugs Jemma, hard, because she’s alive. He wasn’t in on the plan, and wishes they’d given him a heads up. Jemma tells him it was a real test. She pours out the 4th beaker. The acid bubbles and melts the metal tray it lands on.
Elena tells Mack that she’s doing this to protect him. If they don’t come back they’ll have broken the time loop. Fitz says that he doesn’t believe that it can be broken. Jemma asks him if that’s what he’s going to tell their daughter and they have a quick little spat about their parenting philosophies. 😍
Elena breaks up the argument, but then accidentally fires Mack’s gun at them, The bullet somehow goes between them to miss them both, more proof that they can’t be killed. Elena says that she’s still getting used to her new fingers. Maybe she should practice her fine motor skills, in addition to her punches, for the safety of scientists and water bottles everywhere.
Robin has begun drawing again. May asks if she stopped drawing because of what happened in the future. May reassures Robin that they’re trying to rewrite the future. But to do that, they need to find… Robin fills in Coulson’s name, and says that he can put all of the pieces together.
May says that Coulson’s lost, and she needs him. Robin says that Daisy needs him too. But, he’s going to die. May asks if that’s what Robin sees, and Robin nods her head, yes. May tells Robin that they can save Coulson. Robin looks at May and lets out a big, frustrated sigh. So, she agrees with Future Elena then, that they’re all too obsessed with saving Coulson.
May finds a picture in Robin’s pile that shows Coulson and Talbot standing in a snowy scene in front of mountains. Coulson has the telltale black lines from his heart. May gives the photo to Daisy, who scans for landmarks that match the drawing. They find a match.
The Invincible Three take a quinjet, which they’ll fly using autopilot. There are three locations to search, so they’ll start with the closest. There’s no chance at all that the autopilot that Fitz designed will be shot out mid-flight. Nope. They are as safe as Steve Rogers and Red Skull.
Creel leads Coulson and Talbot through the facility to the door he was brought in through. They set off an internal alarm. Hale tells Ruby to suit up and start searching for them with the mechs, but makes sure Ruby knows that she wants Carl alive. She doesn’t care about Coulson and Talbot any more.
Coulson, Talbot and Creel fight some mechs. Coulson takes a hard hit to the chest, which stops his heart. Talbot orders Creel to do something. Creel freezes, because the Gravitonium voices don’t want him to help Coulson. Talbot urges him on. Creel turns to metal and uses a mech’s power supply to shock Coulson’s heart into beating again. Talbot tells Coulson that he dies more than anyone else Talbot knows.
May explains to Polly that they don’t have time to take her and Robin back into hiding, but they’ll keep them safe. Uh huh. Polly asks about Robin’s bond with May. May says she can’t explain it. Polly says that May doesn’t have to. She’s seen all of the drawings, and knows that she’s not in them. She starts to say, “If anything happens to me…” But May interrupts and says, “Listen, that’s not going to happen, okay?”
Ruby and the rest of the mechs catch up with Coulson, Creel and Talbot. The exits are blocked, but Coulson remembers where the alien travel device is. He sets a longitude and latitude, but no altitude, hoping that will put him and Talbot somewhere on earth that isn’t water.
Creel stays behind to hold off Ruby while they escape. They have a big fight in which Creel forgets that he can transform. Hale interrupts them. She’s been very clear all episode that she wants Creel left alive. Ruby throws one of her ring blades at Creel’s chest anyway. He’s able to transform into wood just in time. Hale gets in Ruby’s face and asks, “Who the h*ll do you think you are?” Ruby answers, “I’m the Destroyer of Worlds.” Hale looks pleased. She answers, “Then go get them.” Ruby must have finally passed the test, or Hale has completely succumbed to Whedonverse Female Power Madness Disease*.
Coulson and Talbot materialize in a snowy pine forest somewhere on earth. The mountains that were in the background of Robin’s drawing can be seen in the distance.
The tag flashes back to the season 1 finale. Raina and Ian Quinn are making their escape from the Battle at Cybertek, with the Gravitonium. Ian tells Raina that he’s grateful that she helped him with this. It’s all he wanted. He never cared about HYDRA. Raina says that it cements a bond. Ian thinks that she means between him and her, but she corrects him. The Gravitonium wanted Ian. She got Ian for it. She opens up the Gravitonium’s case, it sends out a tendril which encases Ian, then pulls him into the case. He hasn’t been missing all this time. He’s transformed.
Deke is going to be so mad that he didn’t get to go on Nana and Bobo’s Big Prison Break/HYDRA Heist Adventure. Instead he has to stay home with a Daisy that’s even grouchier than ever. Who knows what kind of exciting and dangerous Indiana Jones style artifacts they’re going to find.
Daisy is the one who taught Jemma how and when to break the rules. She shouldn’t be surprised when Jemma does it now that Daisy is the one being an unresponsive, unfair leader. Maybe they should have gone about it a different way, but the Invincible Three are right. Time is crucial right now. They needed a second team out there looking for the weapon/device. They should have had Fitz doing more research first, and have sent the team with more backup, but that’s as much Daisy’s fault for shutting down discussion as theirs for disobeying orders.
Daisy’s leadership style is to close her eyes, stick her fingers in her ears, and sing to herself, then get mad at anyone who insists she take action on the crises that surround her. Total failure. May is doing a good job whenever she steps in and takes action. She should be in charge for now.
Something broke inside Jemma when she found Fitz acting as the Doctor, and he had the mech hold her at gunpoint. She sometimes reaches a point when she’s very stressed where she just stops dealing with reality and goes into a sort of denial fantasy, like when she went to work undercover for HYDRA in season 2 rather than dealing with Fitz’ injury.
When Fitz had his dissociative episode, Jemma reached her breaking point, and something in her decided that wherever he was going, this time she was going to go right along with him. If he’s going to be Dr Frankenstein, she’ll be the other Dr Frankenstein. She’s not going to run away this time, and neither of them are suffering from a serious mental illness. They both have just somewhat mentally separated from the compassionate part of themselves in order to do what needs to be done right now, which is common in a crisis situation.
The problem is, the crisis never ends for SHIELD agents. If they stay in this mental state too long and don’t deal with their true emotions, it could lead to serious mental issues, like PTSD or addiction. I hope, if there’s a season 6, that they do a time jump in between seasons and let the team deal with everything that’s happened in the last couple of years. Send them all to therapy and on vacation, to someplace that isn’t Tahiti, for 6 months or so. Let the B team run SHIELD for a while.
There’s a lot of denial of reality going on in this episode. Everyone wants to pretend that their version of the best case scenario is what will come true, and no other options are possible. They all have reality fatigue, even May and Hale, who are normally so clear-eyed and practical. Hale’s so close to achieving her dream, and the stakes are so high, that she won’t accept that setbacks are even possible. May’s worked so hard to get to a good place emotionally that she can’t face the idea that she could lose it all again already.
Talbot and Creel are now both too disabled to be released back into the wild, so I vote we bring them back home to SHIELD headquarters permanently for rehab and fun. Jemma and Fitz can help with Talbot’s therapy, and Creel can continue to follow Talbot like an imprinted duckling. They can convince Creel to help on missions by reminding him that it will protect Talbot. Eventually he’ll become the most popular agent, when everyone realizes that he can become soft, furry and cuddly, so everyone will want to sit next to him on the way home from missions and on movie nights.
The tag was actually footage shot for the season 1 finale that they pulled out of the vault for this episode. It’s cool to know that adding Quinn to the Gravitonium was always the plan, and not a retcon.
Mark Kolpack is the visual effects supervisor for Agents of Shield:
AV Club commenter bigwillch suggested that Hale is the MCU version of Suprema (their outfits now match) and Ruby is her daughter by Red Skull (through artificial insemination), Sinthea (or Sin). That would make Ruby more interesting. A Ruby is a red stone, so it could be an homage to Red Skull. Sin had some interesting storylines in the comics. It would be fun to see the AoS twist on some of them.
*Whedonverse Female Power Madness Disease– Any woman who is faced with the ownership of too much power and is without proper male guidance and support to help her wield it will succumb to madness and eventually become evil. No matter how mild-mannered and good or strong and intelligent she was to start with, this insidious disease will overcome her. Treatment involves reducing or eliminating the woman’s access to power and providing men to take care of her. The disease may be fatal if it’s gone too far, as those around her may decide that her use of power has made her too evil to live and murder her. The disease affects female leaders, witches, warriors, slayers, scientists, enhanced people, and all other types of women who live in the Whedonverse and dare to operate without male guidance to keep them in check. The archetype for the disease is Buffy character Willow Rosenberg, a sweet, unassuming girl whose witchcraft became addictive and turned her into evil Dark Willow, until she was saved by her otherwise useless male best friend Xander, and Giles, a father figure. In the absence of Phil Coulson and traditional male HYDRA leadership, this disease is currently affecting every woman on Agents of SHIELD except for Melinda May, who carries Phil Coulson in her heart and has expressed the need for him to be there in reality to keep her strong long term. She is currently considered to be at risk. 🤢🤢🤢👿👿👿
Images courtesy of ABC/Marvel.