The Gravitonium finally finds a body to act as a permanent home in this week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD, and it seems much happier with its option two body than with option one, Ruby. There’s also an option two for keeping Coulson alive, now that time is running out on his option one, the TAHITI treatment. Virtually no one involved will be happy with what this option two entails, though. Then there’s the option two of the episode title, the choice Coulson makes on a Lighthouse menu of lockdown options. Yep, we’re locking down the Lighthouse already, to protect it from an alien invasion, which seems to be epidemic in the MCU this week.
The episode begins with Talbot on his cot in his cell, repeating a numerical sequence over and over to himself, even in his sleep, as Qovas’ ship approaches earth. Meanwhile, Coulson goes over the team’s plan to finish space-proofing the Zephyr. Then they’ll use the ship to destroy the bulk of the Gravitonium by slingshotting it into the sun.
Deke is consulting on the spaceproofing project. Jemma is working on extracting the Gravitonium from the infuser, which seems to have further refined the element in some way. The refined Gravitonium will power the Zephyr’s pseudo-gravity engine.
May wants to get Polly and Robin out of the Lighthouse and back into hiding. She also wants to get Creel medical help for his Hall/Quinn issues. When May brings up Talbot, Piper interrupts to say that Talbot isn’t going anywhere. She sounds a bit hostile toward May, which is interesting. We haven’t seen anyone but the main characters choose sides in their civil war, so far.
May says that Tony Caine, the Candyman, can get Creel help and hide Robin and Polly. Coulson starts to assign Davis to fly the mission, but Daisy volunteers to take them to Caine. Then the team falls into an argument that rehashes the previous episode, with resentments on all sides. Elena finally says that everyone has blood on their hands. Why is she being singled out as having done something particularly terrible for having killed Ruby?
Coulson breaks up the argument and the meeting, sending them all off to work on their missions for the day. Newby Agent Kim asks Agent Davis if it’s always like this. Davis says the missions are always weird, but the infighting is new.
May meets Daisy in a deserted corridor to give her a shadow mission: After she gets Robin, Polly and Creel to safety, Caine will give her everything he’s found on the Centipede technology used to keep John Garrett alive for years after his life threatening injuries. Once Daisy has the intel, she’s to go dark and pursue that investigation. That goes against Coulson’s orders to come back to the Lighthouse when she’s done, and Daisy just yelled at the people who disobeyed her own orders. I don’t blame her and May for pursuing this option, but there is hypocrisy and favoritism going on here, just as Elena said.
May justifies Daisy’s side trip by referencing Robin’s statement that Phil would put the puzzle pieces together, figuring that he needs to be alive in order to do that. Robin also said that Coulson would die, and whichever of the two she said it to (Daisy?) is conveniently leaving that out of the calculations.
Fitz and Deke argue about their differing theories of the nature of time while they prepare the Gravitonium for its trip into the sun. Fitz won’t budge from his long-standing belief that time is fixed and unchangeable, while Deke is certain that we live in a multiverse.
Fitz: I’m not sure you know what multiverse means.
Deke: That every choice we make sends out a different timeline into the cosmos. And right now there are infinite parallel universes. But I am proof that you can move between them.
Fitz: Or, you’re proof that we are in one timeline in a loop. An infinite, intractable, unchangeable loop.
Jemma: But, if we succeed in ridding the planet of Gravitonium, then we break that loop and prevent the earth’s destruction.
Deke; Which is great, because that definitely won’t affect me at all. Look, it’s not like I’m just going to blink out of existence. I lived in one timeline, but now, I live in this new one. And I think I’m gonna stay. In the one with the sun, and tacos and all that. Cause that’s the multiverse. That’s science.
Fitz: Or you’re a canary in a coal mine.
Deke: I don’t know what either of those things are.
Fitz: We won’t know if we’re successful at changing the future, unless you blink out of existence.
Fitz says that Jemma agrees, and actually wrote a paper on some aspect of the theory. They’ve separated out a small amount of Gravitonium to use in the ship’s systems, and give it to Deke to take to the Zephyr. He pretends to drop it to tease them, them reminds his nervous grandparents that he had a Gravitonium belt buckle for years. He also reminds them to stick together and be careful, since everyone’s (his) future depends on it.
Talbot finally realizes what the numerical sequence that’s stuck on a repeating loop in his head is. It’s the code for the coordinates of the Lighthouse’s landing beacon. He sent it to Hale when he was being forced to comply, so now she and the approaching aliens know where SHIELD’s hideout is.
The aliens just happen to appear above the Lighthouse at that very moment, cutting off SHIELD and the town, River’s End, from the outside world by shutting down their electronics feeds. Former SHIELD director Rick Stoner appears via video to reassure the inhabitants of the Lighthouse that they are safe, even though they’re facing an extinction level event. The apocalypse is just what the Lighthouse was built for, after all.
Stoner provides Coulson with a list of menu options, so that he can choose which apocalyptic scenario best fits his situation: Extreme weather event, nuclear attack, or alien invasion. Phil figures nuclear attack is close enough and hits the button for option 2 before he hears menu item #3. The Lighthouse immediately seals itself up tight for the next 15 years, after which radiation levels will have become reduced enough to go outside again. May can’t believe Coulson didn’t listen to the whole menu before pushing a button.
Coulson makes a brief station-wide announcement to the effect that the Lighthouse is now keeping them safe from the giant spaceship outside by locking them inside for the next 15 years, but he’s sure it will all be fine. The Lighthouse survives the earth cracking apart, so it should survive a spaceship, then they’ll find a way to unlock it. There’s no need to panic. The experienced SHIELD agents listen, then go straight back to work, ’cause the various LMD invasions alone were worse than this, never mind
HYDRA inhumans watchdogs ghosts everything that came before that. Deke, however, has flashbacks of being closed up in the Lighthouse forever and panics a little.
Qovas appears on the Lighthouse viewscreens and has a chat with Coulson about his demands. He’s there for the Gravitonium. Coulson tells him that the Lighthouse is apocalypse-proof and his troops will never get in. Plus, earth is trigger-happy these days, so he’ll be fired on any minute now. Qovas doesn’t look worried.
Elena and Mack talk about their situation, even though Mack tries to avoid the argument. Elena tries to explain that she needs to do what she’s doing to try to break the time loop and to save Mack’s life, based on what her future self told her. Mack doesn’t want to hear what she’s saying, or for them to base their decisions on anything but the moment they’re in. His opinion is nonsensical, since almost everything they’re doing is to prevent the future that they all saw, and they’ve all based decisions on things they were told in the future. He listened to Kasius way too much.
He accuses her of changing, which seems like a cruel accusation, based on her physical changes, and she takes it that way. He stupidly thinks she’s accusing him of only referring to her arms, but an experience like that does affect someone, deeply, and he isn’t facing that with her. He’s trying to stay static and to keep her the same way. She begs him not to give up on her, but he says he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be able to handle what she’s doing.
Elena runs into May after she leaves Mack. This is a small thing that doesn’t come up again in this episode, but she gives May the wrong message about the communication relays. Mack said to tell Coulson the communication relay doesn’t work, but Elena tells May that the relay’s done. (Unless the writers mean “done” as in “done working” instead of “done being fixed”.)
May asks how things are with Mack. This is in contrast to earlier when May told Daisy that she didn’t want to know about Daisy’s feelings. Then she gives Elena some advice: “Look, I can’t tell you if what you did was right or wrong. That’s up to you to decide. But it doesn’t just change you. It changes how people see you. And the only thing you can do is make peace with it.” Elena says she’ll try.
When Elena and May reach the control center, Coulson is worried about Daisy, since she should have been back by now, and they haven’t even received a message from her. He’s running possible scenarios, but May stops him, revealing that Daisy’s gone dark to work on finding a cure for Coulson. Elena is horrified, because it looks like this is the time that putting Coulson first ends the world. Coulson is pissed off, because he doesn’t want to be saved, and they need Daisy’s abilities at the Lighthouse right now, while they’re under attack.
As Qovas is sending his minions down to the Lighthouse, Elena finally comes clean about her future self’s warning to let Coulson die. May argues that they’re going to do everything to keep him alive, based on Robin’s prophecies. No way were they going to leave him in the middle of nowhere.
Ding, ding, ding! Coulson remembers that the aliens have the same transportation device as Hale, meaning they can go wherever they want. They’ll be transporting into the Lighthouse any moment now.
Emphasis on now. Deke, who’s lived his entire life in the Lighthouse, realizes what’s happening when he sees the electronics, including the lights, start to flicker. The aliens kill an agent at the other end of the hall from Deke, as Deke takes off running for an air vent opening. He slides inside, just as a second agent is killed. Score one for self-preservation skills.
The team gathers in the control room to figure out what’s going on. Deke makes a spectacular entrance as he comes crashing out of an air vent. He explains who the invaders are:
Deke: The Remorath are marauders. They’re intergalactic scavengers with no planet of their own, so they just take from others. And wherever they go, darkness follows.
May: Darkness? That’s a little vague.
Deke: Well it’s not the concept of darkness. It’s literal darkness. It follows them because they’re magic, and they can see in the dark and we can’t, so it makes them kill us better, with, with…their claws.
Cannon Fodder Agent Kim: Did you say claws?
Deke: Yeah. Did I not mention the foot long razor claws? Because, yeah.
Mack: Well, people in the future survive. There must be a way to stop them.
Deke: No, we didn’t stop them. We just gave them whatever they wanted, and then said thank you and cleaned up the bodies after they left.
Coulson takes charge again, declaring that it’s time to evacuate instead of standing their ground. Elena’s arms have been recalibrated, so she can use her powers again. Coulson sends her to get Talbot. He orders FitzSimmons to find a way to override the nuclear contamination lockdown. They’re still down in their lab, and attending the meeting by video chat. Within moments they’ve looked up an override system located a few floors from their location. Simmons will work with Piper and Davis to get the Gravitonium ready for transport while Fitz and Agent Wahl work on the override. Deke and Mack will get the Zephyr’s engine’s ready for take off.
Sometimes it seems like it would be simpler just to give the Gravitonium to the aliens and be done with it.
Deke doesn’t like the idea of FitzSimmons being physically separate from each other, but it doesn’t seem like they have a choice. He wants Daisy to quake them out of the Lighthouse. Coulson tells him to ask May why Daisy isn’t back yet.
Daisy is meeting with Tony Caine, now that he’s gotten Polly, Robin, and Creel settled. He says that Robin drew him a picture of a blue woman juggling balls. Senara must be on her way to earth.
Then we get the one potential reference to Avengers: Infinity War in the episode:
Tony: Have you seen all this weird stuff happening in NY?
Daisy: I can’t watch the news. It makes me crazy.
But in the MCU, there’s always weird stuff happening in NY, so the show has plausible deniability as to which event they’re referring to.
Tony has dug up the last of the season 1 Centipede serum for Daisy to bring back to Coulson to keep him alive. But John Garrett’s version had an extra ingredient that was created by the Nazis and is impossible to find. Daisy will need to acquire it on her own. Tony gives Daisy the place name he was given to search for the ingredient, but he’s been unable to locate it on a map. Daisy glances at the name and says it’s not a place, it’s a person.
Elena gets Talbot out of his cell. Talbot is obsessed with making up for what he did while under HYDRA control. He wants to call in an airstrike, but it’s not clear if he’s still acting on HYDRA’s orders or not.
While they’re separated, Jemma and Fitz try to stay in contact using walkies. Jemma worries that Deke was right, and it’s too dangerous for them to be apart. Fitz says. “Let me be clear- Deke is never right.”
Fitz is on his way to the override with his cannon fodder escort, when Agent Wahl gets murdered by the Remorath. Deke shows up just in time to rescue Fitz and get him to the override’s utility closet. The marauders have already been there and destroyed the override, so they’re back to having no way out.
Qovas presses a device in his palm against his minions’ foreheads before he sends them down to the planet, inserting an image into their minds. He’s showing them exactly where they need to go and what they need to do in the Lighthouse (search and destroy), which means that someone inside the facility is sending him those images. It could be Talbot, but he’s being closely watched. My guess is that part of Davis’ miraculous recovery involved some compliance training.
The gang reconnoiters again, with the new plan involving getting to the armory to get as much ammo as possible, then making a stand in the control room. Elena’s not sure she and Talbot have enough ammo to make it that far. Talbot points out that she’s the ammo. Jemma can’t take the Gravitonium on the stairs and the elevator is broken. Fitz says Deke will fix the elevator, but the Remorath have tech that works like an EMP, and will shut down everything electric.
That means nothing will work- icers, walkies, flashlights. Coulson says they need to be able to see what they’re fighting, and Fitz says fire would work, so they need to look for anything that’s combustible. Coulson replies, “Then let’s light ’em up. [to May] I always wanted to say that.”
Elena and Talbot are cut off almost immediately and have to retreat back to the lab, while Talbot insists over and over, “I can fix this.”
Deke panics that he’ll never get out of the Lighthouse and see the Great Wall or Orlando. Fitz taunts him about his sudden doubt in the multiverse theory. I don’t think it’s doubt in the multiverse so much as the knowledge that anyone can die at any time in any timeline, and the Remorath are drastically increasing the odds that it will be soon. Since they have plot armor, the SHIELD gang tends to forget how that works for most people..
Off camera, Davis tells Piper the story of how Aida almost killed him at the end of season 4. Despite the gang leaving him behind for dead, he had a miraculous recovery and only has one scar. She asks if he’s told everyone else that story, and he says no, he doesn’t think they care. Yeah, he’s high on the list of potential traitors, either inadvertently or on purpose.
Jemma brings out kerosene lanterns to use as lights when the Remorath shut down their electricity. Elena and Talbot arrive and tell them that there’s no way out of the lab. Jemma informs Fitz. He knows that the Remorath will come to the lab for the Gravitonium, and is angry with himself for leaving her. Jemma asks if Deke has blinked out of existence. Fitz turns to look at Deke. There’s a moment where it looks like even Deke is waiting to see to see if Fitz can still see him. Since Deke is still visible to everyone, Jemma assumes they’re fine. Elena takes Piper and Davis to defend the lab from out in the corridor, leaving Jemma and Talbot to make a last stand in front of the Gravitonium.
Mack goes to help Deke and Fitz. Everyone fights a losing battle against the Remorath. Coulson tells them all not to come to Control, because they’re surrounded. Jemma tells Talbot to stand behind her as she prepares to singlehandedly defend the Gravitonium. Talbot wanders the lab, mumbling about it being the last line and holding the line.
He stumbles into the infuser, and remembers that he can fix this. He shoots Jemma with an icer, turns on the infuser, and steps into the machine. The Gravitonium can’t wait to flow through the tube into the chamber. It takes less time for Talbot to absorb the other 92% than it took for the first 8% to go into Ruby. The further refinements that the infuser was making on the Gravitonium must have helped Talbot absorb it more easily.
Mack gets Fitz and Deke to Control and they make combustible cocktails in glass jars so that they can see when the lights go out. But the fresh ammo doesn’t arrive before the marauders do. The marauders bust through all of the doors. At the same time, things are getting dire down at the lab.
Suddenly, the lab doors burst open from within. It’s Talbot, now turned into Graviton, as the giant yellow writing on the Gravitonium case makes sure we realize. He goes straight to Control and destroys the Remorath with his mind and a clench of his fist. He stands over Coulson, who was thrown on the floor during the battle, and says, “I told you I could fix this.”
Everyone else backs away from them as Talbot smiles beatifically down on Coulson and raises them both, along with a piece of the floor, up out of the Lighthouse, making a hole in the roof above them as he goes.
Once they’re gone, the video of Rick Stoner restarts, bringing the glad tidings that the atmosphere is now free of nuclear contamination, and the Lighthouse is unlocked. The planet is safe again.
He may have spoken a little too soon.
Daisy is still working on her side mission, and has no idea what’s going on at the Lighthouse. She’s busy digging up her mother’s grave, hoping to use whatever’s left of her mother’s corpse to save her surrogate father’s life.
There’s some extreme decision-making happening in the world of SHIELD these days.
A moment of truth is upon us. Did Jiaying stay dead, get buried alive, or escape, and then later heal her offscreen husband, Agent Davis? I’ve never believed that little neck snap at the end of season 2 would kill her when she lived through everything Whitehall did. And Cal probably knew it wouldn’t kill her permanently. Jiaying seems like one of those beings who needs to be decapitated, then burned to dust, to truly die. Even then, her spirit might survive.
Piper declared Davis one of the Invincible when Elena told them both to stay behind her because she can’t be killed. We didn’t see him in Robin’s flashbacks, but he has survived certain death.
Coulson tries to make his love confession to May, but she shuts him down, again.
Fitz tells Deke never to call him “Gramps” again. Deke should never call him anything else, or endless variations on it.
Either Piper, Davis or Talbot were sending information to Hale right up until the end of the episode about the layout of the Lighthouse and the whereabouts of the Gravitonium within it. It could be that by infusing himself with the Gravitonium Talbot was trying to “fix” the mission that he screwed up for General Hale, but he seemed so sincere about trying to help Coulson that I don’t think he was still working for Hale. I think, as I’ve thought all along, that either Piper, Davis, or both are sleeper agents.
Unlike Ruby and Creel, Talbot became more in control of himself, instead of less, after absorbing the Gravitonium. His brain injury may have destroyed the part of his brain that could hear and be affected by Hall and Quinn. Or, Hall and Quinn may be learning from their mistakes and have realized that they need to stop driving their hosts mad. Hall and Quinn may also have manipulated the infuser to further refine the Gavitonium so that it could be absorbed in a more pure state, and they could be helping Talbot control his powers. Numerous sources have pointed out that Talbot looks like Graviton did in the comics. Based on the promo for episode 20, it looks like he’ll even wear something similar to his traditional costume.
Daisy and Mack both blame Jemma, Fitz and Elena for disobeying orders, but also for not doing enough to contain the Ruby/Werner/infuser situation while they were disobeying orders. At the same time, they never acknowledge that Ruby would have been infused with the Gravitonium and long gone before anyone from SHIELD got there if the other three hadn’t disobeyed. That would have given SHIELD another, more powerful and volatile enemy to fight when their resources are already stretched too thin.
The decision over whether it was right to kill Ruby or not is debatable, but there’s no question that going to the facility and slowing Ruby down before she was infused was the right choice. Mack and Daisy are making decisions and acting based on their fears, rather than looking at what was and is best for the mission and the world long term.
Mack seemed to be accepting losing Hope a second time, but now it seems like he ‘s reacting by trying harder and harder to control Elena, treating her more like a child or a prisoner he can lock up, and less like an equal partner who needs his support. Their relationship was always so equal, and now that’s been lost with him emotionally shutting down and shutting her out, while Elena’s driven to stop the future her other self predicted.
Hard choices are thing this season, across the MCU. When is the hard choice the right choice, and when is the cost of the hard choice so high that it’s better not to risk it, because it will destroy what you’re fighting for anyway? Is it worth selling your soul to save the world? Is it worth selling the world out to save one person?
May seems to be trying to stay neutral in Mack and Daisy’s civil war with the Invincible Three. She characterized losing Hale as Hale “slipping away, ” which is accurate. Elena made a judgement call. The only other people who were there for the entire situation as it unfolded, FitzSimmons, agree with her call.
Daisy came in at the end of an hours long situation at the infuser facility. She’s not open to listening to what happened before she got there, but thinks she knows everything about it and can judge the others’ actions, just like May had people judge her over killing the girl in Bahrain.
It’s important to remember that May was disobeying orders when she went into the rescue situation in Bahrain. She was supposed to stay outside until reinforcements arrived. Instead, she went in, and Coulson distracted the reinforcements while May tried to calm the situation down.
In the Framework, we saw what happened when May didn’t make the hard choice in Bahrain. In reality, it would have been nearly impossible for May to bring the girl in alive, never mind to keep her in custody indefinitely. The lesson is, some people can’t be saved, no matter how much you want to save them, and no matter how good your reasons are for wanting to save them. Everything they’ve ever shown us about Ruby suggests that she would also be impossible to contain, long-term, once she had Hall, Quinn, and the Gravitonium infused into her.
There should really be a type of Kobayashi Maru test for SHIELD agents before they are sent into the field or given command, that forces them to put the greater good over the life of one person or a few people, especially ones they care about. Star Trek had this with the Bridge Officer’s Command Test. They couldn’t be in command of the ship until they’d proven that they could make the hard choice of sending someone to certain death in order to save the ship.
As Mr Spock said, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Daisy and Mack really need to learn that one. The entire rest of the team has accepted it, either because of the Framework or because of their time on difficult missions for SHIELD.
The idea that allowing people to die is always the wrong choice gets the agents into trouble over and over. We saw it when it led to Jeffrey Mace’s real death in the Framework, and we saw it in the first half of season 5 in the future Lighthouse. In both cases, the agents got bogged down with worrying about people who ultimately weren’t going to matter. The Framework’s population wasn’t real, and the Lighthouse population’s future will be changed and improved when the time loop is broken.
Fitz and Jemma have put so much stock in waiting for Deke to disappear to prove that the loop has been broken, while also believing that they’re unkillable for the time being, along with Elena that it seems almost certain he won’t disappear because of the broken time loop. Sooner or later, one of the Invincible Three will take a chance that they shouldn’t, on the grounds that Deke is still there, and will end up in grave danger.
I wonder how much longer they’re going to keep Fitz from discovering that the multiverse is real. After having rewatched Dr Strange this weekend, it seems like it’s inarguable canon in the MCU. Agents of SHIELD has even toyed with bits of it before, having Ghostrider pop in from this or that alternate dimension.
I hadn’t realized before the rewatch how much this season has still been influenced by Dr Strange, since I’d forgotten how important the time stone was in that movie. They mention, and use, a time loop, and discuss the cost of using that kind of magic. Has the AoS earth been in a time loop since Dr Strange? Did the movies jump over the time loop, so that the events of Infinity War take place after season 5, or even season 6, ends? Certainly it’s likely that the end of Infinity War will coincide with the finale of season 5, at the earliest.
The Dr Strange film also uses the specific phrase “destroyer of worlds,” saying that Dormammu (a godlike being from a dark dimension) isn’t the destroyer of worlds, he’s the savior of worlds. That also suggests that the time loop that includes the destruction of earth could have started with Dr Strange’s confrontation with Dormammu, destroyer of worlds. That’s the confrontation that broke natural law and that Mordo predicted would upset the balance of the universe in some way.
Images courtesy of ABC and Marvel.