Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Episode 8: After, Before Recap

MING-NA WEN, NATALIA CORDOVA-BUCKLEY

In season 7, episode 8 we find out what the rest of the team were doing while Mack and Deke were stuck in the early 80s. Jemma and Enoch attempt to fix the time drive, but realize it requires a quick fix, as in, the skills of a speedster. Now that we need them to save the team, it’s time to get serious about solving the issue with Elena’s powers.

Her powers didn’t matter to the team when the loss only affected her. It’s every man for himself in S7. There’s so little trust that even a crew of fewer than 10, who are fighting for their lives, are forming factions.

Daisy suggests they visit her mom, Jiaying, at Afterlife for a consultation on inhuman genetics and powers, so May and Elena fly there in the quinjet. Jiaying hasn’t yet been tortured by Dr Whitehall, met Daisy’s Dad, Cal, or given birth to Daisy yet, so we meet a younger, more compassionate version of the character. Spending a little quiet time at Afterlife is as illuminating and refreshing for May and Elena as it was for Daisy and Raina. The two agents also run into some new and old acquaintances.

Wait- can I put in a request for a visit from pre-terrigenesis Raina before the season ends? We should be getting to her storylines soon.

Though the Waverider Zephyr is moving forward in time, the show is moving backwards through it’s storylines. We’re around season 2 right now. They still have a couple more season 2 storylines to touch on (Project TAHITI and discovering the inhumans’ powers) before we get into the supersoldier centipede serum/prosthetic program, Daisy’s hacker conspiracies and the full on Hydra/Winter Soldier conspiracy/fall of SHIELD.

Plus the Gravitonium will likely fit in somewhere. Chronicoms, the Zephyr and Coulson all likely run on it. It probably had something to do with the Artifact that SHIELD helped Sousa deliver to Howard Stark just before Sousa “died”. Gravitonium has been a consistent thread in AoS since the first few episodes, so I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t get mentioned in the last few.

Recap

The episode begins with a reminder that Mack left the Zephyr in 1982 in order to get some alone time after his parents died. Deke went after him because he understood what Mack was going through and didn’t think the director should be alone while going through such a difficult time.

Within a few minutes od Mack and Deke’s departure, the time drive acts strangely. The team realize they’re about to jump. Jemma calls Deke and Mack back, but it’s too late. They jump 481 days- not quite 15 months. Jemma is worried about them. May can’t raise them on the radio and Elena can’t find them on a quick search of the area. She wants to stay behind, but Jemma doesn’t see any point in leaving her stranded and alone, too.

They’re soon about to jump again and figure out that the Chronicom’s time drive must have been damaged in the explosion, so it’s out of control and dragging them along with it. Fitz is normally in control of their landings and chooses a specific spot where there’s a mission for them.

The next jump takes them to September 9, 1983. By now Jemma has tracked enough recent jumps to understand the pattern, so she lets May and Elena leave in the quinjet to search for Deke and Mack. They have 27 days until the rendezvous time, when the two ships will need to sync up.

Sousa asks Jemma if she’s worried about losing them too. She says she’s not- she has faith in mathematics. As she’s speaking, they jump again. It’s 27 days later, October 6, 1983, and the quinjet docks, right on schedule, with Deke and Mack on board. Mack asks what’s wrong with the time drive.

He doesn’t understand that what was 20 months for him was about 5 minutes for her.

Jemma gives her report. Fitz would normally give this type of report. I love Jemma just as much as I love Fitz, but he is the heart of this show and there will always be a hole where he should be, just like there would be if any of the other long term cast disappeared.

Jemma says that they’ve lost control of the time drive. The Zephyr will collapse into a space-time singularity, otherwise known as a black hole, in 2 days outside of the ship, which is 20 minutes inside the ship. The jumps are getting closer together, which means eventually they’ll jump again before they’ve fully completed the last jump- a jump within a jump. Jemma isn’t sure what will happen then, but it probably won’t be good.

Sousa takes the opportunity to make a misogynist crack about Jemma, because that’s helpful and supportive right now.

As the director, Mack should have immediately shut Sousa down, BUT HE SAYS NOTHING, ENCOURAGING MISOGYNY AND HARASSMENT IN THE ZEPHYR, THEIR WORKPLACE AND HOME.

Compare Mack’s lack of reaction to Rick Stoner’s conversations with May about protocol. Jemma obviously has no superior to complain to other than Mack, who’s shown he doesn’t care.

Deke wonders why they don’t disconnect the fuel cell regulator. Enoch says that would work, but they can’t reach it. Due to the malfunction, the time field is cycling at a rate of 49 pulses per second and disintegrating anything that touches it.

Take note- Despite his lack of formal training, Deke has studied on his own and is a real scientist, who understands both the space jump drive and the time jump drive. He is not a fraud, as Mack perpetually claims. Mack is the one who doesn’t understand the science well enough to make good decisions.

Sousa and May figure out that they need to slow down the pulses or move fast enough to get between them. May looks at Elena, but she’s still out of commission. Daisy drags herself out of bed to remind them that her mom, Jiaying, is still at Afterlife in this time period and she might be able to help Elena.

Sousa asks what Elena’s power is, but gets ignored. He tells Daisy to go back to bed. She ignores him too. If they’re going to include Sousa, they could give him an updated manual, a few files and some mission reports to peruse to get him up to speed. Maybe the Infinity Saga films and some manuals on modern gender and race relations.

More importantly, they’ve left Coulson out of the planning meeting again. The teamwork and communication are suffering right now, and that always leads to trouble. Sometimes mutiny. They need a ship’s counselor or a morale officer.

OMG, let’s stop and get ANDREW GARNER!!

Just don’t bring him anywhere near Afterlife or Nathaniel.

Mack sends May to prep the quinjet, then brings Daisy and Jemma in to talk to Coulson, who’s in the process of having his body reprinted. His legs aren’t quite there yet, but his upper body is intact and his consciousness has already been downloaded. They explain the situation. Mack is worried about disturbing the timeline again, especially when Daisy hasn’t been born yet.

Coulson must like their odds, because Mack okays the mission. On board the quinjet, Elena is pessimistic. May yells at her to stop pacing, because she can feel Elena’s negative emotions from across the room. Elena is confused- she thought May needed to touch someone to feel their emotions.

May explains that she’s been regaining her own emotions and at the same time, her powers have been expanding. While they were staying in the Lighthouse, she felt Elena and Mack’s private reunion from the hallway. Elena says, “That’s horrible.” May notes that it wasn’t all bad.

Good to know that Mack is keeping Elena happy.

For the moment, they need to avoid stressing each other out and getting caught up in an emotional feedback loop. At Afterlife, May can use her power to cooperate more easily with Jiaying. They decide to land at a distance from the inhuman sanctuary and hike in to help avoid suspicion.

On the way there, they run into a young woman, Kora, running away from Jiaying’s inhuman assistant, Gordon, the teleporter, and another man, Li. Once Kora is subdued, Li has Gordon teleport May and Elena back to Afterlife.

They are held in one of the cells where out of control inhumans are typically kept. Since they asked for her by name, when Jiaying arrives to question them, the first thing she wants to know is how they knew who she was.

Elena explains that she was told to find Jiaying because she’s an inhuman who went through terrigenesis somewhere else, but she was poisoned and has lost her powers. Li doesn’t believe Elena and wants to leave the two women locked up.

As he walks out, May speaks to Jiaying in Mandarin, saying she can tell that Jiaying wants to believe Elena. Jiaying asks if May is also an inhuman. May denies it, saying Elena is the only inhuman. Jiaying wants Elena to prove her status.

Li smugly brings in a diviner and begins a speech explaining what it is and how it works. Without ceremony, Elena strolls over and picks it up. It doesn’t react to her hand, since she has robot hands. She holds it to her face, where the Diviner lights up, revealing that she’s an inhuman. Li is shocked. Jiaying promises to help Elena.

Li argues with Jiaying, but she tells him they need to know if there’s a way to remove an inhuman’s gift. The safety of Afterlife is dependent on it.

First they take blood and tissue samples from Elena, then they try acupuncture, to help break down any remaining poison.

May senses that Li doesn’t welcome them there. She tells him they’ll leave once Elena is cured. He says he’ll decide when they leave. He produces small fiery knives, his inhuman talent, and holds a knife to May’s throat. Elena tries to use her power, but it still doesn’t work. May overpowers Li. He claims he was simply testing whether Elena had made any progress yet.

Back in their room, both women agree that Elena isn’t making any progress. May tells Elena how hostile Li is toward them. Then they hear Kora in the hall struggling with Li again. Jiaying assures them that everything is fine. Elena’s test results should be available in the morning and she expects them to confirm her suspicions.

Jiaying says “Good night” and locks them in their room. Once she’s gone, the two women agree that they’ll leave after the test results come in, if they don’t show anything useful. Whatever it is that’s going on with Kora doesn’t concern them.

Back on the Zephyr, they’re halfway through the 20 minute window before May and Elena return and the accelerating jump cycles overlap. Enoch and Deke work on the time drive control panel, then unplug the time drive. It doesn’t stop the drive from continuing to fluctuate, then jumping. Sousa decides to prepare the parachutes in case they need to abandon ship.

When was the last time we saw someone prepare for a practical measure like that in advance? I feel safer already.

In the morning, Jiaying tells Elena that after a thorough workup, all of her test results were negative. The issue with her powers is psychological. All she needs is for May to telepathically listen to her feelings and tell her how to cope with them more effectively, then everything will magically be fine.

Of course Elena has a psychological problem. AoS S7 is in a competition with itself to see how misogynist it can get.

Jiaying tries to make it sound like she didn’t just tell Elena what so many women with illnesses that pertain mostly to our gender have been told by a doctor at one time or another- your initial test results came back negative, so we’re prescribing talk therapy rather than medical treatment. We aren’t going to investigate further into the actual cause of your symptoms. We’re going to assume you’re overreacting to your emotions.

I’m sorry, but this is a BS storyline. Trauma is a very real thing, but Jiaying barely tried to find out what was wrong with Elena. Then she barely gave the two women any guidance. What was the point of coming to Afterlife?

May and Elena can’t handle doing something as touchy feely as focusing on Elena’s emotions in a room with candles, so they spar instead. The fighting brings up memories of the deaths Elena feels responsible for- Ruby Hale, Future Tess. Then she remembers hiding in the closet when she was a girl with her brother.

Of course. Not only is Elena’s physical issue all in her head, it’s due to the guilt from her original sins. Wow.

This feels like it was meant to be a tie-in story with the Black Widow movie that should have come out by now but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Widow was all about never forgiving herself for previous sins, while the male Avengers could get away with being literal mass murderers and still go home at night and sleep peacefully next to their wife and kids.

But look at this cool photo of all of our new guilt-ridden female Marvel super heroes! See the progress we’ve made! We’ll give women power, but find other ways to hobble them, while men aren’t demoted, killed or kicked out for having emotions!

Jemma fills Daisy and Coulson in, then tells Daisy she should be in the healing chamber. Daisy says that Jemma can’t save everyone. Jemma insists that she can try. She picks up a silver case and follows Sousa as he limps through the room.

Daisy turns to Coulson, whose legs are still printing, and notes that they’re both in sad shape. He’s drinking a glass of water and remembers being thirsty for the entire year and a half that he was without a body.

That’s an interesting play on phantom limb syndrome. Wonder what Sybil would say about it. Would she tell him that it was all in his head, a remnant of his time as a human that he can let go of now? She should.

Coulson tells Daisy he’s happy that she’s healing, but he questions whether digital feelings are as real as chemically based feelings. Daisy ignores Coulson’s introspection, missing the chance to reassure him that he and his feelings are “real” and he’s still every bit as important to her as he always has been. Instead, she says she’s glad Sousa was there to save her. Coulson says he’s happy about that, too.

That’s a red flag. Coulson might be thinking he’s glad there’s someone stepping up who he can pass the baton to. Maybe in Coulson’s mind, Sousa would be perfect as Daisy’s new savior. Then Coulson could die for real or go be with the robots without worrying about his family.

It sounds like Coulson is having an existential crisis. Sybil could have added a little something to his code while he had his hands up her port. Or he could finally be facing the fact that, as Sybil and Luke keep pointing out, he’s more like the Chronicoms than the flesh and blood humanoids. He was cavelier about getting Enoch back for 40 years. Now, after 20 months in a TV, he knows a little bit about what it feels like to be treated as a lower priority because of your species. Good thing he wasn’t also a female robot of color, like Sibyl.

They didn’t even try to adapt the Chronicom robot design into a body for Coulson to use in the Lighthouse while they waited for the Zephyr.

But Jemma made a new prosthetic leg for Sousa, even after the way he’s treated her. (She also made Coulson a new body right away- she’s not speciesist. Enoch is a valued part of her family and she didn’t want to wait so long to get him back.)

Sousa says he was a paratrooper during the war. He asks if Jemma has ever jumped out of a plane. She tells him yes, twice, though only once with a parachute. He gives her a look, but let’s that one go by. (I think the entire team has parachuted, except maybe Enoch and he’s done so much space craziness that he probably passes anyway.)

In S1, Jemma thought she was contagious with a deadly plague when she jumped without a chute, sacrificing herself to save the others. Ward jumped with a parachute to save her.

Now that Jemma has done something that benefits him personally, Sousa can see that she’s a decent person and apologizes for the way he’s treated her. She excuses his recent behavior toward her too easily, because she’s an exhausted saint.

Elena tells May that when she was 10 or 11, her Dad got in trouble with some bad people. He sent her and her brother to stay with her uncle while he took care of it. One of her father’s enemies found them and robbed them while also trying to get her uncle to say where her father was.

She couldn’t let the man steal her grandmother’s necklace, so she ran out and took it while he wasn’t looking, then ran back into the closet. But when the criminal noticed it was gone, he became angry and killed her uncle. This is the source of her greatest guilt. May tells Elena that she needs to forgive herself. She was just a child.


Ghosts and Monsters and Finding a Place to Hide: Who Is the Real Victim Here?

May doesn’t say, but should have pointed out, that the cause of Elena’s uncle’s death was the adults’ involvement in a life of deadly crime. Elena didn’t get her uncle killed. That man would have killed him anyway, whether it was in that moment or soon after.

We need to put the blame where it belongs, not on innocent victims with peripheral involvement. Blaming Elena for his death is a manipulative form of blame shifting that our culture frequently perpetrates on the powerless.

At the time, Elena was a powerless child. Because of that experience, she still carries a powerless, traumatized, terrified child inside her who pops up to hold her back whenever a new experience reminds her of that moment. This child inside her holds her back to help her avoid another trauma like the one that caused her uncle’s death.

The necklace was an excuse for a man to commit a crime he intended to commit anyway. He was the one with the power over life and death in the situation, not the child in the closet. It’s criminal for the show to leave Elena with that impression, but she and May are both dealing with their own internalized issues and the corporations that produce the show have a vested interest in keeping those issues in place in those of us who can identify with Elena.

How many of us have also hidden in a closet or been held at gunpoint, then been blamed later for causing our own victimization? I’ve lost count of how many times it’s happened to me and I’m an American, upper middle class white woman. Yes, I’ve been held at gunpoint. For 2 days straight and not by a relative. I know what this feels like.

My father was the worst of my tormentors, but not the only one by far. When he died, his second family hailed him publicly as a great man and suppressed any discussion of his crimes. Welcome to the world of the selfish, violent and powerful.

I’ve had nightmares for months that his ghost will find me in my bed. Through everything that’s happened to me in my life, nothing has ever given me nightmares like my father’s terrible spirit being set free from his failing body. In my child mind, when he died, I let down the psychological walls I’ve kept up for my entire life to protect me from him. This leaves me open to the monsters, and now his ghost is one of them.

Not to mention his descendants and associates. These things never really end. They just move on to the next generation. As Hydra says.

Some of us have nightmares. Some lose their power to act in the world, for fear of disturbing the ghosts and monsters when there’s no suitable hiding place nearby.

It’s no accident that the loss of her powers has happened to Elena now, after their adventure with Sarge, Izel and the Realm of the Dead. She feels responsible for Keller’s death and May’s near death in S6, though the show has left it unsaid.

In the Temple of Doom, Izel manipulated Mack and Elena into bringing Flint to the present day and building her the monolith she wanted. That allowed Izel to continue her evil plans and almost win.

Elena thinks her desire to be with Keller got him killed and her desire to have a family helped manifest Flint, which then helped Izel. This mirrors Elena’s belief that her desire to keep her grandmother’s necklace in the family got her uncle killed. Her mentor and friend May didn’t contradict that belief.

Always, women’s desires are considered evil by patriarchal society.

In reality, S6 was a war between two unimaginable forces who used Elena as a tool and the trauma of being caught between those two forces took her back to her childhood trauma. The guilt she felt over being involved in more damage to loved ones created a mental block, as if she became convinced that it was better for her to stay in the closet, unmoving and helpless forever. In the same way, abusers, whether they are close family members, criminals, corporations or governments, use their victims’ needs and desires against them, often with the hope of traumatizing them into inaction. Too often, it works.


They hear Li in the hall, yelling for Jiaying. Something’s gone wrong with Kora. As they approach Kora’s cell, Li asks about Elena’s power. Jiaying tells him what happened. May silently follows them. Jiaying says that they’ll find another way to help Kora, but Li thinks there’s only ever been one solution.

Kora’s cell has been destroyed. May asks what they did to Kora, but Jiaying explains that Kora did this herself.

Okay. But why did she do this, and why is she in a room where she can make a big show of destruction instead of discharging her powers safely? Why is she being set up for failure instead of given every chance to succeed? Aren’t they the experts on inhumans?

These were basic parenting and teaching skills at the time, when I was going through my own training. All they had to do was pick up a random best selling self help book to learn about the power of positive reinforcement and setting the stage for success.

Either Jiaying and Li are lying or they aren’t trying very hard. We already know that a secure, relaxed inhuman finds it much easier to control their powers, even newly emerged inhumans. Jiaying should already know that, too.

Jiaying continues, saying that Kora holds in the energy from her gift, which is intensely painful. Then it comes out in bursts of fire, if the scorch marks on the walls are anything to go by. Li adds, “She’s nearly destroyed Afterlife a dozen times.”

Why is she in a room with flammable objects?

Jiaying says that they were hoping to figure out how Elena lost her powers and use that method to remove Kora’s powers, too. They think it’s the only way to save her. Some feel she’s beyond saving.

A man pushes his way out from underneath some broken furniture. Li declares Kora irredeemable if she capable of this. And she took a gun when she left!!

Okay, what?? She scorched the walls, threw some furniture, knocked a guy out and ran away. That’s hardly worth a death sentence. In an on screen male character, that’s considered Friday night out at the corner bar. Consider the “fun” the SHIELD boys had in the Lighthouse last episode. Literally, the same activities were used to cheer up Mack while chasing the Chronicoms away. Yet when Kora uses them to get some privacy, she deserves to die, rather than continued patience and research. Or maybe a more appropriate bedroom.

I might start scorching some walls myself, soon, since it gets even worse. Kora has escaped not to run away or to work on controlling her powers out in the open, where she won’t hurt anyone. Nope.

In this most misogynist of Ladies Night episodes, the Powerful Lady Inhuman has stolen the gun so that she can shoot herself in the head, suicide and submission being the only acceptable ways for Disney women to deal with their power. Submission isn’t happening for Kora, so suicide it is.

She runs to a field of flowers and kneels, holding the gun up to her chin. Disney does love their symbols of submission, even when the character appears to be choosing suicide. At least we weren’t subjected to a long, boring song this time about how guilty she feels just for having been born a powerful woman.

And what’s with all of the fields of flowers lately? Are they the Elysian Fields? Is this a hint that they’re all actually dead anyway, and will be retiring to Time Travel Spy Paradise, which is, thankfully, not Tahiti?

But wait! It’s a white male savior to the rescue! Nathaniel Malick rides in on his black horse helicopter, wearing his vaguely culturally appropriated Jedi Master uniform, and says, “Kora, you don’t have to die today.” Not even Superpowered Young Mulan can take care of herself in this dystopian nightmare we call the Disney Crossover Superverse.


Save Yourselves While You Can

Girls, I implore you. When things go wrong, examine the situation closely, then blame the people who deserve the blame. Only blame yourselves if you truly deserve it. Most of the time, if you’ve worked hard and followed directions as best you can, you’re probably not at fault.

Question the reality you are being fed. I have worked long and hard to make sure my daughter doesn’t believe the lies that media like this episode and so much of Disney teach us. If I can get even one other woman or girl to understand how badly we are being lied to, all of us, women of color and white women alike, I’ll feel like I’ve done some good in the world.

And then there’s the blatant racism of the entire freakin’ situation. The way they write their one regular black character is bad enough. Now we get a storyline centering on an Asian family and the stereotypes abound.

This show put women of color front and center in this episode and all it’s done is blame them for leading others into harm and tell them they can’t control themselves. That’s not progress or feminism. That’s insidious, harmful racism and misogyny.

Let’s slog through the rest of the episode. It’s one of the worst written segments I can recall since season 3. I don’t know why they bothered to go back to Afterlife, since they obviously hate it so much.


Nathaniel convinces Kora that Afterlife is a hippie commune with only her worst interests at heart, while he’s the peace loving leader of a paramilitary organization who’s about to attack her home and parents. He’s willing to take care of her the way she always should have been taken care of, if she’ll betray her home and family right now and watch while he destroys everything she’s ever known.

Of course she goes along with it. She’s just a weak woman who’s easily manipulated by a charismatic man.

Nathaniel’s troops attack. Elena still can’t use her powers. May has to save her. Plus, it’s almost time to rendezvous with the Zephyr, so they can’t stay for the whole battle. Sybil timed the attack well.

Back on the Zephyr, the situation is dire. Jemma records a message for Fitz. Deke eavesdrops on her, so we see it through his eyes, because this Ladies Night Episode is really about giving power back to men anyway.


Victimhood and Blame- Variations on Agency and Original Sin: Or- We Like our Men Strong and Guilt Free and Our Women Meek and Submissive and Will Ignore Reality to Maintain That Illusion- Welcome to 21st Century Cognitive Dissonance. This Is Not a Relic of the 80s. Women Were Allowed to Function Without Self-Harming in the 80s. We Were Too Busy to Self-Harm. 

Jemma is a shadow of her former self this season, stoically doing her job while a named technological implant suppresses her personality and knowledge, after the war supposedly made it necessary. These are the sources of her personal power, thus the implant periodically renders her helpless, as all of the women have been rendered helpless this season. She effectively has a tech monster inside her head.

How do we know that she even actually needs it?

May is suffering from the effects of her trip to the other realm in season 6. Or so it seems. Figuring out why she now has powers hasn’t been important to the team, even though it could have broader implications down the road. Elena is powerless because of traumatic events from her childhood. Daisy was attacked by someone Sousa, her lookout, should have seen coming, and then she was physically assaulted for her powers. Sousa brought her home after the attack, so now he’s a hero.

Every one of these women is suffering from the results of attack and trauma, one way or another. Jemma apparently can’t be trusted to keep a secret the way that Enoch and Fitz can, so her mind must be hobbled.

If the AoS writers have done this because they think women were helpless in the past and have power now, they’ve drastically misread history and our current culture. Or maybe they haven’t read any women’s history at all.

Mack, Sousa and Coulson have also had tastes of helplessness, but not to the extent that the women have. They have not had parts of their minds suppressed like Jemma and May. They have not been told they should accept the blame for killing people when they were children like Elena. They haven’t been hunted, tortured and drained for their abilities, like Daisy.

The issues that affect the 3 alpha males have been kept external and they haven’t been blamed for bad outcomes on their watch. Mack has placed a lot of blame on others, but no one even suggested that he played a role in the deaths of his parents, even though he is the director. No one blamed Coulson for blowing up the timeship and creating the issue with the time drive. No one blamed Sousa for letting Daisy get captured, so they lost their strongest fighter, when he literally had one job.


Jemma’s message to Fitz: “Fitz, I don’t know if you’ll even get this, but the mission hasn’t exactly gone as planned. I’m not sure why we lost contact when I rescued the team from Izel’s temple, but the drive is malfunctioning. And we may have to abandon the Zephyr in 1983. Yo-Yo might be able to fix it, but if not… It won’t be easy, but I know we’ll find some way to be together again. Time, space- it’s never stopped us before. And I won’t stop trying. I love you.”

She told us that Fitz is a Time God. Of course he’s still getting the messages. She said in one of the early episodes that she’d misplaced one of his replies. Could that be a continuing issue? Has Diana been hijacked to keep Jemma from remembering certain things?

Deke tells her that they’re all gathering in Command, in anticipation of May and Elena’s return.

May, Elena, Jiaying and Li fight their way through the compound. They find Gordon, who tells them the enemy has too much firepower. They feel earthquakes- Nathaniel successfully acquired Daisy’s powers. He beat Sibyl’s 22% odds, which would be another reason she looked so smug during that conversation.

He and Kora come around a corner and face off against the others in the corridor.

Jiaying tries to convince Kora not to switch sides. Nathaniel defends her decision. Kora blames Jiaying for turning on her. Jiaying claims she promised to protect Kora from bad men and monsters and she always has. Kora says that Jiaying protected the world from her instead of protecting her from the world. She knows that Jiaying was going to let Li put a knife in her heart.

Jiaying does come off as pretty hypocritical here. She let Li’s fear of someone with greater power than himself sway her away from protecting her daughter.

Kora seems to have her power under control. Has the problem all along been the way Li treated her?

She glances back at Nathaniel, who nods in approval. She says she’s found her way out of this prison. Kora’s eyes glow. Li starts to say she’s beyond… as he prepares to throw one of his fire knives at her.

It’s as if he’s trying to hide something that he’s afraid Kora will reveal.

Jiaying yells at him to stop, just as Kora throws a fireball at him. It hits him in the eye. He lies on the ground, in pain. Kora only throws the one fireball. She’s in control of her power and only used it in self defense, but Jiaying yells at her to stop, as if she were the one who lashed out instead of Li.

It’s true that Kora was powering up, but we don’t know what she was going to do. We also know that Li was already planning to kill her before she went outside in the first place. Any attack by Kora on Li, Jiaying or Gordon, whether Nathaniel had come to the compound or not, could be considered self defense, since before the time when May and Elena came to the compound. We have no idea how all of this started and no idea who is trustworthy- Kora or Jiaying or Li. Kora switched sides because she was desperate, not because she has any great love for Nathaniel.

Nathaniel is thrilled by the demonstration of Kora’s power. Kora looks like she has mixed feelings, but then she moves toward them. Gorden teleports May, Elena and Jiaying to the quinjet.

They leave Li behind on the floor. Nobody thought to grab his hand and Gordon doesn’t take a chance and pop back for him. Cold.

How did Gordon know to take them to the quinjet, when they met in a field? Um, let’s say that part was edited out for time. Or maybe Gordon can read minds and I forgot. He was kind of a gross, pervy character; I try not to think about him.

No one mentions that they left Li behind. Nice. The team spirit this season is overwhelming me. Byron Mann is the Asian Sean Bean already, as far as everything I’ve watched him in. Is AoS going to continue the streak? Couldn’t he have been Kora’s doting father who threw fire knives? Where is the creativity? This is straight out of The Last Airbender. Disney must own that property now.

May says Jiaying and Gordon can come with them, though it might not be safe where they’re going. Jiaying doesn’t want to leave her people and, oh yeah, her daughter.

Jiaying does specifically refer to Kora as her daughter here, so we know she is Daisy’s sister. Li’s specific relationship to the two women is never clarified, so we don’t know if he’s Kora’s father, or whether he’s Jiaying’s romantic partner, brother or something else to her.

Elena tells Jiaying and Gordon that she and May are working against Nathaniel, too. She also says that Kora made her choice, but I’m going to ignore that hypocrisy on Elena’s part for now. How many times did Elena switch sides in S5 alone, often for the same reason as Kora, desperation? And now she can’t take that into account and consider it as a possible way to get Kora, Daisy’s sister, back as an ally?

This is one of the worst written AoS episodes of all time. If it was always like this, I’d stop watching, now. I don’t know what they’re emulating, maybe bad martial arts films? Buddy cop films?

They give Jiaying a spy watch and tell her they’ll contact her in due time. Gordon teleports them off into hiding.

May and Elena leave for the Zephyr. Everyone on the Zephyr worries that they won’t make it in time or they won’t be able to save the Zephyr if they do. Mack mutters, “Abandon ship” just before the commercial break. He just lost his parents- he can’t face losing everyone else.

When they come back from commercial, the team have apparently ignored that order. It’s as if he never said it. That’s some stellar editing, right there.

Or else the team is blatantly disregarding the fact that Mack is still the director and ignoring his orders while he’s in the room. He gave the “Abandon ship” order the same way he ordered them to abort the mission to bomb the Lighthouse, and they turned around on a dime that time.

The quinjet misses the first rendezvous time, but catches up on the second pass. Since Elena can’t fix the time drive, the crew on the Zephyr race to the quinjet. They only have moments to escape before the time drive implodes.

May tries to console Elena that the loss of the Zephyr isn’t her fault. Elena says that it is, if the loss of her powers is psychological. She thinks she’ll never get her powers back. May tells her she’ll bounce back. She always has.

Elena says that maybe she’s not supposed to this time… Then she thinks that one through. Elena realizes that her power has been in racing somewhere and returning to where she started because of her childhood trauma with the necklace and her uncle’s death. She now understands that she doesn’t always need to bounce back. No one will die if she doesn’t make it back to her closet/starting point/hiding place.

She races to the time drive and removes the thingie they think is the problem. The Zephyr stops jumping through time. Elena doesn’t disintegrate. It’s a win-win.

Mack hugs her. Elena starts to explain what happened at Afterlife.

Daisy gets back into the healing chamber. Sousa tries out his new prosthetic. I hope he has super kick powers and can get the internet on his ankle. Coulson is done printing but needs to charge, so he goes into his borg alcove. Jemma gives him his remote, so he can turn himself off. He’s clearly resentful about whatever deeper realization of his state of being he’s come to in this episode.

Enoch tells Deke he’s guardedly optimistic that the time drive can still get them home. And he’s a tolerable drummer.

Suddenly the time drive powers up and they jump again. Enoch says their fix didn’t work.

In the tag, Nathaniel brings Kora into one of the Afterlife cells, where several inhuman prisoners are bound and gagged, including Li. Nathaniel explains that he’s going to redistribute the wealth of powers, since most of the inhumans never did anything to deserve what they were given. He’s getting rid of Afterlife’s oppressive system of rules and traditions and going straight to anarchy.

Wow, subtle, Disney. Who are those people of color and women to hog all of resources and talent, anyway, and think they deserve some of the power and wealth that normally goes along with such things? We definitely need to put a stop to that. The funny thing is, as I’ve pointed out all through this recap, all three established systems shown in this episode, Afterlife, Hydra and SHIELD, are oppressing those who aren’t the alpha males, and an occasional alpha woman, in their groups. And even the alpha males have to constantly fight to maintain their positions, since their world is based on aggression and competition.

Deke makes a comment about leaving the 80s behind at the end of the episode, as if we’re going to put this nightmare behind us now and move on. We’re not. This is the world of the MCU just as much as it’s the real world we live in. The trends established in the 80s have grown over time to become the dystopian disasters we’re living through today. The connecting threads are direct and unbroken.


Commentary

Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Episode 8: Why Use Avatar The Last Airbender as the Theme for an 80s Episode?

Sousa insulted Jemma during the planning meeting at the beginning of the episode, after also ripping into her last episode, so Deke throws in a condescending science dig aimed at him later when he and Enoch are working on the time drive. Then when Sousa compares himself to a Neanderthal, Enoch suggests that the differences between Sousa and a caveman are only superficial. Go Team FitzSimmons, defending Nana’s honor.

When Peggy is insulted early on in Agent Carter, Sousa jumps to her defense. Peggy thanks him, but tells him not to do it again. She’s fully capable of defending herself. As we’ve been shown in the last 2 epsiodes, Jemma is no longer able to do that- she no longer even considers standing up for herself. Instead, she gives Sousa a pass for his unfairness. Welcome to the new MCU.

And Sousa hasn’t bothered to figure out the relationships on the ship yet. Cavemen were smarter than this.

This season is exploring all the isms- racism, sexism, ableism, homophobism, etc. They’re including instances of characters with one or two axes of oppression of their own showing prejudice against other characters who are different from themselves, such as Li’s xenophobia and misogyny, which is important to explore.

I’m just not sure how much of what they’re showing is intentional and meant to make a point. I strongly suspect what we’re seeing is the result of Disney/ABC/the MCU’s internal biases showing through more clearly because they had greater control over the direction of this season.

Agents of SHIELD has stayed on the air because it’s a marketing opportunity. This season is the final send off to help launch the MCU on Disney+. The overall plot of the season is winding AoS back to it’s MCU roots. Not just thematically, as they’ve done for the last few seasons. They’ll end their jaunt through time with the events of season 1, when they were firmly rooted in the lore of the films.

The first Disney+ MCU series is The Falcon and Winter Soldier, which must revisit some of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, since AoS is spending so much time on that film in particular. It was the starting point for the series and the film they had the closest tie in with, but they did also address the other films, directly or thematically.

This makes me think that AoS  is going to end on a political conspiracy and that Falcon and Winter Soldier will also be based around a political conspiracy, this time with Skrulls and maybe the Kree. When we last saw the film MCU, there were skrulls pulling body snatches and Fury was in space. Steve had uncharacteristically abandoned his causes and his people as if he were Tony. Bucky had just come out of a long nightmare and gotten himself back. Sam had just come into his own and been given the SHIELD.

That’s basically the set up for Winter Soldier. Bucky is now where Sam was in Winter Soldier, the outsider who is recovering from PTSD and the loss of a partner. Sam is now Steve, the embattled, lonely hero. The world is once again being run by people who say they are one thing, but are really another. Fury is either out to lunch, part of the problem or forming a new secret spy organization of his own. That’s sort of always Fury. There’s no way to know who to trust or how long this has been going on, because the alien/enemy agents blend right in and could even be your best friend.

That old man was a skrull and the real Steve is in the hands of the enemy. Maybe that will be one of Time God Fitz’s discoveries, which will set up the next series- Sam and Bucky search for Steve and bring down the false government agency, again.


When Is Fitz?

Prediction: We’re going to get a moment with Fitz in the tag at the end of episode 10, then the rest of a prerecorded message from him on the computer in episode 11. The only time he’ll actually appear with the rest of the cast is in the 2 part series finale.

The worst case scenario is that they could only get him this season for a remotely filmed cameo, so he’ll only appear in a few computer messages. Best case scenario is that he’ll return in episode 10 and have a substantial role in the last 4 episodes.

They haven’t announced much about the episodes past #9 yet- maybe that’s why. Elizabeth Henstridge directed #9, so they’re giving her a moment, then they’ll start advertising the return of Fitz.

I do wish they’d been honest all along about how many episodes he’ll be in (and when), instead of playing coy games with the audience all season. More bad faith acting from the Disney Corp. and ABC.


Timestream Therapy, Endgames and Double Standards

The marketing for this episode called this trip to Afterlife a “spa day” with fighting to solve what now turns out to be Elena’s psychological problems. None of the marketing for episode 7 mentioned that Mack and Deke’s excellent adventure was also psychological therapy to build Mack back up after the loss of his parents.

Nor did anyone (even me, because I decided to be “nice” for once) mention that Sibyl found the timestream because of the team’s shift in focus from spycraft to soothing Mack’s ego and making the fight a Commando-style presentation. When they should have been searching for the timestream, Mack was busy shaving.

Before Mack showed up, the Deke Squad found Coulson, got him functioning again, found and analyzed the enemy chatter, worked continuously to improve their skills and kept an eye on Mack. After he showed up, they revolved around earning his approval and showing off, while he accused Deke of showing off and being a fraud. I’m thinking Mack was talking about himself when he said that, but Deke didn’t know that and the words cut just as deep.

The implications of episode 7 were that Deke’s methods of management weren’t macho enough for alpha male Mack and that Deke couldn’t heal his own childhood trauma until he gained father figure Mack’s approval, even though Mack is in no position to be admired as a leader. Deke must not have read Mack’s full file closely, or it’s been altered to omit seasons 2 and 4.

It’s so ironic that Mack stresses following orders now that he’s in charge. People have died and endured terrible situations because of his bad faith decisions, including for example, when he chained his current team member at the time, Lance Hunter, under a sink for days. Kidnapping and torturing your hostage are really not okay in my book, especially when they are a friend.

Tripp could have been a good role model for Deke. So could Coulson. Even Jeffrey Mace. Sousa might grow into it. May and Elena are both excellent role models, and one or the other should be acting as Deke’s SO while he trains as an agent, but the show seems to have forgotten that part of its history. Deke has been left to wander the Zephyr, sidling up to agents in the hope that they’ll let him shadow them long enough for him to absorb the essentials of being a SHIELD agent.

(Jemma is family, so she shouldn’t be Deke’s SO. But Jemma and May both have seniority over Mack and are better in a crisis and better managers than Mack. Neither has ever turned traitor in the real world. One of them should be the director, not him. It was wrong for Coulson, Daisy and the writers to pass over them. If Mack can take a year off for bereavement leave and still be director, May could have done it, too.)

There’s a definite, misogynist double standard at work here in the way this episode was written and promoted. Adding in that Elena and May work better when they move/spar doesn’t change that. It just makes it more misogynist by suggesting that there would be something wrong with women being fighters who also enjoyed traditional spa activities. There’s not.

It’s not as if they are the same kind of ultra violent, racist, misogynist macho men Mack was pretending to be in his action movie therapy session- the type who treat everyone, even other white men, as disposable tools placed on Earth for their benefit alone. Both men and women can and do have a fierce side and a soft side.

This season has taken a giant step backwards by quietly pushing the macho man agenda under the guise of using old film tropes.

In its gender attitudes, AoS has become a Joss Whedon show again, following his faux feminist rules: Have gender parity on screen, with women who appear to be Strong Female Characters. But keep the women slightly subordinate, slightly stupid and slightly helpless. Make it clear that masculinity is superior to femininity. No need to be subtle, because there are only 2 types of women. Insult women at every turn, but make the insults jokes, so you can pretend they don’t count. Throw in some subtle racism and queer baiting here and there for good measure.

Did you notice how Li angrily bossed Jiaying around at Afterlife and she had to constantly placate him? We all expected her to be in charge, but that would have given her too much power.

I’m getting very, very tired of watching inferior, angry men take their anger out on women who don’t deserve it on this show this season. And feeling pretty abused as an audience member, with my own memories of real life abuse coming to the surface far too often. If Disney and ABC have chosen to drive away their self-respecting female fans, so be it. I won’t follow the MCU TV franchise to Disney+, if this is the abuse I’ll be paying for.

I’ll follow Ian de Caestecker to the BBC, instead. I’m quite happy to have this be the end of the line, as it’s already been for Steve and Bucky.

Fitz put Mack and Deke in place in 1982 to attempt to stop Sibyl from getting the timestream and to give Mack time to grieve. He put Elena and May in Afterlife to help Elena get back her powers and to interfere with Nathaniel in some way, but how isn’t clear. Their presence kept Kora alive, but also put her with Nathaniel at the end. May could have interfered and stopped that from happening, but she practiced her usual emotional remove. Will it eventually benefit the team to have Daisy’s half sister with Nathaniel? Does May need to learn to be more emotional?

Did Fitz know that Sibyl would get the timestream and Nathaniel would get Kora or were those mistakes? He and Sibyl are each working toward a particular endgame in the timestreams, just the way Dr Strange saved Tony but doomed so many to be turned to dust when it seemed illogical to do so. And doomed the female MCU stars to permanent death and marginalization. Here we go again. So fun.


Sousa Finds His Purpose

It’s good to see Sousa finding his niche. The team never really replaced Ward as the gruff, mother hen, human super agent that he pretended to be at first, and never quite shook as a character. If Sousa can fill that role, it would be a huge boon to May. She hasn’t had a partner to share the gruff protector role with since Ward showed his true colors.

She’s worked with all kinds of people, but there’s never been anyone else like Ward, whose role was to be a fighter, but in a way that made the lives of the specialists easier. The enhanced fighters are often on offense or at least the frontline of defense. In this episode May is acting as Elena’s escort and bodyguard, a common task for her, as it was for Ward. Sousa ended up performing the same function for Daisy in 1976, but he failed miserably. It’s a super important, but often thankless and overlooked, function.

Even the enhanced humans and super geniuses need someone who has their back. For example, S1Ep7, The Hub, was one of my favorite episodes ever. Ward has to escort newbie field agent Fitz deep inside enemy territory to complete a mission. Fitz shows the full extent of his genius for problem solving in a crisis for the first time and the odd couple bond over the various shenanigans they go through to escape the no win situation SHIELD has put them in.

On Agent Carter Sousa showed his willingness to jump in and save the day when necessary, but he wasn’t much of a team player. In that show, he blamed his outsider status on the other agents, because of his disability and sincerity. He can’t do that here.


Let’s Confront Our Internalized Biases, Just for Fun, Shall We?

[Spoilers for episode 9 based on promo below.]

Next episode, Sybil uses a murderous time loop to teach Coulson the inverse of what he gained from Project TAHITI: When he was a human, his flesh and blood body and short life caused him pain. TAHITI gave him back the rest of his natural human lifespan and time to live out meaningful emotional connections. As an LMD, he already has functional immortality. Now the pain comes from his emotional connections with ephemeral humans who are no longer his own kind and thus best avoided.

Sibyl will never give up in her quest to make Coulson her boyfriend, no matter how long it takes. She has centuries. But I wonder if Coulson will go in a different direction and decide to turn his mortal pals into LMD/Chromicoms like him when they die, so they can all be together forever. In the flowery Elysian Fields.

Also, this is totally payback for the way Mack chopped up robots in episode 7 like their lives had no meaning. I really can’t blame Sibyl for trying to get Coulson to understand that the mortals don’t value his life the way they value their own and that he’s internalized that prejudice.

Please TV writers, pay attention to your own internal biases and write better black and hispanic characters. Do you know how much I hate writing the criticisms I write sometimes? Virtually all non-criminal black male characters are the same rigid, judgemental but sorta good man, who fail to see the nuances in most every situation.

I am trying to be less judgemental with Mack, but I’ve never forgiven him for his betrayals in S2, in the alternate SHIELD faction storylines. I’ve never forgiven Bobbi either, but she’s not here for me to hate on. I’d be screaming even louder if she were the director of SHIELD. Actually, I might not be able to watch it. Mack at least has balancing positive characteristics, like loving Elena and Hope and his shotgun ax, that Bobbi doesn’t have.

From kidnapping Lance Hunter and cuffing him under the bathroom sink for days to the war with Afterlife, in S2 Mack and Bobbi were on the wrong side of things. And not out of desperation. Out of prejudice. Mack’s prejudices endure to this day and affect current storylines, as they have affected storylines in every season.

AoS is, for some reason, currently on a run with that character trope, adding Luke, Sousa and now Li, to Mack. I guess there’s one in every crowd. Maybe there was a movie tie in that was supposed to happen, but the film release is late. Maybe the analogous character is Red Guardian, played by David Harbour in the Black Widow film? Or maybe this is a Mandalorian tie in?

The way the trope is used with black male characters has become a stereotype that’s ultimately just as racist as any other. If they aren’t that character, they will either be dead by the end of their first season or they will be retconned into that character after the network sends its notes. Sometimes I cry a little, remembering the black male characters who have been lost or ruined.

The Walking Dead alone went through so many. I almost quit that show when Noah died. I think I only lasted another half season or something, up to the multiple Glen debacles. But senselessly killing Noah, after they promised to make him an architect/engineer, and then letting the guy who threw him to the Walkers drive away unscathed- it was so cruel and racist and wrong. It epitomizes everything that was wrong with that era of that show and this entire decade of TV. Kill the hopeful and the good in favor of the twisted and the ugly.

In episode 9, we get a Killer Time Loop.

Images courtesy of ABC.

2 thoughts on “Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Episode 8: After, Before Recap

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