SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!
The final season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a villain problem since its premiere – namely, there’s a whole bunch of villains, and none of them have gotten enough screentime or character development to make any of them particularly interesting. Most of them are brand new, and some have only been introduced in the last few episodes. More were brought onboard on last night’s episode. But at last, even though I still wish this season could have focused on just one established antagonist (preferably HYDRA), I’m beginning to see the appeal of having so many villains unifying across the Marvel universe with the intention of wiping S.H.I.E.L.D. out of existence.
I say this because last night’s episode was very villain-centric, giving us slightly more insight into the minds and motives of characters like the anarachistic Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), youngest scion of the royal family of HYDRA and so far the best new character to come out of season seven; Kora (Dianne Loan), an Inhuman who now serves Malick, surgically separating her brethren from their own superpowers and giving them out to Malick’s other henchmen; and even a young, hotheaded John Garrett (James Paxton, the son of original John Garrett actor Bill Paxton), who apparently was always a narcissistic idiot even before he joined HYDRA. The episode does spare plenty of time for the other characters, in particular Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), but much of it revolves around Malick and Kora as they go about their business reinventing the Inhuman refuge of Afterlife as a nightmarish prison for their test subjects. And it gives me a little hope that we’re not walking into a disappointing finale (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is now just two episodes away): Malick and Kora are both truly wicked, terribly effective at what they do, and at this point very nearly irredeemable – certainly Malick is, at any rate. There may be hope left for Kora, especially since the episode ends with her landing in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.
The big question, of course, is how Kora and Daisy Johnson will react to each other, since both characters now know they are sisters. Daisy hops on a wild emotional rollercoaster this week, first learning about her secret sibling from her friends (who neglected to tell her about that little tidbit of information when they actually found about it), then being reluctantly reunited with a younger version of her mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), who, for context, tried to murder Daisy in season two. This leads to a brilliantly written conversation between the two as Daisy tries to skirt around the whole issue and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) acts as an unwanted mediator of sorts, but it still ends up with Jiaying dead – though not before she has a chance to make up for her future version’s horrible misdeeds by actively stepping in to save Daisy’s life when Nathaniel Malick attacks, using her own powers to weaken him long enough for Daisy to recuperate from her injuries. It would be an understatement to say that Jiaying’s death is a disappointment: she’s always been a complicated character, but a fascinating one as well, and her relationship with Daisy was just getting scarily good. I’m going to miss her – again.
The worst part is that Nathaniel Malick’s encounter with Daisy and Jiaying didn’t need to happen: Malick’s attack on The Lighthouse and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t because he was after Daisy or the recently upgraded Inhuman speedster Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), but because he was looking for Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Simmons has been holding back some pretty important secrets all season long, and it looks like she’ll finally be made to reveal where Leopold Fitz is. Then again, it was hinted at the beginning of the episode that Simmons has reason to believe that Fitz is dead already, so…I guess we’ll see what happens? No matter what, Malick isn’t going to let her go easily: to paraphrase his words, every possible scenario in which he loses involves Leopold Fitz being the one to defeat him.
Also Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) is a prisoner of Malick and young Garrett, even though neither Malick nor Garrett actually realizes that yet. Leave it to Deke to be so busy listening to classic tunes (he really is Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Star-Lord) that he ends up unintentionally being kidnapped. I hope he musters enough courage to try and rescue Simmons on next week’s episode.
Speaking of where we go next from here…well, the Zephyr One and its time machine are now in the hands of Malick, which means I suspect we’ll continue to be trapped in the 1980’s alongside the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout most of next week’s episode. At this point, I have doubts we’ll even catch up to the present day before the finale. This is a problem for me for several reasons, one of which is that I desperately wanted a tie-in to Avengers: Endgame, and another of which is that I’m not too crazy about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s take on the 1980’s – it was fun for a moment there, but it’s simply less interesting than the other time periods to which they’ve traveled, and I’d rather we say goodbye to this era in favor of sometime a little more relevant to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s history.
Episode Rating: 7.5/10