My complete review of The Mandalorian‘s season two finale went up earlier today, and I had plenty to say about my deeply conflicted feelings on the entire episode. As a loving and only slightly passive aggressive nod to the way in which The Mandalorian‘s showrunners and writing team have seemingly structured seasons two and three as a two-parter (because there’s no way the cliffhanger “ending” we got works for the self-contained story that the series liked to claim it was up until this point), I have similarly composed my thoughts into two separate posts, which exist symbiotically. The first dealt with the episode itself: the second, the one you’re reading right now, is all about that shocking post-credits scene.
A post-credits scene that, to be honest, I would have completely missed if I didn’t have a habit of watching through the credits – partly because, as someone who reviews films and TV, it’s important to know about the talented individuals who pour their heart and soul into making entertainment possible; partly because it’s an instinctive thing, from the days when Marvel movies still existed. I also had a feeling that, even though Star Wars hasn’t (to my knowledge) experimented with post-credits scenes before, there had to be something there, because the finale itself ended without any big stinger – whereas season one concluded with the iconic shot of Moff Gideon standing atop his wrecked TIE-fighter with the Darksaber in hand. No way was season two going to end with any less dramatic reveal.
What season two went for, however, was completely unexpected. The scene takes place back on Tatooine, presumably only a short while after the events of the finale, in a very specific location that Star Wars fans know well: the mountaintop monastery once possessed by Jabba the Hutt and transformed into his personal palace, den of vice, and center of his flourishing crime empire. I’d always just assumed the place was abandoned after Jabba’s death by strangulation and the destruction of his entire court, but apparently not – and even more shockingly, it seems that members of his inner circle outlived the Huttese crime lord: most notably Jabba’s former majordomo, the pale and sickly-looking Twi’lek, Bib Fortuna (voiced by Matthew Wood this time around, and easily one of the top ten most hideous Star Wars characters even before his transformation in this scene), who it seems survived the attack on Jabba’s pleasure-barge and took over for the deceased Hutt, carrying on his vile legacy. This is the first reference to Fortuna’s survival in the new Disney canon, but the outdated Legends canon long ago confirmed that the Twi’lek escaped the barge’s explosion in a sand-skiff and took control of the palace before his death.
Fortuna was tall and thin during the events of Return Of The Jedi, but in just the five years since the Empire fell, he has become a pale, bloated shadow of his master’s former glory, perched atop the Hutt’s dais with his massive lekku horns encircling his whole upper body. A few miserable-looking individuals wander around his palace looking bored, while a single Twi’lek slave sits chained to Fortuna’s throne.
And that’s where Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) suddenly come in, quickly defeating the slight resistance from Fortuna’s followers. As they come down the stairs, there’s a truly touching and memorable interaction between Fennec Shand and the Twi’lek slave, who struggles to unwind herself from the royal dais – a callback to the Twi’lek dancer who valiantly tried to strangle Jabba in Return Of The Jedi, before being fed to the Rankor beast beneath the palace floor. This time around, Fennec simply shoots the chains, exchanging a sympathetic and understanding look with the escaping Twi’lek before turning to the urgent business at hand.
Bib Fortuna briefly tries to plead his case, putting on an air of excessive friendliness when welcoming Boba Fett, who wastes no time shooting him in the chest and kicking his body off the dais. I imagine we’ve seen the last of this bizarre and truly repulsive character, but I guess it’s always possible we could see another story from Legends adapted: the one in which the ancient monks living below Jabba’s palace harvested Fortuna’s brain and transplanted it into a mobile spider-droid. It’s probably unlikely, but I thought you should know all the options.
What we know for sure is that Boba Fett, who settles comfortably into the throne vacated by both Jabba and Bib, is probably about to take the reins of Jabba’s once mighty empire, with plenty of help from Fennec Shand, who sits on the throne’s armrest, swigging from a flagon. The camera pans out, and a title card helpfully informs us that a new Disney+ series called The Book Of Boba Fett is coming in December, 2021. There are two distinct possibilities for what this means, both for Boba and for the future of The Mandalorian franchise.
The most popular and plausible theory is that The Book Of Boba Fett will be a new spinoff, a tenth new original Disney+ Star Wars series to add to the nine previously announced at the Disney Investors Meeting last week. There have been rumors that a Boba Fett spinoff is either in the works or actually already filming, and its absence from the official Disney lineup surprised many fans who have been following the news closely. Now it seems they may have been concealing its existence to preserve the surprise of this post-credits scene. I would love for this to be its own spinoff, because a Boba Fett miniseries gives us much more time to explore Fett and Shand’s new lair in Jabba’s palace, and for them to interact with all of the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. The Mandalorian, which most of us originally thought focused on the bounty hunting business, has since become its own thing, freeing up this niche for The Book Of Boba Fett to fill.
The other possibility, and one that I don’t even want to consider, is that this “spinoff” is actually the third season of The Mandalorian, focusing on Fett and Shand rather than Din Djarin and Grogu. The strongest reason to believe this could be the case is the fact that both series’ are set to debut in December of 2021, and Disney+ hasn’t ever pitted two high-profile series’ from the same franchise against each other like that before (though, granted, The Mandalorian has been pretty much their only high-profile series from any franchise they own, so far). It would certainly be unusual if the two debuted against each other. It’s also convenient that Boba Fett, a Mandalorian, would be in a position to take over as the Mandalorian. His storyline is certainly compelling, and I’d watch anything with Ming-Na Wen in it, but I’m definitely not ready to give up Din Djarin and Grogu yet, especially not now that Djarin has just accidentally come into possession of the Darksaber, and Grogu is studying with Luke Skywalker at the newly rebuilt Jedi Academy. There’s still too much story left to tell with (and from the viewpoints of) those two characters. Or at least, I have to hope so.
What do you think? Is The Book Of Boba Fett going to be its own thing, or a continuation of The Mandalorian with a new and improved focus? Which would you prefer? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
How The Mandalorian‘s second season finale will be judged largely depends on what happens next, in either the sequel season it sets up with a not-so-subtle cliffhanger ending, or the spinoff it teases in an unexpected post-credits scene (or…are they are one and the same?), because what we got is very clearly not the resolution to a self-contained original story, but rather the prologue to a wider saga spanning the Star Wars universe. But right now, for this one blissful moment, my feelings are deeply conflicted yet generally positive…because you simply can’t do what The Mandalorian season two finale did in its closing minutes, and not excite the Star Wars fan in me.
Just as in season one, when Din Djarin (voiced and played by Pedro Pascal) had to assemble a team to defeat the unnamed Imperial client on Nevarro (the true identity of whom will likely remain one of the series’ many minor, irritating, unsolved mysteries), this season’s finale revolves around assembling a small gang of heavily-armed misfits and saving Baby Yoda – or Grogu, or The Child, or whatever you want to call him. Djarin had already gained the allegiances of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano). The last piece in the puzzle is the Mandalorian princess Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who plays a pivotal role in the events of the finale, even though…well, it’s complicated, in a weird and somewhat unsatisfying way.
It’s nothing, however, compared to the intricacies of Mandalorian societal structures, which continue to grow increasingly messier the more we learn about them – today culminating in a face-off between Bo-Katan and Boba Fett where the two are barely able to resist from killing each other on the spot. The reasoning for that goes back a long way, to the animated Clone Wars series, in which it was revealed that most Mandalorians regard the entire House of Fett as outsiders to their creed and community – and Boba specifically as something entirely alien, due to the bounty hunter having been created inorganically as an identical clone of his father, Jango. Bo-Katan, who cast stones at Din Djarin for unknowingly belonging to a group of religious fanatics, now taunts Boba Fett with questions about his “donor”, and comparing him to other clones she’s known (and yes, that’s extremely hypocritical and uncharacteristic of her, since clone armies were instrumental in putting her in power after the Siege of Mandalore), causing a scuffle between Fett and Bo-Katan’s second-in-command, Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks). Fett, in turn, is utterly dismissive of Bo-Katan’s goal to unite the Mandalorian clans behind her and retake their ancestral home planet of Mandalore, which the Empire supposedly desecrated. In the end, the promise of finally being able to confront Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and win back the Darksaber is what convinces Bo-Katan to join: though Din Djarin valiantly tries the “they-took-the-Child” route with her. It’s worked for everyone else, and it seems to be almost be enough for Bo-Katan, but the show is painting her as a low-key antagonist to Djarin for whatever reason, so they can’t have her be too kindhearted.
This is one of two instances in The Mandalorian so far (the other being Ahsoka’s refusal to train Grogu because of attachments) that I would be tempted to classify as character assassination if the term hadn’t been hijacked by trolls who use it broadly to mean anything that ever happened in the sequel trilogy. There’s a difference between character assassination and character development that a lot of people don’t get: and Luke Skywalker’s journey in The Last Jedi, for example, is a textbook example of the latter. Character development is organic and typically serves a thematic purpose; whereas assassination is a shortcut used lazily to rush the story forward (in Ahsoka’s case), or to force a conflict where there was none (in Bo-Katan’s case). What’s particularly frustrating is that audiences who don’t know Bo-Katan from the animated series’ will now remember her best as the borderline ruthless, prejudiced, ambitious-to-a-fault schemer she is here.
Laying out an elaborate strategy for how to infiltrate Gideon’s star-cruiser, the gang sets out in a small Imperial shuttle stolen from its previous pilot (played by Thomas Sullivan, whom I immediately recognized from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The Mandalorian somehow has time to flesh out his character, and give him a pointless back-and-forth with Cara Dune, where he manipulates what I guess are supposed to be her traumatic memories of the destruction of Alderaan. The event has now been referenced twice this season, and, leaving aside the fact that Carano’s acting does nothing to convey the trauma of its aftermath (the dialogue literally mentions her shedding a tear, while Carano’s eyes are dry), it’s honestly just weird that people keep bringing it up in-universe.
Omid Abtahi briefly reprises the role of Dr. Pershing, the other occupant of the stolen shuttle, but there’s no time to interrogate him about Grogu’s exact midi-chlorian count. The fact that he was on his way to and not from Gideon’s cruiser bodes well for Grogu, as it implies he may not have had a chance to extract any further samples from the child (Gideon later confirms he’s taken his own samples of the child’s blood, but, well, that will be insignificant in the long run).
Director Peyton Reed is at his best while orchestrating the high-stakes, action-packed break-in – a stark contrast to his Ant-Man movies, which have mostly been low-stakes, filled with comedic action scenes and sight gags. Between this and the exhilarating spider chase he directed earlier in The Mandalorian‘s second season, he’s definitely given himself an upgrade before his next Marvel film, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. His exceptional use of each character’s individual strengths makes for a very memorable string of fight scenes, and there’s a real sense of urgency and danger, even though most of our heroes are encased in beskar steel, which is nigh on impossible to shatter, dent, or damage in any way.
Din Djarin finds this out the hard way when he singlehandedly takes on Gideon’s elite platoon of robotic dark troopers – even with one of these super-sized metal juggernauts repeatedly hammering his face backwards into a wall with the force of a small battering ram, it’s the wall that gets broken to bits and Djarin who escapes unscathed, thanks to his beskar steel helmet. Hilariously, he’s then able to temporarily eliminate the dark trooper threat by blasting them all out an airlock.
While Bo-Katan and her all-female team storm the ship’s bridge looking for Gideon, Djarin accidentally but predictably encounters the Moff personally guarding his most prized possession, Grogu, with the Darksaber in hand. Finally, we can see why Lucasfilm hired Giancarlo Esposito for this role, as the ex-Imperial sneakily manipulates the conversation, feigning disinterest in the Mandalorian political situation while freely offering the child to Djarin. Although Djarin initially buys into his lies, it takes all of five seconds for Gideon to reveal his true colors and start hacking ferociously at Djarin with the Darksaber. The beskar steel gifted by Ahsoka Tano finally comes in handy, allowing Djarin the means to fight back in one of the series’ most hyped-up duels. The whole sequence is over suspiciously quickly, however, and Gideon is soon captured and dragged up to the bridge after being disarmed by Djarin.
When they reach the bridge, we find out just how cunning Gideon has been – possibly at the expense of established Star Wars canon. It was revealed a while ago in Rebels that, to wield the Darksaber and claim it as one’s own, one must first defeat the previous owner in combat. Or, at least, that was the case until Sabine Wren yielded the Darksaber willingly to Bo-Katan…who soon after lost it to Gideon himself, and spent years hunting him down, trying to make up for her failure and render her claim to the sword irrefutable. Gideon, by intentionally losing to Djarin, has now created a situation where Bo-Katan “can’t” take the sword unless she wins it in combat…from Din Djarin. Except she can. Sabine Wren set the precedent. Djarin offers it to her several times, only for Gideon to interject each time with a gleeful reminder of how Mandalorian law supposedly works. My best guess is that Bo-Katan blames her willingness to defy tradition and take the sword freely for all her failures, and for that reason won’t do so again. This whole thing is weirdly reminiscent of the Elder Wand debacle in Harry Potter.
It’s at this moment that the dark troopers return, flooding back onto the ship and charging towards the bridge, all while Gideon gleefully torments his captors with quips and boasts. His menace is rather undercut, though, by the sheer stupidity that compels him to grab a blaster and aim for Bo-Katan, who, reminder, is wearing beskar steel. He gets knocked unconscious by Cara Dune, and that’s literally the last we hear of him. A humiliating defeat for a villain that had just come into his own.
In the chaos, a single X-Wing fighter appears out of nowhere, heading for the cruiser. At first, I assumed it had to be the New Republic, come to save the day and convince us that a Rangers Of The New Republic spinoff series is actually necessary, but once the ship is confirmed to be flying solo and lands without communicating with the bridge, I figured I knew who its occupant had to be. Reed draws out the big reveal, forcing you to agonize and wrestle with your emotions and your “this can’t be happening” impulses, even as all the visual clues add up. And the brutal, beautiful suspense makes it that much more conflicting when the smoke clears, each and every dark trooper has been obliterated, and the person standing there is indeed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…but is also very much not.
The CGI replacement for young Luke – which uses Hamill’s digitally de-aged voice and likeness – is perhaps not quite as unnerving as the CGI Princess Leia in Rogue One, but nowhere near the seamless, stately elegance of CGI Tarkin in the same film. CGI Luke’s eyes are haunting and slightly unfocused, and his voice doesn’t quite seem to match the movement of his lips. He is, of course, revealed to be the Jedi that Grogu contacted back on Tython, but when they meet at last, Grogu waddles over immediately – only to spend most of the scene talking to Luke’s sidekick, R2-D2, in an excited chirping language matching the droid’s beeps, boops, and bops, while CGI Luke stands to the side; his ghastly top half purposefully out of frame, his lower half standing too still, like a background character in an animated movie.
Disturbing digital effects aside, the Luke reveal is emotional and brilliantly executed, and it makes sense that he’ll be the one to train Grogu in the ways of the Force. But of course saying goodbye is hard: and so Djarin removes his helmet willingly, revealing his face to Grogu for the first (and hopefully not last) time. The puppet’s tiny claw reaches out to touch Djarin’s cheek, wide eyes take in every feature of his face…and yes, those muffled sobs you hear are mine. What can I say? I love character development.
And with that, CGI Luke sweeps Baby Yoda into his Ken doll arms, and takes off, concluding the second season of The Mandalorian. So much is still unresolved! Moff Gideon is defeated, Din Djarin commands the Darksaber and must now either embrace a new destiny or pass it on to Bo-Katan, and Grogu is headed to Ach-To, I guess. Oh yeah, and Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are getting a spinoff (or maybe just taking over The Mandalorian), which we’ll discuss in greater detail, in the second half of my finale review.
Because this show is so frustrating, one just wasn’t enough.
Waking up at three o’-clock in the morning every Friday to watch a new episode of The Mandalorian was a strangely calming experience for me until today, when I already had so much that I still needed to cover from the Disney Investors Meeting last night that I simply didn’t feel the drive to fast-track a Mandalorian review and risk missing the hype train for shows like WandaVision, Loki, and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, none of which have actually released yet – but all of which somehow feel like they’re moving quicker, and at a more consistent pace, than The Mandalorian. We’re heading into the season two finale next week, and somehow we still seem to be moving at a snail’s pace in terms of plot, spending an entire episode searching for a code to track down Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).
Thankfully, the series is picking up speed with regards to character development – particularly for protagonist Din Djarin (voiced and, today at least, played by Pedro Pascal), who removed his helmet. Such a simple action would have no consequence on pretty much any other series, but on The Mandalorian, where Djarin’s helmet (or, to be more precise, his facelessness) is an integral part of his religion and his personality, it’s a really big deal. And in the few minutes that he’s completely unmasked and vulnerable to the world, Pedro Pascal uses every single moment of screentime he’s got to convince you of why this is such a dramatic and intense milestone in his character arc. As you may recall, I spoke very highly of the episode earlier this season wherein Bo-Katan Kryze gently pointed out that Djarin’s strict rules regarding his helmet are derived from a group of religious zealots who were technically traitors to Mandalorian tradition: the exception to the rule, not the norm. And today, when Djarin took off his helmet because he had to, because his love for Grogu outweighed his commitments to his faith, it was as if we finally got payoff…something that The Mandalorian has been all too eager to tease, and far too unwilling to actually see through to the end.
I firmly believe Pedro Pascal could have handled that entire sequence on his own, and been completely fine: every subtly fearful facial expression he was wearing was clearly telling the story of a person whose entire life had been built on a set of core values that he was now being forced to break, and the anxiety rolling off him in waves was palpable. But I must say, I welcomed the addition of Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) as a comedic and surprisingly dramatic foil to Djarin. Mayfield started out as an enemy of Djarin’s – no surprise there: Djarin locked him in a New Republic prison cell – but over the course of this single episode built a slow but powerful bond with Djarin, becoming the only living person to have seen his face. And rather than crack a joke about it, Mayfield was startlingly sincere in the aftermath, promising Djarin he would forget he ever saw anything.
Although I suspected last week that the majority of today’s episode would revolve around trying to rescue Mayfield from prison, that portion was blissfully short: turns out, Cara Dune (Gina Carano, once again doing the smirking thing) and her recent promotion to “Marshall of the New Republic” is useful for something, as she was able to fake a New Republic order freeing Mayfield from a life of slave labor. Dune, unfortunately, tags along as Mayfield and Djarin begin staging their operation to break into an ex-Imperial fortress and steal the information about Gideon’s location…though it’s really Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to strategizing, and Boba Fett’s icy stares make it very clear who’s boss on the Slave One. As a fan of The Clone Wars, it made me pretty happy to see how far Boba Fett has come from his childhood, when he used to desperately try and hold entire crews of older, more experienced pirates together under his leadership, only to inevitably have them turn on him.
Once the small crew reaches their target destination, Djarin and Mayfield don the disguises of Imperial stormtroopers (with Djarin swapping one helmet for another offscreen, before Mayfield can catch a glimpse of his face) and unwittingly get caught up in a scuffle with pirates. There’s some great comedy in this sequence, provided by an increasingly frantic Mayfield, while Djarin – and director Rick Famuyiwa – delivers on the action, staving off the pirates in a violent race against the clock. The conclusion to the fight, with Imperial TIE-fighters swooping in to save the day, is unexpected and delightfully ironic. Best of all, it’s the first display of mutual trust between Djarin and Mayfield (who is a lot more likable than he was in season one, thanks to better writing, and a much better performance by Burr).
Inside the Imperial fortress, that bond of trust is tested again as Mayfield comes face to face with his old commanding officer, a cold-hearted elitist by the almost-purposefully-German-sounding name of Valin Hess (Richard Brake). Mayfield still suffers from PTSD due to having witnessed Hess’ intentional slaughter of his own men during Operation: Cinder, a slash-and-burn policy carried out by radical Imperials in an attempt to destabilize the galaxy in the wake of their defeat. Panicking, Mayfield tells Djarin that he has to carry out the rest of the mission – which involves a facial scan at a network terminal. And that’s when it finally happens: Djarin removes his helmet. It’s the emotional and thematic conclusion of the episode, though the story isn’t over.
After recovering the necessary data, Djarin and Mayfield are ambushed by Hess, who insists on buying them both drinks as a reward for their bravery against the pirates. A few minutes and one bone-chilling conversation about “the greater good” later, Mayfield shoots Hess point-blank in the chest and chaos erupts at the fortress. There’s an escape sequence, Fennec Shand and Cara Dune pick off stormtroopers, and the Slave One tears through TIE-fighters like butterflies. All in a day’s work for the Mandalorian.
The episode concludes with a slightly anticlimactic resolution for Mayfield (who just…walks off into the jungle, as if he’s not a wanted man on this specific planet for killing an Imperial officer), and a suspenseful interaction between Djarin and Gideon, where the Mandalorian calls up his old nemesis via hologram and proceeds to repeat back the same threatening speech that Gideon gave him in the season one finale. Gideon is stunned silent by the offensive gesture, but I doubt it’ll be long before he’s readying his defenses and preparing his elite shadow-troopers for battle. Djarin currently only has the help of Fett, Shand, and maybe Dune if she doesn’t decide to bail on him at the last moment because she’s still technically working for the New Republic. We haven’t heard anything about Bo-Katan or Ahsoka coming back, so for now…Djarin is seriously outnumbered.
Heading into the finale, I’ll admit I’ve had a fun time watching these characters grow more and more messy and complex over the past several episodes. In large part, that’s been due to the incredible performances from Pedro Pascal, Giancarlo Esposito, Temuera Morrison, and Ming-Na Wen, which have kept The Mandalorian lively and entertaining even as it’s ground to a halt in places. With many more seasons sure to come in the next few years, I’m excited to see where the series can go from here, and how it can continue to build on the characters at its core; since its actual story is fairly hit-or-miss.
Lucasfilm’s animation department had only a little to offer longtime fans last night during Disney’s crowded Investors Meeting – and unfortunately, what we did get wasn’t an announcement of the Star Wars: Rebels sequel that many of us have been hoping for. But The Bad Batch, currently the studio’s only major upcoming animated series, will surely unite fans of Rebels, The Clone Wars, and even The Mandalorian, as it explores a unique time period at the intersection of all three series.
The Bad Batch might sound familiar to you, and that’s because they’ve been around for a while: even before they officially showed up in the final season of The Clone Wars on Disney+, earlier this year. The small, loyal team of defective clones (each of whom has heightened abilities thanks to individual genetic mutations) first appeared in drafts for the final season that were revealed to fans back when The Clone Wars was off the air and a revival seemed impossible. Everything turned out well in the end, though: showrunner Dave Filoni was able to complete the story he had planned, and the Bad Batch did appear as expected. But when their season arc was completed, fans wanted more – and so, early next year, we’ll be treated to a new series following the Bad Batch as they navigate the rapidly changing political scene in the aftermath of the Jedi Purge and the rise of the Galactic Empire. This is a time of upheaval across the galaxy: and so far we haven’t seen it properly fleshed out in the new, Disney-approved canon.
One of the most fascinating events during this dark age is the seemingly abrupt shift from well-trained, skilled clone armies to fallible, clearly inferior, stormtroopers. In Rebels, we learned a little bit about this: how it was Emperor Palpatine that gave the order to disband the clones and abandon them. Real shocker there. By the time that Rebels rolled around, about a decade after the fact, almost all the clones had disappeared – and the few stragglers that were left (like Rex) were homeless and destitute, just barely getting by. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem that the Empire had any plan to compensate veterans for their sacrifice. The Bad Batch seems to be focused primarily on this event, and hopefully it will clear up the question of why stormtroopers (whose universally faulty aim is a running gag in Star Wars at this point) were viewed as more practical to the Empire than clones. Was it out of fear of betrayal? Or simply for cost-effective purposes, since the cloning facilities on Kamino can’t have been cheap to operate? Whatever the case, it looks like the Bad Batch will pull a classic “you can’t fire me! I quit!” move on the Empire, because we can see them fighting stormtroopers at several points during the trailer.
The scarred and weather-worn faces of clone troopers Echo, Hunter, Tech, Wrecker and Crosshair won’t be the only ones familiar to Star Wars fans. A shocking reveal was that Fennec Shand, the ex-Imperial sniper played by Ming-Na Wen on The Mandalorian will be returning (voiced, I presume, by Wen, a longtime Disney favorite and the voice of Princess Mulan), although here she’s not a scrappy, desert-dwelling rogue with a bounty on her head: she’s new on the scene and backed by the full might of the Empire. I assume she’ll be one of the series’ villains – though we already know she outlasts the Empire’s fall and eventually softens up a little, becoming Boba Fett’s partner in crime on Tatooine.
Presumably, the show will include cameos from many other Clone Wars characters (Grand Admiral Tarkin, who appears in the trailer, is obviously a lock; and wherever he goes, Wullf Yularen can’t be far behind), and even some from Rebels – though it’s still too early for the Rebellion itself to exist, except as a far off hope. Appearances from either a young Hera Syndulla or Kanan Jarrus (or both!) would blow my mind. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even witness some of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s secretive backstory, as he rises to power in the ranks of the Imperial Navy.
Well, in case you were wondering, I don’t regret writing an entire, extensive, blog post detailing the geography, history, and ecosystem of the Jedi planet of Tython, because it was extremely fun to write. That this is the first episode of The Mandalorian that doesn’t really do a whole lot of worldbuilding is both surprising (considering the setting which, as you know from my post, is rich with Star Wars lore) and saddening (for the same reasons). There are fans who are currently annoyed because Tython is no longer in the Deep Core of the galaxy, and has instead been moved to the Outer Rim – contradicting even the new, official, canon – but I’m just disappointed that the set design was so small-scale this week. There’s one ring of standing stones, a measly excuse for a mountain (I mean, maybe it was just a very crumbled Tho Yor? It’s open for interpretation), and a severe lack of wild beasts. And don’t even get me started on how there were no Force-storms.
But hey, I begrudgingly respect Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) again, so there’s that!
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that Boba Fett has never been one of my favorite Star Wars characters, and I didn’t squeal with excitement when he was teased in The Mandalorian‘s season two premiere because…I just didn’t find him all that interesting. He was the first Mandalorian introduced to the galaxy far, far away, so I suppose he deserves some kind of recognition for that – but he’s become outdated by other, far cooler Mandalorians, who have graced our screens since: even by his own father, Jango Fett, whom we saw in Attack Of The Clones. And no matter where Boba Fett showed up, whether it was in Return Of The Jedi or several excruciating episodes of Clone Wars, he always came off as stubborn and stuck-up to me. In fact, seeing his childhood in Clone Wars made it obvious that he had always been an arrogant, entitled, bully. He never changed or developed, and that made him boring.
So, unsurprisingly, the reason why he finally worked for me in this chapter of The Mandalorian is because Temuera Morrison (who previously played Jango Fett) brings a regal, commanding screen presence to this role that the character has never had before, as well as a maturity and sense of growth. Boba Fett was once little more than a banged-up suit of armor, but now he actually feels like a character: and an interesting one, too. He’s been humiliated countless times in the past – in fact, it’s become something of a running joke – but it feels like the writing has allowed him to learn from those mistakes at last, rather than simply erasing them from existence so he can be “cool”. It’s far cooler, in my opinion, for him to have undergone some serious character development during his time as a desert rogue.
But of course, that doesn’t mean the old banged-up suit of armor can’t still be important. In fact, it plays a major part in the awkward interactions between Din Djarin (our Mandalorian, voiced and sometimes played by Pedro Pascal) and Boba Fett, as it turns out Fett has been tracking the Razor Crest all the way from Tatooine (side-note: Temuera Morrison’s pronunciation of Tatooine as “TATween” is an extremely soothing vocal experience), hunting the armor that belongs to him…though why he didn’t take it from the far less experienced Cobb Vanth is a mystery to me. Tython was as good a place as any to finally corner Djarin, and better yet, this episode wasn’t already staked out for the live-action debut of a Clone Wars character, and/or a back-door pilot for an eventual spinoff (though Boba Fett is getting a spinoff, for which I am now a little bit more excited). Fett is initially disinterested in bargaining for the armor, and even threatens the Child as an intimidation tactic, telling Djarin that he has an accomplice with a sniper’s rifle trained on the baby.
It doesn’t take long for Djarin to figure out that accomplice’s name and identity: Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), the same sniper he encountered on the sands of Tatooine back in season one. But she was far too awesome to bleed out at the hands of a wannabe gangster like Toro Calican, and it seems that Boba Fett patched her back up again with some new metallic upgrades. And while her debut episode in season one was so dark that you couldn’t see her amazing orange-and-black costume, this episode takes place in broad daylight and allows us a much better look at the character.
But anyway, back to the armor. Din Djarin is once again clueless, and completely makes a fool out of himself in front of one of the most revered Mandalorians in the galaxy, demanding evidence that Boba Fett is actually Mandalorian before he can give him the armor. And despite how awkward it all is, and how badly it reflects on Djarin, I kind of love that Djarin never shuts up about history and tradition, yet seems to know extremely little about his own culture’s history, and is constantly being called out on it. He’s definitely bold: I’ll give him that. Meanwhile, Boba Fett has an entire genealogy and Fett family history embedded in the chain code of his armor. Remember when I said after Chapter 11 that Din Djarin and his clan being revealed as the odd ones out in Mandalorian society made him a lot more interesting? This is the perfect payoff to that setup.
Just as the situation is cooling down and Din Djarin has finally struck a deal with Boba Fett to give him the armor in exchange for help protecting Grogu (who by this point has already reached the seeing stone and is seated there, encased in a protective Force bubble), Imperial stormtroopers arrive. Director Robert Rodriguez, whose previous credits include Alita: Battle Angel, delivers on brutal, fast-paced, action, and stunning visuals. He gives us the Din Djarin/Fennec Shand team-up I knew we needed the moment I first saw her character, though Shand gets plenty of solo moments to shine – and Ming-Na Wen, who played a Marvel superhero on seven seasons of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., gets to show off her extensive fighting skills and agility. Rodriguez’ inventive use of Boba Fett’s legendary armor also deserves praise: especially since, last time we saw Fett using his jetpack, he was careening into a sarlacc pit (too soon?). Fett reclaims the old suit a bit prematurely, sneaking into the Razor Crest during the chaos and stealing it from among Djarin’s possessions – dangerous, but still easier than trying to educate Djarin about Mandalorian history. Like Djarin, his suit also comes equipped with a version of the “whistling birds”, and in his time on Tatooine he’s also picked up a Tusken Raider staff, which he uses viciously. There’s something so refreshing about watching Mandalorians smash large, heavy objects against stormtrooper armor.
Fett also owns a gunship, none other than the Slave One itself, and…well, I don’t know how he got his hands on it again, but I’m willing to go along with it because the Empire blows up the Razor Crest after the first wave of stormtroopers is unsuccessful, and Din Djarin is now in need of a ship. We all made fun of the Razor Crest, and how it needed to be repaired every ten minutes: but I do feel bad that it’s now just a heap of burning scrap metal, far beyond repair. The episode is aptly subtitled The Tragedy.
If that were the only tragedy, I’d probably manage. But it’s not. As many had guessed online given the short amount of episodes left in season two, Grogu is captured by dark troopers (the giant, hulking droid troopers teased at the end of Chapter 12), moments before Djarin and Shand reach the seeing stone to intercept them. As they fly back to the Imperial star-cruiser hovering in Tython’s atmosphere, we can just see the itty-bitty baby staring down at Din Djarin with wide eyes. This is the kind of tragedy that hurts. But of course, it gives us a clear direction for the remaining two episodes: and direction is something The Mandalorian has sorely lacked up until this point.
Collecting what little he can from the wreckage of his old ship, including the beskar steel spear given to him by Ahsoka Tano last week and the strangely significant metal ball that has been Grogu’s favorite toy for ages, Djarin determines to rescue the baby: and both Fett and Shand swear to help him since technically they never fulfilled their end of the deal, to protect the child. For some reason, they immediately pack up and head back to the planet Nevarro, where Djarin enlists the help of Cara Dune (Gina Carano, whose permanent smirk is growing extremely tiresome), now an official New Republic marshal, to locate a currently incarcerated individual whom Djarin hopes will be able to track down Gideon: Miggs Mayfield (Bill Burr), Imperial sharpshooter turned deadly mercenary. Djarin turned him in to the New Republic back in season one, and it appears Mayfield has been stuck doing heavy labor ever since, so I’m not sure what bond of friendship exists between the two that Djarin thinks he can exploit. Mayfield, you may recall, thought that Grogu was either Djarin’s pet or illegitimate child, so I don’t think the promise of being able to help the baby will be quite enough in this case.
And speaking of Grogu, he’s stuck in a holding cell on the Imperial starship; but his subplot is far from over. Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) arrives to interrogate the baby, only to find that Grogu is using his re-awakened Force powers to violently bash in the heads of his stormtrooper guards. Gideon is quickly able to subdue the exhausted infant, but doesn’t reveal any ulterior motive beyond what we already knew – he wants Dr. Pershing alerted immediately that the Empire has recovered its “donor”: for more on that, see my post regarding midi-chlorians. He does reveal the ancient Darksaber to Grogu, marking its first appearance since the season one finale. It takes this show a long time to pay off its various hints and teases.
The big question now is whether or not Grogu was able to contact anyone through the Force while seated on the seeing stone. Tython may have been a big disappointment, but if Grogu was able to summon a Jedi (or even better, a whole bunch of Jedi), the side-mission there might not have been in vain.
Far and away the best of a slew of recent live-action remakes of animated Disney classics, Mulan blends the fantastical whimsy and stylized beauty of the 1998 film with the epic, somber maturity of the ancient Chinese ballad of Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), finding its balance in a delicate sweet spot that it has difficulty maintaining the whole way through – but it manages, thanks to Niki Caro’s direction and an extraordinary ensemble cast: and in several instances it doesn’t just stay on par with 1998’s Mulan, but dares to soar above and beyond the constraints from which other live-action remakes have suffered. In only a few places does this version of the story falter or fall behind its predecessor.
Nostalgia (and the ways in which it can be exploited for money) has been both the reason why these live-action remakes continue to be made, and also why they often feel watered-down and uninteresting next to their animated counterparts. Afraid to change too much of the “original” stories (I put original in quotes because most of Disney’s classic fairytales are just that; adaptations of far older fairytales), the directors of these remakes choose to simply rearrange plot points inoffensively, and/or bloat the films’ runtimes with filler material: exposition, explanations and lengthy justifications for plot holes in the animated films, and new musical numbers that (with a few exceptions) feel like lackluster imitations of the real thing: though that last problem is made less noticeable when even the live-action recreations of the original songs are usually lackluster imitations (looking at you, the entire soundtrack of 2019’s The Lion King). Mulan, however, never suffers from these problems, because director Niki Caro has made the bold and commendable decision not to lean on nostalgia so heavily, but instead to weave the Chinese source material and the Disney animated film into one beautiful amalgamation of the two that feels like the truest version of the story yet. This decision necessitates removing entire sections of the animated film. Several major characters have been cut out entirely. The animal sidekicks and their hijinks are absent. The songs have been dropped. And most importantly, the tone of the story has changed entirely: Mulan was always one of the funniest, zaniest Disney movies, but this version feels more like an accessible, family-friendly tribute to the wuxia genre’s greatest hits, particularly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In retrospect it’s obvious that, while the animated Mulan remains my personal favorite version of the story and my favorite Disney animated movie, this is how the legend of Mulan deserved to be told all along: as a war film with dark, adult themes, masterfully choreographed action scenes, and beautiful, luxurious imagery.
As for Mulan herself, the woman who disguised herself as a male soldier to take her father’s place in battle is a national heroine in China, and it’s no secret that Chinese audiences never liked how she was written in the animated film. This time around, Liu Yifei embodies a quieter, more reserved version of the character, who is hiding her inner power from herself and her family. But the key aspects of Mulan’s personality have not been changed: she is still a strong-willed woman endeavoring to carve out a place for herself in a world dominated by an unwavering patriarchy. If anything, these aspects have only been emphasized through the way the story has changed.
Gong Li’s character, the mysterious and absolutely stunning sorceress Xianniang, balances out Mulan’s storyline with her own sad, cautionary tale. Like Mulan, she is a woman with aspirations and ambitions, but unlike Mulan, she has already fully embraced herself and her truth before the story opens; and it is for that reason that she now finds herself an unwanted outcast on the fringe of society, reviled even by her allies, who feels compelled to try and warn Mulan of the dangers she will face if she ever tries to upset the “natural” order of things. Her complex relationship with Mulan forms the film’s emotional core, and, side-note, has already sparked substantial interest from members of the LGBTQ+ community who have pointed out that, in the original ballad, the character of Xianniang is Mulan’s best friend and maybe love interest. There’s hints of that chemistry in their interactions here, although Mulan has a more explicitly romantic relationship (in fact, too explicit for some Chinese audiences) with a new male character named Honghui (Yoson An), a soldier in her regiment.
Throughout the film, a great deal of the plot revolves around Mulan trying to unlock her qi, an internal life-force that can give her gravity-defying acrobatic and martial arts skills, if only she can learn to control it. Xianniang is already in touch with her own qi, though she has been using it for evil for many years. It is this qi which allows both women to shine most brilliantly in their numerous action scenes, which – thankfully – have not all been revealed in the trailers. Xianniang, in particular, has a lot of tricks and surprises up her long, flowing silk sleeves (which themselves double as weapons designed for quick and easy strangulation of all enemies within about a ten-foot radius).
The animated Mulan had numerous story issues, but none was bigger than the problem with its villain, the Hun leader Shan Yu: who was definitely one of Disney’s most terrifying and threatening villains, but maybe not one of the studio’s most well-written or dynamic. That problem has been solved. The duo of Rouran warlord Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang, and the bond of mutual distrust between the two is very well-written. Bori Khan isn’t quite as menacing as his animated counterpart, but he has a much cooler look, a much more personal motive, and a much more compelling performance. Although in the trailers you’ve seen him and Xianniang working together, the movie establishes early on that their pairing is necessary for both to achieve victory, but is by no means motivated by any strong affection for the other. I absolutely love characters who have separate needs and wants, so this development worked for me.
There are several other standouts in the cast who make so much of their roles that they’ve instantly surpassed the animated versions of their characters. Mulan’s father, war veteran Hua Tzo (Tzi Ma), has a much larger role to play in the story, and his character’s kindness and genuine love and respect for his daughters made me very happy to see: I particularly enjoyed watching his internal conflict play out, as he tried to reconcile Mulan’s unconventional dreams with the more strict, uptight wishes of his community and culture. The village matchmaker, no longer a grotesque caricature, has a slightly expanded role and even gets a moment of payoff to her character arc that I never knew she needed. And The Emperor (Jet Li), while no longer charming or sassy, is again less of a caricature and more of an actual character, who even gets to participate in the third act battle. I did miss the antics of the Hua family’s matriarch, Grandmother Fa, but I never once found myself bemoaning the loss of the diminutive dragon Mushu or the lucky Cricket Cri-Kee (oddly, the lucky cricket does show up in a way, but not how you might expect). Mulan has gained a new animal guardian: a majestic Phoenix, which follows her on her journey. It’s not a very talkative bird, but it is very pretty to look at, and it feels much more appropriate with the tone of this movie.
There are only two major instances where the 2020 film stumbles in comparison to the 1998 film. Neither one is a spoiler (unless you don’t know anything about the animated Mulan), so I can share both. The first is the iconic scene where Mulan dons her disguise and flees her home to join the army: in the animated film, this scene is set to a pounding, exhilarating piece of music, and is loaded with striking, memorable imagery: the rain and the lightning making bold silhouettes, the reflective sword-blade slicing Mulan’s hair, Mulan’s father stumbling in the mud and the bejeweled comb flying from his hand. In this version, it’s all over in a matter of moments, and lacks all of that potent symbolism. In fact, many of the iconic shots and symbols of the animated movie are gone completely; however, in most instances they have been replaced by visual cues that are almost as compelling. To name a few: a sprig of flower blossoms discreetly hiding Mulan from view as she bathes in a lake; droplets of blood falling ominously from one of Xianniang’s wounded claws during a fight; a lone soldier descending an unbelievably long flight of stairs in the Imperial City; and a number of extraordinary uses of fabric, such as Mulan twirling in purple silk, a black scarf untwisting around Bori Khan’s face and being caught in a desert wind, Xianniang’s deadly sleeves swirling heavily through the smoke of battle. None of them, however, match the power of a dead girl’s doll resting in the snow, or a flower blooming in adversity.
The second misstep is the pacing. This is a movie that needed to be much longer than it ended up being. The first thirty minutes fly along far too quickly, barely giving us any time to indulge in the opulent Hua family household or explore the dynamic of their peaceful village before we’re whisked off to war. Throughout the film, this continues to be a problem: the entire story feels rushed right up until the third act. A large part of why that is has to do with the lack of songs, because it’s important to remember that in the animated film, songs don’t just act as cheerful interludes between plot points – they literally are plot points. And if you’re going to remove them entirely, you can’t just leave blank spaces where they used to be: you need to do the work to replace them. This is done most effectively with You’ll Bring Honor To Us All, which is effectively supplanted with nuanced dialogue and a sprinkling of exposition that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced. But nowhere is it more badly handled than with A Girl Worth Fighting For: without that song, it’s impossible for the film to effectively recreate that shocking transition from the animated film where the untested Imperial army suddenly, unexpectedly, runs into the site of a brutal massacre. And without Reflection, we never get to fully understand Mulan’s motivations from her own point of view – and because we spend hardly any time in her village, that scene isn’t replaced by anything, so she sets out to war before we’ve even had time to understand why. Earlier in this review I criticized the remakes that bloat the story with filler material: but I’m not going to let this one off the hook because it does the opposite and subtracts important story beats without putting anything in their place.
But even with what feels like so little time, Mulan still captivates the heart and captures the eyes’ undivided attention, and it left me feeling satisfied – and wanting more. Sign me up for the next movie! Even though this remake doesn’t surpass the animated movie, it’s the first Disney live-action remake that feels justified: as if it’s actually taking steps toward trying out new things and making exciting creative choices…not all of which pay off entirely, but all of which feel intentional.
After seven years, the end has finally come for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’m pleased to report it’s a glorious one. In so many ways, it’s the end of an era – for us, as the devoted fandom who stuck with the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team even when others claimed it wasn’t worth it because it would never be Marvel canon; for the cast and crew, obviously, since they’ve put so much hard work into making this show everything that it has become; and for an epic chapter of television history; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought us seven seasons worth of brilliant, albeit absolutely bizarre, storylines spanning the entire Marvel Universe (and occasionally breaking out from its confines). And best of all…it’s a happy ending, the kind where all our major characters get to go out on a high note and nobody gets killed off just to make the plot more dramatic: in fact, precisely zero of our protagonists died on last night’s two-hour long finale event. On the flip-side, I think I can safely say that we, the audience, all died just a little as we had to grapple with the realization that this is…really it. It’s over. It’s done.
Though, if anyone is wondering – and be warned, you will be hearing about this a lot from me in the near future – there’s still plenty of ways in which Marvel could continue the story of certain S.H.I.E.L.D. team members, particularly Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), both of whom I still firmly believe can and should join the MCU proper.
The finale, which is actually two back-to-back episodes, gave us a lot to muse on: from Avengers: Endgame tie-ins and references, to cinematic visual effects, to the individual endings for each and every character’s arcs. Because this show has always centered around its amazing characters, we’re going to break down all of those endings one by one: yes, even the villains because villains deserve satisfying endings too.
Well, except for Chronicoms. And speaking of Chronicoms, let’s talk about them first and foremost because these folks (a race of emotionless cyborgs with the ability to steal human faces and wear them as their own) have been a mixed bag since they first showed up in any large capacity. When it was just Enoch (Joel Stoffer) back in season five, they did seem kind of interesting – but ironically, that was because Enoch turned out to be a rogue Chronicom who had actually developed emotions during his long sojourn on Earth. Particularly in this final season, the Chronicoms have felt very one-dimensional, with only their leader Sybil the Predictor (Tamara Taylor) having much personality. And that doesn’t really change much in the finale. The Chronicoms are extremely threatening, which helps, but they still don’t rank high on the list of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. villains, with their vague motivations and bland character designs. In the opening minutes of the finale’s first half, they capture Daisy, Al “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) as the trio of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tries to launch a daring raid on the Zephyr One, where their friend Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is being held prisoner. But apart from Sybil, the Chronicoms don’t actually come out in full force until the last half of the finale, when their entire army heads to the Lighthouse S.H.I.E.L.D. base in a last-ditch effort to stop their arch-nemesis Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), only to find themselves defeated by a very unlikely threat from above: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who, after incapacitating Sybil with a kick to the face, uses her newfound empathetic powers to give the entire Chronicom army emotions. It’s a good idea in theory and it underscores the point that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been about compassion and unconditional love, but it’s definitely a concept that needed more set-up: and the way the Chronicoms simply drop their weapons, declare themselves to be friends, and then disappear completely from the story afterwards is…well, not exactly underwhelming because I didn’t expect much from the Chronicoms, but just a little anti-climactic.
But that’s okay, because they were never the real big bad anyway. This whole time, that’s been Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), the son of HYDRA royalty, who was supposed to die young in 1970 but, due to timeline meddling, ended up surviving all the way into the present day, stealing some of Daisy Johnson’s seismic superpowers and becoming the finale’s main antagonist. I didn’t have a problem with this: Malick, despite his questionable fashion statements and anarchistic tendencies, is a lot more compelling than any Chronicom – and the duel between the two Quakes is every bit as epic as was promised. Malick’s goal by this point in the episode is to kill Daisy and use the remaining half of the Chronicom fleet that’s still descending through the earth’s atmosphere to wipe out S.H.I.E.L.D., and he figures that Daisy won’t be able to stop him because the only way she can feasibly kill him is by killing herself in the process. “That’s the idea”, Daisy responds – and she explodes. In the biggest display of her powers ever, she sends shockwaves tearing through space, ripping the entire Chronicom fleet to pieces: taking Sybil and Nathaniel Malick with it. But Daisy, at the eye of the hurricane so to speak, unintentionally survives the blast and her drifting body is picked up by Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the Zephyr One just in time for her sister, Kora (Dianne Doan), to come in and revive her using her own healing powers.
Kora, the final season’s third major villain, has an awkward redemption arc at the last moment. She comes to her senses after a confrontation with Daisy, tries unsuccessfully to convince Malick that Daisy is actually a good person, gets shot for her efforts, and then uses her powers to assist Melinda May in the final battle. Fitz describes Kora as the key to ensuring the survival of the world and that’s great and all, but…what exactly did she do? Her powers get upgraded so quickly it’s hard to tell what her limits are anymore: first it was just glowing punches, then it was somehow related to electricity, then she could heal people, now all of a sudden she can shoot laser beams through space. But while I might have to rewatch the episode to clarify certain details, I’m still a little confused as to why her power was so vital. She saved Daisy, so I’m eternally grateful for that, but Daisy had already defeated the Chronicoms – her survival wasn’t necessary, except to fans. And the laser she shot at the Lighthouse achieved…what, exactly? In hindsight, I wish she had been introduced earlier in the season if only so we could have gotten a better idea of what she wanted and what she could do. But of course, that wouldn’t have worked because of the way the time jumps were going, so…
Speaking of time jumps. The emotional core of the entire finale is the FitzSimmons duo, who, as it turns out, have been orchestrating most of the events of seasons six and seven with masterful intricacy and a lot of help from time travel. As is explained in flashback, they both took off at the end of the season six finale and spent years perfecting a time machine design so they could eventually come back and save their friends. Fitz, whom we’ve been waiting for ages to show up again, finally reappears at the crucial midpoint of the finale and confirms that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually utilizing the same time travel logic from Avengers: Endgame – which states that going into the past creates divergent timelines, rather than changing the future. Amazingly, the Endgame tie-ins don’t end there. Not only does Fitz reference how time travel makes use of the subatomic Quantum Realm and explain that he’s been traveling the Realm all the time he’s been gone, examining different timelines to see which ones work in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s favor, but he actually takes the S.H.I.E.L.D. team through the Quantum Realm, along with the entire Chronicom fleet. This is all to make sure that the Agents get back to their original timeline and leave the other timelines mostly unscathed, but it has the added benefit of bringing the show closer to the MCU than it’s been in years.
Unfortunately, escaping the alternate timeline to return to the original one comes with consequences: one member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has to stay behind in the past to work the time machine apparatus, and that member is the rascally Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward), who offers himself up voluntarily. Deke has spent his entire time on the show trying to fit in, and he’s never truly belonged anywhere but the 1980’s. And, as he explains to the team, he’s kind of a rock and roll superstar in this alternate timeline. But that’s not his only task: with all of 80’s S.H.I.E.L.D. in chaos, Deke promises to step up to the challenge of becoming the organization’s new director, a title that definitely should not suit him as well as it does. Thankfully for him, he’ll get to work with a couple of agents who escaped the Chronicom attack on last week’s episode – including a younger but still instantly recognizable Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), who gets her long-overdue justice on her killer John Garrett (James Paxton) by shooting his younger version in the forehead.
Returning to the day of the season six finale and what should be the proper timeline, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are able to overcome both Chronicoms and Malick. This requires a slight detour to the ancient Mesoamerican temple where the season six finale took place, where we reunite with Piper (Brianna Venskus) and the Inhuman Flint (Coy Stewart), both of whom have hilarious interactions with the time-traveling FitzSimmons as they try to make sense of what’s going on – one of the funniest moments is when Piper, for whom only a few minutes have passed, asks whether or not all the commotion is being caused by the death goddess Izel (the season six big bad), and Simmons has to wrack her brain just to try and remember who that is. But Piper and Flint aren’t just there for laughs, being asked by Simmons to stand guard over a mysterious chamber while she and Fitz manage the whole time travel business. As we discover near the end of the episode, that chamber contains something incredibly precious to FitzSimmons: their daughter, Alya, named after the star system in which they hid for years, lived their lives and designed their time machine. Alya, who speaks with a Scottish accent clearly inherited from her father, is the reason why the fight is so personal for FitzSimmons, and she’s the perfect culmination of their incredible love story.
And on that point…culminations. The end for so many characters we’ve grown to love over the past several years. FitzSimmons, luckily, are the first ones to get their happy ending, and they even get to enjoy it twice – since by finale’s end, they’ve settled down in the current timeline, on Earth. The last scene of the finale follows the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team reuniting via hologram message at Enoch’s old hideout, the Swordfish bar, discussing old times, playfully teasing each other, and promising to stay in touch, with each eventually disconnecting and giving us a little glimpse into their new lives. FitzSimmons and little Alya are enjoying a picnic when we last see them, and they’ve never looked so happy. Their romance, which one seemed like a curse, has blossomed into something beautiful.
Mack and Yo Yo had the least to do in the finale overall, with Yo Yo only getting a couple of action scenes (standouts, nonetheless: that’s just how awesome she is), but their lives in the present day look fascinating. Mack is still director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he’s sporting a very Nick Fury-like coat as he strides about the deck of his helicarrier. Yo Yo, meanwhile, is on assignment with her own team, which includes Piper and Davis (Maximilian Osinski), who has been resurrected as an LMD. Yo Yo has one last incredible moment as she jumps out of the team’s car and speeds off down the road, her upgraded Inhuman powers giving her the ability to go wherever she wants and never have to “bounce back” any longer.
For Melinda May, her future involves a lot of hard work – but no longer as “The Cavalry” (a nickname she finally embraces near the end, putting aside the trauma she had formally attached to it). Instead, she now works as a teacher at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, which has been renamed the Coulson Academy and also seems to sport a daisy in its new logo. Flint is amongst her students, and May seems genuinely happy helping the next generation begin their training as agents. Some fans of the Philinda romantic coupling are upset that she and Coulson didn’t head off into the sunset together, and I get that, but I also feel like May’s new empathetic powers lend themselves well to the role of a teacher (besides which, her and Coulson are still giving each other meaningful looks in the closing minutes so maybe there’s still a spark between them?)
Eventually the series brings us back down to where it all began, with Coulson and Daisy. Their relationship is the real core of the whole story: it’s fitting that they get the last word. For Daisy, her future includes a journey into the depths of space alongside Daniel Sousa (they end up together, which is…fine, I guess), and Kora, with the intention of reaching out to alien races across the galaxy – almost like they’re Agents of S.W.O.R.D. or something. Those of us who still want Daisy Johnson in the MCU will continue to push for an Agents Of S.W.O.R.D. series that includes her in some capacity, and the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale has given us a tantalizing hint of how awesome it could be.
And as for LMD Coulson…who did NOT decide to power down or turn off completely, the future is looking bright. He’s taking some time to himself, traveling the world without any urgent plans, and he’s got a “cool” (the very last word spoken in the entire series) new flying Corvette modeled after his original car, Lola. A gift of Mack’s, the sci-fi vehicle allows Coulson to go out in an appropriately epic style, soaring over the streets of Washington D.C. and zipping away to destinations unknown. I was certain that Coulson would die this season, completing his cycle of death and rebirth, but this is a much more fitting end: after all, this whole series was started partly because of how much fans rallied behind the hashtag #CoulsonLives, after it seemed we had lost him forever in The Avengers. Coulson is, indeed, living his best life now.
And that’s the true beauty of this show. It’s always been about the fans. We’re not the biggest subsection of the Marvel fandom, but we’re passionate, we’re persistent, and we made it so much farther than anyone could have ever guessed. And in the end, I hope we’ll all keep in touch, just like the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – raise a toast to a spy’s goodbye for now, but somewhere down the line we might cross paths again. Maybe in the MCU, even, if we pressure Kevin Feige enough…
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.
Last night’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was an especially emotional one, as it marked the directorial debut of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Elizabeth Henstridge, who has played Dr. Jemma Simmons since the series’ very first season. But while it was the beginning of one joyous chapter for her career and a pivotal turning point in her character’s arc, it was also the end of another chapter of the show’s history, as we bade farewell to one of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s longtime fan favorites.
But on a happier note, let’s first discuss all the murders that took place!
The episode begins (well, technically, it begins several times, but this is the first time chronologically) with our team of agents having just escaped from the 1980’s, only to land themselves in a time storm that threatens to drag the Zephyr One into a swirling vortex of oblivion. The story luckily revolves around Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), who has been unfortunately sidelined throughout this season, as she has to try and survive through a series of time loops long enough to save the ship – and all her friends – from being wiped out of existence. But once Daisy begins to realize, after about a dozen or so time loops, that the key to getting out is somewhere in the mysterious memory implant embedded in Simmons’ neck, people start dying. These deaths are quickly reset with every successive time loop, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch as first Simmons, then Daisy, then most of the other Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., are brutally killed off. The killer is soon revealed to be Enoch (Joel Stoffer), who was programmed by Simmons to prevent anyone from removing the memory implant – which contains, among other things, the exact whereabouts of Leopold Fitz, Simmons’ husband and the mastermind behind the entire time-travel apparatus. The problem is that Simmons has no idea she did this because, well, that information is also stored inside the almost inaccessible implant, and she also has no idea how to countermand the programming. Thus, most of the middle section of the episode revolves around the S.H.I.E.L.D. team trying, unsuccessfully, to distract Enoch while Simmons and Daisy attempt to remove the implant. In one of the time loops, where Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) ends up being killed by the robot, we get this brilliant exchange from the survivors: “Do we have to be sad about that?”…“We do not.”
Meanwhile, even with all the death and destruction going on, Daisy finds time for a romantic interlude. Her and the team’s newest recruit, Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), locked lips somewhat spontaneously after Sousa admitted that some of his favorite people – Peggy Carter shoutout! – are people like Daisy. I have so many problems with the fact that Daisy is suddenly in another romantic relationship this season. We’ve been blissfully spared any such entanglements for the past few seasons, much to the benefit of Daisy’s character and the quality of the show overall. It’s not that I have a problem with romances but…well, I just have a problem with her romances. Why is it that every one she’s ever had, from her weird hacker boyfriend in season one to the cynical, scruffy Lincoln in seasons two to three, to whatever this thing is with Sousa, always feels like a rejected subplot from one of the lower quality CW shows? I had almost begun to hope that the showrunners themselves had figured this out as well, and had decided to steer clear of any more angsty romantic storylines for Daisy. Clearly, I was wrong, and now I’m prepared to be predictably disappointed when this relationship spirals down the drain in a couple of episodes. The internet is still working on a “ship name” for the couple: I’m sorry, but if I’m going to be stuck with this for the rest of the season, I’m at least demanding something catchier than “Daisysousa”.
Now that we’ve discussed the metaphorical death of my hopes for a single Daisy Johnson (or better yet, a bisexual Daisy Johnson who finds a loving and supportive girlfriend: even Chloe Bennet herself was open to the idea!), let’s talk about the real, physical death of Enoch.
It’s not entirely surprising that, as we near the end of the season and the series, we’re going to start seeing characters die – especially in a series like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has always found clever and exciting ways to incorporate themes of death and deathlessness into its writing. No matter how many people will criticize the series for constantly resurrecting its dead heroes, I will maintain that S.H.I.E.L.D. has always done so with the utmost care and attention to detail. Characters don’t just pop back up for no reason – the show always takes time to explain the feelings of horror, loneliness, guilt and anger that come with being resurrected: just ask Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who’s now been brought back from his peaceful afterlife far more times than he would have liked, or Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who had a near-death experience last season and came back as an emotionless shell of a human being who is still recovering from her trauma. But when the series really kills a character, they don’t fool around: and Enoch, I think, is absolutely and permanently dead.
Enoch, the eternally befuddled and unintentionally hilarious Chronicom who has been a constant companion of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the past two seasons, was written off the show last night with a heartwrenching (literally) death scene that involved a heroic self-sacrifice and more tears than one would think possible for a mostly stoic cyborg alien. Once the memory implant was finally removed from Simmons’ body, it revealed that the mechanism which powers Enoch’s entire system could save the Zephyr One – but removing it from Enoch would kill him. Fortunately for the fate of the universe and unfortunately for Enoch and our supply of Kleenex, the robot had no objections to handing over his heart. As he died, Daisy and Phil Coulson were both by his side: and Coulson, who has too much experience with this sort of thing, reminded him that death is lonelier for the people one leaves behind than for the person leaving. Don’t mind my sobs of pain and anguish.
Despite the emotions over losing Enoch, the tone of the episode’s last couple of minutes was dark and ominous rather than bittersweet. Just before his death, the cyborg dropped a major bombshell: this mission will be the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s last. That means no matter what happens, we now know something will happen in the next few episodes that will divide the team permanently. A death? A betrayal? A crisis? In this episode, we also saw Jemma Simmons briefly remember Fitz’s location (at least, I assume that’s why she started screaming and crying uncontrollably?) once her memory implant was removed before a time loop reset everything again: will she possibly retain that information? And even if she doesn’t, how long will it be before someone gets their hands on her and that crucial info? Keep in mind that the reason Simmons is so adamant on keeping that secret is because Fitz is apparently somewhere so vulnerable, the Chronicoms will be able to kill him immediately if they find out where he is. Additionally, the episode stinger revealed that rogue Inhuman Kora (Dianne Doan) is busily increasing her own powers, getting ready for her showdown with Daisy Johnson.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is creeping ever closer to its finale, putting the pressure on these next few episodes to start laying the groundwork for a climactic final battle of some sort, the resolutions to a dozen or so characters’ story arcs, and satisfying and conclusive answers to all the questions we still have about time travel, Chronicoms, and now – because apparently this final season wasn’t already getting dangerously overcrowded enough – Inhumans.
To be clear, I like Inhumans a lot. Since their introduction in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second season, they’ve been a constant presence in the show: the series’ protagonist, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) herself is one, and in the third season we added another, Elena “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), to the team. But both characters have moved somewhat to the sidelines over the last season, and as a result we rarely even hear the word “Inhuman” tossed around anymore – which may also have something to do with the poor reception to the Inhumans spinoff show. This week, that’s changed: the team has to make a quick detour in Afterlife, the Inhuman hub of activity deep within the Himalaya Mountains, and encounters several new superpowered characters as well as younger versions of ones we already know and love (or hate: mostly hate). In any other season, I would probably have welcomed this subplot, which gives us a chance to revisit one of the series’ best stories: but in this season, I think the showrunners and writers might be biting off a bit more than they can chew. The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. already have to deal with the Chronicoms, Sibyl the Predictor, Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan), HYDRA, and the consequences of their time-traveling antics – now, we’ve suddenly added an entirely new Inhuman threat to their long list of antagonists (oh, and apparently Daisy has an evil sibling from another timeline, which is…a twist, I guess).
The reason for our return to Afterlife revolves around the character of Yo Yo, who has been struggling for a while now to regain her own Inhuman powers – which mysteriously vanished soon after she was infected by the Shrike parasite last season. This week, her ability to run super fast and “bounce back” to the place she started from finally has a chance to come in handy: the time machine that the Agents have been using to navigate the Marvel universe is malfunctioning, and moving too quickly for anyone to get near it and shut it down. On a good day, this would have been an easy job for Yo Yo – but this time around, it requires her and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) to leave the relative safety of the Zephyr One and head off to Afterlife, following the advice of Daisy: who, to be fair, is technically correct that the Inhumans there will know how to help, but also overlooks the many things that could go very wrong if they disrupt the timeline – specifically, the possibility that she could cease to exist if something happens to her Inhuman mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), the leader and protector of Afterlife’s citizens.
There are many good things that come about as a result of this detour: we get to see a (slightly) more lovable Jiaying, who in this timeline hasn’t yet been ripped to pieces and stitched back together by Nazi doctors; we’re introduced to a knife-wielding warrior named Li who is briefly yet brilliantly portrayed by Byron Mann; and best of all, we are privy to some of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s best comedic banter as Jiaying instructs May – notorious for her grim, cynical attitude – to lead Yo Yo on an emotional journey with the power of incense, meditation and physical contact. I love when this show gets funny: and watching May and Yo Yo try to figure out their own method of physical contact that doesn’t involve any actual physical contact (“Do I have to be this close to her face?,” May wonders aloud at one point) is both hilarious and strangely heartwarming. It feels very much like an episode straight out of a past (and perhaps better) season, with a multitude of clever details in the writing that hark back to when this show was some of the best television on the air – for instance, when Yo Yo has to hold a Diviner to prove she’s an Inhuman, but realizes she can’t use her prosthetic hand to do so; or when May and Yo Yo sort out their aforementioned embarrassing predicament with good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. This is a very good episode, so it’s a shame it’s trying to do so much with so little time.
The big twist is that rogue HYDRA agent Nathaniel Malick has discovered Afterlife, and plans to capture Inhumans and basically torture their powers out of them and into himself. Malick invades Afterlife in a disappointingly low-budget raid with the help of Kora (Dianne Doan), a rebellious and underappreciated pupil of Jiaying’s who is also, apparently, the daughter of the Inhuman leader – which makes her Daisy Johnson’s sister. I didn’t know that Daisy needed a long-lost sister this late in the game, but apparently she’s getting one whether she wants one or not. Malick runs into Kora and stops her before she can commit suicide (in a very cunning touch, he uses the little bit of Daisy’s powers that he stole to remotely disassemble Kora’s gun): Malick manipulates the young woman’s fragile emotions and quickly recruits her to his cause – her, and her impressive powerset, which allows her to create weird glowing golden spirals out of thin air. It’s set up fairly well (when we first meet Kora, she’s already trying to escape from Afterlife), but it still feels a bit too rushed, especially since we don’t really have any attachment to Kora before her turn to the dark side and now we’ll probably only get to see her as Daisy’s evil sister, whom I’m sure will have to confront her sibling in an epic duel, etc., etc. You know how it goes.
As for Yo Yo…well, there’s a lot going on with her. Turns out, she’s been holding herself back all this time – and I mean all this time. Since she was first introduced, her power has always been to “bounce back” – I mean, it’s literally where she got her quirky nickname. But as she discovers during her emotional journey with May, she’s never actually needed to bounce back. This is something I feel deeply conflicted about: the fact that she can now just run super fast without limitations is very exciting, but it does make her seem a little too much like every other speedster superhero we’ve seen before. Another crucial element of her character, her metal arms, was also conveniently hidden away earlier this season when she got a new, upgraded pair of lifelike prosthetics that make it easy to forget how life-changing the loss of her arms was for her, and how she became such an icon for people with disabilities who were inspired by Yo Yo’s ability to bounce back after trauma and loss – the very same ability she’s now given up. Yo Yo is clearly supposed to be going through a transformation, but she’s not becoming any more interesting or unique with each of these changes. I still love her, and I can’t wait to see what the next step of her journey will be, but I’m more worried than ever that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is forgetting part of what makes this character so beloved in the fandom.
What makes it worse is that, when all is said and done and Afterlife has been vanquished by Malick’s forces and Jiaying is in hiding and the timeline has been completely and utterly disrupted, Yo Yo’s new powers still don’t help to save the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. from being sucked into some sort of new catastrophe – a time storm that, by the looks of the trailer for next week’s episode, threatens to put the agents on an endless loop. The good news? Next week’s episode also looks like it will be Daisy-centric, finally reconnecting us with the series’ protagonist after what feels like an infuriatingly long time in the background.
Any story set in the 1980’s has to feature at least a little rock and roll, and the latest episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no exception: even while murderous robots are prowling the Lighthouse in search of targets and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s digitized enemies are plotting their comeback, it’s hard not to feel at ease with some classic tunes blasting in the background. This is a mostly light-hearted and fun episode of the long-running Marvel series – at least until the aforementioned robots reveal their extensive catalog of weaponry (including circular saws, drills, laser beams, etc) and start killing people in the hallways of S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, leading to a very unsettling game of cat-and-mouse in the dark.
I was hesitant at first, because we pick up right where we left off with Director Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) stuck in the 1980’s while the Zephyr One – and the rest of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – zip off to a new time and place without them, and almost immediately we watch as Mack, riddled with feelings of grief and guilt over the death of his parents in last week’s episode, turns to the same methods of coping that Thor did in Avengers: Endgame; stress eating, drinking, failing to take care of himself. But while I was initially worried that, much like how Thor’s grief process was made the butt of several unfortunate jokes in Endgame, Mack’s process would similarly be played for laughs, that wasn’t the case at all. There are no jokes or rude comments aimed at Mack, at least not by characters aware of what’s he going through: there’s only love, understanding and concern, which is exactly what I wanted to see from the other Avengers when they greeted Thor after his five-year long absence. And shockingly it’s Deke Shaw who manages to coax Mack back out into the world.
Now, I’ve never liked Deke Shaw. When he was first introduced in the fifth season, he felt like a cheap, even boring, Star Lord knock-off – and I already don’t like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Star Lord. He’s had some cool moments and a lot of clever, funny moments during his time on the show. But this is the first time that he’s ever felt truly important to the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. team: while Mack is off the grid, it’s Deke who becomes the leader at the Lighthouse, successfully reconstructing Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and translating him over to a massive computer on wheels, while still finding time to organize a band. Without having to sacrifice any of his unique character traits, Deke has quickly become one of the final season’s most valuable players.
Mack and Deke are joined on their 80’s jaunt by a strange group of new agents: Olga (Jolene Andersen), a Russian Annie Lennox-lookalike with a talent for blowing things up; Tommy and Ronnie (John and Matt Yuan, respectively), twin brothers who come off as thinly-drawn caricatures rather than actual characters; and Roxy Glass (Tipper Newton), who gets stuck with Mack during the robot invasion – that’s not really a personality trait, but it’s all she’s got. There are a couple other new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as well, but their purpose is solely to be murdered by robots.
Speaking of which, it’s time for a hot take: the robots in this episode, who are basically Daleks (they literally scream “Exterminate!” at one point) with sawblades, are actually better antagonists than all of the Chronicoms we’ve seen in this season so far. Yes, they’re still technically controlled by one Chronicom in particular, the Predictor Sibyl (Tamara Taylor), but she’s just an automated voice for most of the episode, until the very end when it’s revealed that her brain or consciousness or something has been installed in a computer similar to Coulson’s new lodging. Like Coulson, who gets promised a new human body by the other Agents, I’m sure that Sibyl and her Hunters will have new forms soon enough: but for the moment, I’m enjoying this respite. The robots were actually pretty terrifying, and were responsible for some of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s most shocking and gruesome killings in a very long time.
Getting back to that end-credits stinger, however, we have to address the elephant in the room – or should I say, the Malick in the room. Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan) is revealed to still be alive, even after the incident last week where he was trapped under the collapsing roof of his underground lair. He’s back on Daisy Johnson’s trail, intent on draining her of all her Inhuman abilities – I still have a lot of questions about how much of her power he was able to steal, but it’s probably enough to make him a viable opponent in the near future. With Sibyl’s help, he’ll be able to track down the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in no time at all.
For Mack and Deke, the end of their 80’s adventure comes with some bittersweet emotions. Mack gets to briefly meet a younger version of himself, and slowly begins to heal from the trauma of his parents’ death. Deke comes into his own and discovers a warrior (and fairly talented vocalist) within himself. So even though this episode took us away from the main plotline briefly, I’m glad we got to see it: it gave me a lot of the character development I’ve been looking for from this season – and, of course, rock and roll music, which is never not a good thing.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally gave us some answers to some of the burning questions we’ve had since the final season premiere – and at least some of them were actually helpful. If you were wondering what the Chronicom shape-shifters actually want with the Earth, or where Leopold Fitz is in all this chaos, then you’re in luck. If, like me, you were hoping for answers to both these questions that actually feel like answers instead of further riddles to unravel, then you may still have some waiting to do before you actually get what you’re looking for – especially since next week’s episode, by the looks of the teaser trailer, is going to be completely focused on Director Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward).
Many of the answers we got this week come from an epic confrontation between Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the being who seems to be the leader of the Chronicom invasion force, a woman known as Sibyl (Tamara Taylor), who calls herself a “Predictor”. Her powers aren’t quite as simple as one would expect: she can’t see the future, but she can see what actions need to be taken in the past to lead to any given future (I think). Coulson and her actually get to have a pretty interesting conversation, despite the fact that she’s not so much an exposition-dump as an exposition-landfill, basically overflowing with information on every topic. For instance, what do the Chronicoms actually want? According to Sibyl, their grand scheme to wipe out the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and conquer Earth isn’t anything personal: they just want to ensure the survival of their species. Of course, that’s in character for a group of sentient aliens who have been shown to be completely devoid of human emotions, but it doesn’t really make for an interesting villain origin story – and Sibyl doesn’t ever explain why they’re only going after S.H.I.E.L.D. and not, you know, the Avengers or something. Nor does she stop to clarify why Earth, out of all the planets in the universe, is the only one where the Chronicoms can live. I was partially hoping she and Coulson would be able to strike up a deal to take down HYDRA together – but that doesn’t seem likely, since HYDRA took a backseat this week and may not come back to the forefront for a while.
Even Nathaniel Malick (Thomas Sullivan), the son of HYDRA leader Wilfred Malick, reveals that he has his own agenda that has nothing to do with his father’s organization. No, his motivation for kidnapping Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) in last week’s episode is pure selfishness: he wants to harvest Daisy’s Inhuman powers for himself, and he’s also come to the mistaken conclusion that Sousa is an Inhuman because he doesn’t age. Last week’s stinger, revealing that the younger Malick was in contact with nightmarish Nazi doctor Daniel Whitehall (an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. antagonist from the series’ second season), gave me very high expectations: only for me to be slightly underwhelmed this week, when Whitehall was a no-show and Malick only got to wield Daisy’s quaking abilities for a couple of seconds before bringing the roof of his secret lair down on top of himself. But his storyline wasn’t a complete disappointment: Sullivan makes the most out of his small amount of screentime, giving Malick a vibrant, if dangerously unstable, personality; Daniel Sousa gets an opportunity to open up to Daisy while they’re both imprisoned, comforting her with wartime stories; and now there’s some doubt as to whether Daisy has any of her powers left – though if that’s the case, and such a momentous event in Daisy’s life was handled mostly offscreen by a one-and-done minor antagonist, I’ll be very angry: this season has already forcibly depowered “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), and I’m not keen on the idea of another woman having her powers taken from her without her consent.
The only character who has gotten a power upgrade this season is Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), whose ability to read and imitate peoples’ emotions (or lack thereof) is becoming very useful indeed, allowing her to identify Chronicoms and other enemies just by touching them. But this new power comes at a terrible cost: the complete loss of May’s own emotions. I’m still conflicted on how I feel about this: back when Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had twenty-two episodes in every season, a story arc like this might have had plenty of time and space to expand, and I might have really enjoyed it – in a season that only has thirteen episodes, six of which we’ve now plowed through, I don’t know whether May’s character arc will receive the screentime it desperately needs.
On that point, let’s discuss another subplot that needs to be more adequately explored: Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and her memory issues. Last week’s episode sparked several theories that Simmons, who appeared to have some sort of device plugged into the back of her neck, might be a Chronicom or LMD (Life Model Decoy), but it has now been revealed that that device, which for some reason is nicknamed “Diana”, is simply meant to suppress Simmons’ memories of Fitz. Specifically, her memory of where he is, a question that fans have been asking since he vanished last season. Simmons tells Deke that Fitz is in an exposed location, and that if the Chronicoms find out they’ll kill him – so in an effort to protect her lover’s life, Simmons has removed most of her memories of him and placed them in “Diana”, where she hopes they’ll be secure. This, obviously, doesn’t actually answer the question of where Fitz is, but I’m sure we’ll find that out when the Chronicoms inevitably hack into “Diana” and extract Simmons’ memories.
The Chronicoms are becoming ever so slightly more interesting as the season progresses, this week entering a new phase of their evolution: now, rather than just being able to steal faces, they can also steal personalities. This does make them more formidable, but it also essentially just turns them into LMD’s, which we already dealt with several seasons ago. Until we get to see them actually adapt into three-dimensional characters, I will continue to say that the Chronicoms are the weakest part of this season, which has up until this point proven to be pretty good.
But let’s see what happens. As I mentioned earlier, it looks like next week’s episode will follow Mack and Deke (who got separated from the rest of the team and are now stuck in the 70’s, where they must spend a considerable amount of time, considering that next week’s teaser trailer shows them in the 80’s, Mack now sporting a sizable beard and Deke wearing something indescribably hideous), but when we reunite with the rest of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I expect to have clear answers to a number of my own questions: does Daisy still have her powers? Did LMD Coulson actually get destroyed in the explosion he set off under the Lighthouse to destroy the Chronicom hunters, or will he be back, as May confidently assured her teammates? Will HYDRA return as well? How will the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. learn to adapt to their next problem? Only time will tell.