Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.

Yes, I have been watching a lot of Doctor Who recently, but I suspect that the good people behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might have as well. We can go all the way back to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells when we look at the role of time travel in fiction, or fresher examples like The Terminator and Back to the Future in introducing some totally nutso paradoxes and time travel hijinx—but it was really Steven Moffat’s contributions to the British sci-fi show that showed how time travel can have an emotional effect on the characters. Look no further in S.H.I.E.L.D. than the relationship between Robin and May.

There’s actually something quite beautiful about it—we know from the heart-breaking episode “Melinda” just how May “earned” her nickname The Cavalry, but at the cost of her losing any desire to be a mother. But through these flashbacks (flashforwards?), we see that May has become the primary maternal figure for young Robin.

It takes a bit of time (heh) to wrap our heads around these flashes, but it is fairly evident that they are flashbacks for Robin and flashforwards for team S.H.I.E.L.D. They are characterized by a completely dire tone—Yo-Yo and Fitz especially have completely lost hope, with implications of terrible fates for Mack and (eventually) Simmons (and where is Coulson during these flashes?). Somehow, someway, freaking Melinda May is the only optimistic one out of the bunch, something that first appears to be out of character, even in this own contained episode, with May scowling and not even reciprocating Coulson’s brief attempts at flirting.

So why is May all gong-ho in her personal future? Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. Call it a bootstrap paradox if you will, but future May plants the idea of hope into young Robin, for old Robin to feed to past May in her dying moments. Considering that May’s trauma stems from her experience with a young, female Inhuman who couldn’t be controlled, it meant so much that May took on the role as Robin’s mother. If you didn’t feel anything during this entire storyline, God help you.

Meanwhile in the Zephyr, we’re introduced to a cool new “post apocalyptic Eagle Scout” named Voss—but we eventually learn that he isn’t so cool after all. While I’m wondering why he and his crew didn’t just straight up murder team S.H.I.E.L.D. instantly upon their arrival, he (indirectly) provided our agents with some key pieces of information, namely the machine that brought them to the future, and the pieces of the Monolith that they now have to conduct a scavenger hunt for. Unfortunately, we learn that Sneaky Deke-y’s father is probably no longer with us, but the fact that we didn’t see him right away (plus, the dialogue implying his eventual “return” really telegraphed it) signaled that this was too good to be true.

Back in the Lighthouse, the show finally follows up on Deke’s warnings in the earlier episode that the innocent human inhabitants of this camp would be punished for the antics of team S.H.I.E.L.D. And boy, did we see them here. It’s a straight up extermination, orchestrated as petty revenge from the cowardly Kasius. While Mack and Yo-Yo being away from the A-plot is a minor bug, we at least got some awesome Yo-Yo action from it, and the seeds of revolution are being planted for all of these plot points to eventually converge. While these Lighthouse inhabitants are unimportant to the whole grand story, remember that S.H.I.E.L.D. has emphasized a lot this season that they’re all about saving people.

This episode solidified Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. of being the superior superhero show when it comes to both storytelling complexity and emotional resonance. Eat your heart out, The Flash.


VERDICT

4.5 Monolith pieces out of 5. This is a complex episode that succeeds not only in advancing this season’s plot, but the long term character development of May. Well done.

ONE-SHOTS

  • The status of Robin essentially experiencing all of time in a non-linear fashion really recalls the recent film Arrival (which co-stars Jeremy Renner).
  • “The last time we were all seen together” -> someone’s gon’ die. As long as they don’t overhype it like in the last arc of season three.
  • This season is really into 360 degree camera shots.
  • It wasn’t meant to be a gag, but for some reason I laughed at characters manually sliding the Zephyr doors.
  • “Doesn’t the axe make it harder to shoot?”
  • I wonder if they’ll ever address the fact that if they do indeed change the future, that some of these people straight up won’t exist anymore.
  • Oh good, more Lost in Translation mysterious whispering.
  • Flint is clearly the key here—perhaps he’ll help to find the Monolith pieces, or maybe he has a role in the destruction of Earth? (Or maybe he’ll reverse it?) I imagine the Gravitonium has to come back here as well.

Leaving this out for discussion, but how do you envision the rest of this season’s structure to be like? These don’t appear to be the distinct pods of the last season, and it looks like our agents will still be stuck in the future for a couple of more episodes. What do y’all predict in the long term?