Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ignoring The Conceits, "A Life Spent" Builds The Dark Future Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Well!

The Good: Decent performances, Good plot progression and pacing, Moments of character development
The Bad: Predictable plot reversals - especially with Abby
The Basics: "A Life Spent" progresses the story of the various Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in their dark future as they try to piece together what life is like on the Lighthouse and how they might save the Earth.

If viewers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. were to actually believe the events of the two-part season premiere for the show's fifth season, Earth is destroyed and most of the familiar Agents are now in a distant future. The season's direction has become clear by the time "A Life Spent," the season's third episode, begins: the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are destined to return to the present from the distant future and participate in events that should restore Earth. The idea that the Earth could be destroyed on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a preposterous one given the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for viewers who decide to play along with the conceit, the season progresses in "A Life Spent."

"A Life Spent" follows on "Orientation, Part 2" (reviewed here!), which found the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - less Fitz - trapped on one of the last human outposts in the debris field which is Earth in the distant future. There, most of the Agents have become indentured to the mercenary Grill, Simmons has become a geisha working for the Kree overlord Kaius, and Daisy and Yo-Yo have the potential to be hunted like animals if ever their status as Inhumans is revealed. The facility upon which the Agents find themselves is dark, dank, and dangerous and they have very few allies among the humans, who are now an endangered species living under the heel of the Kree who swept in after Earth's cataclysm.

Kasius greets an emissary on the Lighthouse from Basha, who is concerned about an impending ceremony. When there is conflict between Kasius and the representative, the Kree leader turns to Simmons for aid. In the bowels of the Lighthouse, Coulson, Rodriguez and Mack slave away for Grill while Coulson tries to decipher the notebook he found of Virgil's. Daisy Johnson searches with Deke for her friends, living in denial that she might be the cause of the Earth's destruction. May and Tess spring Coulson and Mack for some dangerous work on the trawler, leaving Rodriguez to try to steal scrolls out of Grill's office. On the other levels, Simmons encounters Abby, an Inhuman who is anxious about showing off her abilities in order to escape the Lighthouse. Simmons realizes that Abby has the ability to consciously change her molecular density!

On the trawler, Coulson and May search for a chunk of Earth that is noted frequently in the journal. En route, Grill's man on the trawler attacks the team and they are forced to retaliate, much to Tess's chagrin. But soon, the ship discovers a transmission nearby that appears to be coming from the surface of the Earth. Abby is put into the ring against Lady Basha's champion and it is only with Simmons's help that the Inhuman girl manages to survive. When Grill's man instantly turns on the trawler crew, it is up to Rodriguez to save them!

"A Life Spent" does a decent job of reminding viewers of the skills and relationships of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Simmons is a medical doctor and her training and experience got her into trouble in the prior episode; in "A Life Spent," she uses her medical knowledge, S.H.I.E.L.D. training and experience with the Inhumans to try to save Abby's life. Simmons is guided by compassion and that comes through in the way she treats Abby. Elizabeth Henstridge does a decent job of emoting with only her facial expressions when Simmons is forced to watch Abby get pummeled. Director Kevin Hooks does a good job with keeping the audio and visual distortions Simmons is suffering through consistent and unsettling.

The real heroes in "A Life Spent" are the Inhumans. Rodriguez earns her place on the full team by stealing Grill's scrolls, getting them to Johnson and ultimately coming to the aid of her team. Rodriguez proves in "A Life Spent" that she does not only move fast, she thinks fast and the result is satisfying, if unfortunately predictable, television. At the other end of the spectrum, Daisy Johnson turns on Deke and does her best to get to Simmons, in the process outing herself as an Inhuman. Johnson's arc feels much more like filler in "A Life Spent," but with it comes the promise that her arc might actually go somewhere in the subsequent episodes.

While the discovery of a signal from Earth offers real potential for future storylines and exploration of this dark tangent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the episode's truly exceptional moment comes from one of the most simple scenes. May and Coulson reconnect and in their exchange of dialogue they completely rekindle their chemistry and the potential they had of advancing their relationship. When Coulson places his hand on May's shoulder, it is the most intimate moment of the new season and it is filmed by Hooks in a way that highlights the very basic connection between the two characters. It's nice to see.

On the performance front, "A Life Spent" is fine, but most of the performers are playing familiar characters and they do not show off anything in this episode that we have not seen from them before. They are solid in their roles and they help to move the plot forward at a respectable pace.

"A Life Spent" is the first episode of the fifth season that illustrates that, regardless of how ridiculous the notion is that the setting might not simply be undone by the end of the season, the journey in this horrible place might actually be worth investing in!

For other works with Pruitt Taylor Vince, please visit my reviews of:
True Blood - Season 6
Beautiful Creatures
The Walking Dead - Season 2
The Cell


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a comprehensive listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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