Saturday, December 2, 2017

Outside All Expectation Of Continuity, "Orientation, Part 2" Undermines Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Acting is all right, Special effects/direction are competent
The Bad: Massive continuity issues, Character issues, Simple plot that does not actually go anywhere
The Basics: "Orientation, Part 2" caps off the fifth season premiere of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a laundry list of problems that the viewer can pretty much figure will be undone by the season finale.

Long gone are the days where Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the logical partner show to the Captain America films. No longer a spy show, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has settled into being a pretty straightforward science fiction program, whatwith the lack of adversaries like H.Y.D.R.A., A.I.M., and other spy groups that might use intelligence to attempt to gain technology and military might the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nowhere is the departure from the old formula for what Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was more clear than in the fifth season premiere, "Orientation, Part 1."

"Orientation, Part 1" (reviewed here!) continues with "Orientation, Part 2" and the two episodes aired originally back-to-back. "Orientation, Part 2" picks up the events of "Orientation, Part 1," which found the Agents (formerly of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Coulson, May, Johnson, Simmons, Rodriguez and Mackenzie on a space station. The problem is that "Orientation, Part 1" existed almost entirely to establish the setting and build to a last-moment revelation that is explored in "Orientation, Part 2." As such, it is impossible to discuss "Orientation, Part 2" without spoiling the last moment of the first half of the season premiere.

"Orientation, Part 2" is instantly hampered by the troubling notion at the climax of "Orientation, Part 1." At its climax, the various groups of Agents recognized that the monolith through which they passed teleported them through time, instead of space. One of the last shots of "Orientation, Part 1" was of the shattered remnant of Earth looming near the station. And while that might seem like a huge problem for the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it is a debilitating problem for the fans who have stuck with the show for more than four years. After all, fans of the show will quickly hearken back to the third season episode "Spacetime" (reviewed here!) to recall that changing the past is not an option for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Seeing a vision of the future, Daisy was told - and the season played out - that there was no way to change the events of the vision because such visions were merely perceptions of immutable events. So, the idea that Earth is doomed for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might seem like a compelling problem, save that it is crushed by two serious issues: 1. to save Earth, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will have to break its own rules concerning the physics of time travel (unless Doctor Strange makes an unlikely appearance to bend those rules) and 2. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists within a larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that requires the Earth to keep on going.

Suspension of disbelief that the Earth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to be ended on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is far too much to handle. As a result, "Orientation, Part 2" begins with viewers having the absolute certainty that one of two things will happen: the space station upon which the Agents have found themselves will be found to be in the vastly distant future (i.e. after all ties to the rest of the MCU have faded, with the destruction happening well after the Marvel Cinematic Universe is done with its barrage of super hero stories) or the whole point of the fifth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be how the Agents prevent the destruction of Earth. Regardless, "Orientation, Part 2" opens at a point at which the suspension of disbelief is entirely shot: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is stuck along a predictable path that either must divorce the show from anything else the viewers care about in the franchise or undo its own, belabored, setting and problem.

Aboard the trawler, May and Simmons start to spiral out of control. To save their lives, Simmons turns off the ship and when it repowers, May is able to steer it. They return to the station, where Coulson confirms their suspicions. Deke starts freaking out, especially when Tess shows up and questions where Virgil is. Coulson starts to interrogate Tess about what happened to Earth. After the Earth was destroyed, the Kree arrived to establish order among the human survivors of the cataclysm. Tess brings Coulson back to Virgil's quarters where he finds artifacts from Coulson's time period.

When May and Simmons explore the lower areas, a man stabs another man. Simmons draws the attention of one of the Kree overlords when she treats the man's wounds. While the rest of the agents try to figure out how to get Simmons back and how to get information from Deke, Simmons is brought to Kasius, the station's leader. Daisy discovers that Deke has built his own version of the Framework, which she inserts herself into. When Rodriguez manages to steal a Kree tablet, Coulson uses the tablet to get him, Rodriguez and Mack "camouflage" in the form of installed trackers. Grill vouches for Coulson and saves his life, but in the process essentially makes Coulson his slave. When Simmons's meeting with Kasius takes a bad turn, Daisy learns a disturbing truth about the destruction of Earth.

"Orientation, Part 2" continues to belabor the establishment of the setting for this new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The nature of the Lighthouse Station is explored, with food drops and a weird caste system by which some humans appear to be collaborating with the Kree. "Orientation, Part 2" shows off the dank setting of the Lighthouse, with most of the characters being entirely separated from technology. Outside the fact that the building in which the Agents find themselves being a space station, the setting is more akin to the Dark Ages with alien overlords than the distant future.

The setting of the Lighthouse is a fairly distinct one and unique within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition to a caste system that separates the humans and the Kree, the Kree have a blood sport based on humans who fail to earn enough tokens in their economic system. The Lighthouse is brutal and filthy. "Orientation, Part 2" features a decent attention to detail in its setting; Tess notes that the new arrivals have matching buttons, which is an uncommon trait in this dark future.

Simmons's position in "Orientation, Part 2" is arguably the most horrific. Simmons, who has long been a character who is an almost absolute good, continues to use scientific methodology to attempt to figure out where and when the team is. It is her core goodness that leads Simmons to make what is a terrible mistake within the context of this twisted setting; saving a human life. The result gives Simmons - and the viewer - a very different perspective from the Coulson and Johnson portions of the story.

Sadly, the discovery of a Framework in this future - how did Deke, who doesn't seem all that bright, reconstruct the Framework when its coding came apart completely in the fourth season finale?! - sets Daisy Johnson on her course and the course of the season. "Orientation, Part 2" lays the framework for how the fifth season must go; Daisy Johnson must make it back to her original time and her actions after that point must be changed in order to save Earth. The problem here is that "Orientation, Part 2" establishes a "simple problem, simple solution" for the narrative of the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: assuming Deke is right about the cause of the Earth's destruction, Daisy need only die in order to save Earth. If Daisy never goes back to her time, nothing she does after returning could have led to the destruction of Earth. Kill Daisy and the whole tangent timeline would collapse.

"Orientation, Part 2" creates a purposely disturbing vision of the future, but the problem viewers are likely to have is that none of the new characters introduced - Kasius, his lieutenant who wields a weapon instantly reminiscent of Yondu's arrow, Deke, and Grill - are good. They are miserable, mean-spirited people and they are no fun to watch. Tess has the potential to be a good person who might actually be a friend to the familiar protagonists, but she's not quite there in "Orientation, Part 2." Ultimately, the new characters in "Orientation, Part 2" make it feel right away like the heroes of the show are hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded in a situation that puts humanity on the verge of extinction. While that could be a compellingly disadvantageous position from which as show could work, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is handicapped by its own connection to a larger franchise. It's hard to buy that the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could possibly meet any form of tragic end when - for example - casting for the third season of Daredevil was announced just yesterday.

Phil Coulson is diminished through much of "Orientation, Part 2." Mack continues to be resourceful, intuitive and smart. Mack finds himself giving orders that make sense and essentially takes charge of Coulson's team. Mack has a much clearer sense of just how surrounded and how ignorant the temporal refugees actually are. While Mack steps up, he quietly undermines Coulson's authority or usefulness. Mack and Simmons move most of the key plot moments of "Orientation, Part 2."

Ultimately, "Orientation, Part 2" has the feeling of being a bedrock episode where the setting is being so eagerly fleshed out that the story that is utilizing that setting is being developed in a problematic and poor way.

For other recent events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my reviews of:
"Virtue Of The Vicious" - The Punisher
Thor: Ragnarok
Inhumans - Season 1


For other Marvel Cinematic Universe television or movie reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a relativistic listing!

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