Friday, January 19, 2018

The Ballad Of May And Robin Plays Out On "The Last Day"

The Good: Good performances, Decent special effects and direction
The Bad: Simplistic plot, Plot-heavy, Creates even more continuity issues, Light on character development
The Basics: "The Last Day" brings Robin to a relevant place in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but muddies the story of the fifth season even more.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a weird television series. Almost every season, the show takes a decent portion of the season to get going. The show usually starts a season off going in one direction, takes a significant turn several episodes in, and then comes together in the last few episodes. The fifth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken a bit longer to get going because its premise forces the viewer to live in denial of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (by believing that, in our time, the Earth could be destroyed) and because to rectify its current plotline and problems, it has to contradict its own, established, tenants - the episode "Spacetime" (reviewed here!) established that for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. time travel is not actually possible, or that it is not possible to change the future even if it is witnessed in advance. So, fans of the show, who have some sense of precedent from the prior seasons, are likely to have hung in until "The Last Day," which shows all of the telltale signs of moving the season from its initial plotline into its secondary, longer plot (i.e. what the season will truly be about).

"Together Or Not At All" (reviewed here!) led directly into "The Last Day" as the fugitive Agents in the future, encountered Robin Hinton. Hinton, ironically-enough, was introduced in "Spacetime" when the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. rules about time travel were established. After Robin's father - an actual clairvoyant Inhuman - was killed, Robin's family was provided for by Daisy and she was integral to helping Fitz determine what had happened to the other Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. "The Last Day" does a decent job of recharacterizing Robin as a vital and surprisingly well-rounded character.

In 2018, Zephyr One is flying with Robin aboard, when she predicts that they will survive a crash when it encounters a gravity storm. In the future, May interviews Robin and is thrilled when her friends crash in the traller nearby. Deke meets with Samuel Voss, another fugitive living in the wreckage of the zephyr and protecting Robin. On the Lighthouse, Kasius discovers that there are humans still living on the surface of Earth and he sends Sinara after Quake. Kasius sets the humans on the Lighthouse against one another by cutting the power after he cuts the water, to turn the humans against Flint. Robin predicts to Coulson that this is the final day.

Mack, Rodriguez, and Flint head to Level 3, despite the "roaches" to recover weapons and supplies that Fitz left there. On the Zephyr, Fitz and Simmons discover the device that allowed humans in the future to activate the portal that brought most of the Agents to the future. Robin remembers a very different future; one where the world is destroyed and May takes care of her. While Rodriguez goes to fight the Kree, May keeps care of Robin. When Voss gives the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents a fragment of the monolith that brought them to the future, Deke becomes suspicious of how he obtained it. Voss reveals that he believes that the way to save the future is to kill Daisy.

"The Last Day" is a plot-heavy episode, which is pretty much necessary to putting together the pieces of the season's prior episodes. "The Last Day" features flashbacks that are tough for fans to truly get behind. In order for the flashbacks in 2018 and 2022 to make any sense, one has to acknowledged right away that they take place in a tangent timeline. In that tangent timeline, Fitz, Simmons, and May survive Zephyr One's crash - and the end of the world - with Robin and they leave the blueprints behind for a time machine that will allow the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in the distant future to return to the past. The issue, for those watching this season, is that for one to become emotionally invested in the storyline, one has to wrestle with the fact that Fitz is being shown alive and active in the past when he would have been in cryogenic stasis.

The technical aspect of "The Last Day" is actually a pretty simple concept: in the original timeline, the Agents were not abducted in the diner and sent to the future, so time went in one direction, which led to the end of the world and the subsequent Kree enslavement. When Enoch led a team to send the Agents into the future, it created, essentially, a temporal loop. In breaking the tangent timeline, the viewer has to believe that the team makes it back to prevent the events that lead to the destruction of the Earth. Unfortunately, near the end of the episode, it is made clear that the events Robin recalls occur with versions of the Agents who had returned from the future. That makes a mess out of the whole temporal loop.

Coulson is restored in a very real way to be the leader of his S.H.I.E.L.D. team in "The Last Day," but the real character arc comes from May and Robin. In the flashbacks, it becomes clear early on that May saves Robin from the end of the world. Given that Robin's mother is not present in any of the flashbacks, it is fairly obvious that May becomes her caretaker. That is an interesting twist for May's character; she has loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. but never to any people to the extent shown in "The Last Day." Lacking any institutions or causes, it fits May's character nicely that she would actually become determined to keep one person, like Robin, alive.

Ming-Na Wen has great on-screen chemistry with both Willow Hale and Ava Kolker, who play Robin at various ages. Their on-screen chemistry helps to adequately sell the transitions in May's life as being realistic and reasonable.

Throughout "The Last Day" is a b-plot that features Rodriguez and Mack liberating the Lighthouse from the roaches and then freeing the people there. There's a poignancy to that subplot that is lost by not seeing Yo-Yo's fate on-screen in the "original" timeline. Rodriguez goes off to fight the Kree while May advocates for waiting it out on the miserable future. Presumably, Kasius and the first Kree slaughter those who fight, but Rodriguez liberating the humans in the future she tried to prevent would have played more powerfully had the viewer seen how she died trying to prevent the horrible future.

Ultimately, "The Last Day" prepares the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to return to the past to stop this tangent future and the pieces are in place for it. Unfortunately, because it appears that returning to the past will only close the loop - Voss notes that Quake went off to destroy the world, even after seeing the future that resulted and Fitz in the flashbacks asserts that trying to change time is a futile endeavor and that they may have already attempted to alter time multiple times - the viewer is put in the unenviable position from where "The Last Day" goes to sit through the remainder of the season with the characters being moved into place where they will try to stop the future, be near to destroying the Earth and then pull back from that.

The result is a necessary bridge episode that continues to, unfortunately, play to the weaknesses of the earlier episodes of the season, as opposed to moving Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. past those defects.


For other elements of the MCU, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a comprehensive listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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