Friday, February 2, 2018

Inevitable End Gets (Marginally) Interesting: "Past Life"

The Good: Acting is competent, Good direction, Natalia Cordova-Buckley shines
The Bad: Simple and obvious plot, Kasius becomes ridiculous
The Basics: "Past Life" is a real mixed bag of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as it rushes toward the inevitable while undermining the villain and elevating Yo-Yo Rodriguez.

For the last few episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the future plotline that the cast has been stuck in has felt like it ought to be done. And yet, the show has stretched out the plotline that viewers know must inevitably collapse. That has extended the "liberate the Lighthouse" and "find a way to the past" and "Kasius truly is a big villain worthy of your attention" plots past reasonable suspension of disbelief. So, with "Past Life" promising that it was the last chance for the Agents to return to their native timeline, viewers who have found their patience stretched are given hope.

"Best Laid Plans" (reviewed here!) preceded "Past Life" and it is hard to discuss the new episode without some references to where the prior episode left off. "Best Laid Plans" found May dispatching with Sinara and Kasius revealing to his people that he has his own seer predicting the future for him. And Zephyr One had made it back to the Lighthouse, which was liberated by Mack, Rodriguez and Flint.

Kasius arrives on the crashed Zephyr One to find Sinara's corpse, which leaves him shocked. Enoch makes it to a secure location while the Agents search for Flint to rebuild the monolith needed to help take the team back to the past. While Mack's team breaks up to help the humans remaining on the Lighthouse, Kasius mourns over Sinara's body until he realizes that the Agents must have a plan to return to the past. The Agents liberate the Inhumans being herded to Kasius, but Kasius decides to take an active role in restoring honor to his father's quest.

Rodriguez goes on a search for Kasius's final Inhuman and encounters the most unlikely aid to the Kree overlord. While Rodriguez is briefed on how the S.H.I.E.L.D. team destroyed Earth, Daisy Johnson resists coming with Coulson and May back to the past. Coulson knocks Daisy out to bring her with them, while Yo-Yo learns that Coulson is dying and that saving him is how the S.H.I.E.L.D. team destroys the world. While Enoch makes the ultimate sacrifice to

"Past Life" works well as an ensemble piece to bring together all three disparate plotlines. While Kasius seems more generally megalomaniacal, Mack reminds viewers of his Framework experience by offering Flint a place with him and Rodriguez in the past and Coulson bonds with Tess over their common experience of being dead before. But more than the character hints to past episodes, "Past Life" is plot-heavy as the various character groups retreat. But there are so many characters in play that the sheer volume of time spent with Kasius and Deke begins to feel tiresome.

Kasius is especially problematic in "Past Life." Kasius has gone through several phases in the fifth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the big tease the writers and producers seem to want to have for viewers is "who is Kasius's father?" Kasius's father is the leader of the Kree Homeworld who sent Kasius to the shattered Earth to be humiliated and die. Beyond that, the viewer has little need for information on Kasius's father if the future timeline collapses; it seems like it would be a massive narrative stretch to have a Kasius from this tangent universe go back to Kree in the past and set his father on Earth at an earlier time would be ridiculous. As it stands, in "Past Life," Kasius just degenerates into a furious alien barbarian with no subtlety or complexity.

On the other end, Yo-Yo Rodriguez becomes vital and essential in a way that she has not been before now. Rodriguez has been an intriguing Inhuman who has been used on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. on an "as needed" basis. Over the years, she has slowly built a relationship with Mack, but until this season, she has not been a core character who has been a part of the big missions. Instead, when S.H.I.E.L.D. fractures and most of the team is in trouble, someone (usually Daisy) inevitably calls her back to action to save the day. But, in "Past Life" Yo-Yo Rodriguez becomes indispensable to the story and the team. She has the keys now to saving the Earth, which is an interesting idea.

The balance of the episode ends up feeling like "Past Life" might actually play fine when binged watched, but on its own, it feels like a tedious end to a tired concept.


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