Whenever the show runners of a TV series opt to write an episode, its a sign that you should pay extra attention. While “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen may have made the decision to pen this week’s “Spacetime” episode in part because they love potential future stories (the pair also penned the future-shocking “Epitaph One” episode of “Dollhouse”), the episode still pointed a big arrow at where the show is going and how it views itself. Because while Season 3 has always been about the fate of the Inhumans, “Spacetime” took the concept literally.
As so many other hours this year have started, this week begins with a rogue Inhuman. The tragic bum Charles has the power to touch anyone and give them a glimpse at the future. The strange phenom starts out by affecting a random stranger, but when that man sees Daisy Johnson alongside his own death, our agents get pulled into the widening web of Hydra’s rebirth. The vision plays out as expected with our innocent bystander dying in Daisy’s arms while the evil spy organization snatches Charles away. Luckily (or is it?), the gravity-altering S.H.I.E.L.D. agent gets a hand on the new Inhuman and has a vision of her own -Â one covered in blood and promising the death of one of her teammates.
The rest of the episode plays out the drama of a paradox. As Fitz explains, any vision of the future is set in stone. There is no more chance of changing the future than there is of changing the past, and so from there we witness the team’s fool’s errand of making command decisions to avoid Daisy’s vision only to play right into its hands.
This is pretty boilerplate sci-fi TV plotting, but as with many a “Star Trek” episode before it, the joy comes from watching exactly how the plans go awry and what each cast member’s reaction says about who they are. Director Coulson is the everyman – out of his depth when it comes to fourth-dimensional ideas but pushing to save his friends regardless. Daisy is the wildcard -Â plunging headlong into a battle with an unseen foe with the hopes that she can change an outcome supposedly frozen in amber. May is the wounded warrior -Â ready to follow any command except to sit out the action in order to reconnect with her ex husband. Yes, amidst prophetic fight stuff, the man known as Lash resurfaces to declare that he’s about to morph into an Inhuman killer for good.
That’s not the only long-running plotline that pays off on the edges of the episode. On the Hydra side of the equation, the alien entity known as the Hive that’s wearing former Agent Grant Ward as a skin sack is finally ready to step into the light. He offers Gideon Malick the one thing the supreme spy commander never knew he wanted: real ultimate power. Again, this isn’t new ground by any measure, but there is some fun in seeing HiveWard push Malick into trying on an experimental exo-suit and then murdering its financier in cold blood just to taste what the power of a death god may feel like. I mean, that doesn’t sound fun when it’s typed out like that, but villains embracing their absurd villainy are a core component of superhero storytelling, and it’s nice to see “Agents” own that ridiculousness for a while.
With a little legwork and a few curveballs along the way, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team finds the place where Hydra is holding Charles, and in the hopes of redeeming the tragic deadbeat dad for his estranged wide and daughter, Daisy has to walk into the belly of the beast with no support. Against the impending moment where her vision becomes a reality, the writers drop two important thematic clues that tie this episode strongly to the future of the entire show. At base, Lincoln theorizes whether the vision that’s brought his girlfriend to the edge of her doom is all part of some cosmic Inhuman design. Meanwhile, Dr. Andrew wonders the same thing about his Lash persona and its murderous rampage before it takes over for good.
In short, the question that hands over Season 3 of this show is “Are the Inhumans here to save the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — or destroy them?” And sure, that’s always been true in the basic sense. But the implication that some massive fate is guiding the actions of the characters has huge implications for the show going forward. It takes control of the story out of our heroes’ hands and places the entire S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra conflict on a path to some expanded Marvel Universe cosmology. It also puts doubts into the audience’s heads that anyone on the show will be safe. As a second flash-forward to some kind of S.H.I.E.L.D. shuttle mission tragedy arrives on screen, the path for the remaining episodes of the season is laid bare. Something horrific is coming along with Hive, and there’s very little our characters can do to stop it.
If all that mumbo jumbo wasn’t enough of a teaser for the weeks ahead, the episode’s finale contains plenty of twists to push the dominos moving forward. Despite his taste of murderous power, a near fight to the death with Daisy leaves Malick shaken and for the first time truly doubtful of the supremacy of Hive’s existence. Meanwhile, Hive spares Lincoln either death or capture and thereby complicates exactly what plan the god has for the Inhuman race. Most importantly, Coulson and company see the face of their former ally Ward on security footage while Daisy rushes to see Charles die a heroes death at long last. With that, Daisy’s own faith in the righteousness of the Inhuman cause is solidified while the rest of the team’s faith in their own abilities are shaken.
From here, it’s a countdown to see how the remaining pieces of this show come together and how things eventually fall apart. The risk in the story is that the big picture stuff Marvel is still playing with in the show will overshadow the actual characters at the heart of the story (remember, “Civil War” can still steamroll this series in any number of ways). But the potential reward is an “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” that’s more closely connected to the future of the MCU than ever before. For now, we’re left to wonder which of those two possibilities is truly fate.
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