Sunday’s Wisdom #299: Life is Not Safe

“Life is not safe. A man might spend his whole time on earth staying safe in a basement, and in the end, he still dies like everyone else.”
– Thomas Hao, Frost Burned
Mercy Thompson
series, Patricia Briggs

Thomas Hao is a minor character when he is introduced, but he plays his part in the novel’s climax. When he says this, it is to a man who is a bit upset at how his wife put herself in danger when she might have avoided it. She explains that she couldn’t allow an evil man to do as he wished, or she would have felt just as bad. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, after all, is for good men and women to do nothing. To stand aside. To try and be safe. Hao offers the above words in support of her explanation, because, as much as the man he is speaking to wants only to know that his wife is safe, alongside everyone else he loves, he has to accept that there is no real safety in the world.

Even if one were, somehow, improbably, able to avoid every single danger in the entirety of the world, eventually they would just die anyway. Life is thus, by very nature, inherently unsafe, because it ends. Always.

That speaks to me especially strong right now. I’ve commented on life and death before: how it makes us all equal, in the end; the importance of our choice in meeting our fate; how there is such a choice, and it echoes in how we live before we die; more recently, how the cycle of life and death is always there. This, however, speaks directly, and at an appropriate moment, to how we kind of just need to learn how to deal with it.

Death is simply a fact of life.

It’s scary, because so much about it is unknown, and we have the ability to think about the things we don’t know. And it can be very painful, both to endure the death of a loved one, and, eventually, when it happens to us, as it will. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

That’s something we’ve forgotten, I think, especially in the more advanced of Western cultures. We grew up on Disney, among other things, which always presents death as something dire. It’s the well-deserved fate of the villain, and a tragedy when it happens to someone good. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost our ability to accept death, and as it’s fact of life, refusing to accept it at all does not serve us.

Now, I’m not going to say that we shouldn’t try to stay alive, or save the lives of those around us. No, not at all. The reality of death is part of what gives life so much value. But it also gives value to not just staying alive, but to living well and happily. In that sense, it is actually quite possible to take the virtue of valuing life too far, and make it a vice.

I am reminded of a story about a very rich man, who was very selfish and stingy and valued his wealth above everything else. One night, he dreamed that a voice told him, “Someone will inherit you before you die.” He took that to mean someone would come and take his wealth from him while he still lived, and he spent the entire night (and then some) rushing all around, trying to make sure everything his money was invested in was secure and safe. That got very tiring very quickly, so he sold everything he had (which was a lot) and invested the entire sum of money it was worth into a single precious, massive jewel, which he clutched tightly to his person as if his very life depended on it. Then… he tripped, and the jewel, with all the wealth it represented, slipped from his grasp and into a river. It was eventually found by a very poor man, who was suddenly not very poor anymore.

The rich man valued what was his, and that is not a bad thing. But he valued it so much that it consumed him, he made a foolhardy decision, and lost everything as a result.

It’s good to value life, but it’s possible to value life too much.

One need only look to any coward for proof that one can value one’s own life too much.

Sadly, it can be taken even further.

I look around and see people panicking over a virus, and that panic does not serve us. I see people willing to go to extremes, without questioning, in order to preserve the lives of others. That is not a bad thing, to care for others. But even this – yes, even this most noble of all virtues! – can be overdone, and turned against itself, as people follow rash, ill-informed decisions (driven by an agenda they know nothing of) which can and will have (and is already having) dire consequences, far worse than the virus itself would ever do.

A solution that is worse than the problem is no solution at all.

It is possible to value life so much that, like the rich man clinging too tightly, we end up losing everything we hoped to protect.

Even though all we want is for people to be safe.

But life is not safe.

It never will be.

It literally cannot be.

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This Week on TV, Aug. 8, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

In one week, I will be saying goodbye to This Week on TV for I-Have-No-Idea-How-Long.

There have been summer breaks, week-long breaks, and Holiday Droughts, and the immense gap between seasons, but I’ve always had something to look forward to, as something was always returning. Some of the shows I’ve commented on, I followed from the very beginning of this humble blog of mine. Others were added partway. I’ve actually been doing this long enough now that I have seen shows come and go, and others have simply changed from what I enjoyed to something else.

Basically, I’ve been doing this from the very start of the blog, and it feels… well, it’s a parting of ways, with all the memories of the past, and the future is unknown. Maybe we’ll meet again. Maybe I’ll find something else I like to comment on, in due time. Or maybe not. Who knows?

So, I’m feeling what all the fans of Agents of Shield are feeling, doubled.

There is one final week ahead, with a two-part finale to the series. Seven rip-roaring seasons behind us, and all of it coming down to this.

This week, the final setup was complete at last. All that’s left next week is… everything.

Now let’s dive in.

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 11, “Brand New Day”

The episode followed three basic plotlines.

One was centered on Malick on Z-1, as he delved into Simmons’ brain for the much-coveted information on Fitz and his whereabouts, and I finally gained renewed hope that Fitz might still be alive after all, and might even survive the show, but only because… well, in a way, things might be even worse than him being dead.

Another plotline centered on Daisy as she pursued her enemy to save her friend, thinking outside the box, and gaining quite a bit of personal growth along the way.

A third was in the Lighthouse, and actually hinged on Daisy’s sister, Cora. We’ll start there.

It begins with Z-1 getting away, as, being a spaceship, it simply flies out into space, above the satellites that would track it. Daisy, feeling more than a little emotional after the ordeal with her mother, storms straight at Cora upon her arrival, in Shield’s custody, and nearly rips the woman’s head off while demanding answers. Daisy backs off only when Mack orders her to, which allows Cora her chance to ask to join Shield.

As Cora presents it, there’s no reason they can’t work together. She fits a good part of the profile: young, troubled past, powerful, and capable of killing. That’s what she offers, advocating for a world made better through the deaths of those who will do terrible things.

It’s what they started out wrestling with in this season, how they had to preserve the timeline, even the parts of it they didn’t like, such as Hydra. They refused to kill Freddie Malick because of the timeline, and because he was just a kid riding in a freight car when they met him, before he did terrible things… things like, say, help Shield infiltrate Hydra, betraying and killing Daniel Sousa, Shield’s first fallen agent. They managed to save Sousa, sure, but Freddie did all those other terrible things, and even more, as the timeline was changed and he had an extra three years of villainy… until Deke shot him dead.

That’s not all Shield has done, but it can’t be denied, it’s a big part of what Shield has always had to do: kill, to protect.

It’s what May did in Bahrain, when a young girl with power went crazy and out of control. They revisit that, when May talks to Cora, in relation to how Lee was going to kill Cora as well (not to mention how Cora was going to kill herself).

So, the offer of a list of names that Cora would help them kill is surprisingly tempting, even persuasive, but that’s just not who the agents are. Even more, the proof that they’re in a new timeline is all the more reason to refuse. Cora mentions Grant Ward, for instance, and all the damage he did to the agents personally. But Coulson remembers the Framework, a world where they saw a version of Ward that was good and heroic, because he had the right influence in that one. Meaning, if they’re in a new timeline, then everyone actually has a chance to do something better, instead of worse.

And while all of this is fascinating and compelling… it’s also a distraction.

Cora is, in fact, a Trojan Horse.

She has a little connection with Daisy, but, in that moment, lets slip that Sybil has predicted something about Daisy herself: she’d never leave her sister to fight alone. And that clues Daisy in. Sybil’s predictions have never actually been certain, have they? It’s always a question of percentages. That’s because humans are unpredictable… and, even more, they can choose to be unpredictable. So, Daisy realizes they need to be unpredictable, act against their usual natures, because their usual natures are what Sybil can predict.

With that in mind, Daisy makes to head off alone, but Sousa accompanies her, going off-book a bit himself in the act (though, having seen Agent Carter, I’d say he is perfectly capable of coloring outside the lines a bit… he just only does it when it seems necessary, instead of by reflex). And then Mack accompanies the both of them, a trio heading out into space with the threadbare resources a single jet has to offer them, to rescue Simmons and Deke.

But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Cora is a bit antsy, wanting her sister and getting May instead. May, in classic form, riles her up to see what she can do, but that backfires. It might even have been predictable, in the way Sybil is able to use. With one surge of power, she knocks out the Lighthouse, taking down their firewalls and allowing Sybil back into their computers.

Sybil mocks Coulson, wanting him to squirm a bit, but it turns out he’s suddenly become a genius with computers. He can understand what’s going on, bits and pieces anyway, within the computers, so he’s able to combat her, but only slows her down, and sees she’s looking at communications for some reason. Then, to get Coulson off her back, she unlocks the cell doors, letting prisoners out. There’s only Cora and two captive guards, but the two try to kill Yo-Yo, and Cora is much more of a threat. She dispatches one of the guards (Durant, I think his name was) as an argument against trying to go back to the original timeline, and she does it without blinking.

She hesitated when she killed Lee, but she didn’t hesitate this time, and she’s advocating killing. Whatever Malick did with his weeks with her, he certainly removed any restraint she had as far as killing is concerned. He is, after all, this dark and powerful man who showed her how to use her power as she saw fit. He liberated her from a prison she didn’t know she was in, and made her into her “true self,” on his puppet strings. So now she thinks she knows who she always was, and believes that she can’t be anything else, therefore no one else could be either. She wants to her mother that, who she is.

That’s when May takes her to see Jiaying’s body, and tells her the truth: Malick killed her, because she put herself between him and Daisy.

It’s devastating to Cora, who lashes out, almost kills May, but the truth of who Malick is, what he really wants, and what he really does… it’s more difficult to believe the bad of someone who we believe has done us good, and Cora is no exception to that. Her faith is shaken, I think, but she still goes back to Malick the moment Garrett comes to get her, and stands with him as he sets the world on fire.

I think Cora is pretty well lost, but I also think she could be a danger to Malick as well, if the coin toss in her own head comes up the right way.

As for Daisy, she has the quietest times during this episode, but also one of the best. After taking off and heading into space, she, Mack, and Sousa are standing over the world in a tiny space, trying to conserve enough air, life support, and power to get them to Z-1… but there’s enough of a wait that they have some pretty good moments.

Daisy and Mack talk about the end of the team. He’s more accepting of it, which is what she needs: a rock-steady best friend helping her find the peace she needs to stand on her own, with or without the team around her. They’re her family, and nothing changes that, especially if, assuming they all survive, they can communicate with each other at any time. The world is vast, but it’s gotten a lot easier to bridge the distance between us all. (shame more people don’t do that)

Daisy grew up alone, and then she gained a family with the agents, and she’s afraid that she doesn’t know who she is without them. But Mack knows, she knows who she is, with or without anyone.

…which leads to a certain look in Sousa’s direction, Mack notices. She confesses that they kissed in the time loop, and he doesn’t remember that part.

I have to smile. They’re in space, saving their friends and the world, and they’re still gossiping about their lives, and the future. Yeah, they’ll be all right, even if they part ways. 🙂

Then Mack has a moment with Sousa. He frankly asks about Sousa’s intentions while Daisy is napping in the back. Sousa is honorable, so he doesn’t have any such intentions as of yet, but… well, Mack advises him to get some intentions. He explains that Daisy has been hurt, so it’s good to see her willing to open up and risk her heart again, and he’s glad that it’s Sousa, a good guy who he likes. But, that said, neither he nor anyone else on the team will let anyone else hurt Daisy again. Just something that Sousa ought to keep in mind if he wants to date Quake.

Which gives Sousa an opening, and he takes it, making a little fun of the name the media dubbed her with, making her (and Mack) smile a bit just before the fireworks go off and crap hits the fan one last time.

And that brings us back to Malick. His hunt for information makes major headway but is ultimately… unsuccessful.

Diana the implant works, blocking Malick, or at least slowing him down. With Simmons placed in the brain-scanning pod, he dives into her memories of Fitz, but all he’s getting, at first, is those tender moments which are classic Fitz-Simmons’ moments to the fans, including when they were underwater or reconnecting in the lab after a separation, that sort of thing.

Malick ups the ante, then, having Garrett bring Deke in. Deke’s solo rescue mission was aborted when Garrett caught him right at the start, so Malick interrogates him. First he has Deke beaten, but that doesn’t break him. Then he tortures Simmons, quaking the base of her skull in an obvious threat meant to torture Deke emotionally, but Deke still doesn’t break… not before Malick notices the implant, anyway.

So, he tries to get it out… only to find that Simmons made it so only she could use it (or authorize its use, I suppose). This leaves him increasingly frustrated, as the champion of chaos has gotten used to an order where he gets what he wants. In anger, he dives into Simmons’ memories with her, picking up where the last season left off.

Fitz-Simmons followed Enoch into the endeavor where they would build a time-traveling ship to combat the Chronicoms. Simmons’ side of their efforts progressed much more quickly, but Fitz reasoned that there was no rush. Following that, however, there was a desire to forego the battle and simple live their lives.

I seem to recall something similar in the fifth season, where they saw the end of the world and had to deal with a time loop they had to escape. It took Fitz almost his entire life to make the time machine that they used to travel back, after having been sent forward, to save the world. In that time, too, if I remember right, he wanted to give up for awhile, not rush it, and just live a little with his wife. But, in the end, he got the job done.

It took a long while, though, and I don’t think building the entirety of Z-1, alone, would have made it any quicker of a task.

So, now I ask myself… if we assume Fitz is alive, then what happened to him? Where is he, really?

And if it took so long, then why has Simmons not aged much at all?

Ok, new theory: Fitz finished the ship over the course of decades, and, with time machine included, sent it back to pick Simmons up and send her on her way with the rest of the team. And as for whatever else he was, or is, doing, it is somehow pivotal to the war with the Chronicoms. And, at some point, Fitz-Simmons knew it was going to happen this way, and made a very painful choice.

What is something so painful that it can compare with losing Fitz, and make Simmons so distraught as we saw in the time loop, but doesn’t actually kill him?

The clue, and the answer, come just as Malick is closing in on his location in Simmons’ memories. All at once, they’re standing in the white room of the Chronicoms mental prison, with furniture, but no surroundings. Maybe they did that, used the Chronicoms’ own technology to give themselves more time to work with, or maybe that’s just part of what was happening. It could only show Malick what she was remembering, after all, and soon enough…

…she forgets.

Enoch acted as a failsafe in case anyone tried to remove the implant, but the implant was, at some point, modified to act as its own failsafe if Simmons’ mind was ever so deeply invaded. It was Fitz who pushed Simmons towards this, but at some point she consented to it, and now all she is left with is an empty white room. What she remembered in the time loop was this decision, the decision to burn everything she remembered of him, to forget even as she wept so bitterly, whispering, “I don’t want to forget,” over and over, so fast, so desperate.

Malick storms off in a rage, killing a subordinate over a tiny infraction, growling that they’ll just have to see if it (Fitz) really makes a difference in the end.

Deke is relieved to surmise that he didn’t get Fitz’s location… but Simmons doesn’t know who Fitz is anymore.

…I think that might be the single greatest loss of the entire show, and the worst blow Fitz-Simmons has ever suffered, even after seven seasons of being put straight through the ringer over and over and over.

At the end of the episode, Dasiy, Mack, and Sousa are closing in on Z-1, and they see the arrival of the Chronicom fleet.

Cora rejoins Malick, even knowing he just killed her mother, and kisses him as the ships rain fire down on the Earth below, at his direction. Sybil had sent a signal to them some time ago, and they’ve modified their hunters in accord with her instructions, and now they’re here to take what they want (which, I didn’t realize they’d need to, this still being the past, presumably before their homeworld’s destruction, but ok).

Coulson has seen that what Sybil was after was the location of every singly Shield base in the world, and she just fed the coordinates to her fleet in orbit. The Triskelion, the Hub, the Sandbox, the Fridge… they try to warn all of them, but all of them go silent mid-sentence. All of Shield, ever base, every installation, everything, wiped out within minutes.

They never knew what hit them, and they never had a chance.

It’s a new day, bathed in the blood of the old. New lives, Malick promised, by ending so very many.

The agents are now probably the only agents left in this new timeline the Chronicoms have made. All the rest are gone, including the new recruits of Deke’s crew, who just barely went off to the Triskelion to join the real Shield. Peggy Carter, too. Nick Fury. Everyone. All of them. Dead.

So… heck of a way to clear the board, and leave the agents standing alone, with no secret aces left (except, possibly, Fitz), against an entire fleet in this timeline, and an old timeline they may or may not get back to.

Then again, maybe that’s why the team ends, because they leave their original timeline forever and are stuck in one that has no Shield for them to belong to anymore.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

One more week.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #298: Hammer and Brick

“I could’ve been them. Riley, I would’ve been them. But I’m not. Because they think a hammer and a brick makes you strong, and as much as I wanted to throw a brick through a window, I know that if I did that, that’s what would make me weak. I’m strong because there’s something inside me that stops me now.”
– Maya Hart, Girl Meets World
Season 3, Episode 7, “Girl Meets True Maya”

In the preceding few episodes, Maya has had to deal with a little identity crisis, as, somewhere along the way, she seems to have inadvertently begun mimicking someone else, instead of being entirely herself. She had to reexamine aspects of herself and her relationships, but she came back to herself. Still, that journey wasn’t complete until she faced her more negative, darker, destructive urges and decided what to do with them. In doing that, she encountered a pair of girls who exemplified such, and then she made a choice.

Part of this moment, her choice, involved a hammer and a brick. The girls wanted to use them to break things, lashing out at the world, hurting others, hurting the hope of the world. But Maya chose differently. She chose not only to refrain from destroying anything, but to protect something dear to her. And even more, where others chose to make the world around them a little uglier, with their graffiti, she chose to use hers to make something beautiful, something hopeful. She had every chance, and even and uncertain intention, not to mention the pressure from others, to do something damaging, to try and demonstrate “strength” through destruction. Instead, she protected, and created, and built something up.

That is a huge thing, and it especially speaks to me now as I see widespread violence and hate. I see mobs rampaging, vandalizing, looting, burning, destroying, and killing, and I ask myself, “Why?”

Every mob is made up of individuals, just as an avalanche is made of snowflakes (or rocks), wildfires are made of sparks, and a tsunami is made of drops of water. But for a mob, each individual within it has to choose to do what they are doing. So why do they make that choice? Despair? Anger? Rage? Perhaps all of those are just the result of not having the control over one’s life that one wants.

In some cases, that can be childish (like a guy who got a useless degree just doesn’t want to flip burgers for a living), or, in others, it can just be because of something painful (like when the life of a loved one is taken by those entrusted with protecting that same life). Heck, in some cases, it can be outright justified (like when the government treads on your rights so often for so long that open rebellion is the only option left). But whatever the details, it boils down to that very human desire: power.

People want power. They want it over others, and they want it over themselves. The one is easier to see, however, and to achieve, while the other is much more difficult to see and achieve. So, people think that breaking things, the ability and the choice to do so, is powerful.

They are wrong.

See, everybody has the urge to destroy something, every once in awhile. We all have that capability, and that desire. It’s as natural as the wind. But what is more powerful, to take that natural force and just let it loose, or to build a windmill and use it to create something new and useful instead?

Sometimes the strongest and most powerful thing one can do is to stop oneself. To hold back and control one’s destructive urges. To master oneself, and build things up instead of tear them down. And to master oneself, one must know oneself, in complete honesty, with no excuses made. Only there, in truth, can hope truly be found, and in truth and hope, there is strength.

Without truth, without hope, without self-control… well, then one is left with only the hammer and the brick.

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This Week on TV, Aug. 1, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

You know the thing about ending a series, and knowing it’s ending well ahead of time? You get to take everything you’ve built up, and systematically nuke it all. It’s like when kids build houses and castles out of blocks, and then knock ’em all down! There’s nothing quite like it, ya know? And that’s what Agents of Shield seems to be doing right now. They’ve built everything up, and now, after the deep breath of last episode, and with only one more episode between this week and the climactic series finale… it’s time to knock it all down!

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 10, “Stolen”

Now that the agents are out of a time storm and back in action, it’s full-on, outright war between them and their allied enemies. And it’s an intriguing clash, as Nathaniel Malick has seemed to make chaos itself his cause, pursuing anarchy above all. Many of Shield’s previous enemies have stood for various kinds of order, as has Shield itself, though Shield, in its purest form, has stood for order in the service of freedom. Hydra pursued order in service of its own power, Jiaying and the Inhumans tried to make a new order in service to their traditions, Hive tried to sacrifice individuality itself for its order, the Watch Dogs very much wanted order instead of chaos, and so forth. But Malick wants to overturn all order, especially the order of his own inevitable death. I can’t help but think that he wants to gain the Chronicoms’ longevity for himself, but once that’s done, I imagine their alliance would immediately shatter, anarchy vs enslavement, with the agents fighting both.

But that’s getting slightly ahead of things.

In this episode, both sides go at each other, recruiting new allies and invading each others’ strongholds. Both sides achieve their immediate objectives, but Shield gains less and loses more, in a round that goes decidedly in Malick’s favor.

Malick recruits none other than than the 1983 version of John Garrett, the final big bad of the first season. And can I say, I just find that constant smile of his annoying? There are smiles that display happiness, and good feeling, and there are smiles that are all about one’s own self-importance. Garrett’s smile is definitely the latter kind. It’s very obnoxious.

Being all about himself, the young Garrett is easily brought into Malick’s fold. He just reveals that things won’t go well for him in the future, including a little tour of such on Sybil’s part, and voila. Oh, and he promises him more power, including an Inhuman power and immortality. The theft of Inhuman power is demonstrated, as Lee, with his materializing blades, is sucked dry, his power given to one of Malick’s people. And then Malick has Cora finish him off.

Cora has an interesting moment there. She’s obviously enjoying the feeling of not being under anyone’s thumb, not needing to be afraid, and not feeling like she has to die to protect everyone else. After nearly killing herself, and gaining some sort of control of her power, that has got to be nothing short of euphoric. She likes what Malick has sold her. But when it comes to killing this man who would have been her executioner, she hesitates. She doesn’t actually hate him, I think. She even agreed with him, in a way, that she had to die. She might have chosen something different… until he speaks again, and snuffs out that sympathetic spark. She burns his head after that.

Over in Shield’s camp, the agents reclaim the Lighthouse, turned over to them by Roxy as she heads off to join the actual Shield of the day, alongside the rest of the crew that Deke brought in. With no more time-jumping going on, the agents have a chance to dig in and stand their ground, here and now, against Malick and Sybil. LMD Coulson takes a partial lead in things, which prioritizes fighting Malick and rescuing the Inhumans being held in Afterlife. So, they send coordinates to the watch Yo-Yo gave Jiaying, and, poof! She and Gordon arrive almost instantly.

So, Malick got the first season’s final villain on his side, and Shield gets the second season’s final opponents on their side. It’s unusual, and Shield tries to not reveal the future too much, for obvious we-were-at-war-and-we-killed-you-both reasons, but there it is. Oh, and Daisy, who is staring at her mother as she once was, learns that she has (or had) a sister, which she knew nothing about before. And it may well be that, without Cora’s death, her suicide, Daisy may never have been born at all. I mean, in the original timeline, Cora committed suicide, so it would be understandable for Jiaying to leave Afterlife after that, and do charity work, too. That’s what brought her and Cal together in the first place, which resulted in Daisy.

Of course, that also led Jiaying towards Whitehall’s brutalization of her, with the resulting madness and hatred of Shield and Hydra both, which led to her trying to kill Daisy, which led to her own final death.

The future is a door that can turn on very small hinges.

Sousa, strong and steadfast as he is, sees how Daisy is conflicted by the sight of her mother as she once was, and urges her to talk with Jiaying. Spend a little time with the better version, the one that was lost in years to come, the one that was truly murdered in Whitehall’s lab. And Daisy actually listens to him, which speaks volumes for her regard of him. So, with his support, Daisy approaches Jiaying, and tells her a bit of her story, including how she never knew her mother (whom she does not name) growing up, and then found a mother who wasn’t who she thought, and who even hurt her, very badly. Jiaying, fresh off her failures with Cora, can only offer an observation, that sometimes trying to do the right thing comes out all wrong. That’s what she tried to do with Cora, and what her future self tried to do when she led her people against Shield, and, both times, it quite definitely turned out wrong.

Elsewhere, Simmons is entertaining some awful suspicions, much like I did at the end of last episode. Daisy reveals how, in the moment when she had no implant, and her mind was clear, she was utterly devastated by something she knew. Going through the possibilities, Simmons starts putting some pieces together. They haven’t heard a thing from Fitz for the entire season, and every jump they made before the malfunction that sent them into a time storm was directed by the Chronicoms. The countdown hasn’t started up again since they fixed it, and every message she’s sent to Fitz has gone unanswered. She doesn’t like what all of this intimates, and Deke is flatly in denial about the most likely possibility, that Fitz is dead, and Simmons is hiding that truth from herself.

As for the mission itself, it goes to pot pretty quickly. Mack and Yo-Yo hang back in the jet while Gordon teleports LMD Coulson in to scout ahead. The scouting half of the team is immediately ambushed, as Malick has the time stream device and it let him anticipate their arrival. Gordon is stunned with a blast, taken and drained, his teleporting power given to Garrett. LMD Coulson waits for an opportune moment before making his escape, to rescue the Inhumans, but before he can even try to bash the door down, Gordon spends the last of his life getting them out of said room. He nearly killed Mack, Coulson, and Fitz in the second season, but his younger self gives his life helping the agents save his people.

The rescue mission goes well after that, with Yo-Yo’s speed in play, and the guard lightened as Malick goes after what he wants elsewhere. Cora doesn’t resist either, though LMD Coulson ices her anyway. They rescue everyone who’s still alive and take prisoners of their own, but they still lost Gordon, and they lose even more before the end.

Malick and Garrett’s invasion of the Lighthouse goes decidedly in their favor, despite how Garrett was getting his butt kicked by May before he slipped away. Malick finds Daisy and Jiaying, pushing them emotionally with the full, uncensored version of their story, until Daisy shuts him up with a furious vibration blast. He returns that favor, sending her flying, and is so very cocky that he doesn’t even have his guard up. Jiaying pounces from behind as he passes her, defending her future daughter, as any mother would. She almost finishes him, I think, but Malick gets one hand up, and breaks her neck.

In one timeline, she died trying to kill Daisy, her own daughter. In this one, untouched by trauma-induced madness, she dies defending her.

Malick has very good reason to run away scared at that point. He may have stolen Daisy’s power, copied it, and spent more time with it than she has, but she is still the true and original Quake, the Destroyer of Worlds (though that is a misnomer), and seeing her mother (her real mother) killed like that, in her defense… well, Hell hath no fury like a woman, even when that woman can’t make earthquakes. That’s the sort of thing that makes any man interested in his own survival run away in expeditious retreat.

So, he runs. And I really hope, after messing with her and her family and her personal timeline so much, that Daisy has at least some part to play in his utter destruction. But that’s not quite yet.

For now, Malick wins a resounding victory, when he and Garrett steal none other than Simmons, and make their escape in Z-1. Deke is somewhere aboard it, but he’s the definition of outgunned here.

So, the agents rescued the Inhuman prisoners, and took a few of their own, including Cora.

While Malick and his company killed Lee, Gordon, and Jiaying, took the powers from Lee and Gordon, took Z-1, and took Simmons. They took her because Sybil’s use of the time stream shows that every single scenario in which Malick and the Chronicoms lose, Fitz is always involved. He is the one common factor in every defeat, which makes it suddenly more sensible for Simmons to have used the extreme precautions she did in guarding him, not just because he’s important, not just because she loves him, but because he’s the linchpin to the whole thing.

…by that logic, however, he has to still be alive, in some form. So, what did Simmons remember that left her so devastated? Is it that she has already experienced Fitz’s death, or, somehow, something else? I have no idea. But we’ll find out soon enough!

For now, as the endgame of Agents of Shield looms over us, and starts to fall on top of us, being knocked over by the show’s creators, we are left with this:

If this were a chess match, then the agents just took a pawn but lost a queen in return, and it’s left them in check. Not quite checkmate, but pretty darn close, and a pretty tough situation to get out of.

Which is exactly as it should be, with The End coming up! 🙂

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Sunday’s Wisdom #297: The Cycle

“People arrive, so we celebrate, and people leave us, so we grieve. We do what we can with the time in between, but the cycle is always there.”
– Enoch, Agents of Shield
Season 7, Episode 9, “As I Have Always Been”

Enoch, at the moment he says this, is dying. He has made a sacrifice to save the lives of his team, his friends, and he did it without hesitation. In his last moments, his friends remain by his side, and they talk. It’s a powerful, and highly-emotional, discussion, among which, this observation allows them to show him that, even if they can’t go with him, he is still not alone. Every living creature is part of the cycle of life and death, and so even those who die alone are not alone: they are part of the cycle, with everyone else.

That cycle is, indeed, always there, and so it is something we tend to take for granted. We struggle against the pains of life, despite how pain is inextricably linked with living. We fight against death, in all its forms, despite how automatic, inevitable, and natural dying is. We always assume that there will be one more time when we see each other, as surely as we will see the sun rise again tomorrow, despite never really knowing any such thing. Even the sun will eventually grow dark and cold, after all, and, sooner or later, we, and everyone we love, will die.

The sorrow of loss is universal, at least to any creature capable of love. Yet we are never prepared for it. And I wonder if that is not for the best, because to be ready for it is to diminish its effect in some way. It is to be a little less hurt, which is to be in a little less pain. Pain is what makes us weep, and to feel pain, we must… feel. Pain tells us that something important has happened, that we have been injured in some way, that we have lost something precious to us, be it parts of our flesh, or parts of our soul. Grief is part of how we heal the holes left behind when we lose someone important. So, to be prepared for that loss, which diminishes the damage of it, the hurt, is much the same as to diminish the importance of the person or people who we lose.

Humanity, by every definition of the word, requires compassion to survive, and love opens us to grief. No, even more, it leads us inevitably towards grief, always. But what many forget is that love also leads us through that same grief.

So, on some level, we have to accept the cycle of life and death, love and loss, joy and sorrow. And we have to do this without trying to prepare ourselves, and minimize the grief that we will feel s0metime in the future. Maybe we do that best by simply going through it, living each moment without fear of the cycle. After all… it’s always there, and still we exist, so why be afraid of it?

To live in laughter, joy, and love without fearing the sorrow that will come… that sounds to me, at least, like a fairly good way to live.

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This Week on TV, July 25, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

Wow.

That was just… wow.

Agents of Shield finally did a Groundhog Day episode, and it was exciting, scary, mysterious, hilarious, tender, thrilling, triumphant, and very, very sad, all in one.

This has been an amazing show, and this was one of the best episodes of the entire run, and I am loving it.

And do we have a lot to go over!

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 9, “As I Have Always Been”

The episode starts off right where the precious one left off… sort of.

Daisy wakes up in the medical pod, her injuries healed, with Sousa keeping a slumbering vigil by her side. They quickly learn that they not only jumped, but did that jump within a jump thing. This has landed them in a time storm, caught in a whirlpool that is drawing them into a vortex of nonexistence. Unless they manage to get out, somehow, they will not only cease to be, they will have never been. (because simply dying isn’t dire enough anymore) Everything is going wrong, with Yo-Yo locked in the jet when the storm starts damaging it and she tries to keep it together, and Mack getting burnt in the face, blinded by a flare, and otherwise an all hands on deck situation as they try to keep Z-1 from falling apart around them. Daisy runs to douse a fire, so she’s right there when the time engine revs up again and…

Daisy wakes up in the medical pod, her injuries healed, with Sousa keeping a slumbering vigil by her side. She’s disoriented, but soon figures out that she’s repeating the last few minutes, and, forewarned, at least keeps Mack from getting blinded this time around. She’s trying to figure out what to do and how to do it when….

Daisy wakes up in the medical pod, her injuries healed, with Sousa keeping a slumbering vigil by her side, and she pretty much just rushed right past him, trying desperately to change things, but she needs help. She gets the idea, then, to run to LMD Coulson for help, and begins to quickly explain, when he tells her that she’s caught in a time loop in the middle of a time storm. He remembers it. All of it. The fact that she doesn’t means that she died again (this has happened multiple times already), and this reset her memory entirely, so she doesn’t remember what LMD Coulson does.

The fact that he remembers is a huge advantage. Unfortunately, one thing he remembers is that they aren’t just repeating the same few minutes at the exact same point in the time storm. They are, in fact, moving gradually towards the center of the vortex at a steady pace, and it is only time within the plane that is getting reset. So, they have the same few minutes to work with inside the plane, over and over and over, until the overall time limit runs out outside the plane. In essence, they have enough extra lives to make any gamer jealous, but each of those lives has a short expiration, and they have to reach the solution within one of those lives before they all run out… while their progress is undone again and again.

That would be the excitement and the scary. Check!

As Daisy and LMD Coulson get into the groove of this repeating loop, they inform the other agents (a number of times) of what’s going on. They need to get out of this storm soon, and for that, they need to fix Z-1 and the time engine. For that, they need all the knowledge they can get about it. And who has that knowledge? Simmons. Only she also doesn’t have that knowledge, because of the Diana implant that controls/suppresses her memories, her knowledge.

I’m going to say, here, that I smelled, but couldn’t put my finger on, a hole in Simmons’ story: if the Chronicoms are so advanced, then the implant in her brain would never actually stop them. It might buy some time, which would be important, but it wouldn’t stop them. And all of that just to protect Fitz, who we have been told is in a position to monitor the Chronicoms time-jumping, and direct Z-1 to follow? That’s quite a spot he must be in, then, to keep track of their most important intel without even the slightest chance of the enemy discovering him on accident, only by interrogating Simmons. …and not by interrogating Enoch.

Something about that is just… it’s something you probably don’t question in the moment of a crisis, but notice in hindsight that it doesn’t entirely add up. Something about it is off, which means it may not be true.

So, then, if that’s not the truth of it, then what is Simmons so desperate to hide, with Enoch’s assistance, even from herself?

That becomes the paramount question when, after a loop of two of trying, Daisy and LMD Coulson convince Simmons to remove the Diana implant. With it out, she may be able to figure out how to fix Z-1 before the next reset, and when it resets, it will be back in, so, no harm, no foul, and they all get to stay alive to make it back to the present, and to Fitz, we are told. But then, when she makes to do so, to remove the implant, she begins coughing… terribly… she collapses and dies on the spot, with Daisy, Deke, Enoch, and LMD Coulson trying to get into a locked door.

Daisy and LMD Coulson are understandably shocked, and they can’t tell what happened, or how. My first thought was that Simmons may have put in a safeguard to kill herself just in case she were to be compelled to remove the implant, and then suppressed that knowledge from herself. But when Daisy, in the next loop, accompanies her, to help her, she suffers the same fate, just barely managing to notice that they’re being gassed, and opening the locked door, before they both die together, murdered.

Yep, murdered. And leave it to Agents of Shield to have a murder mystery where everyone keeps coming back to life.

…and Daisy wakes up in the medical pod, her injuries healed, with Sousa keeping a slumbering vigil at her side. They learn about the time storm, Yo-Yo gets locked in the jet, Mack gets blinded, Daisy douses a fire, and so on. And finally they get to working on the mystery. There are, fortunately, only a few suspects, as the only ones who knew a thing about the implant and Simmons consenting to remove it: Simmons herself, Deke, and Enoch. Of course, that flies in the face of self-preserving reason, but so does the murder itself.

Being a bit pressed for time, and having very little to waste trying to figure out who is killing Simmons, they try bringing the other agents in, like Mack. They try getting Yo-Yo out of the jet as well, but that takes too long and it resets again. It’s only fortunate that Sousa gets in on the action when Daisy notices something different in this loop. Usually, she sees Simmons pull out something of Deke’s from where it lies on top of the scanner that they need to get the implant out. This time, it’s already on the counter.

Sousa, having a rational paranoia, senses a trap. The idea is to kill Simmons, who usually reaches in and grabs the scanner. Being both protective, and objectively knowing that if Daisy dies again, she starts back at the beginning and uses several more loops getting back up to speed, he volunteers to reach into the drawer to get it himself. And then he does so even while Daisy is trying to argue the point. It seems all right at first… but then something happens, a dart or a syringe or something manages to hit his flesh, and he dies, black ooze bubbling out of his mouth.

Daisy wakes up once again to see Sousa, sleeping, but alive, watching over her. As she has seen before, so many times now, and now she’s seen him die for her. That constancy, and that degree of sacrifice, will leave a mark on anyone who has even one eye half-open to see. And of all people, Daisy’s eyes are most definitely open.

Having hit a literal dead end, on a deadline, with no further ideas, and death all around them, Daisy and LMD Coulson have to take a beat just shy of a breaking point.

After well over a dozen times of seeing Daisy die, knowing things will reset, LMD Coulson is not so heartbroken as one might expect… but it goes even deeper than that. He’s had to keep functioning through this crisis, but he really doesn’t like watching her, or any of them die, over and over. Daisy can relate up to a point, seeing someone she cares for dying again and again, but for LMD Coulson, it’s a microcosm of his future. If they make it out of the time storm, and beat all of their enemies, and all survive the experience… he will still have to watch all of his loved ones die, one by one. He’s a machine now, because someone else decided he should be. He doesn’t know if he has a soul (and if he does, then all the LMDs they destroyed in the 5th season, and especially the 4th, would also have them). He has programming now. He… oh… wait… programming!

If there is one thing which can make a rational being do something so irrational as to ensure its own destruction by killing its friend just to protect one scrap of information, it’s programming. The killer, therefore, is the only other readily programmable being on Z-1, and which was “in the know” about the implant, as well as the attempt to remove it:

Enoch.

Mystery solved.

Confirmed when Daisy approached Simmons with the scanner in hand, before any trap could have been laid, and he struck out with efficiency and purpose, but with a savage anger and passion that one is not accustomed to seeing in Enoch. Before Daisy quaked him across the room, he revealed that Simmons had programmed him to protect that implant and the information it keeps from her, even he had to kill, and even if he had to kill Simmons herself.

…he seemed a bit surprised himself by this, but, then, that’s how good programming would work, with the perpetrator himself believing in his innocence.

I say again… these are suspiciously extraordinary lengths to go to, just to supposedly keep Fitz’s location secret.

But it is what it is, and now, at least, Daisy and LMD Coulson had something solid and definable to deal with, having an actual obstacle to overcome, and knowing what that obstacle is.

To get out of the time storm, they need to fix the engine and the plane.
To fix the engine and the plane, they need Simmons’ knowledge.
To get that knowledge, they need to get the Diana implant out.
To get the implant out, they need to get past Enoch.

…that last part, however, is much more easily said than done. And, for a moment, Daisy is overwhelmed, being pushed ever closer to breaking. And in that moment, she sees Sousa, who… well, he cares. And it’s making an impression on her, such she begins to open up to him.

And here, after all of this tension, drama, mystery, and such, is where the people behind this show gave the audience a moment to breathe, and to laugh, with some unorthodox humor.

They try to evade Enoch, and sneak around behind his back. That doesn’t work, because they forgot that he goes to Simmons in the lab during every loop, so he overheard them talking, and was able to crash the party. But that should be an easy enough fix, right?

Sousa tries to delay Enoch, just a bit, but he doesn’t do a very good job of that and Enoch realizes he’s being distracted. Daisy even has time to roll her eyes before she gets thrown around again.

Then, as Daisy and LMD Coulson are looking like a couple of kids trying to avoid a parent’s discipline, they try for something more direct than stealth. They try talking to him, and cut to the two of them beat up, ruminating on how that did not go well.

They try persuading him with Simmons’ help. Cut to the two of them beat up, while she remains pristine, ruminating on how it should have been obvious that she’d have included something so basic as password protection into Enoch’s programming.

The try outright confronting him with everyone available to help. …aaand cut to all of them beaten up, together, Deke dead… yeah, that did not go well!

So! That’s enough humor for the moment, time for something tender!

Daisy is exhausted from all these loops. They are so close to succeeding at last, but they’ve hit a wall, face-first, and everything at stake is overwhelming her! When she’s about to boil over and break, Sousa is there, having stayed by her side despite no one ever asking him to. There’s something in his demeanor, in his calm, steady assurance, in those eyes, filled with a deep reservoir of quiet strength… she takes five, and has a heart-to-heart with him.

He is a rock, she sees, with nothing ever fazing him. I recall the same has been said of her in the past, but, as he testifies, he is very much fazed. It just doesn’t all show up on his actual face. That is a subtle, potent skill, the ability to process things, even freak out inside, while still projecting that steadfast endurance which others need to be able to rely on, as Daisy is now. And that’s the thing: he’s always there. She asks for help, he always says yes. He risks (and loses) his life for her without hesitation. And he’s always there, making sure she’s resting and healing. He cares, and she is very much opened up when she asks, “Why?” And demands honesty.

For Sousa, he sees something in Daisy that he recognizes. He knows her type, people like her, and they are some of his favorite people, like Peggy Carter. They are (and she is) focused on the greater good even at one’s own expense; they distance themselves, make others think they like being alone, yet always end up surrounded by friends; they hate losing, and more than just is normal, because they run straight at it, full-tilt, until they either solve it and get it right or hit a brick wall (sometimes literally). When such people run into those walls, they should have someone there, like him, to help them pick themselves up, like he’s doing now.

And he wants to be there for her because she’s also fun to be around, says what she means, etc. Oh, and, he adds, tongue in cheek, she can quake things. She is outwardly powerful, and inwardly everything he likes and wants to support.

In short, he sees her. And what he sees compels him to be there for her.

Such as, when he brings an idea to the table that she and LMD Coulson haven’t tried yet! He is, after all, a soldier, a spy, an agent, and he’s had to find ways around impossible problems. Some of those solutions have been perfectly simple, like, in Agent Carter, he kept himself from being hypnotized just by stuffing his ears so he couldn’t hear the hypnotic sounds. So, what is one thing that hasn’t been tried yet?

In a word: diversion.

Sousa, Yo-Yo, Mack, and May lure Enoch to LMD Coulson’s room, and they know they can’t stop him, but they can delay him long enough for the implant to be removed. And just like that, they get past Enoch, remove the plant, access Simmons’ knowledge, and know how to fix Z-1 and escape the time storm before they cease to have ever been.

But there are… two problems.

…well, ok, three, but the first one is overcome just by being a bit faster the next time around, and it works (after Daisy kisses Sousa, whoo!), so, two problems.

One is that the solution is simple, but requires Enoch to die. He has a component, which is compatible with the time engine, which regulates energy stability. But, by necessity, that involves taking it out of Enoch, and it’s like removing a human’s heart. It will kill him.

The second problem isn’t addressed in this episode, merely alluded to, very strongly, and in an unsettling way: Simmons breaks down in tears when she remembers everything. She is, in a single moment, utterly destroyed, weeping and just beginning to scream before the reset. But first was that horrible, horrifying whisper, “What have I done?”

I have a very bad feeling that I know something about that, now that the extremes to which Simmons – not Simmons and Enoch, but Simmons, alone, having programmed Enoch – has gone to in order to suppress something she knows, to keep herself from knowing something, have been established as lethally absurd. But more on that in just a moment.

When they reset, once more, Daisy and Coulson know what needs to be done, and they have to set aside how Simmons was breaking down. They calmly, quietly, and quickly talk to Deke, Simmons, and Enoch. Deke can get the component into the time drive, but needs every moment he can get to do it, but Simmons is opposed to the idea. They can’t possibly ask Enoch to-

-he’s already done it.

He just reaches in and plucks it out, handing it over.

He did as he has always done: what was necessary, no matter the price.

Deke and Simmons take it and get it into the time engine with no time to spare, pretty much, while Daisy and LMD Coulson stay with Enoch, as he dies. It makes for a pretty powerful discussion, regarding loneliness and belonging, involving the cycle of life and death and how we are all part of it. I can’t do that justice here, but the last things he thinks of are those dearest to him, including Fitz, his best friend, and to whom he has been a very good friend, to Fitz, and to the entire team.

“As I have always been.” says Enoch.

That’s a callback that many fans of science fiction will recognize. They are reminiscent of the words spoken by Spock, as he was dying in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “I am, and have always been, your friend.” Spock (and Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed him) was an absolute icon of the genre, the half-human alien who saw humanity from the outside and thus helped humanity to be defined in the eyes of a generation. He was logical, though he bent the rules of his logic and his people on occasion. The loss of the character (and, later, the actor) was felt throughout the community which knew him.

What an appropriate resonance for Enoch’s death, as his sacrifice, like Spock’s, saves those around him.

Triumph, and sorrow. Check, and check.

And dread for what the future holds, as well.

Enoch says he has seen the future, and he knows, for certain, that while the agents may live on, this mission is their last one together. Daisy does not like the sound of that, and who would like the idea of being parted from the people who are one’s chosen family? I think she fears that such would be a loss she could never recover from, but I think she underestimates herself, and underestimates her connection with Sousa.

If I recall Daisy’s romantic history properly, she had a boyfriend at the beginning of the series, but he betrayed the principles they supposedly shared. That happened again when she paired up with Ward, who had been corrupted by Hydra, and even when he tried to get close to her again, she rightfully refused him for his betrayals. He was far too unstable and treacherous for her to trust, though she was able to find some forgiveness for him within the Framework, a couple of years later. Finally, there was Lincoln, who never seemed quite right for her to me. He was a fantastic guy, but they just didn’t seem to me like what each other needed. They might have made it work anyway, though, had he not made the ultimate sacrifice to stop Hive and save the world. Oh, and Deke has tried to get in her good graces, but, seriously, he really wasn’t right for her.

But Sousa? Sousa is, I think, exactly what Daisy needs to complement every part of herself. I mean, it’s not just chemistry, or attraction, or matching one another… it’s how great I can see them being together, completing each other, completing each other and even evolving together. I think this may be my most favorite MCU coupling to date.

But, I have digressed! Back to what Enoch was saying!

Enoch knows the team ends, because he has seen the future. My guess is that he’s already lived through it.

Back at the end of Season 6, the last we saw of Fitz-Simmons and Enoch was when they were escaping a Chronicom-infested Shield HQ, the Lighthouse, with next to nothing to work with. Then Simmons suddenly shows up in South America with a highly-advanced Zephyr that can jump through time, to pick up the team and follow after the Chronicoms to the 1930’s. Obviously, getting all of that set up took a bit of time which we did not see. Ergo, Fitz-Simmons and Enoch lived through that time, and then Simmons and Enoch went back in time to go through all of the time-jumping events of this season. It is reasonable to suppose it possible for Enoch and Simmons, as future versions of themselves, to guide the team through the past and back to the future, to encounter the past versions of themselves, and thus know, or having once known, how the story really ends, because they’ve already lived through it.

…which brings me back to what broke Simmons when she was able to remember everything. What has happened in her past that she has gone to such extreme lengths to not remember right now? What did she do that she is hiding from even herself? What happened to make her weep and howl in such despair, misery, and overwhelming pain?

I can think of only one thing: Fitz’s death.

Quite possibly others, too, but especially his… or some deal she made to save it, at the expense of others. I don’t know, but my worst fear, right now, is that Fitz is already dead, in some form, at some time in the team’s future, and Simmons’ past.

Or maybe that’s not quite it? I’ve been wondering how Fitz could track the Chronicoms through time without being detected, but what if he was aboard the time ship itself? Simplest solution, which Simmons would not remember, and then, having remembered, would recall that LMD Coulson blew up said time ship, which would have had him on board, without LMD Coulson knowing it. The very measure taken to protect Fitz, therefore, would have ensured his death.

But… no, I can’t say that’s quite right, either, because of the sheer, overwhelming lengths to which Simmons resorted to keep herself from remembering whatever it is she meant to forget.

So, the details are completely up in the air for the moment, but I’m betting Fitz died at some point between their leaving the Lighthouse and Z-1’s arrival in South America. Simmons’ would simply collapse at that, and need to forget in order to keep functioning, she would think. Maybe the implant was already there, for the exact reason specified, and she modified it a little, and programmed Enoch as a fail-safe.

Why am I so certain? Not only because Simmons broke down so instantaneously, but also because Enoch said, exactly, “Fitz… he was my best friend.”

Was.

Not “is.”

Was.

As Enoch and Simmons are the only ones one Z-1 who would know Fitz’s fate at all, when one breaks down the moment she remembers everything, and the other so precisely refers to their friendship in the past tense… and I notice holes in the entire story about “protecting his location,” well, it makes me dreadfully certain that, if we see Fitz again, it will be to see him die, in Simmons’ and Enoch’s past, which is the team’s future.

So, in summary, we have a whole wide range of everything that is felt in this episode. We have discussions of meaning and relationships. We have joy and sorrow, love and loss, and dire hints of what comes next.

Now, at least, they are out and safe from the time storm, and have the enemy close at hand, namely Sybil, the Chronicoms, Nathaniel Malick, and Cora, the alliance of enemies who should not be. And Cora, courtesy of Nathaniel, has learned to control, and even enjoy, her power.

With less than a full handful of episodes left in this series… it’s time bring on the really big explosions, the really terrible sacrifices, the really powerful words, and the really overwhelming emotions… and this one kicked that off brilliantly.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #296: Take Responsibility

“You do as you have always done – blame others for your transgressions. And in doing so, you reap the same reward – nothing.”
– Khalid Ibn al-Rashid, The Rose and the Dagger

This is another of those quotes that seems particularly relevant right now.

It comes at the climax of the two-part story, wherein Khalid, young ruler of the entire region, is dealing with his greedy, rebellious uncle. The man is petty and prideful, and so he never takes responsibility for his own misdeeds. Khalid, by contrast, seems to, if anything, take too much responsibility for his actions, even that share which rightfully belongs to those who wrong him. As a result, Khalid has gained the loyalty even of those who were once his enemies, he has gained the love of a magnificent woman, he has broken a curse, and he has united his people more strongly than they ever were before, while Khalid’s treacherous uncle has been boxed into a corner, has lost the loyalty of those who once supported him, and, no matter the army he commands, stands truly and utterly alone against the world.

Now, it doesn’t always play out exactly like that, especially on such a grand scale, but that is still the way of things, isn’t it?

When people do bad things, they always blame others, including their victims. “It’s their fault, not mine,” they say. There’s a variety of reasons given for why it’s “their” fault – they didn’t earn it, they don’t deserve it, she was asking for it, she wanted it, there is nothing good about humanity – but all of them boil down to pushing responsibility off onto someone else.

That is not how one gains anything worthwhile. No, that is how one loses everything, piece by piece, until one is left with nothing, and no one.

To change one’s circumstances oneself is to take one’s fate into one’s own hands. That means taking responsibility for it, which means holding oneself accountable for one’s own actions. That accounting… well, accounts for everything one does, for every true reason. Only with that truth in hand can one actively become a better person, a better friend and family member, a better member of society, in better and better circumstances.

I personally believe, with all of my heart, in the principle of personal responsibility. People have risen and fallen in the world for as long as we have had a world to rise and fall in. That possibility of change has always been a constant, across all nations, eras, and traditions. In short, it hasn’t mattered what others have done, only what they have chosen. So, as I see people cursing the world for their lot in life, and cursing others for the skin color, their religion, their country, their creed, or even for being human at all, I am so very saddened for what it means. Not only does it mean that they have their excuse for doing horrible, evil things, but it means that they have given up even on themselves.

That makes me very sad, indeed.

In choosing to blame others for their misdeeds, instead of take responsibility for their own choices, I fear that they are dooming themselves to little more than lonely misery for the rest of their lives.

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This Week on TV, July 18, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

Agents of Shield only has a few episodes left, and they’re still setting up their ultimate showdown of agents vs bad guys. The final mission is easily the biggest doozy of them all. I am sad to see it ending, but, man, am I enjoying the ride! 🙂

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 8, “After, Before”

So, it turns out that while Z-1 may have been properly fixed, after that missile hit a couple episodes ago, the time-traveling engine itself got a little damaged. It’s jumping them again and again, faster and faster, covering less and less ground with each new jump, without any direction but in a mathematically predictable way. The first errant jump took them from the 70’s to 1982, and then to 1983, and then a few months later, and then a few weeks… now it’s down to a couple of days. But, that’s outside Z-1. Inside it, they have about twenty minutes before it jumps within a jump, which will completely destroy the plane and everyone on it.

There is one way to prevent this: turn it off.

In this instance, however, the time engine has an energy field cycling around it very, very fast, so, to reach in and pluck out the necessary piece of it will require someone moving very, very, VERY fast. Yo-Yo’s the only one who can do that, and her abilities aren’t working right. So, they need to get her abilities working right, and to help an Inhuman, they need Inhumans. They have to turn to someone who was an enemy, which they ultimately destroyed, but who is still alive and doesn’t know a thing about them in 1983: the Inhumans of Afterlife, led by Daisy’s mother, Jiaying.

A quick conversation with LMD Coulson, who is still being rebuilt, and Mack approves the mission. They’ll move Z-1 in Afterlife’s direction, to rendezvous as close as possible, but May is taking the quinjet and Yo-Yo ahead, to hopefully get her speed back.

So, on Z-1, we have the agents trying to save the plane and, even more important, save each other. Under such circumstances, Mack bears the weight of command with his usual strength, Sousa gets parachutes ready and apologizes to Simmons for how he took out his frustrations on them right after they saved his life, Simmons gives Sousa a prosthetic leg and records a message for Fitz, Daisy and LMD Coulson are a pair of physical invalids after the one was brutalized by Nathaniel Malick and the other blew himself up and is being rebuilt, and Deke and Enoch are in the background trying to help.

Meanwhile, May and Yo-Yo arrive at Afterlife just in time to witness Gordon and another Inhuman, a knife-teleporting man of Asian descent named Lee, or Li, bring a young woman back Afterlife after she tries to run away. Things are fairly tense between the two parties, one of which knows what’s going on and can’t entirely tell the other and is operating under a time constraint, while the other doesn’t know what’s going but needs to. Jiaying is interested in knowing how Inhuman powers can be taken away, and how they might be restored, but not for the most obvious reasons.

The young woman is Cora, a new Inhuman, with unstable, dangerous powers that she can’t seem to properly control. She’s a danger to everyone around her, and Inhumans deal with that, in accordance with their laws, in exactly one way: death. If they can’t figure out how to save her, then they have to kill her. That’s why Jiaying wants to know how to take away Inhuman powers, as a means to save her daughter.

Yep, Cora is Daisy’s half-sister.

It makes perfect sense, of course, for the long-lived Jiaying to have had more than one lover, even spouse, over the course of her long life, and thus to have had more than one child in her time. And how better to make things ever more personal and painful for the agents than to toss in, among everything else, a sister that Daisy never knew about, who was dead, and who is, in this time, alive? …and becomes an enemy?

That’s getting slightly ahead of things. Back to May and Yo-Yo.

Yo-Yo and May don’t share many details, but Jiaying is wise and observant. She notices that May can sense other emotions, which, apparently, she can do without touching them now, but which connection is strengthened by touch. She also picks up on what might be Yo-Yo’s real problem, but waits until the test results come back to share them. And she’s right: there is nothing physically wrong with Yo-Yo or her abilities. It’s something in her head, something psychological, which her experience with the shrike may have exacerbated, but did not create. And since May can feel what Yo-Yo feels, she may be the perfect person to help her, to guide her, as Inhumans say.

They try meditation, but that turns out just awkward for the both of them, so they go to therapy via sparring. And that gives them some breakthroughs, as May knows how to push Yo-Yo with each blow. The moment the shrike went down her gullet, for instance. Or when their friend in the future, Tess, was killed and publicly displayed (though later brought back to life). Or when she killed Ruby. But most of all, her fears and pains are rooted in a moment from her childhood.

Her father owed a debt to a very bad man, and in Mexico that means, “Get your women and children to safety.” She was sent to her uncle’s home, but the bad man found them, and sent a minion. Her uncle couldn’t pay the sum, but the minion decided to take whatever was there. That included a familiar crucifix necklace, which belonged to Yo-Yo’s grandmother. She was hiding, but when the man turned his back, she sneaked out, took it, and hid herself again. The man noticed when it was missing, and her uncle placed himself between her and this dangerous man. He paid for that with his life, as the man killed him, then grabbed the rest of his loot and ran.

Yo-Yo has blamed herself for that, ever since. Her uncle might have lived if she hadn’t taken the necklace back, if she had just stayed hidden… if she had just stayed still.

So, however fast she’s moved, she has also always stayed still, bouncing back to wherever she was before. And now, with more failures, and losses, and mistakes weighing on her conscience, the incident with the shrike gave her some excuse, on some level, to not move at all.

It’s progress, but the job isn’t done yet. And, of course, they are interrupted by a crisis boiling over… and the intrusion of their enemy.

Cora managed to get free again, but this time she ran away in order to kill herself. She ran into a large, empty space, with a stolen gun, fell to her knees, pointed the gun up under her chin… but before she could pull the trigger, it was vibrated apart.

And there he stands, tall, dark, and powerful: Nathaniel Malick.

In full possession and control of Daisy’s quaking powers, which he now has more experience with mastering than she herself has. He has an army with advanced Chronicom weaponry, as well as all the knowledge, with its accompanying power, provided him by that device which Sybil gave him. And here he has come, at the moment Cora would have succeeded in killing herself, to save her. He talks quite well, an an intriguing, persuasive manner. He speaks of how he was supposed to die, too, but didn’t, and made something more of himself. He stands there, now, intent on defying all the whims of “fate,” taking even that power unto himself. His “friends” arrive on cue, on their way to Afterlife. What they’re going to do, they will do, it’s already happening… and he invites Cora to join him in doing it.

It is very persuasive, to be told that you are important, that you can do what you want and revel in it, free from previous ties, especially when one has been helpless and knowing that death is coming. Suicide was Cora’s way to take control of the one thing left her: her death. But now Nathaniel offers her so much more power, so much more control, and freedom in the anarchy he intends to unleash.

She joins him, and they take Afterlife. They take the place, and all the Inhumans within it, with exception to Gordon and Jiaying, who May and Yo-Yo manage to get out. They promise to fight together against their mutual enemies, but first they have a crisis of their own to solve.

And that brings May and Yo-Yo back to Z-1, just in time for the grand finale. The decision has been made to abandon ship, especially when Yo-Yo shares that she doesn’t have her speed back yet. But as everyone runs for the jet, a moment with May, something she says, sparks a connection in Yo-Yo’s mind.

They call her that because she always bounces back, but Yo-Yo doesn’t know if she can… and then she realizes she doesn’t need to.

All this time, she has, in fact, been holding herself back on some level.

When she realizes that, she finally lets go, and commits, wholly and entirely, holding absolutely nothing back. And that does the trick: her speed is restored. She runs to the time engine, reaches in, pulls out the appropriate part, and voila! It’s done!

Everybody breathes a sigh of relief!

LMD Coulson’s body is finished, and now he needs to charge up, which… well, it’s a moment that he hasn’t had to deal with yet, highlighting how much closer he is to a thing instead of a person.

Daisy goes into the healing pod, with Sousa keeping vigil at her side, with his new leg. (I know I am not the only one who ships the two of them, and I’d say they fit together fairly well)

Basically, the agents are finally able to stop and take a breath before they’ll plunge right back into the overall crisis.

…until the time engine activates itself again, with no apparent warning or cause and no time to do anything about it, and the plane vanishes with everyone all complacent aboard it.

So, Coulson is back (again), Daisy is in recovery, Sousa no longer needs to limp, Mack is a proper Director again, Yo-Yo is back and even better than before, May is getting used to what she does now, Enoch and Deke are trucking along… and they’re all just suddenly gone.

Leaving Jiaying, Afterlife, and the Inhumans in a tight pinch as a powerful enemy has entirely overcome them and intends to do to all of them what he did to Daisy, and what Whitehall did to Jiaying. Oh, and Cora, who punches with fire, apparently, is on his side now.

I notice that this seems to the be season of enemies that just won’t stay dead. Nathaniel was supposed to be dead, but he’s alive now, and ought to have quaked his own bones apart and died, but he’s back. Sybil was reduced to binary code when Coulson blew up her ship, but she returned in a new form and is still destroying her enemies. And now Cora, who was going to be killed and tried to kill herself, is still alive, and leading the charge against her people.

Only a handful of episodes left now, and I have no clue whatsoever what is going to happen or who is going to survive. Also, when and how are they getting Simmons and Fitz back to each other?

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Sunday’s Wisdom #295: We Need Hope

“Even the spirits of men and women who would stand up to outright torture can be crushed by enough prolonged hopelessness.”
– Commodore Honor Harrington, Echoes of Honor
Honor Harrington
Series, by David Weber

When Honor says this, she is speaking of something she knows very well. She has had recent experiences which have acquainted her most intimately with what it means to lose hope. And with what it means to be tortured. She was able to come to grips with the latter, but the former? That nearly destroyed her. In fact, she was lost in despair when she found another well of strength within her, namely the resolve to meet her fate, however horrible, as her best self. That was the only hope she had left, when all the rest were lost to her.

Now, in this part of her story, she and a handful of survivors are trapped in a hellish place, with the odds stacked against their survival, let alone their escape. Her intention is to take her people, and everyone else who will follow her, and save them all. She intends to go home. Thus, she carries hope to a people who, like her, have known hopelessness, and for a much, much longer time than she did.

She is very right to be wary, because anyone who goes without hope for too long may never be able to accept it again. And the rejection of hope can be every bit as fatal as misplaced hopes. And why does one reject hope? Because one has lost it, and grown accustomed to lacking it. It’s like if a bone was somehow removed from the flesh, and then could somehow be restored or replaced: the loss was painful, and the restoration could be most helpful, but it’s still going to hurt.

Not everyone can take that kind of hurt. Not even if the alternative, of remaining without hope, is worse.

I’m reminded of something from the show Supernatural, where the two lead heroes are captured and imprisoned. They’re not tortured at all, just locked up in concrete rooms and left there, with only meal times to pass the time. That is the torture which was chosen for them, one which their keeper has seen break anyone: prolonged hopelessness. They simply had nothing to do, and no way out, and these two men, who have faced down monsters of every kind, and suffered losses and pains of every kind, were both broken by it.

I remember a scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender, where an old woman who was once very nice became very nasty instead. The difference? She spent years and years in a prison, barely surviving, and utterly without hope. She managed to break herself out, but she was without hope for so long that she never really regained it. She lost her humanity, her compassion, to the deep-seated hatred, which had its roots in her years of despair.

And I look around today, at the turmoil ripping my country apart. People are so hateful, so vengeful, so petty and violent. I am of the opinion that many of them are simply without hope, and have lived that way for far too long. They’re lashing out, trying to fill the holes in their hearts with… stuff. With things. With bloodshed. With destruction. But without hope, it won’t matter what they tear down or who they destroy. No matter how much they succeed, they’ll never really win, will they?

Many are suffering, and going to suffer in the times ahead. But those who stand tall will do so only if they can hold on to their hope. Otherwise, those without hope are already broken.

Hope is what drives us to improve things, to improve ourselves, to endure, to build, to bend our backs to the labor of saving ourselves and those around us, one day at a time.

Despair is what drives us to break things, as we are already broken, and to leave our souls to rot.

Hope is so small, and so strong, and so fragile, and so stubbornly resilient because we need it. We need it as human beings, as individuals, as communities, as families and nations, and as civilization.

Hope is vital, because it’s lack leaves us always, inherently, bereft and weak.

That’s why villains always try to break it, and steal it, and snuff it out.

That’s why the greatest heroes are those who spread hope wherever they go, through every act of love and kindness.

The world is breaking because people don’t have hope.

And the world is still alive because people do have hope.

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This Week on TV, July 11, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

Despite the gravity of the subject matter, this week’s Agents of Shield was a fairly lighthearted, spoofy homage to the 80’s movies, and robot movies especially. I suppose, as the halfway point of the final season, this was about as fitting as it could get, as Mack mourned his losses, and Deke finally fit in as a stalwart friend, while the enemy (old and new) began to make a comeback that ought to propel us through the final few episodes of the series.

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 7, “The Totally Excellent Adventures of Mack and the D”

This week’s episode picked up exactly where the last week ended: Z-1 is gone, leaving Mack and Deke stranded in 1982, apparently. Deke tries to hit the ground running, figure out what to do, and he also tries to be there for Mack, in the wake of his most devastating loss. But Mack can’t do that right then. He was hurt, terribly, mere moments ago, and he just can’t keep fighting right then. Heck, the Chronicoms’ time ship was destroyed, so the mission ought to be over now anyway. He has lost both his parents and his purpose. So, Mack just drives off, leaves Deke, and everything else, in the dust.

I have no idea how he manages to pay for anything, but, somehow or other, he does. He gets a place, out somewhere remote, and goes into self-imposed isolation. He stops taking care of himself, letting a monstrous beard grow out. He just drinks, and puts model cars together. Alone.

Deke manages to find him, and checks in on him every so often. He managed to get in the door once, trying to get Mack back on his feet, but Mack just quietly got him back out said door and refused to answer it again.

You gotta give Deke props here. He knows what it means to lose his parents, and he has, in his own way, matured greatly since we first met him. He doesn’t give up. He keeps coming back, keeps checking on Mack, keeps leaving bags of groceries at the door, keeps trying to reach him. Months go by, the year changes over to 1983, and he keeps at it. For once, he did something I find to be completely worthy of respect.

…but, of course, he had to be up to his old antics somewhere somehow.

Deke manages to get Mack to come out to a bar to see him perform. Yep. Perform. He’s started a band and is covering a bunch of classic songs that haven’t been written by their original creators yet. He’s got a good set of pipes, and he’s cribbing off a winning formula, so success follows. That would be how he pays the bills, at least.

Mack is, naturally, disgusted and angry. He does not get less so when Deke reveals that the band is a cover. He’s recruited a hodgepodge team of agents which, as a band, can go all over the place, with lots of high-tech “equipment” in tow. It’s not an entirely bad idea, especially as they have reason to believe that the Chronicoms are not all dead. Still, Mack is reluctant, specifically the shouting-match version of reluctant, and his mood still does not improve when he learns Deke is using the Lighthouse as a base, or when he finds a digital version of Coulson still alive, in a way, or when Deke presents a shotgun battleax. He has some good points, but the real problem is that he’s been lingering in his pain for too long.

That pain only begins to fade with the realization the Deke hasn’t just been fooling around, and hasn’t even just been checking on Mack so faithfully. He’s also been looking in on the younger version of Mack, and his little brother, as they’re being raised by their uncle. The woman who tells him about this thinks that Deke is looking after a son that Mack has abandoned, but it’s the fact that Deke is, unquestionably, caring, faithfully, for him as best he can that gets Mack to start opening himself up to the possibilities.

And just in the nick of time, too!

LMD Coulson managed to survive the explosion in some way which landed him in a hard drive. He interacts with people by way of a TV screen, but he’s able to monitor other electrical things, like the power grid. He’s managed to catch the scent of Sibyl, who has also survived in digital form, though he hasn’t been able to nail down her whereabouts.

Sibyl, it turns out, managed to find refuge in another hard drive, whose owner took it to a lonely geek for repair. She made herself known to him, asking for help, and he made her a robotic body. It’s very primitive, being limited to 1980’s tech, which limits how much damage she can do, but, as she builds and arms two more robots, it becomes clear that these primitive robots can kill a man just as dead. The geek who built her body and thought they were true loves is proof of that.

The three robots infiltrate the Lighthouse and attack the agents, killing the band’s cocaine-dealing drummer and the girl he had with him. They’re primitive, but buzzsaws, drills, guns, and, apparently a laser, can still do plenty of fatal damage. Deke’s team has to work properly together, under Mack’s leadership, to win.

That is exactly what Mack needed. He needed time to feel his pain, and he needed the enemy who killed his parents. With Sibyl’s arrival to the Lighthouse, he has a purpose again, and the agents make fairly short, albeit very dramatic, work of the robots.

That’s pretty much it, really. Director Mack is back, Deke is finally accepted for his efforts, they have a team, and they have an enemy to fight. So, they do.

And that’s what they’re doing when Yo-Yo and May show up, operating on a time limit to find Mack and Deke and rendezvous with Z-1.

Unfortunately, though all three of Sibyl’s new robotic bodies are demolished, she remains alive on another hard drive, with a screen of her own. She also, through the use of a fourth robot, smaller, and commandeered from its previous, deceased owner, gets exactly what she was after from the Lighthouse. It’s a glowing device. Not sure what it is, though I would have bet on something like the Teseract once upon a time. What’s certain is this: it’s the means by which she became the Predictor, who can see how potential actions will make new potential timelines.

And she just delivered it to a familiar face: the surviving Nathaniel Malick.

…good grief, can’t that guy just be dead already! He was supposed to be dead already! It was a perfect death we had for him already, all nice and destroyed by the very same power he was trying to steal! Sheesh! This particular Hydra spawn is really not staying down! And why hasn’t he aged since we last saw him?

So, the enemy has been devastated, but is making a huge and terrible comeback from beyond the grave, while the agents are trying to rally and home in on them.

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