This Week on TV, Dec. 16, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

For all that I had only two shows in my lineup air this week, it was still pretty gripping.

The tension escalates ever higher on The Gifted, which won’t return until January (all hail the Holiday Drought!), with twisting plots and earth-shattering revelations.

And Agents of Shield drove our heroes ever further towards their limits, in an increasingly desperate situation, with another agent falling into enemy hands, for the third episode in a row, and the surprising return of a familiar face. (finally!)

So, without further ado!

The Gifted

1.10 “eXploited”

So, not the season finale. Just the cliffhanger that will last until January. And what a cliffhanger it is!

I was partially right about Esme. She wasn’t a Hound, but she was also not the paragon of virtue she pretended to be, and she was manipulating the situation to achieve her own end. That end turned out to be far worse than anything I imagined.

The opening flashback is that of a political rally where Esme, called Stephanie, was acting as part of some anti-mutant politician’s staff. She’s the gorgeous assistant. Said politician gets a phone call from SS about mutants infiltrating his campaign, just as Esme suddenly gets headaches and hears voices, just like her own, telling her, “Get out! They came for us! They’re coming for you!” So she gets out, clutching her head and crying in pain.

We didn’t actually see her get out of the crowd, and hearing her own voice was off-putting, so I had no idea what to expect. Did she get away, or did SS catch her and turn her into a Hound? That seemed less and less likely as the episode progressed, because she wasn’t displaying anything like withdrawal symptoms, so she couldn’t be a Hound… so, what, exactly, was her game?

Whatever it was, she was playing it pretty skillfully. Though the Struckers have joined the Underground, there’s still some division between them and the rest, and after the failure of last episode, tempers are flaring. Polaris is ready to declare war, while the Struckers want to try something more diplomatic, and the argument heats up quickly, with blame being hurled in every direction. Eclipse tries to bridge the gap, and Thunderbird’s a bit more forceful, and they’re both right: they’re not enemies, or different sets of people. They’re all in this together, all one people.

Still, the Struckers go off to try and find do something somewhat peacefully, and the other leaders look into gathering information and storming the castle, so to speak. Both efforts are fruitless, there’s no way into Trask, and there’s no one they can call for help.

Then along comes Esme, reading everyone’s thoughts and manipulating everyone like puppets on her strings.

First she goes to the Struckers, and convinces them to go talk to Turner. They sneak out without telling anyone else, just grabbing food, a car, and a gun. They believe Turner is a good man, really, just angry and in pain, so they want to reason with him. This involves going to his house and basically holding him hostage for a talk, which, well get to that in a moment. Basically, they’re hoping to convince him to get their kids and the other mutants away from Trask, even if it means putting them in jail instead.

Then Esme goes to the Underground leaders, telling them that the Struckers have gone to Turner, to try and get the mutants out of Trask and into prison instead. It’s true, but that’s the thing about master-level liars: just a little tweak in the narrative, and even the truth becomes a lie. The others are unhappy about this development, but Thunderbird sees an opportunity. If the Struckers are successful, then Turner will have to transport the mutants, which gives them an opening. It’s not much better, what with having so many agents armed and alert and possibly Hounds mixed in, so any assault could easily turn into a bloodbath, but it’s better than trying to invade a fortress. It’s still a desperate plan, but it’s a plan.

Meanwhile, Turner has had a rather trying day already. He got a moment with Dreamer, and threw his anger in her face, because she accidentally made him suffer the loss of his daughter a second time. Frankly, though, this is one time when I don’t feel for him. Ever since his daughter’s death, he’s invaded homes, ripped families apart, hunted people like animals, collared them like dogs, sold them like cattle to Trask, and spilled so much innocent blood it’s horrifying. And then he goes home, which many mutants don’t have, every night, to his loving wife, gets a good night’s rest, and gets up the next day to do it all over again. And this is what he does in the name of his daughter, in the name of his loss and his anger. He has soaked that name, and her memory, in blood and suffering. It’s disgraceful.

I may not wish that suffering on even my worst enemy, but it seems to me like even the agony he is suffering is barely a taste of what he has inflicted on others. What’s that saying, about karma?

So, after he torments Dreamer, telling he she’s going into the Hound program, and sees Blink refuse to make a deal – with, by the way Turner, the people who killed her family, though they never did anything wrong, never hurt anyone – Turner gets a call from Campbell. He wants his much-awaited and eagerly-sought-after prize: the Strucker kids. Turner almost refuses. Almost. Which amounts to absolutely nothing, really, when you almost do or almost don’t do something. He relents and sends Campbell all four of his latest prisoners.

He might have been a man of honor once, and might even still be so, deep down. But he isn’t now. Small wonder he needs to go home and have a drink. Which is interrupted by the arrival of the Struckers and a long conversation. It’s an interesting confrontation, these two couples who hail entirely from the human side of world, having been complacent even knowing bad things were happening, spurred into action by the terrible fates of their children. They’re very similar to each other, the men driving forward and the women at their side, a voice of reason.

Turner maintains that he has done nothing wrong, and nothing illegal, that it’s the mutants who are always doing wrong, that it’s the mutants who are terrorists and he’s just an instrument of protection and justice, and as his work is sanctioned by Congress, then anyone who has a problem ought to use the ballot box better.

That’s an awful lot of rationalizing. You ever notice that doing the right thing doesn’t usually need quite that much justification?

The argument goes on, until Cait ends it simply by sharing what she’s seen. She was afraid, when Turner entered her home with a gun to take her son away. She bears witness to the fate of the Hounds, pumped full of drugs, addicted, conditioned to obey, and sent to kill the people they love. Turner thinks that at least the Strucker kids are still alive, so they’ve got nothing on his pain, but Cait knows that what Trask does to turn mutants into Hounds… that is even worse than death (which I would agree with).

It’s Turner’s wife who keeps him from setting a team on the Struckers immediately. She’s had her eyes opened to what her husband really does, and just asks what he’s really doing in their baby girl’s name.

That, finally, makes the man pause.

Meanwhile, in Trask’s lab, Blink and Dreamer, Andy and Lauren, they all try to hold it together, even knowing they’re condemned to Hell on Earth. Lauren tries to say they just need to hold out until help arrives. Blink tries to tell Dreamer that they can escape, but they have to stay strong. It turns hollow when Campbell has his way with his new test subjects.

He knows the Struckers, their ancestry, and their abilities. He monitors their vital signs as he puts them in an adamantium room and demands that they use their combined powers. He thinks the room unbreakable, forgetting that nothing is any such thing, and there’s something he wants to gain from this observation. He wants it badly, so much so that even getting scars all over his face isn’t stopping him. Lauren refuses, and they shock her with her collar. Andy is tempted, to save his sister, but stands with her, refusing.

So Campbell ups the ante: he bring Dreamer and Blink in, and threatens to kill them of the kids don’t comply. Dreamer tells them not to, so he shoots her first, much to the horror of every decent person there. Then holding the gun to a sobbing Blink’s head, he repeats his demand. And this time, the Strucker kids obey. The readings go straight off the charts, and they do some serious damage to the chamber… the adamantium chamber. With another blow or two, if they’d had time, they probably could have escaped.

The surviving prisoners are very much at their lowest right now. They just watched Dreamer die. There’s no rescue coming. They gave in to Campbell, gave him what he wanted. Which, apparently it has to do with some chemical that lets the siblings join their power together, and he calls it a permanent solution to the mutant problem. Which does not bode well.

About the only good news is when Turner, fresh from his talk with the Struckers, comes storming in with a small army of agents behind him. He informs Campbell that they’re revisiting their deal, and there are concerns about the legality of what goes on here. He’s taking the mutant prisoners away. All of them. Campbell is not happy, but he currently has little choice.

I couldn’t help but recall that Campbell practically killed a government woman who also got in his way. I was afraid he’d do something to Turner and company then and there, but that was the wrong thing for me to fear!

Thunderbird, Polaris, and Eclipse are hot on SS’ heels, waiting for the transport to come out of Trask so they can ambush them and rescue the prisoners. Esme convinced them to let her come, so she could recon the transport’s unseen security measures before the main assault. She and Eclipse sneak in close, and he does not like the look of what he sees. They’re up against a small army, albeit one that is momentarily delayed at the gate.

But Esme assures him she’ll be fine.

He has just enough time to register what she said before she hits him with a taser, leaving him stunned and helpless for a moment. She steps forward, and does exactly what she planned to, what she manipulated the Struckers, the Underground, and, indirectly, SS into arranging for her: SS gathered the prisoners together, took them out of Trask, and now she attacks the convoy entirely on her own. Eyes glowing blue, as brilliant as stars, she unleashes her power, telling the various guards to turn the collars off, to kill each other, to kill themselves.

It’s a slaughter, they don’t even know what’s hitting them. Turner takes a bullet to the shoulder by chance, and watches his people die by each others’ hands, and their own. His friend and right hand man kills himself.

The mutants are freed and stagger out of the bus. Two of them stand beside Esme, identical to her, three telepaths compelling their enemies to die.

…and here’s where I went, “Holy ****! It’s the Cuckoos!

For those who are unfamiliar, while the name might be ridiculous, the Cuckoos are a these telepathis sisters of great power. There were originally five of them (what was one step up from quadruplets?), but one turned evil and killed another before being killed in return, leaving three, which it looks like we’re just going with the three in this iteration. Their telepathic bond was such that they were practically one mind in three bodies, and exceptionally strong individually, but especially together. There’s a reason they’re identical siblings: they’re clones of none other than Emma Frost, a psychic who stands in the same arena as the likes of Professor X and Jean Grey. I rather liked them, or the idea of them, though they are absolutely terrifying to have as enemies, as demonstrated here.

Safe to say she did give Polaris that nightmare. And this explains why Esme’s own voice was in her head, telling her to get out, earlier. That was the voice of her sisters.

Eclipse is so horrified by what he’s seeing that he stumbles back to Polaris and Thunderbird, gasping about the rampant death. Too little, too late.

This is all going down just as the Struckers are being read the riot act by one of the others at HQ, and they’re realizing that Esme has played them. Too little, too late.

Turner seems to be the only SS agent still alive, seeing all the prisoners rescues, his friends dead, and realizing what’s happening. Too little, too late.

Say what you will about the Underground, they went to extreme pains to avoid killing people thus far, and killing people is one of the crimes that gets you banned, according to their rules. Esme is exactly who they wanted to keep out: manipulative, deceptive, murderous, cold-blooded, and powerful beyond their ability to control. I do wonder why she didn’t just control the other mutants, but it hardly matters at this point. This debacle is going to bring straight-up war down on all their heads, and she’s calling it “fun.”

She is flat-out dangerous.

There are obviously limits to her abilities, thank goodness, or her scheming wouldn’t have been necessary, but… wow. How do you defend against someone who can simply rob you of your free will, and make you kill yourself?

SS may have been the enemy, and treated the mutants inhumanely, but this is a fate more cruel than most would ever deserve.

Agents of Shield

5.04 “A Life Earned”

I really wish I was just binging this season! Everything is just following right on the heels of whatever just happened, it’s excellent! 🙂

So, after having captured the legendary Quake, Destroyer of Worlds, Kasius is practically giddy. If the Inhumans are his livestock, then Daisy would easily be the most prized horse in the stable. He sells Inhumans, after all, and with the fortune he’ll make off her, he’ll finally be able to leave this little backwater hole he’s been trapped in. He’s so certain of this that he actually shows Daisy off to Basha, from last episode, just to rub her nose in the fact that she won’t be getting a chance to purchase her.

He’s not entirely stupid, though. He is deeply suspicious that something is going on right under his nose, that the foretold return of Shield has occurred. Unfortunately, as Deke points out, he can’t exactly get any clarification on just what these prophecies stated, because he already killed all the believers except for Vergil, who became roach food. Deke says he’ll look into the possibility of any more agents from the past coming forward through time, but he doesn’t sell out anyone else. At least, not yet.

Kasius can reasonably ascertain that the other oddity he recently encountered, namely a woman with unblemished skin and a substantial skill set far above her supposed station, is probably linked to Daisy’s presence in the Lighthouse. He puts them in the same room, knowing Simmons can’t hear, and ask the both of them, with no perceived method of communication between them, to account if anyone else has come out of the past, and to tell the story of their arrival. The test is to see of they match. Oh, and he has a mind-reading Inhuman there, to verify the truth or falsehood of their words.

That, as it happens, is their salvation.

The mind-reader, whatever his name is, gave Daisy some advice earlier: to play the game and fight to win, because that’s what they have to do. If they fail, their families are punished, and if they succeed, their families are rewarded. So it’s every man for himself, because there is no alternative.

However, this is the man’s first time near enough to Kasius to listen in on his thoughts, and he detects a design, an intention to destroy the Lighthouse at the very same moment he leaves it. That’s every Inhuman’s family, consigned to death. That changes things. If they keep playing the game, if they let Kasius do as he pleases, then they lose the very thing they fight for.

And just like that, the mind-reader’s allegiance changes. Amazing how that happens, when you intend to screw over the people who have obeyed you and played by your rules, and so you lose their loyalty.

He later reveals to Daisy that he can make himself heard, as well as listen in on other people’s thoughts. He just relays the story Daisy concocts to Simmons undetected, so the stories match. He also verifies what they say as true. If Kasius gets even an inkling that any of this is not, then he’ll know his mind-reader has betrayed him. It’s a huge risk, but doing nothing is even worse.

So, Daisy finally has a proper co-conspirator with which to undermine Kasius, and with Simmons right next to him, things are looking up. It’s time to change the rules of the game.

There is, of course, the chance that Daisy’s new friend is only playing them for some agenda, to keep close and spy on her. A bit convoluted, but possible, and it fits with what Kasius tells his underling (I know we heard her name, but I can’t remember it), that she’s not the only one working on this. Which, she is working on it, hard. She recalls when Simmons saved the man’s life earlier, she had help, another woman, who helped cauterize the wound. Simmons is able to play that off as an unknown, but suspicion lingers.

Meanwhile, May and Coulson get Deke’s help on another matter. A bit of information dropped in their lap, indicating the importance of floor 35 in something the Kree have going. Deke doesn’t know what it is, and he’s not keen to help (he spins a story that Daisy has gone dark), until he hears the message from the surface. That instantly changes his mind, and he gets them in. They find it’s where the Kree create new humans, babies to be raised by selected parents. They splice Inhuman DNA in, too, to increase the odds, the crop. They just added Daisy’s DNA to the mix, too.

…which, that is one small wrinkle in the narrative: if Kasius plans to just destroy the Lighthouse when he leaves… then why keep growing new humans, and why splice in anymore Inhuman DNA, if he’s so certain he’s about to leave?

That seems an inconsistency, to me, with the mind-reader’s story.

And speaking of inconsistencies: May and Coulson find that Daisy has been held since the day before, so Deke’s story is a lie, and he sold her out. He tries to explain, to justify himself that he did them all a favor by ridding them of a loose cannon who was nonchalantly putting everyone in danger, and making a profit at the same time. There’s some truth to this, I think, but he’s also misunderstanding things. Daisy and the agents needed to be put on leashes to keep them from running immediately amok, but that’s because they do care, not because they don’t.

And having proven himself a liar, and a double-crossing sneak, Coulson elects to do to him what he did to Daisy: keep him in a box and “out of the mix.” He has Mack weld his door shut. They’ll make do without him until they really need him, and how useful he is may depend on the truth of his story, that he lost his parents, exiled to the surface to be roach food, and yet, somehow, that is his father’s voice on the radio trying to talk to Vergil. We’ll see.

Unfortunately, their little adventure down in the Kree lab drew the attention of Kasius’ lethal woman. May had Coulson take Deke back up and get information. She’s a formidable warrior, second only to Quake, I would say, but she’s outmatched against a Kree with floating balls of death. She doesn’t make it out. The way Kasius talks later, it seems May was captured alive, but the blood on the balls does not inspire confidence in her condition, and you know she never would have been taken down easy.

Finally, Mack and Yo-Yo were Grill’s thugs of choice, sent to rough up a guy who owed him money. That’s where the tip about level 35 came from, but they didn’t know what it meant, just that this guy was getting a package. So, they went in to threaten and scare him into paying up, including threatening the package, which they didn’t know was a baby. That cultural misunderstanding enrages their target, who rages about how violent Mack is and how he doesn’t deserve to ever have a child, because he’d ruin it.

extreme emotional sore spot!

Mack loses reason for a moment and nearly beats the man senseless. And this after sharing his fears with Yo-Yo, that they’ll lose themselves to this hellish Lighthouse. She assured him they wouldn’t. And then she had to console him that he was still a good man, and a good father. Sure, he may have been able to function sooner after his real daughter died, but he’s still suffered from the loss ever since. Now to have had so many years within the Framework, before losing her again? That’s agony. Pure agony. Anyone would lash out. Anyone.

Finally, Kasius is putting Daisy up for auction to the highest bidder, and a number of guests are arriving, including a mysterious stranger in a helmet like Deke’s (and Star-Lord’s). Kasius is making an event of it, with a series of events (meaning combat matches) to entertain everyone, topped off with seeing the legendary Quake in action, to display her power, power which any of his customers may own. That’s when the stranger speaks up, demanding that the Destroyer of Worlds fight to the death.

And it’s Fitz.

…wait, what? Fitz? Fitz?! What is he doing there, how is he there, and what is he doing?!

We’ll have to wait until next week for those answers.

And yay! He’s finally back!

So, we have Simmons as a servitor, Daisy in chains (with a supposed “ally”) about to be sold, May taken prisoner and beaten bloody at least (hopefully not dead), leaving Coulson, Mack, and Yo-Yo as the only free agents, the latter two being pressed into service as Grill’s enforcers, with one group trying to stop Kasius from destroying the Lighthouse, the other trying to make contact with the people on the surface, and Fitz suddenly popping up as if he were an enemy to Daisy.

Did I miss anything there?

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