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

7.09, “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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