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

7.10, “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

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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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

7.08, “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

7.07, “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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Sunday’s Wisdom #294: It’s Our Power

“Power appeared to be something that a ruler had, the she held, that she had taken from the people. The appearance was false. Power was something people gave, gave willingly, even if they didn’t know it, even if they resented it.”
– from The Last Mortal Bond, by Brian Staveley

It seemed fitting to talk about this observation, made by a young empress, the day after my nation’s Independence Day. That’s the day we celebrate how a revolutionary idea became a revolution. That idea was that the people who ruled only did so by the consent of the people they ruled. It wasn’t divine right, or right of birth, or any such thing. Meaning, those at the top were not actually “above” the people at the bottom at all.

Everyone was created equal, and entitled to the same rights, which, it was a ruler’s role to secure those rights, just as it was a soldier’s role to fight, a merchant’s role to trade, a teacher’s role to disperse knowledge, a farmer’s role to reap and sow, and a blacksmith’s role to create the tools of civilization. It was a job that needed doing. That was why people gave the ruler their consent to rule them in the first place. It didn’t just happen, it was, on some level, a choice. A contract, even.

And if a ruler, or a government, or a system of governance failed to do it’s job, especially if it turned around and became the oppressor, instead of the protector of its people’s rights, then the people were fully justified – nay, obligated – to turn on the traitorous government, cut ties, even rip it down if necessary, and put in a new government as a new mechanism for securing their rights.

Just like anyone would be within their right to fire an employee who does not do their job, and hire someone else who actually will. Just like anyone would be within their right to leave an abusive job that does not meet their needs, or the terms of any contract, and find a new place to work. Just like anyone would be within their right to end an abusive relationship, or report a violent abuser to the police. These are all contracts, and when one side fails to honor the agreement, the wronged party is fully within their right, and their power, to dissolve the contract and seek something more beneficial.

The key is to remember who really has the power, here.

For some time, I must admit to feeling all but powerless within my country. I see the people in power playing their self-serving games, glutting themselves on the blood and sacrifice of us normal folk. I see masses riled up in anger and ignorance, carrying forward an agenda of destruction. I see corporate interests, talking heads in the media, experts on every subject bought and paid for, and the normalizing of destructive, abusive behaviors in the stories we tell, while everything good and honorable is degraded, derided, and left in the dirt. I see the puppet strings of foreign, unfriendly powers bent on the destruction of our entire way of life.

There is so much wrong, so much bad, so much evil at work, on every side, it feels overwhelming.

But all of those people in power? They don’t really have it. They don’t own it. It’s not theirs. It’s ours. It’s mine. That is my power they’re using, and I don’t like how they’re using it, and I know I’m not the only one.

The people who have power have only our power, the power we let them have, and they know it. That’s why every tyrant is terrified of dissent, because it’s a threat to their grip on our power.

So, the only question is… what will we do with our power?

Food for thought!

And Happy Independence Day, America!

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This Week on TV, July 4, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

Agents of Shield has never shied away from putting its characters through a wringer that even sadists might blanch at. It reaches personal highs and lows of epic proportions. And now, halfway though the final season, they managed to ramp up the pressure, and the damage, in ways that left me with that feeling of…

Oh… s***.

On that note, let’s dive in.

Agents of Shield

7.06, “Adapt or Die”

The episode begins with Sybil the Predictor conversing with the head Chronicom hunter. He is not entirely pleased with current events, but accepts that the losses they just suffered, in the form of Malick and Insight, are acceptable in exchange for what they have gained, namely a bead on the location of the Zephyr, which, apparently, is actually Z-1, now. I didn’t catch that before. They also have plans in place which will take advantage of how the agents are now scattered, vulnerable, and reckless. They are cracking under the pressure, it seems.

In the Lighthouse, the good news is that General Stoner (I caught his name this time) has not been corrupted by Hydra. The bad news is that May and Coulson are taken prisoner, and her doesn’t believe them. Oh, and the Hydra-Chronicom alliance has afforded the enemy the chance to take over the Lighthouse’s computer systems, initiating lockdown and firing three missiles at Z-1.

With Enoch piloting, Z-1 manages to avoid two of those missiles, but the third one hits. While it doesn’t outright destroy them, it does leave the jet uniquely crippled. The one system most compromised is the one that lets them jump safely through time. It conducts a current from the source of that ability to the field outside Z-1. With that connection down, the next jump will be catastrophic, with parts of Z-1, and anyone inside it, jumping through, and the rest being obliterated.

So, first priority: fixing Z-1! Like, now!

Simmons sends Deke to work the problem at one end while she and Enoch start at the other, the main controls. Unfortunately, the problem with her memory is acting up, and she doesn’t know what to do. So Enoch takes her and performs some sort of procedure, operating on some micro-machine in Simmons’ neck.

It’s unnerving enough to see that when Deke happens on the scene in progress, he fears that Enoch has betrayed them and knocks him out with a charged defibrillator. Simmons is not so happy about this as Deke might have thought she would be, but he made the best call he could, and he refuses to budge on the issue until she explains it.

The little machine in her neck is her own invention. She made it, and Enoch keeps it running, so she won’t remember where Fitz is, because if the Chronicoms get her, they’ll find him, and he is totally exposed in a place where he is somehow able to track their time-jumping escapades. If Fitz is found, that’s it, game over, they won’t be able to keep up with their enemy anymore, which they’ve only barely been managing to do thus far. So, it’s a fail-safe, and a final layer of defense between Fitz and the Chronicoms, just in case the Chronicoms get Simmons.

Fortunately, Enoch managed to do enough of the job that Simmons is able to fix Z-1 and ensure, and, afterward, Deke is able to apologize to Enoch as he finishes up.

It’s a happy moment as Enoch is accepted within the family of Shield’s agents.

Elsewhere, Daisy and Sousa wake to find themselves cuffed, chained, and, in Daisy’s case, unable to use her powers. Nathaniel Malick, who ought to have been fed to Hive some years earlier, makes his entrance. He’s not really Hydra, being not so keen to worship the space-squid that, in the old timeline, his own brother fed him to, but he’s still dabbled enough, he has the connections to access Whitehall’s information. With that, he intends to take Daisy’s quaking power for himself. And, bonus, as he’s not privy to the time-jumping, he thinks Sousa might age more slowly than normal men, which he also wants.

For Daisy, this is like facing her own personal devil. This is what was done to her mother, and even though she survived, she went mad, lost much of her compassion, and eventually became an enemy of both Shield and all of humanity. Nathaniel is of the same cloth as Whitehall, now, like a servant of her own personal bogeyman. And this surprisingly personal monster takes her, and bleeds her, brutalizes her, stopping just shy of killing her, before dropping her back in chains, on the brink.

Sousa, good man that he is, and veteran of a hellish war, steps in and does the only thing he knows how to do for his comrade. He keeps her close, rests her head in his lap, and talks to her. He tells her about another comrade of his, an unmitigated asshole, who, despite his flaws, was there at a moment when Sousa was nearly killed. He talked, and talked, and kept talking, for hours, keeping Sousa awake, reassuring him that they were going to make it. They were going to make it back home. But his friend didn’t make it at all… but Sousa did, so he’s paying it forward, and doing what he can to keep Daisy going, to keep her fighting through this nightmare.

Daisy is probably the epitome of someone who has a lot of fight in her. Even when she’s running away, which she has done several times, she’s still going into another fight. And now, being brutalized by her own personal monster, she still has plenty of fight in her, as Sousa observes when she manages to pass him a shard of glass, which she smuggled to him within the flesh of her own hand.

Yeah. She’s unstoppable.

It makes exactly the right difference, when the guard comes in, and unchains Sousa, unaware that he’s armed. Sousa dispatches said guard, uses the key to unlock all the restraints, and carries Daisy to safety…

…though, a moment of absolutely poetic justice, as just when it seems that Nathaniel Malick has gained Daisy’s powers, and bars their way… those same powers turn on him. See, he doesn’t have Daisy’s experience with them, which means he can’t control them. So, his brand new, stolen power shatters his own bones, as it once threatened to do to Daisy’s, and buries him in the wreck of his own lair.

That. Was. Glorious! 🙂

And, in this experience, Sousa has come fully on board. He has bonded with Daisy, and he has found his place, after having been pulled out of the one he used to have in history. He truly is one of the team, now.

Back in the Lighthouse, May and LMD Coulson strike proverbial gold. The Chronicoms are making another move, but they don’t know about May’s empathic ability, to feel only what others feel. As they’re locked up, and hashing out a few issues between them – like May’s emotionless state and Coulson’s continual resurrections – Stoner is refusing to believe them and intends to lock them up. But one of the agents, high in the chain of command, touches May, and she senses no emotions.

That’s when they put it together: the Chronicoms are upping their game, and in imitation of LMD Coulson. He’s able to imitate emotion because he has the copied mind of the original Coulson, and they have the means to copy minds, too. So, now they’re not just taking faces, they’re stealing minds and skins and personalities. They are, at that moment, taking over Shield’s highest levels within the Lighthouse, and Stoner is up next.

The two of them barely get to Stoner in time, but, on the plus side, they do get to him in time, verify that it’s actually him, he’s on their side now, and, bonus, Coulson finds access to the Chronicoms’ time ship, with lots of sleeping hunters within. He also gets access to the digital space which allows him to talk to Sybil, the Predictor (and kudos on the choice of name, after the oracle of Delphi).

It’s an interesting conversation between this alien creature that believes she and her kind transcend humanity on one side, and, on the other, an artificial intelligence that remembers being human. One sees humanity as being far more limited, and weak, which makes them emotional, and reckless. The other sees humanity in all its mixed glory, filled with the power of sacrifice, including the ability to lay down one’s own life, even while struggling against the death that inevitably comes for us all.

Coulson knows a bit about that. He’s died at least three times himself already. It’s kind of his super power.

Which leaves Sybil a bit nonplussed as Coulson withdraws from the connection, radios May, and blows up the Chronicom ship, with himself at the center of the blast.

That, too, was a glorious moment.

Unfortunately, there is another, less-glorious aspect of sacrifice, and loss. That is the weight of it upon one’s shoulders, and the knife of horrible things done, and tragic losses suffered. One too many losses, one tragedy too personal, one injury too deep, too soon, can break even the strongest and most resilient of men.

Which brings us, sadly, to Mack’s part in this episode.

He and Yo-Yo go to rescue his parents. They get in, navigate their way safely through, bust through a wall or two, and reach them. He’s a bit out of sorts, trying to deal with them, especially as he still remembers all the good times they were supposed to be having, but he’s still good. Father and son are a bit at odds, as the man is in danger, alongside his wife, with two young sons out there waiting for them to come home from getting food for a party, a party Mack remembers. But, all seems well.

They even manage to work well together to open a locked door. They figure out how to do it, and it’s working, until the enemy’s approach interrupts. Mack’s father takes a little injury to his arm, but it’s not bad. Mack fights the encroaching Chronicoms while Yo-Yo and his parents open the door, and he does not do too badly for himself. But he’s still nearly killed before Stoner and May intervene.

After that, it looks like smooth sailing, as Stoner gets them out and covers their tracks. The men even get to enjoy the thrill of their jet together. But then Mack’s father touches May, in a human gesture of gratitude… and she feels nothing from him.

The Chronicoms didn’t just take Mack’s parents to use as leverage. They hedged their bets, just in case the agents managed to take out Insight and survive their counterattack. They knew, humans being emotional, that Mack would rescue his parents, and move Heaven and Earth to do it. So they did something even more cruel: they stole his parents skin and memories, impersonating them, turning what he would rescue, and take to Z-1, into a Trojan horse.

Mack doesn’t want to believe. Who would? But the horrible truth is proven. Mack’s parents are dead. And he, with the assistance of May and Yo-Yo, have to destroy the things which wear their faces. He takes down the one impersonating his father, at least momentarily, and they open the ramp to send it out into the sky, to the ground far below. The one impersonating his father is harder to deal with, and pleads with Mack not to do it. It uses his mother’s eyes, her face, her voice, to plead with him… trying to destroy him.

And it works.

Not that he spares the Chronicom. I would probably be so enraged that I would throw it out with the words, “FOR MY MOTHER!” But it’s still his mother’s face, her face. He throws it out, yes. But… something in him finally breaks. He breaks so thoroughly that he can’t even turn to Yo-Yo. He just sits until they time-jump. Then he walks out. Takes a motorcycle. Gets some fresh air.

Deke comes to check on him, knowing a little of what he’s going through, when Z-1 jumps again. And Mack doesn’t even try to make it back.

He is broken.

He is destroyed.

He is gone.

The Chronicoms failed to destroy Z-1, or infiltrate it. They failed to take over Shield. They failed to take out the agents’ strongest warrior. And they took their first severe loss in the form of the time ship and the hunters within it. Sybil is pretty much the only recurring Chronicom, outside Enoch, which is still standing. And yet… and yet

They still managed to devastate their enemy in an entirely different way.

They have neutralized Shield’s leader, destroying his resolute will by targeting his very heart and soul.

Mack is down. He and Deke are stranded somewhere in time. Daisy is terribly hurt. LMD Coulson is gone, his fourth death on this series. The leadership of the agents has been devastated. Simmons is having to suppress her own memory, while Fitz remains in serious danger wherever he is. Z-1 is operational, but still damaged. Yo-Yo just saw the man she loves suffer something hellish that she can’t help him with, and now he has left, and she has been ripped from him.

In short, with a half dozen or so episodes to go, the agents are being stretched awfully thin, and the enemy isn’t done yet.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #293: We Are All Closed-Minded

“A person could be anything she wanted… so long as what she wanted to be came off the menu of choices approved by the planet’s social – and economic – consensus, and everyone was so damned smug about how superior their ‘open-mindedness’ was to all those other, backward planets.”
– from Echoes of Honor
Honor Harrington
Series, by David Weber

Allison Chou is the mother of the series main protagonist, Honor Harrington. She grew up on a world which was famous – or, rather, infamous – for how supposedly liberal and non-judgmental it was. This most obviously involves sexual mores, but the overall idea was that everyone free to do whatever they want, and be whatever they want. That sensational, scandalous reputation, however, was really very relative. In essence, they had options available which other peoples, from other worlds with other cultures, would never dream of, but they still had their own cultural norms, and their own definitions of what one ought to do and be, and their own rigid outlooks.

That was not the same thing as simply giving everyone actual carte blanche with their own character.

And, of course, all things being relative, the “liberated” people of this world looked down their noses at all those other peoples. Yet there wasn’t really any difference between them, outside exactly what they were being closed-minded about.

Now, I rush to add that these weren’t “bad” people. They were just… not so different from others as they thought they were. They subscribed to a different template, perhaps, and had different options on their societal menu, but they were just like everyone else. Including how they would react to those who failed to conform to their way of doing things.

It doesn’t matter what the culture is, people react similarly to whatever is, to their mind, a deviation from it.

Friction, anger, pity, disappointment, sneering, hostility, rejection, fear, confusion… and, occasionally, patience, tolerance, acceptance, and even support.

There is no such thing as a society which is either open-minded or closed-minded. There is only a varying, often shifting, percentage of how many individuals – whether they be “liberal” or “conservative” or anything in between – are choosing to be either at any given moment.

That comes home particularly true to me now, as I see a society divided over so many issues, with everyone convinced that they are the open-minded one and everyone who disagrees is closed-minded.

I suppose that makes everyone closed-minded, in a way, and demanding of conformity. I’ve certainly done it, even if I haven’t realized it at the time, and I have often regretted that. Alas, all I can do about the past is try to do better in the future. But I digress, slightly.

My point, and my hope, is that we need to become aware of when our calls for liberation become a call for conformity. We need to watch ourselves, and humble ourselves with the knowledge that we, too, can become the everyday tyrants of our respective cultures and values.

Let’s try to refrain from insisting that our menu of lifestyles is the only one which can be allowed.

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