Monday, July 27, 2020

Agents of SHIELD S07E09: As I Have Always Been

Time Loop!

So it was predetermined I would love this week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD, “As I Have Always Been”, as I am a sucker for time loops. Movies, television episodes, it is just a narrative structure that has always appealed to me.

So our loop in question takes place over a shorter period than most. Seemingly minutes in real time and I would guess thirty minutes to an hour in the reality of the show. Starting each loop we have Daisy waking from her healing pod with a sleeping Sousa keeping her company. A few early elements are established to give Daisy a quick way to prove to others she’s not crazy: Yoyo gets trapped on the Zephyr, Mack gets blinded by a radiation flare, and Deke announces they are in a time storm.

The setup is very clear and, actually in a fun twist, this loop has an end point as each time Deke announces how far they are from a vortex that will destroy the ship and even as everything else remains the same, the distance from the vortex grows shorter each loop, giving us a bigger sense of urgency. A very nice touch in the first loop we see is the repeating of the opening titles, a fun little gag that I almost wanted to come back a third time around.

We also find early on that Coulson is the only other person to remember things from earlier loops but has lost count how many times they’ve gone through so far, eighty-seven or so by his count, as Daisy doesn't always wake him from his sleep and whenever one of them dies it wipes their memories of the previous loops.

These little tweaks to the normal time loop formula were a fun way to give this outing its own flavor. Speaking of unique takes, this episode was the first directorial attempt by the show’s own Gemma Simmons played by actress Elizabeth Henstridge! While I wouldn’t call anything about the direction groundbreaking, the episode as a whole was incredibly engaging and, as we’ll get to later, also emotional.

The whole middle meat of the episode was very cutesy. Coulson and Daisy reciting everyone's dialogue and the team's looks as a result are all very funny. Then on the reveal about Gemma’s memory implant, the affair turned into a murder mystery. After the first attempt to remove the implant ends with Gemma and Daisy dead from a cut gas line, we then got to see Sousa jump into action as he volunteers to be a guinea pig citing that him dying isn’t as big a deal as Daisy since she would then reset.


The eventual turn is that Enoch has been programmed to stop the implant's removal at whatever cost and Gemma’s implant has blocked the memory of programming him and the password needed to override it. So then we get the sequence of failed attempts usually ending in death or severe beating of eventually the entire team. Putting aside the fact that Enoch has been stopped by less before and we’ve seen other Chronicoms beaten by members of the team, this was darkly hilarious so it gets a pass. Plus the variation in approaches to subduing to distracting were logical yet still so funny to watch.

Frustrated by this, Daisy takes a loop to have a one-on-one with Sousa to figure out how he can be so selfless and do anything and everything she asks of him without hesitation. Sousa alludes to other strong women like her he has known, and how the type of person who runs headfirst into problems often needs someone there to help pick them back up when they fall. Daisy finally sees what the rest of creation already did, that Sousa has feelings for her and she starts her next cycle kissing Sousa. Knowing Whedon-driven shows, my first thought was finally Daisy might have a guy that isn’t trash be into her. My second thought was “oh no, he’s gonna die tragically soon isn't he?”

But anyway the team finally finds a way to block Enoch and remove the implant leading to two memories shaking loose in Simmons. First that Enoch’s heart is the key to stopping the time drive and saving them, and something else that leads her to break down in tears, my guess is still that Fitz is either dead or some tragedy befell him before they parted ways. Of course there are more episodes left so the loop resets before we get that chance to hear anything, though the performance from Henstridge was fantastic here. This of course starts the final cycle before they are destroyed, what amazing timing!

That's okay though because there were tears enough without finding out that news as upon asking for Enoch to basically kill himself to save them he so quickly and selflessly does so. It about broke my heart. I’ve never loved Enoch as a character, he’s had his moments but always felt a bit flat for me. Here though as he gives a speech about the meaning of being alone for someone who has lived thousands of years like he has, and the moments he shares here with Coulson and Daisy were so tender and perfect a way to send off a character. So much more emotional than a death in battle, it was an amazing moment for the actor and legitimately made me sad to see him go.

Enoch leaves us with two ominous statements here. Though both are worded in ways that can easily be manipulated into something not as dire. First that the team will not survive because he’s seen the future. It seems clear to me he means the team as a unit and not that the members will be dead, rather having to go separate ways for some reason. The other leads back to my theory about Fitz as he says Fitz WAS my friend, a very clear and particular word choice but again if Fitz is in another place or time could also still be misleading.

So yes this might seem like a time loop but I once again have to gush praise on the cast and crew of SHIELD. Once again they took a meager budget and through writing and characters still gave us a thoroughly enchanting and touching episode. The only drawback I see moving forward is that Malick is still kind of a lame big bad though better than the Chronicoms by themselves.  I’m still hoping for a last minute surprise bad guy, maybe even Fitz turned evil again? Just someone to be a better foil for the series to go out on. Aside from that they just need to keep this train a rolling!

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