Everyone has a role to play in order to keep the Lighthouse from falling apart, and “A Life Spent” is about the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. learning the rules. And breaking them, because that’s what they do.
The Lucky Ones
The bleakest plot of “A Life Spent” is without a doubt Jemma’s (Elizabeth Henstridge) predicament. Her hearing still obscured to all but evil Kree overlord Kasius, she is called on as part of Kasius’ preparations to meet the mysterious Lady Basha. She is tasked with helping a young Inhuman girl named Abby control her powers before the ceremony that night. The choice to play parts of the scenes through the filter of Jemma’s soundless perspective is eerie and effective, highlighting just how trapped she is and how Kasius is everywhere.
Of course, she is granted her hearing for a limited time in order to communicate with Abby, and this is where we learn the grim destiny of Inhumans who find themselves on the Lighthouse. Terrigenesis is mandatory at eighteen, and this terrified girl undergoing seizures because she can’t control her molecular state considers her outcome one of the “lucky ones.” Yikes. Seeing as Abby’s family will be rewarded if she succeeds and punished if she fails, Jemma does her best Inhuman Whisperer impression and calms her into thinking of her body as a field of stars.
While the pep talk works well enough for Abby to choose when to pass through glass, she has not yet mastered the art of returning to a solid. But no matter, Kasius comes to collect her anyway. He wonders why his advisor thinks Jemma is special enough to make a difference, and the usually silent companion snidely responds, “Compassion.”
Thankfully it Jemma’s compassion which saves Abby’s life when the ceremony turns out to be a fight to the death in a Gladiator-style arena. But tragically it turns Abby herself into a killer, forced to burst her opponent’s heart to win. Even worse, Jemma must watch in mute horror as her young friend is sold to a life of slavery with Lady Basha, knowing that it’s partially her own doing. It’s been no picnic watching our beloved scientist go through these ordeals for the first three episodes of this season, but then again her suffering is par for the course when it comes to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and “A Life Spent” offers a glimmer of hope for her rescue before brutally yanking it away.
The Long Game
Daisy (Chloe Bennet) will not rest until she finds her teammates and rescues Simmons, but Deke (Jeff Ward) just wants to talk about how she’s deflecting after learning that she’s a “Destroyer of Worlds.” It sounds like an overstatement to me, and Daisy agrees. The tension between them mounts until she literally slaps him for trying to explain the Multiverse theory to her. I’m all for the slap slap kiss trope, but so far Daisy seems like she’d be much happier doing the first two – and I can’t blame her.
When she finds out the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are working at Grill’s salvage, she and Yo-yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) formulate a plan to grab the Kree scroll in Grill’s office. A cool display of Yo-yo’s speed later, and Daisy has direct access to Kasius. But Deke is not done tailing her, begging her to hold off and play the long game with his. As stalwart a superhero as ever, Daisy is not going to waste another moment before saving her friend and charges off regardless.
Her rescue mission actually gets fun at this point, complete with hiding on the ceiling of elevator shafts and kicking Kree ass when that plan fails. But just as she’s done enough flips and Quaked her way to Kasius, she winds up being captured… and sold by Deke? He appears to be working with the Kree, but I hope it’s just a plot given his repetition of the phrase “long game.” Daisy and Jemma shouldn’t need this virtual stranger to save them, but I won’t reject a helping hand later on down the line.
Back on the Lighthouse, Grill is working the Agents to the bone to repay their debt to him. Coulson (Clark Gregg) remains intent on learning the departed Virgil’s secrets by reading his old journal, Yo-yo is getting herself zapped for not working fast enough (ha!) and Mack (Henry Simmons) gets himself beaten in the name of recon. They don’t seem to be getting anywhere when Grill announces that Tess owes him a double haul, which is the perfect opportunity for an exploration mission.
Once outside the confining walls of the salvage yard and in the confining halls of the Lighthouse, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. meet up with Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) and plan to fly out to one of the space objects Virgil kept track of in his notebook. Tess is very much against a side mission, but Coulson rightfully points out this is the mission. It works on a metatextual level as well, because “A Life Spent” would be bogged down in its out existential tragedy if not for the final minutes of this supposed side mission. Unfortunately they are weighed down by Virgil’s man Seth following along as a spy, which causes all sorts of problems.
There is no real plot correlation, but I must point out that Coulson asks Melinda about her leg once they’re on a spaceship – and he even holds her hand. It’s a weighty moment that reminds us of everything they have (and haven’t) shared, but the spell is broken when May insists that she’s going home one way or another. Is it possible Coulson would rather stay in this new time than go back? The plot kicks back in when Tess shows Coulson the tiny globe that Virgil always carried around, and he discovers that that it’s actually a key that opens a communicator. But just then they are busted by Seth, forcing May’s excellent pilot skills to kick in and Mack to just knock the man out.
Tess insists on dumping Seth’s unconscious body because as we know, “a life spent is a life earned,” and she doesn’t want to die. She doesn’t get to follow through on that threat though, because the team is interrupted by a mayday transmission with a signal originating from the surface of the Earth. Finally, questions have a hope of being answered.
Upon their return to the Lighthouse, Virgil blames them for smuggling, but Tess takes the blame for herself. It’s incredible how much she’s developed as a character in such a short time, that her sacrifice would be such a surprise and have such a profound effect. But thankfully she is prevented from dying for the cause by Yo-yo ratting Seth out for contraband instead. Perhaps it proves just how hardcore this new world is that Grill would turn on his own friend without a second thought.
The post-credits scene offers the most tantalizing hint of the night. “Have you secured the delegation?” the transmission asks, and it’s clearly referring to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But how can there be life waiting for them on the Earth’s surface if that’s where people on the Lighthouse are sent to die?