Agents of SHIELD 5.13 Review: “Principia”

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“Principia” has a lot of moving parts that it needs to get in place before the second half of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s fifth season can truly begin, which explains why the episode starts in yet another unfamiliar environment and spends a large part of the hour chasing a Gravitonium McGuffin. Nevertheless, some interesting discoveries made and plot progression that takes place.

The Strucker Trap

“Alex” Von Strucker attacks his psychiatrist and demands Thorazine to rid him of the memories of being abused by his father and tortured by Ward, but when he wakes he finds that he can still remember everything. Instead of being chemically lobotomized, he has merely been placed in General Hale’s care against his will. He calls out to Ruby, but she walks right by him without answering his questions or even speaking to him. That is, until he happens upon her during her training and takes her hostage as a bargaining chip against Hale.

Once he reaches Hale, she calls him by his real name – Werner – and asks that he join her in making a better world than his father dreamed of. But Werner doesn’t want anything to do with his father’s legacy or HYDRA, an organization which Hale increasingly seems to have more and more in common with. She’s not really interested in him, though, but rather the memories he has of his father’s plans and projects. She sets him free after he refuses to help, but immediately sends Ruby to ‘gain his trust’ a backup plan – even if it means seducing the information out of him.

Ruby sets her own plan in motion by telling Werner all about her mother’s agenda, suggesting that he would be better off working with Ruby herself in secret before General Hale knows what hit her. Her play seems so obvious that it’s hard to imagine anyone falling for it, but Werner-turned-Alex has been trapped in a mental prison for years now that he will take any escape. The final moments of “Principia” find Werner still around and ready to make a better future with Ruby. And he’s not alone, seeing as Crusher Creel has joined the team as well. While we still don’t have any grasp of exactly what Hale wants to do with them, or whether Ruby is on her mother’s side or genuinely plotting a coup, it seems to be setting up a big obstacle for our Agents by the end of the season.

An Ode to Gravitonium

Back at the base, Elena (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) is having a hard time adjusting despite Mack’s (Henry Simmons) reassurances that her arms aren’t the parts of her that matter. (No, he’s not talking about those parts, either!) Elena’s heart and soul are still intact, and Coulson (Clark Gregg) promises that Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) will get her the best possible prosthetics. The only problems are that they don’t the materials they need and the rift is in danger of breaking open again.

Daisy (Chloe Bennet) wants to find the scientists from Cybertech to point them in the right direction, but “Murray Jacobson” signed all their death certificates. That means Coulson, Daisy, Mack and Melinda (Ming-Na Wen) must embark on a secret mission to find him. The team leave Deke (Jeff Ward) and Fitz working on closing the rift while they’re gone, which is a partnership neither one is particularly pleased with. Fitz would rather tinker crankily than play ball with Deke, but they don’t have time to do either when another fear anomaly crops up.

They find their man with little trouble, and a shootout is avoided when Mack recognizes him as his old friend Tony from the Academy. Amidst the good memories of awesome haircuts, they question him about Joseph Getty and find him much more willing to cooperate. He still tells them the Deathlok program is a dead end, but Daisy and May refuse to let Coulson die without exploring every avenue. They want to help Elena and save the world, but Coulson is their family too.

Dr. Getty reluctantly tells Mack that the Gravitonium was put on a cargo ship named the “Principia” that sank in the ocean. Now Fitz is working overtime, searching through digital maps and sonar for the “Principia” with no success while Deke is amazed by the idea of so much water. Fitz blows up at him while Jemma reminds him to be a little more understanding, and they have a sweet little married moment in which they decide to hyphenate their last names. Simmons-Fitz? Wrong order, guys!

While grabbing himself some snacks from the supply closet, Deke sees his mother in a less fearful vision than normal. She calls him out for making friends even if he won’t admit it, and even suggests he has a thing for Daisy. “The steps you take don’t need to be big,” she says. “They just need to take you in the right direction.” And that’s when the vision grows dark, warning him to leave before he cares too much. Then Deke’s mother is killed by a Kree before it too is destroyed. On the bright side, his renewed fear and anger reminds him that up is down in space and perhaps the Gravitonium sent the sunken ship into the air.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. find the ship, but almost all the Gravitonium is missing. There’s only a softball-sized piece left, but they’re going to have to get it off the ship without falling into the ocean themselves. With the clock ticking and 90 seconds left, they run into Hale’s flying monkeys and have to fight their way out in record time. It’s an intense – albeit dark – sequence that amps up the tension in an otherwise lowkey episode. And let’s not forget the glory of Mack’s college nickname, Mack Hammer, being repurposed to hilarious effect. Despite Hale being informed that S.H.I.E.L.D. found the ship, the teams makes off with the Gravitonium and are now aware that she’s much more than an overzealous general.

The resolution of “Principia” feels almost as hopeful as last week’s. Tony parts ways with the team, promising to look into the Deathlok program for Coulson. At the same time, Elena is thinking of how they’ll change the future – so maybe she should tell the others not to save Coulson, right? Jemma comforts her with the same words Deke’s grandmother used to say, and now Deke is face to face with a living ghost from his past. Mack returns with beer for Elena and, even better, arms.

We all know this show doesn’t let us breathe easy for long, but it’s nice to have a little break before the end of the world starts all over again.

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