Agents of SHIELD 5.04 Review: “A Life Earned”

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Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) lost her freedom and her hearing for helping save a man’s life, May (Ming-Na Wen) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) discovered that the Lighthouse is located by the surface of the now-uninhabitable Earth, and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) was sold to the Kree by Deke (Jeff Ward) on her way to rescue her friend. “A Life Earned” inches its way to towards removing our heroes from these precarious situations, but not before things are first made much worse for them.


Destroyer of Worlds

The meat of “A Life Earned” once again revolves around Kasius and the Kree, only this time it is Daisy in the eye of the storm rather than Jemma. Apparently, Daisy is an important piece of Kasius’ grand plan for humanity’s future – or at least his own. Just as the people of the Lighthouse have traded myths and fairytales about Quake and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Kasius himself has been waiting for their arrival in both fear and anticipation, plus he’s wise and paranoid enough to connect Daisy’s arrival to Jemma’s.

While Daisy remains defiant in the face of Kasius’ threats to her own person, the fact that she wavers when Jemma is in danger is a reminder that she’s not a stoic robot. She has been through enough to toughen her skin while staying feisty, but her primary motivation remains the people she loves. Thankfully, a fellow inhuman named Ben puts his talents to good use when it comes to protecting said loved ones – even as he warns her to try to win when battling against him because he’ll do the same. When Kasius demands the truth about the Agents’ arrival from the ladies, he brings Ben in to read their minds. Little does he know, Ben’s ability allows him to transmit thoughts as well as receive them, resulting in a tense and sequence where Daisy and Jemma recite the same fictional story of their arrival on the Lighthouse.

Overall, Kasius is a frightening villain because of the power he wields over our characters, as well as because of his desire to eradicate the rest of humanity once he finds a way off for himself. But he is not a particularly compelling villain, given how little we know about him or his motivations. Thus far his scenes have highlighted both Jemma and Daisy’s perseverance, but he is not yet a worthy adversary for either of them. Instead, the stakes are raised at the end of “A Life Earned” not because of anything he does, but because of who arrives inthe final moments: a masked Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) who announces that Daisy must fight to the death as the destroyer of worlds.

Double Agent

While Daisy remains the stalwart hero throughout “A Life Earned,” Deke reveals more and more shades of grey. After throwing her to the wolves, he does not actually give away his knowledge of the rest of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when collecting his payment. It’s hard to guess his motivations, seeing as he could just be waiting patiently for a bigger payday or just waiting to see if there’s a better offer, but Ward plays the character charmingly enough to keep me interested in the answers.

When he runs into Phil and Melinda looking for a way to Level 35 in order to search for clues about the people living on the surface, he immediately offers to escort them (or trap them?) while withholding valuable information about Daisy’s whereabouts. Good thing May wises up to his lies quickly enough, but not before they uncover the horrible truth that humans on the Lighthouse are not allowed to procreate. In other to create more Inhumans, the Kree have found a way to sterilize the “lower classes.”

The three of them are interrupted by a Kree officer, and the first major fight of “A Life Earned” breaks out. May sends Coulson and Deke away while she stays behind to fight the woman alone, which does not go well for her. We are left to wonder what becomes of our beloved Agent May for a week, but before the episode ends we do learn a significant detail: the survivor’s voice on the satellite radio belongs to Deke’s father. Now that he’s learned his parents may still be alive and on Earth, he has a personal reason to help Phil and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.but he still deserves the punch Coulson throws him on Daisy’s behalf.

What Makes A Good Father

While their plot didn’t offer as many answers as the rest, the most poignant aspect of “A Life Earned” followed Mack  (Henry Simmons) and Elena’s (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) side quest. While the rest of the Agents of S.HI.E.L.D. are on crusher duty, Grill singles out Mack to “rough up” someone named Gunner who owes him a debt. Aside from being generally unpleasant, Grill must be racist with the fixation he has on Mack. The scenes of him shocking Mack and calling him a “beast” are deeply uncomfortable, and I hope the man receives his comeuppance sooner rather than later.

Before they head off to find the debtor, Mack and Elena discuss his discomfort with Seth’s death and how Elena turned him in knowing what would happen. It seems a little sanctimonious, given the position they were in, but it serves an important purpose later on. For now, Elena reminds him that she grew up in Potosí, a city that operates on fear not unlike this one. She will always choose Mack and the safety of her loved ones over murderous strangers, and Mack can’t really fault her for that.

What he really wants is for the team not to lose themselves in this strange new world, but it’s him who must face the first big test in “A Life Earned.” Unbeknownst to him, the package he and Yo-yo are threatening to take as payment for the debt is in fact the baby that May and Coulson ran into earlier. Incensed that Mack would threaten a child, Gunner spits that people like Mack don’t deserve to be parents – a statement which naturally triggers him.

Mack realizes that he is the one losing himself, and in a tragic and touching scene he admits to Elena how hard losing Hope has been for him. Not only because of the pain of losing his daughter, but because he feels he betrayed the real-world Hope who died by letting go of her more easily than he one he raised. Simmons excels in this poignant scene, and Cordova-Buckley plays off of him beautifully. The two of them pack have packed quite an emotional punch this season – a steady anchor in a season that’s otherwise literally and metaphorically floating in space.

Now it appears that Melinda may also be a captive of the Kree, but at least Fitz is here to hopefully save them all. How did he arrive? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

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