Daisy teamed up with Simmons and Coulson made inroads with Robbie (and then everything went boom!) on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×04.
The episode, teasingly titled “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire,” finally begins to string together the disparate plot pieces strung through the season. The result is vastly entertaining, and piquantly funny; quips fly like sparks throughout Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×04.
But in gathering together these elements, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” also offers a glimpse at what may be the larger thematic movements behind the season. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has asked what it means to be human before. This year — I think, and hey, it’s early — they may be asking what it means to be ourselves.
Daisy and Robbie Reyes ponder this question separately throughout Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×04, but happily, their stories twine together. Robbie starts off on a gratifying collision course with Coulson, following a fruitless visit to the latter’s imprisoned uncle Eli. Little Lola isn’t quite up to speed with Robbie’s enhanced Car From Hell, but Coulson arranges for Robbie to collide with the camouflaged quinjet at full speed.
Coulson, who is finally back in his be-suited, AC element, decides to roll with the fact that his personal mythology may have to expand to encompass further mysteries of the spirit. Robbie, Coulson decides, must be dealt with like an ally — albeit an incredibly dangerous one.
Robbie agrees to speak with Eli about Momentum Labs, with S.H.I.E.L.D. listening in, and then Coulson won’t throw him out of the flying Zephyr. I did not say that this deal was entirely equitable.
At the prison, Uncle Eli fills Robbie in on the connective tissue which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has so sorely needed these past few weeks. Here’s what you need to know:
– Eli was recruited to work as an engineer at Momentum Labs, where the central project was a Quantum Particle Generator — in other words, a God machine that creates matter out of nothing.
– This work was made possible by a mysterious and deadly book that contains, and I quote, “All The Knowledge.”
– Joe Baur, the lead on the project, pushed the experiment so far that it led to the (apparent) deaths of his wife Lucy, and their entire team.
– Disgusted and infuriated, Eli sought “revenge,” and beat Joe into a coma.
Ceation ex nihilo, from nothing, is often considered the ultimate identifying marker of divinity. But even as the subject is raised in “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire,” the episode’s other major plotline proposes that, where humanity is involved, we’re mostly working with what we already have.
After far too much time spent apart, Daisy and Simmons reunite for a rip-roaring adventure. What begins as a house call (and Daisy buying FitzSimmons an apartment, because bank robber) morphs into some complimentary detective work, as Simmons tells Daisy that she cannot pick-and-choose her friends’ involvement in her life.
The two discover that Watchdogs have hacked into the Inhuman registry, and Daisy decides to seek out James (a.k.a. Australian Hellfire) who appears to be a target. James, who fled S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ministration after Hive’s death, is working a low-key job at a fireworks store, and doesn’t seem to care much for his own life.
Daisy urges James to fight back against the Watchdogs, and her words do resonate. But not exactly as intended.
James brings Daisy and Simmons to the firework storage building; Simmons is dismayed when his answer to the Watchdogs appears to be more explosions and violence, but Daisy is eager to become like them — to “speak the same language” if she must. Tellingly, James says that Simmons cannot understand, as she has never changed, or suffered loss. Such a transformation is just not part of her identity.
Clearly, James hasn’t been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for very long.
Anyway, it turns out that James has set a trap for Daisy and Simmons — he is working with the Watchdogs. Seething with self-loathing, he is helping to hunt down Inhumans “like the animals that we are,” he says. For his part, well, he gets to be the last Inhuman standing.
Ugly as James’ perspective is, it’s quite daring for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×04 to tackle the phenomenon of a self-hating minority. It is an evil view, certainly, but the episode gives James enough time to talk that we can see his feelings for what they are — just a few terrible rungs down from Daisy’s own self-loathing.
The last-minute rescue by Robbie is punctuated by possibly the single greatest “Huh!” in the history of television, as Robbie catches James’ flaming chain. But even the epic showdown of Ghost Rider and Hellfire proves the lie to James’ absolutist ideas, as Robbie diverges from his MO to spare James’ life amidst the massive explosion of fireworks.
I mean, James is a little charred, but he’s alive.
In the end, Coulson, who reunites with Daisy wearing the most deliberately blank expression I have ever seen, further challenges Daisy and Robbie’s identities. Gone, he tells them, are the days when singular vendettas could preserve the safety of the many.
“You may want to be solo, but forces beyond our control are driving us together,” he says. “You don’t need us? Fine. Right now, we need you.”
Because even more dangerous than the Watchdogs is the Darkhold — that deadly book. Ghostly Lucy Bauer is already on her way, forcing Joe out of his coma, and S.H.I.E.L.D. has a lot of work to do.
But first, they have to collect Agent May, who has spent the episode as Aida’s Turing Test. The experience leaves a bigger impression on Aida than it does May; the android is unnervingly distraught when Fitz violates her ironclad tenant against lying… which stands next to the one about not harming a human.
“Sometimes it’s okay to lie,” Radcliffe tries to teach his (ex materia) creation. For example, to save a life — like Fitz saved Aida’s life by lying to May about her identity. How long before Aida decides that it’s okay to harm humans under the same perceived circumstances?
Actually, with Simmons immediately keen to Aida’s true nature, and laden with knowledge she’ll somehow have to keep from Director Mace, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question.