Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×04 plays with reality in its own unique way in “A Life Earned.”

The basics

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×04, Daisy is forcibly adjusted to her new life as a gladiatorial slave aboard the Lighthouse, while Kasius burrows down into the question of just how many prophesied members of S.H.I.E.L.D. have arrived from the past. Daisy learns that he plans to destroy the station once she is sold, because Kasius is an A+ person.

Meanwhile, Coulson, May, and Deke raid a restricted level for tech, where they learn that the Inhumans are being harvested for baby-making genetic material. When Deke is stabbed by a Kree, Coulson leaves with him and May faces off with Sinara — the outcome of which is left terrifyingly ambiguous.

Also, Mack and Elena grimly follow Grill’s orders and put pressure on a man who owes him money. It turns out that the package the man is waiting for is a newborn child, which leaves Mack in a crisis of grief and self-doubt.

And just before the bidding can begin on Daisy, a masked figure steps forward to demand that she fight to the death. Man, what a jerk, who would DO such a thing OH GAWD IT’S FITZ.

The breakdown

I’m a bit short on time this week (blame the Star Wars!) so I’d like to highlight one particular element of “A Life Earned” — that being the episode’s focus on truth as relative to perspective.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×04 is structured around a series of revelations with varying impacts on the characters who hear these truths. Kasius reveals the existence of the S.H.I.E.L.D. prophesy, worrisome to him, though it means nothing to Daisy. In turn, he burrows into the truth of the agents’ presence on the Lighthouse, which is confounded by Ben’s dual-ended telepathy.

The particular scene between Daisy, Kasius, Simmons, and Ben is instructive as far as objective truth goes. Daisy’s version of the events leading to their time-traveling adventures are objectively false — of course, Fitz did not turn himself in, and the entire team went out for pie — but there is a ring of truth to the distress that both she and Simmons convey to Kasius’ skeptical ears.

Which, of course, makes developments at the end of “A Life Earned” especially interesting. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

May, Coulson, and Deke are also functioning on different levels of truth. Deke is all too happy to blithely lie to the others about Daisy’s whereabouts (though he sprinkles in the truth of her direct, odds-be-damned quote). But the situation flips when Coulson presents Deke with the recorded transmission, a message with very different implications for each party.

For Coulson and May, the transmission is a link back to their perception of reality, proof that the desolation of Earth is not complete. Deke’s perceptions are also challenged, but hearing his father’s voice is less an opportunity for change than it is a reversion to older and extinguished hopes.

Mack experiences something similar, grappling with “What ifs?” in place of hopeful potential. At first, he is concerned with holding to his and Elena’s true north in the face of Grill’s violent demands. But when this goes badly thanks to the less-than-stellar intel conveyed about Gunner’s incoming package, Mack’s reality shifts inward, to the strength of his identity and worthiness of fatherhood. As usual, Henry Simmons crushes the scene, which peels open a very painful truth: what if you were a better person in a fictional world, than you are in reality?

May, of course, has the most literal exploration of truth and lies in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5×04, in that she essentially becomes Schroedinger’s May. The conclusion to her incredible and profoundly selfless clash with Sinara is left completely ambiguous — Sinara’s orbs are bloodied in the episode’s final scene, and she’s certainly doing fine, but Kasius suggests that the truth of more than two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents may have been exposed. While I certainly don’t think we’ve said goodbye to May, her prospects in Kree custody don’t look all that amazing.

But then there’s the wildcard to consider. Fitz, who has somehow snuck his way into the future and among the company of rapacious villains who want to purchase control of the Destroyer of Worlds. Our dude clearly has a plan, but it will be interesting to see which layer of truth he is operating on (or perhaps, how many). Which Fitz has found his way to the Lighthouse? And what kind of reality will he now impose on this already-fragile system?

What are your thoughts on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 5×04?

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