Well, THAT was bonkers. When season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended with the agents being kidnapped and Phil Coulson waking up in space, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had a few guesses. I figured we might be getting our introduction to Abigail Brand and S.W.O.R.D. (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s outer space division) as Coulson and the others worked on some plotline featuring the Kree or the Inhumans or something. But it turned out to be way more complicated than that, and now I’m not sure where this season is going.
We even start things off with a bizarre, still-inexplicable opening sequence of an alien getting dressed for work. We’re not sure what this alien really looks like (we just get a shadowy outline of him in the shower) but in his human suit he is the bald guy who ordered the kidnapping of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents from that restaurant. Also he swims in a pool to the tune of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” which definitely feels like something, but I’m not sure what exactly.
After the kidnapping, Coulson and the others (but not Fitz, for some reason) are taken to a dark room…along with another monolith! Unlike the last one (the one that sent Simmons to Hive’s planet), this one is white, and it also has a different effect, as we’ll soon find out. The similarity is that it also dissolves into a portal that whisks the team off to that space station we saw at the end of last season.
They get separated, naturally. Coulson ends up in a compartment with a hole blown in it, though luckily that gets repaired quickly. Unfortunately, there are bigger problems than just a faulty airlock. This space station is plagued by Xenomorph-like aliens that Virgil, a helpful pilot, describes as “roaches.” Virgil recognizes Coulson and acts like he’s been waiting for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to arrive. Mack arrives and knocks Virgil out cold, with Yo-Yo and Simmons arriving not far behind. So far, the definite bright spot of this season looks to once again be Henry Simmons’ performance. After coming into his own last season (especially anchoring the Framework arc), he’s already the funniest and liveliest character on-screen during this premiere, which counts for a lot with all the unexplained sci-fi gobbledygook going on. Speaking of gobbledygook, the station is run by blue-skinned Kree, who run the place according to their savage whims. Virgil’s able to give a bit more information, but then promptly gets killed by a roach before he can explain more.
Speaking of which, another player soon arrives in a leather jacket and distinctly Star Lord-looking face mask. He finds May and overcomes her with the help of some anti-gravity device. After tying her up and gagging her, he implants her with a black device on the inside of her wrist, calling it a ‘Metric.’
Once he and May help save Coulson and the others from the Kree, they start to piece things together. This monolith was different. Instead of sending them through space, it sent them through time, and that space debris floating outside the station’s windows … are the remains of Earth.
So, that’s the first big revelation during this premiere. The second involves what actually happened to Earth for it to end up this way.
Although I’m intrigued by this literally insane premise, I also have concerns. Fitz isn’t in this two-hour premiere at all, since he was left behind on Earth in the present when the others were taken. We get a postcard from him with the note “Working on it,” and Virgil tells Simmons that Fitz is thinking of her; it’s also implied that Fitz started the belief that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents would return someday to save mankind from their dystopian hell. That’s mostly been forgotten now thanks to Kree repression, but people like Virgil and Deke still remember it. Even so, I hope we get to actually see him again very soon.
As we find out, the station is divided into different departments, and none of them are fun. Processing is one (that would be sewage waste management), Salvage is another (delving through junkyards of scrap metal to find useful tech). Everyone has a Metric on their wrist, because if the Kree catch you without one you’re in big trouble. Apparently, the Kree arrived shortly after the destruction of Earth and helped keep the humans alive, demanding total submission and obedience as their price. This means the station isn’t governed by human morality, as Simmons finds out when she tries to save a man’s life after he’s injured in a fight over food.
Taken to the head Kree’s chambers, she learns that death here is not something to be fought, but rather relished; “a life spent is a life earned” seems to be the motto. The human she saved was one of the select few elevated to be an ambassador for the Kree, and as a result he’s expected to demonstrate total perfection. Since his new scar ruins that, his boss kills him anyway and instead chooses Simmons to be his new servant, which means getting dressed up in Kree clothes and having a silver-y thing slid into her ear to help with the “total obedience” part.
Meanwhile, it turns out Deke has reconstructed some of the Framework technology to allow people to visit an illusion of Earth. Though the historical data has been erased, he’s been able to reconstruct a pretty good facsimile. He’s even pieced together exactly what happened to Earth: Somehow it was Daisy herself, with her Quake powers, that destroyed the planet.
How do you fix a problem like that? This is the thing that intrigues me most about this season’s setup. Even though it feels weird to thrust the cast into another wild genre scenario mere hours after they escaped the Framework (without processing that comprehensive trauma for even a minute), I like the idea of setting up a problem that seems basically impossible to solve. How do you time travel into the past? If you can’t, how do you fix a destroyed planet? There are no easy answers, which feels relevant to our current world where new problems seem to blow up every day even as the old long-standing problems continue to rot in the background. Where do you even begin? Last season (especially the “Framework” arc) seemed very dialed-in to contemporary issues, so I’m interested to see the parallels this time around. But even so, there’s a lot going on and it feels a little like shark-jumping.