It’s about time. That’s right. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode Spacetime is about time. Spacetime, actually. Events take place at a certain set of three-dimensional coordinates at a particular time. In other words, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just got timey-wimey. May’s (Ming-Na Wen) head hurts, and it isn’t because somebody hit her.
After the shift into high-gear as the last two episodes explored some rather philosophical and emotional topics, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with its very entertaining esoteria by introducing an Inhuman who, when touched, creates for him, and for the person who touched him, a shared vision of an important future event: someone’s death. By the end of the episode, we never discover exactly what triggers one prescient event revelation over another.
What we do get is a lesson on inevitability and complexity. At the center of the time connection is Charles Hinton (Bjorn Johnson), a victim of Terrigenesis, who leaves his family to protect his wife and daughter from constant visions of the future. We see Team Coulson (Clark Gregg), led by Daisy (Chloe Bennet), doing their damnedest to avoid her vision of the future, in which she thinks Coulson shoots her. Her goal: to save Hinton from Hydra. That plot line leads to much exercising of skills to time an attack on Hydra so as to avoid the catastrophe perceived in the foresight.
Yet, there are three major variables that Daisy’s vision completely misses: the arrival of Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), the reemergence of Grant Ward’s Hive (Brett Dalton), and the bio-mechanical shoring up Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe) undergoes.
Garner’s return thwarts the centerpiece of the attempt to alter the future by sending in May in place of Daisy. Garner turns himself in so that he can spend the last few minutes of his humanity with May. Coulson tells her she’ll regret not spending the moments for the rest of her life, and she acquiesces. The two find a moment, and then…
With spotty WiFi (is this the only corporate building without Starbucks?) the team surveils the bio-mechanical HQ and catches a glimpse of Ward. For Coulson, the day’s already weird; this makes it weirder.
It turns out the perceptive Hive that inhabits the physically rehabilitated Grant Ward knows that Malick already has everything he could want. Why then did he go to such lengths to retrieve Hive from Maveth? Together with Hive, Malick shares, he was promised rule over the world. To what end? Hive asks. Taken a bit aback, Malick stumbles over his answer, eventually saying somewhere in the dialog the word, “power”. Hive promises him real power.
For all the prescience at work in this episode, Daisy doesn’t see Malick become a cybernetically enhanced human. She sees none of this. The vision shares only a narrow field of view.
On the roof, her lack of vision (yes, I hear Emperor Palpatine too) ends up getting her wacked and nearly killed by Malick. Hinton touches Malick, but the audience doesn’t see the vision. It shakes Malick enough to distract him so Daisy can quake him. Eventually he leaves in the waiting Hydra helicopter. Daisy and Hinton have a moment. The death was not hers and the hands of Coulson, but Hinton’s in his move to save her, and in a way, redeem himself.
At the end of the episode Malick realizes, after calling to chastise Mr. Giyera (Mark Dacascos), that he is no longer in charge. He may be the human head of Hydra, but with the return of Hive, his Inhumans have a new allegiance.
With the beats of narrative that the writing team has been driving so neatly of late, we find Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) holding hands, a moment toward a future of which they know nothing. We watch Garner transform into Lash (Matthew Willig) one last time, hopefully aware that Garner’s last wish was that he be a weapon for S.H.I.E.L.D. We don’t know what that choice portends. We see Malick, downing a glass of scotch as he realizes that his future is no longer something he controls. He’s returning to his Hydra lair full of fear, as Giyera intuits, of uncertainty.
And, as we saw in the mid-season launch a few weeks ago, a ship tumbles in space, blood globs float weightlessly around a gold cross and a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform. We now know we had a vision then, that Daisy has now shared. Unlike her previous vision, there are no details of what led to this moment, just the moment itself.
After Fitz’s explanation of Spacetime, we’re left with exposition on the way to understanding the plot, but also with the uneasy feeling that all timey-wimey shows leave us with: how fixed is our own destiny? Has history already been written as a series of fixed points along time’s fourth dimension in our three-dimensional space, or do we have free will? Are we just programs, predestined from the time of the Big Bang to perform certain actions where we do, when we do? The future hasn’t happened, but the moment of the Big Bang has locked us in to a narrow channel of time, every star that bred our elements, every collision of rock that formed our planet, every drop of water the spurred evolution, did so because the program was running.
And, if anyone ever does find a way to glimpse the future, he or she would see something that was inevitable and unchanging. As they found in this episode, whatever was seen was seen as only a slice of a very complex moment. You may think you know the future, but you’ll still be surprised by what happens that was beyond your prescient purview. As of yet, the details of your moment remain fixed; only the interpretation of those events changes once they are experienced in the larger context. Seeing these events doesn’t convey the mental perception these events engender.
If that makes your head hurt, it should. Spacetime’s a difficult concept even for those who study cosmology. Physicists still argue with Einstein, and they argue with Hawking, who himself rumbles with Einstein occasionally. Don’t get me started on the lack of a unified theory of everything.
The point is that a television show titled Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made us think about destiny and self-determination, and it’ll continue to do so. In a quiet moment, Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) reflects on design. Perhaps it is design. Perhaps all of the Inhuman powers are meant for something, and that something was shaped in the past and therefore inevitable in the future.
The moments being experienced are vistas along a road that was cut through time, and is now being paved and tended by the present. In a world of self-determination, what do good and evil mean? Do differing opinions among friends lead to a civil war? Based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe release schedule, I would say they do. Now we’ll have to wait and see if and how these revelation play into the bigger world of Tony Stark, Captain America, and Spiderman.
In a world of predetermined futures, I think the answer is that good and evil are both influences that move history forward — nothing more, nothing less — except among those who adopt one side or the other and how that makes them feel. Emotion and thought create religion, names and concepts to help the program make sense to us. That perhaps is why it’s so hard for people with very different opinions to find common ground. The disagreement is necessary; both are correct from their perspective. Time creates the conflict to force the next moment. That’s why there’s always a big bad balanced by a big good. There’s no balance without one another. If either side wins, history ends.