This review contains spoilers for Agents of SHIELD.
Agents of SHIELD Season 6 Episode 11
Although the same flaws still exist in the overall storyline of Agents of SHIELD season 6, “From the Ashes” benefits from having several deeply emotional scenes that remind us of why this is such a great ensemble show. Whether or not we believe that Sarge’s residual memories from Coulson mean anything or not, we can’t help but be touched by May’s perception of their importance or Daisy’s realization that she can’t dismiss them altogether. Other tender moments for Deke and his grandparents, between Mack and Yoyo, and even the guilt-ridden Dr. Benson were intensely felt thanks to some skillful performances.
It’s good that Benson’s relevance didn’t end with the research into the monoliths because he could have easily been simply a stand-in for Fitz and Simmons while they were in space, and he certainly hasn’t done anything to build up the SHIELD Academy as he was hired to do. His decision to defy Izel was believably based on his assertion that he had nothing left to lose in his life, but the use of the “fear dimension” aspect of the creation monolith to play on his guilt over the death of his husband not only was an effective interrogation method on Izel’s part; it also gave us a surprising turn in Benson’s back story, giving a sense of completion to his character arc for the season.
Similarly, Mack and Yoyo seem to have come to a fitting reconciliation just before the finale, and it’s refreshing to see that they can argue over each others’ instincts to protect each other and still be relieved that at least they’re talking to each other honestly now. Mack insists that his decision to come on the Zephyr was tactical, reinforcing our admiration of his quick thinking in last week’s episode, but his later admission that his motivation wasn’t entirely devoid of personal feelings reassured us that all will be well with this couple — once they’re able to escape the temple, that is.
Interesting that the creation monolith would conjure up a simulacrum of Flint, an Inhuman from the future that Mack and Elena had great affection for. How is fear involved there? We can’t help but remember that Flint was the one person capable of reassembling the time monolith using only a jumble of rocks and a fragment of the original pillar, so his appearance here, even as a manifestation of a memory, may be extremely fortuitous for Izel if he is able to perform the same service for her. His reappearance, while admittedly clever, felt a bit convenient, similarly to Mack’s plan to eject Benson in the containment chamber, which was dependent on Izel throwing him out towards the instrument panel.
Sci-fi fans tend to be more satisfied with nonsensical solutions that follow a certain internal logic such as the resonance frequencies of the shrike daggers that Fitz, Simmons, and Deke plan on adapting to a shield belt that will prevent Izel from possessing anyone wearing it. The evolution of Deke from a braggart trying to prove his worth to a equal member of a family within a family was heartwarming to behold. The smile on his face when his grandparents assign him the engineering task is priceless, and the nod to his gravitonium belt from season 5 was a nice touch, too.
Thematically, that sense of family carries through the disagreement Daisy and May have about how to get information out of Sarge. Many viewers likely agreed with Daisy’s insistence that there’s nothing of Coulson in Sarge and that his ability to defeat Izel should be used like a tool. The fact that she snapped his neck to bring out the rage inside him may have been extreme, but it also brings about the best moment of the episode when Sarge shows a Coulson-like sense of self-sacrifice with her attempt to test the sword on him. The one-two punch of him calling her Skye and quoting the letter saying, “You’ve always been capable of more than you think,” was one of the best emotional moments of the season.
We can understand Sarge’s discomfort with the memories that are surfacing, making him doubt a century of conviction in his mission, and when he tells May, “I’m not the cure for your loneliness,” it’s almost like he’s speaking to the audience full of Coulson fans, too. Do memories make the man? Even if Sarge is inhabited by the soul of Pachakutiq, he was created by the fear monolith and his Coulson characteristics would presumably be no more real than the ghost of Benson’s husband or whatever version of Flint shows up at the end of the episode. Only Ghost Rider, which gets another mention in this episode, would bridge that gap, and the possibilities there are extremely enticing.
The only remaining question is how the Chronicoms will become involved, and whether they will be a help or a hindrance. We could either be headed for a two-front war or hopefully an unexpected confluence of disparate storylines that concludes in an unexpected but cohesive way. Just because this season of Agents of SHIELD has be a little uneven doesn’t mean that the writers couldn’t pull a rabbit out of their hat for the two-part season finale. Based on the emotional content alone, “From the Ashes” does a great job of increasing our optimism that such will be the case.
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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and coordinates interviews for The Fourth Wall podcast.