This review contains spoilers for Agents of SHIELD.
Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Episode 9
Groundhog Day episodes are a dangerous prospect. They can be whimsical, with mistakes erased and deaths undone, or they can be meaningless, completely removing the stakes that make conflict interesting. They can allow characters to learn from each time loop, or they can become irritatingly repetitive for the viewer. Fortunately, this week’s Agents of SHIELD does everything right, from varying the camera angles to break up the duplicate scenes to pausing for reflection with both comedic and tragic results.
Time loop episodes always have one or two characters who are aware of what’s happening, and Agents of SHIELD should be applauded for not spending too much time on the reason behind that phenomenon. Daisy and Coulson were in regenerative pods when the loop began — that’s all we need to know! The fact that iterations which include a death for Daisy caused her memory to reset was a nice touch that lent a uniqueness to what could easily have been a derivative sci-fi formula, as did the fact that the distance to the destructive vortex reduced each time they went back to the start.
It was also nice not to have to worry about explaining the loop to the other characters over and over. Agents of SHIELD skillfully navigated the dilemma of Deke knowing about Simmons’ secret implant, for example, and then treated it as a foregone conclusion in successive loops to avoid drilling the conflict too hard. Even once Enoch’s deadly programming was revealed, we were treated to an almost comical rotation of failed attempts to circumvent his protection. And who’d have thought Deke dying would provide such humor? Daisy answers the questions “Do we need to be sad about that?” with a simple, “No, you do not,” and when Daisy herself dies, Coulson reacts with a matter-of-fact, “What a pain in the ass!” Perfect!
The same experimentation provides the perfect setup for the powerfully simple kiss between Sousa and Daisy. It wasn’t simply a matter of Daisy asking why he cared, to which he at first cryptically answered, “Because you don’t.” Nor was it enough for Daisy to take a loop to figure out what that meant, allowing Sousa to explain that he knows people like her — notably Peggy Carter — who need someone to pick them up when they run full-tilt at their problems. It’s the fact that we saw his sacrifice in action when he picked up the implant extractor and died to prevent Daisy’s memory from resetting again.
Granted, that death as well as the sudden gas leak seemed oddly disconnected from any direct action from Enoch, but the narrative intent was clear. Fitz’s location must never be known, yes, but more importantly, Daisy and Coulson have to watch their friends die. This is a particular sticking point for Coulson, who has been undergoing an existential crisis in the last few episodes, and Agents of SHIELD is finally able to address one of his biggest problems head on: how will he deal with watching his friends die, even after this crisis, while he continues to live on in his new practically immortal LMD form?
In fact, Coulson’s philosophical dilemma and his multiple experiences with his own death make him uniquely suited to ramping up the poignancy of the death of Enoch. Joel Stoffer’s performance will go down in sci-fi history as one of the best android portrayals since Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Enoch’s willingness to sacrifice himself so immediately after being the story’s temporary antagonist made his departure that much more bittersweet. Although Enoch’s death to save the team in season five was no less noble, we’ve had a chance to get to know him better over time, and his similar self-sacrifice here at the end provides a certain amount of symmetry to the fate and nature of the character.
Enoch’s fateful prediction to Daisy that her friends will survive but the team will not was actually a more apt epilogue than the one we got. Whereas seeing Nathaniel Malick training Kora in the use of her flame power reminds us that dangers to the timeline are still in play, it’s Enoch’s prophecy that says more about how Agents of SHIELD might end: with a mass “spy’s goodbye” that left not a dry eye in the house when Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter left the team. Perhaps it says a lot about the audience’s view of these last few episodes (come back, Fitz!) that we care more about how it ends than about how SHIELD foils the Chronicom takeover, which has lost focus in Malick. May the answers come with enticing slowness and sweetness… and perhaps a time loop so we can do it all over again.