SHIELD is back at full force in an episode that’s probably among the most grounded they’ve ever had. Keeping a world full of superpowers relateable is tough, but the best way to do that is to focus on emotion and relationships, and that’s where this episode shines.
The episode is about more than just Lincoln on the run; indeed, a major part of it is focused on Simmons’ becoming re-accustomed to life on Earth after months spent… who knows where? Much like Fitz’s recovery last season, which is brought up in the episode, this isn’t something that’s just going to go away easily. When Star Trek TNG took a break after “Best of Both Worlds” to deal with Picard’s psychological distress in “Brothers,” it was revolutionary. Now, that’s practically mandatory, and SHIELD is right there, doing it for almost every character at once. Coulson’s hand, Simmon’s PTSD, Bobbi’s physical therapy, Lincoln’s lost purpose in life… it’s really heavy stuff, all of it, but it’s also the kind of thing that real people deal with every day. Sure, the circumstances are different; most people aren’t getting marooned on alien planets these days. But PTSD is something millions of people suffer with… and almost everyone has felt like they don’t belong at some point in their lives.
Indeed, this episode portrays all of that with a level of realism that will feel all too familiar to most people watching. Fitz struggles to help return Simmons to normalcy, but this is something that takes time and is beyond his ability to fix. I was very glad to see Coulson mention that her mental health was just as important as her physical health; it’s something that gets brushed aside far too often on TV, and having a character like Garner available to help them deal with it is not only a great way to gain insight into characters’ inner thoughts, but also helps to reinforce the idea for viewers that there’s nothing wrong with getting help from a mental health professional when you need it, and the SHIELD team needs it more than ever.
Lincoln, too, is in such a spot; he’s succumb to despair, and it was revealed this week that he’s already been “talked down from the ledge” more than once after the fall of Afterlife last season. He has no friends left, and no one he feels like he can trust. And rightfully so, it seems, since Coulson and Mack weren’t averse to planting a bug on him to track his movements against his will. Not that Coulson’s much better off, having been worn down by confrontation after confrontation with people who are ostensibly on the same side, which eventually leads to him offering his aid to Rosalind and the ATCU to keep from another round of that (and also keep Daisy safe). Unfortunately for Coulson, the next movie is named Civil War, after all, so I get the feeling there’s more “good guy” infighting ahead for him regardless.
The other bit of the episode deals with May and Hunter going after Ward, which feels a little disjointed from the rest of it since it’s more about covert ops than emotion or relationships–although it feels like there’s some of that ahead for May, who’s working out her pent-up feelings by beating the crap out of HYDRA underlings. And really, who better to do that with? Obviously, she’s going to have to face that sooner or later, but now would’ve been a good time to at least start, when it’d be thematically relevant. But perhaps they were hoping to keep some action present in the episode with them, which I guess it did do.
I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time reviewing this one because it felt like such a personal episode to me. All I can say on that front, really, is bravo to the writers. The episode ends with the tease that Simmons feels the need to return to the alien world, so I guess we’ll see where that goes next week in “Devils You Know.”