A silly pet peeve of mine is when people label any television episode in a confined space a “bottle episode.” That’s one of the requirements for sure, but in the spirit of problem-solving in filmmaking, it has to solely take place on one of the main sets of the show. I wouldn’t have guessed that a late-era Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bottle episode would be that entertaining, because the Lighthouse is boring as hell, but “Leap” (mostly) proved me wrong.
It’s a high-concept episode, not even just from it being bottled, but from the gimmick of the main baddie Izel. With her ability to possess people and easily jump between them, all of the paranoid “trust no one” story elements all easily fall into place. And even with its apparent limitations, this episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. was also quite efficient, finally telling us the apparent origin behind Clark Gregg’s Sarge.
The reason why I don’t like the Lighthouse is because it feels way too confined, and it lacks any personality. We had the Bus from seasons one and two, which felt luxurious and at least had a bit of color. But for the longest time, season two through four brought us to the Playground, which despite the industrial-ness to its appearance, looked like the characters who inhabited it made an effort to make it feel and look homely.
But both of those are blown up, so here we are in some gray, concrete mega-basement. With that, the acting and writing had to make up for the lack of visual variety, and make up they did. Once all of the characters finally figure out exactly what is going on, the rest of the episode might as well have been shot in one long take afterwards.
As the characters attempt to figure out who is real and who is being possessed, secrets begin to come out—but the show plays this subtly. It isn’t an onslaught of new information, which wouldn’t be necessary seeing how we’ve been following these characters for over five years now. They’re little nuggets that provide insight not only into what these characters prioritize and think about when they’re not on-screen, but also very telling of their dynamics and relationships.
And I’m not talking romantic relationships or anything, but rather the close, platonic, trust-based friendships that make the character work in this show so strong. Mack and Daisy have always been a well-written pair, and the episode serves as a decent testament to why Daisy and May had enough trust in Mack to install him as their Director.
With Deke and Fitz, we have an unusual familial relationship. Before the highlight paranoia sequence starts, we see the pair attempting to make small talk, and while it’s awkward, it’s awkward in layers. Not only are they grandfather and grandson (that’s time travel for you), but it’s technically a different Fitz who’s never met Deke—not to mention Deke’s Zuckerberg-scale grifting probably pulling directly from Fitz’s technology.
The weak link involves the supporting characters pair of Piper and Davis, two characters I’ve enjoyed in small doses in previous scenes, but have floundered in their newfound larger roles. I can’t tell if their relationship or friendship or whatever is just too subtle or underwritten, but regardless, they suffer the most (physically in the episode) as a result of also being the most expendable characters in the show.
The most fascinating relationship would have to be between Sarge and Izel, mainly because of how one-sided it is. They feel the pull towards each other, but Izel (apparently) has all of the information, while Sarge is mainly working off of instinct. The show finally reveals the nature of Sarge’s existence, and it’s a great set-up for the rest of the season.
It isn’t particularly a mind-blowing plot twist to the degree of other big revelations in S.H.I.E.L.D. history, but it’s one that makes sense with the mythology established by the show. Granted, there are so many elements in this shortened season to begin with that my mind feels a bit tangled trying to reconcile them all together with this new revelation as context. I’m sure the writing team planned everything out, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that a lot of concepts in this season are totally unrelated to each other.
Still, like I said, it all works up to set up what I suppose is the final act of the season. I hate using the term “transition episode,” as accurate as the term itself may be, because that has connotations that those episodes are filler. Even if “Leap” really is a “transition episode,” it goes beyond filler and reminds us that the characters are the greatest asset the show has to bring us a good old-fashioned and thrilling episode of television.