I occasionally go back to my reviews of the earlier episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 to see if there’s anything that I regret saying in retrospect. The funny thing about how I tracked Sarge is that I thought they attempted to show the more Coulson-y side of him in one episode, before going back on it later on—and then in this new episode, they seem to have landed back on the latter.
Other than that, I still stand by my earlier pacing and character criticisms, even with what I know about the plot now. (And on a side note, I’m annoyed that I used whiplash as a metaphor in the opening paragraphs of two different episode reviews, unknowingly.) We’re heading towards the climax though, and I think any confusion I had before is worthwhile, as the storylines begin to converge sensibly.
At this point, the origin of Sarge is clear to everyone at the Lighthouse: through Monolith trickery in season 5, some sort of Monolith of Creation created another Coulson, while the Monoliths for Space and Time sent him who-knows-where-and-when for an incorporeal being to take over the Coulson-looking husk. We get Sarge going through an existential crisis as a result, with May and Daisy at odds with how to treat him.
There’s a hint of hope from May that Sarge is still salvageable, and that Coulson, the man that she loved, still exists somehow. Daisy, who viewed Coulson as a father figure, instead feels that Sarge is a perversion of his image, and wants to move on from his death. It’s a conflict that came about organically, even though the driving plot element of Sarge learning about some sort of superpower he has is a bit contrived.
But going back to the idea of “is Sarge still technically Coulson or not,” I wish that this episode at least touched upon any moral implications on what is happening here. Even if Sarge is based off of another person, isn’t he still technically his own being? Is it morally correct to rid of him in favor of someone else they already lost? It doesn’t seem to matter though, because if a hug at the end is any indication, the team seems to be down to have a replacement dad.
Meanwhile, Yo-Yo and Mack are a bit tied up, hostages of the body-jumping Izel. It’s cool that her antics haven’t gotten quite old, seeing how that was the premise of the entire previous episode. Still, there are occasions where her actions should be quite evident, resulting in the audience likely yelling at their television screens when characters make boneheaded moves.
It’s good to see the returning supporting character of Benson get some dramatic moments of his own, as Izel tries to tempt and coerce him for his help. Admittedly though, a key sequence with him is quite dependent on queer pain (if you recall, Benson stated that he lost his husband), a bit of a tired trope in mainstream entertainment.
I’ve been a bit critical of these two characters throughout this season, with their higher roles in the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization somehow leading to distilled roles in a dramatic sense, but their dynamic is a bit more interesting in this episode, thanks to some tense situations that the pair is thrown into. It certainly helps that the romantic drama is now totally out of the way.
And even in one of the more serious episodes of the season, “From the Ashes” still mines some levity from Deke trying to be a part of the Fitz-Simmons dynamic. Deke has proven to be a bit useless in recent episodes, almost becoming solely comic relief. There’s still a bit of that as he tries to butt into the technobabble-heavy conversations, but he surprisingly proves himself in a wholesome moment.
Now that everyone knows where to go, and we’re all aware of what the big evil plan is, it looks like the show is heading towards a pseudo-two-part season finale. The story has set up all of the important questions: where will Sarge’s allegiance lie with by the end of all of this? Is there still a bit of Coulson left in him?
With Coulson, Fitz in earlier episodes, and Benson, there’s a reoccurring theme of grief and an inability from the characters to move on from losing loved ones. Knowing that we have two episodes left, I hope that the show takes some bold and fearless directions, and doesn’t cop out or cheat in any way. Otherwise, I might just get whiplash.