NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, including a major character death, are present in this review
That malfunctioning Time Drive creates one massive headache for the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew on this week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That is, of course, within the fictional confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe anyway. “As I Have Always Been” represents a big milestone for one of the show’s main cast members nonetheless, with Elizabeth Henstridge stepping up to direct this episode, despite still portraying Jemma Simmons in front of the camera this week. This is paired with what’s admittedly a semi-frequent trope for genre television, albeit one that presents a ton of standout character material, before culminating in a shocking conclusion that comes with heavy loss, and a dire warning for the team.
After the botched attempt to fix the Time Drive ends up backfiring, the Zephyr ends up being stuck in a ‘Time Storm’, while the Time Drive keeps sending its energy signature into itself on an infinite loop. Yep, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing a time loop episode this week, something that was bound to occur during the show’s final season, considering that it’s built around more openly challenging the pre-existing time travel rules of the MCU. The main perspective within this time loop is that of Daisy, who keeps awakening and re-living the same twenty minutes or so, before the malfunctioning Time Drive keeps forcing events to reset, Groundhog Day-style, or Happy Death Day-style, if you need a more current movie reference.
Fortunately, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. puts its own distinct spin on the fairly worn time loop trope, creating the added wrinkle that, when Daisy dies during one of the loops, she forgets everything that she’s learned during the previous loops. This is pointed out to her by Coulson, whom Daisy eventually re-activates, at which point she learns about the apparent rules of the time loop, since Coulson can’t forget them, being an LMD and all. Apparently, since Daisy and Coulson begin the loop in futuristic time pods, they’re immune to the full effects of the reset, making them the only hope to save the team and set things right, since they’re the only ones that remember everyone is in a time loop.
The danger behind this situation comes in via another pressing wrinkle; Every loop brings the Zephyr closer to a time distortion that will destroy it and kill everyone onboard, giving Daisy, Coulson and the rest of their continually re-educated fellow agents a limited amount of time to get the Time Drive working again. This creates a consistently exciting first half to this episode, which avoids the expected narrative trap of the time loop becoming repetitive. That’s definitely a big testament to Henstridge’s directing talents as well, especially when she’s able to lace some surprisingly amusing humour in with the otherwise dire stakes facing the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew. This, along with the obstacles that continually find clever ways to reinvent or expand themselves with every loop, helps keep the storytelling engaging throughout. It’s also a stroke of genius to have this episode begin with Daisy having already done numerous failed loops with Coulson before this storyline’s proper events, with this episode’s narrative kicking off after Daisy wakes up with no memory of the time loop, having been killed in a previous loop, and thus forgetting all of her progress.
Better still is that this episode also packs in some surprisingly heartfelt moments of drama between the crew, particularly Daisy and Coulson. Throughout this episode, we see Coulson wrestle with yet again being unable to escape death in his new LMD form, Daisy having to keep it together after her constant failures to keep charging at the problem, and Sousa even subtly professing his love for Daisy, which Daisy eventually returns with a seemingly consequence-free loop kiss. The romantic chemistry between Daisy and Sousa has been very nicely built up throughout this season, without becoming obnoxious or forced. That’s great, especially since it allows Sousa to be a particularly helpful ally here, unquestioningly going along with Daisy’s demands when she tells him that they’re in a time loop, and thus allowing her to save valuable time while trying to save her friends.
Eventually, the solution to the time loop problem becomes narrowed down to Enoch as well. After one particularly frustrating loop that leaves both Daisy and Simmons killed by an artificial gas leak, after Daisy realizes that Simmons’ mental implant must be removed to fix the Time Drive (Daisy and Coulson conveniently overhear Simmons and Deke talking about the implant, hence why they now know about it), it’s eventually revealed that Enoch has been programmed to protect the implant’s integrity at all costs, up to and including murdering his allies! Further compounding the irony is, once the implant is successfully removed, Simmons reveals that Enoch is the key to fixing the Time Drive as well. This revelation also comes shortly before Simmons is overcome by grief at some sort of unspecified tragedy, a tragedy that she seemingly caused herself.
This is the first of multiple sobering implications for the end of this episode. Yes, it was inevitable that the team would escape the time storm, but Simmons’ grief, combined with Enoch referencing losing friends in the past, appears to suggest that not only is Fitz inaccessible to the team, but he may actually be dead! This is unconfirmed at this point, but the hints are pretty blatant. That’s not the only potential loss that the team suffers as well, since Enoch’s fix for the Time Drive unfortunately means that Enoch must sacrifice his power source. This leaves Enoch sacrificing his life without a second thought, so that the team can continue their final mission. Yes, Enoch spells out that this is the team’s final mission, which could be an allusion to the seemingly grim fate of Fitz, or some other big twist that’s yet to come.
Enoch’s bittersweet death was the dramatic cherry on top of an overall excellent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The team doesn’t ultimately escape the time storm without tragic consequences, with a premonition of more tragedy seemingly on the way for the show’s final handful of episodes to boot. I suppose we ultimately need to know why the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters likely won’t show up in future MCU movies and TV shows after all, at least not easily. That’s really unfortunate, because this team’s strong, family-style bond is something that Marvel fans and general fans of this show have come to adore for years now. It sucks to think about these characters being left behind by the revised direction of the MCU in a few weeks, barring some sort of unexpected plans for the future of Marvel’s shared live-action universe. Enoch’s fourth wall-poking musing about having to say goodbye to these personalities may have come a little earlier than expected, but like he says, we do what we can with the time we have in between. The end may be near for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its eponymous crew, but at least we still have a few more weeks to keep enjoying one of the MCU’s coolest and most inventive shows overall!
- Consistently exciting time loop challenges
- Dramatic character interactions that nonetheless leave room for humour
- Enoch sacrificing his life to save the team