NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” are present in this review
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally appeared to be taking a bit of a breath after so many issues caused by the Chronicoms this season, but sure enough, new complications ended up coming into play for the show’s heroes. “After, Before” finds yet another interesting way to play with the time travel-themed arc that encompasses Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s final season, namely that the Zephyr’s time drive has started to malfunction, causing the aircraft to uncontrollably skip forward in time. The only way to stop the increasingly short skips, and subsequent threat of skipping into a time collapse, is to remove the time drive’s power source, which just so happens to be blocked by an inaccessible, deadly barrier. The only person that can get through it is Yo-Yo, and, inconveniently, Yo-Yo’s Inhuman powers are currently disabled.
This creates a pretty compelling hook for this episode, specifically when Daisy suggests that Yo-Yo visit Jiaying, her villainous mother, who would still be alive in 1983. Yo-Yo and May thus take a trip to Jiaying’s Inhuman safe haven, Afterlife, creating another very cool callback to some prior history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this time from the TV side that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself kickstarted. At the same time, the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew tries to formulate a different plan, though even Simmons is forced to admit that the mission has gone awry at this point, complete with her being fully cut off from Fitz. In fact, despite Fitz supposedly guiding the Zephyr’s jumps unseen beforehand, Fitz no longer appears to have any hand in his friends’ mission against the Chronicoms, or, at this point, their mission to simply survive a collapsing time field.
The direction in this episode nicely plays with the bending relativity caused by the malfunctioning time drive as well. Yo-Yo and May are able to spend at least a couple of days at Afterlife, trying to consult Jiaying about how to fix Yo-Yo’s powers, but the rest of the heroes only have about twenty or so minutes before Yo-Yo and May are forced to return, due to the skip-induced timeline split. This twenty-minute timeline for the rest of the agents practically unfolds in real-time as well, cleverly being balanced with the extended core story arc taking place at Afterlife, where, even before Hydra’s invasion, Jiaying and her friends don’t take kindly to visitors. Yo-Yo and May even show up at an especially awkward time, when Jiaying’s fellow Inhumans are rounding up a runaway named Kora, prompting extra suspicion as to Yo-Yo’s and May’s agenda.
It’s definitely great to see Jiaying again, particularly a less outwardly twisted version of her, one years preceding her giving birth to Daisy, and likely meeting Calvin Zabo/Mister Hyde. The implication that altering history with this premature Jiaying encounter could erase the birth of Daisy from the timeline is also pretty intriguing, though frustratingly, it doesn’t seem to come into play at this point. Instead, Yo-Yo simply undergoes a bunch of, “Spa treatments” to try and isolate her issue, after a Diviner proves that she is indeed a de-powered Inhuman. Unfortunately, another frustration comes into play here though, when Jiaying reveals that Yo-Yo’s power block is psychological, and doesn’t have anything to do with the Shrike that invaded her body. Oh, come on, seriously?! This is becoming a pretty dumb cliche in superhero-themed television. You’d normally expect it out of something like The CW’s Arrowverse, but not the television arm of the MCU, which seems to at least try to present bolder, more ambitious storylines.
That being said, the following scenes at least help to compensate very effectively for the stupid explanation as to why Yo-Yo’s powers don’t work. May using her own empath abilities to get Yo-Yo to realize the inspiration and self-imposed limitations behind her powers is good, but it would have worked best if the show wasn’t under such a massive time crunch right now. The thrills never stop in this episode at least, even on the Zephyr, where Mack has to debate abandoning ship, and having his team be permanently stranded in the 1980’s. In the end though, even this feels moot, when Nathaniel ends up re-emerging at Afterlife, revealing that he not only survived his violent Inhuman transformation from the 1970’s, but now wields Daisy’s powers with deadly precision!
This in turn creates another promising obstacle for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., building nicely off of Sibyl now forming an alliance with Nathaniel. Nathaniel even recruits Kora as well, whose volatile Inhuman abilities, which allow her to store and unleash kinetic energy (not unlike X-Men character, Gambit, if Gambit had no ability to control his powers), suddenly become easier to manage, once Kora embraces her frustration and anger towards Jiaying. The best twist in this episode was saved for around this point as well; Kora is Jiaying’s daughter, and a long-lost older sister of Daisy! Again, this doesn’t have much bearing on the storytelling yet, particularly when May and Yo-Yo have to whisk Jiaying and her teleporting buddy, Gordon out of Afterlife, promising to meet up with them later, but the idea of Nathaniel and Kora building up what’s essentially an Inhuman version of Magneto’s Mutant Brotherhood could provide a very worthy climax for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. overall in the coming weeks, without simply falling back on the same stubborn Chronicom threat.
“After, Before” ultimately falls victim to its own incredible sense of urgency at times, especially with how hastily it has to de-stabilize then re-stabilize both Yo-Yo’s and Kora’s powers, as the plot demands. Still, this episode creates a very exciting threat in Daisy’s newly-revealed sister, who is now tagging along with the Quake-powered Nathaniel to boot! At this rate, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does seem to be planning to spend more time in the 80’s as well, after Yo-Yo (too) suddenly discovers that she doesn’t have to bounce back, re-activating her powers, and allowing her to disable the time drive. It also seems like this victory may not have stuck though, with next week supposedly offering a self-contained storyline, as the Zephyr naturally starts getting stuck between time and space. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s writing may not be as airtight as it usually is this week, but the excitement and suspense nonetheless remains very high. Now that Yo-Yo’s Inhuman ‘yips’ are finally sorted out as well, S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer short-handed with their powered agents. That’s good, because Daisy’s inevitable family reunion is bound to be anything but cordial.
- Clever direction and editing that plays well with time
- Nathaniel becoming the new threat to Afterlife
- Jiaying's problem Inhuman being Daisy's sister
- Yo-Yo's power block explanation feels contrived and dumb
- Daisy premonition has no bearing on the plot yet