Welcome back, True Believers (or forward, rather)-
It’s been too long since last we spoke about our trusted Agents but that absence has been rewarded with a dynamic and exciting start to the fifth season of Agents of SHIELD. Beginning the series in a rather grounded place of a comic book spy novel, with each successive season the show has taken on a new, fantastical element (TAHITI and the blue goo, space travel, A.I. and the Framework, magic in the Darkhold/Ghost Rider arc). As I’ve written about previously, the Framework basically brought to life Marvel’s ‘What If…?’ comic series, a personal favorite of mine. ‘What If…?’ peers at particular moments or decisions from various comic franchises, exploring greater depth of character and plots of the Marvel Universe through alternate timelines. With Season 5, AoS adds yet another fantastical element, adding time travel to their previous spatial explorations. More importantly, they introduce another concept embedded within Marvel Comics, the Multiverse. I have my theories and hopefully you’ve brought some of yours to share, so before we get into that discussion let’s do a quick Spoiler Warning and we’ll reconvene after the jump (assuming we all come through together…).
****SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING****
The following post contains SPOILERS for Season 5 of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, probably its previous seasons, and possibly any connected MCU material (#ItsAllConnected).
You’ve been properly advised, now please continue below.
****SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING****
Ok, now that that’s handled…
Where in the Multiverse are the Agents of SHIELD?
Allow me to just catch up real quick:
What a great double episode premiere, Mack so funny, wait why do these people know everything about the Agents? Where’s Fitz? ‘True Believers’?! Oh holy blown up Earth- wait, when is Fitz? Why does Deke look dress like Starlord? Deke has a Framework?? Daisy couldn’t have actually done that, right? But who then? And who and why is the guy/alien in guy skin sending the Agents across the- wait, did faux Starlord just say Multiverse? What’s a Sentient Chromicon? ROBIN! “Working on it…”, Ah!
Picking up on the sense of surprise when we first saw Coulson in outer space at the end of last season, the season’s first few episodes played well on a sense of confusion and disorientation, nestled nicely within their cheesy style of humor. We see Mack and YoYo have grown closer, we get a few jokes about Coulson’s hand, Fitz and Simmons are once again split across the universe. Alongside the Agents, we learn bits and pieces about their predicament, one of my favorites revelations being when Coulson says,
“The Monolith did look different, didn’t it?”
as he realizes they have travelled not through space but time. Assembling that time travel puzzle, though, culminating in FitzSimmons finding their time machine, is just the beginning of their real story, a new puzzle that appears to involve multiple timelines as they (repeatedly) try to prevent the destruction of the Earth.
In episode 5.8, after the Agents have made contact with Robin and the True Believers, we are shown scenes of various time periods. Though it is intentionally left uncertain at this point, the time periods we are seeing seem not to be flashbacks but flash-forwards to the Agents’ efforts after discovering the time machine in 2091, presumably using it to travel back, invent, design, and build it in time to send themselves back. We see May and Robin in year 2022 in a new relationship, one that brings May full circle in her deepest regret about killing the girl in Bahrain by turning her into the mother she never was. We see Simmons and YoYo, talking about Mack’s death as YoYo takes the fight to the Kree rather than continue with the team’s current plan. We see Fitz argue about the fixed nature of time and about how Simmons dies each time they try to reset or fix the events of the past. (note: this is while wearing a WEDDING RING, denoting enough passage of time for him and Simmons to have gotten married)
It is within this series of loops that the idea of the Multiverse begins to take real shape, a set of timelines or universes existing not separately but simultaneously. These passages of time are brilliantly displayed by Robin’s changes in age, which she experiences achronologically. Even though they exist simultaneously and side by side, due to the standard time-travel paradox of resetting the past, we, the viewer, wouldn’t normally be able to see the different timelines without a character who also exists within them simultaneously. It’s inspired story-telling for a concept that could prove difficult to properly bring to the screen. Multiverse Theory, of course, is not confined the world of Marvel Comics (and now the MCU), first posited publicly by Edwin Schrodinger in 1952. It has since been explored and debated by some of the greatest scientists of our time (it’s a favorite topic for Neil Degrasse Tyson), and now sits somewhere between philosophy and physics, the child of quantum physics and general relativity.
For Marvel Comics, it was the ‘What If…?’ series that formalized the Multiverse’s existence, with Uatu the Watcher speaking about the
“worlds within worlds – and worlds which exist side by side with your own, separated from it only by the thinnest web of cosmic gossamer”.
In Marvel Two-in-One #50, in which The Thing travels into the past to prevent his original mutation, Reed Richards explains to Ben what I presume Fitz will soon learn – that changing time actually means creating an alternate timeline within the Multiverse. Space and time are not separate, but two qualities of the same substance. In last night’s episode 5.9, we saw Fitz and Simmons removed of all remaining doubt that they were the ones responsible for the technology in 2091, coming across gravitonium on the Zephyr. Fitz struggles with the idea of a “time loop” and thus being doomed. They had obviously gone back and taken steps to prevent the cataclysmic future, much like Bill and Ted placing the trashcan and keys in the past for the future/present use, and since the dystopian future still existed he presumes that means they had failed. Perhaps what Fitz is failing to yet see, though, is the alternate timeline nature of the Marvel Multiverse, and the steps they take will prevent the Earth’s destruction not in their own universe, but in a newly created separate timeline.
Other thoughts and remaining questions
As I said before, the mysteries the Agents have thus far figured out only lead to greater, yet-unanswered questions that will most likely comprise the essence of the second half of the season. Here are few currently lingering:
Given the Multiverse context, is the mention that the transmissions are originating in Sector 616, the numerical designation for Earth in the Marvel Comics universe, an isolated easter egg or is it plot significant, pointing to some kind of interaction/collision that would bring the comic book universe of Earth-616 in contact with the MCU universe of Earth-199999? Though the latter possibility is less likely, I find it exciting.
Who will Deke’s parents turn out to have been? He makes mention of his mother dying and his father’s focus on the Monolith shard, leaving many to wonder about FitzSimmons as his parents. The timeframe, though, would seem to suggest them more being his grandparents’ age, and Simmons did drop the line about hoping someone else would pick up their work in designing the time machine.
In Ep 5.5, we learn that the bald fellow who abducted the Agents minus Fitz and sent them into the future is a species called a Sentient Chromicon, sent 30,000 years ago to observe the evolution of our species. This manifesto might leave some to theorize this as a stand-in for The Watchers, the race assigned to observe but not interfere with the human race. Enoch’s robotic sensibilities, though, are probably a bit more reminiscent of someone else from Marvel canon, the Rigellian Recorders. Will there be more to Enoch’s story, a more nefarious and/or adversary-directed agenda? How did he come in contact with Robin, setting him on the time travel path? Where did the time travelling Monolith come from before being used by him and the True Believers? Is it as simple as it having been in Enoch’s possession for centuries?
Within the True Believers, who had the original plan to bring them from the past and who opened the portal/Monolith? What is it one of the Agents themselves? Was the plan always to kill Quake or was that concocted later by Voss?
Who destroyed the Earth and why is it blamed on Quake? Is it some plan of the Kree or were the simply opportunists after the fact? It seems increasingly likely to be some combination of Quake, Flint, and Graviton/gravitonium.
Finally, can we just hold for one second of the now famous nickname “Destroyer of Worlds”. The phrase is not without a history in Marvel comics, being one of the terms for Galactus, along with “Devourer of Worlds”. I can’t quite fathom what the connection between him and Agents of SHIELD might be but the phrasing makes it a difficult hint to ignore. Also, earlier on in the season I thought this Spring’s arrival of Thanos might play into this mystery, give his penchant for such world destroying. I think this is probably unlikely, though.
That’s all for now, (original) True Believers! Let me know what you think in the comments below as well as on Twitter @DrProfEsq and I’ll see you sometime/somewhere in the future/past.