Agents of SHIELD 5.16 Review: Inside Voices

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spent the first half of the season showcasing the results of the actions that are currently being taken in the present, and “Inside Voices” is both frustrating and brilliant in its depiction of how the future can warp the past without even trying to. Many previously soft characters like Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) are hardening more and more, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re trying to reach the Lighthouse future or prevent it, the sheer knowledge of those events makes them act in ways we wouldn’t expect. At times it’s hard to watch as a fan of theirs, and this episode in particular raised a few logical concerns about time travel, but the season as a whole remains some of the show’s best storytelling yet.

Absorbing Men

Given that Coulson (Clark Gregg) won’t team up with her and hand over Daisy, General Hale is left with no recourse but to send Creel in to become one with the Gravitonium – after taking away Coulson’s cot, chair and Cap’n Crunch, of course. She won’t let her daughter Ruby (Dove Cameron) try it until she understands more about the material, which is something Ruby is none too happy about. It’s probably a good thing they waited, though, because now Creel is stuck with voices he can’t absorb his way out of.

While Creel is battling with the “Inside Voices” in his head, Von Strucker is trying to figure out the Hydra plans under Ruby’s direction. We haven’t seen much of their team-up since she won him over for both her mother’s agenda and her own, but it’s at least clear that he is loyal to Ruby first and foremost and she will stop at nothing to keep the title of Destroyer Of Worlds. She may not know the future in store, mostly because her mother wouldn’t let Coulson finish, but she’s probably the one character doing more than anyone else to prevent it. Perhaps we should just throw her into the Gravitonium and call it a day?

One of Creel’s voices is Franklin Hall, who hates Coulson with the fire of a thousand suns ever since he got dumped into Gravitonium back in season one. To be honest, I needed a refresher on who he was, and without the power of Google this plot would have lost a lot of its impact for me. Nevertheless, Coulson manages to save his own skin by pointing out that Creel’s old friend Talbot is trapped in the same building, his mind having been severely warped by Hale and her cronies. That redirects him, and together they work to find Talbot and rescue him. It’s an interesting new dynamic despite not taking up a lot of time, and Talbot especially has some humorous moments that work to make them feel like a team. Seems like nothing sharpens his senses more than having comrades to order around.

The alarms sound off before long, and Ruby is dispatched to stop them with the promise of bringing Creel back alive. A fight in a dark corridor ensues, which is probably Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s biggest flaw, but the tensions escalate when Coulson is shot. Not to worry, though, his third or fourth resurrection is quickly secured with the help of Creel’s absorbing powers. Before they can go very far, Ruby arrives ready to kill them all regardless of what her mother said. This battle between her and Creel is much more involved and exciting, with a lot of moving parts including Ruby’s killer weapons that can’t quite take Creel down like they did Yo-Yo. Coulson and Talbot escape via the alien teleport machine in the chaos and wind up on some snowy mountains. While Hale might despise disobedience, she is proud enough of her daughter’s commitment to becoming the Destroyer Of Worlds to send her after the runaways.

Robin Time

Daisy has been “a bit of a hardass,” as Deke (Jeff Ward) tells everyone who will listen, trying to keep the team moving forward until Coulson gets back. Warning the rest of the crew not to release Fitz, she leaves Mack (Henry Simmons) in charge and sets off to learn more from the young psychic Robin alongside Deke and May (Ming-Na Wen). The tension at work here is that Daisy doesn’t want to be leader, so all her plans are geared specifically towards saving Coulson rather than looking at the long-term picture. While I hope she adjusts to her new role soon, at least she’s making more sense than some of her teammates – who we’ll talk about later.

Daisy apologizes for pulling Robin out of hiding, learning the overwhelmed young girl has stopped drawing pictures these last few weeks. The key to reaching her, however, lies in the last picture she drew: her final moments of life with May. That future bond quickly forces its way into the present when Robin sees May and calls her “Mom.” Comforted by her presence, Robin is ready to draw the answers they need despite breaking her mother’s heart in the process. “Inside Voices” is served remarkably well by the setup “The Last Day” provided, making Robin’s story the most touching one in the episode. Knowing what happens to her is painful, and it’s even worse when Robin says Coulson will die anyway, but May still hopes things can be changed. Armed with the drawing of Coulson and Talbot in the mountains, she and Daisy set off to do just that.

Team Invincible

Perhaps this is a sign of Daisy’s lackluster leadership thus far, but her team realldoes not seem to respect her. Only Mack is prepared to abide by the rules she set, while Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) is raring to put her new and stronger arms to good use in wreaking havoc on the Apocalypse. And, of course, Jemma will do anything to free Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) from his current state of time out. Even Deke, who mostly follows orders, tells fits he respects his grandfather’s choices under the Doctor’s influence because they’re the same ones he’s had to make himself on the Lighthouse. Maybe their similarities are really at the heart of Fitz’s disdain for his descendant?

Jemma and Yo-Yo prepare a little coup of their own, bolstered by the newfound belief that they’re invincible because they know they make it to the Lighthouse alive. This is where logical fallacies start to swim in my head, because if their goal is to change the future then it must follow that they are not in fact invincible. Unless the future can’t be changed, in which case what’s the point of trying? Regardless, Fitz has insider knowledge on Hydra weapons and they need him out to prepare their next steps towards salvation… or destruction. Yo-Yo first tries sweet talking Mack into releasing him, but the man is nothing if not a stalwart rule follower and a voice of reason. He’s not concerned with Elena’s future if he can’t keep her safe in the present, after all. The tension between these two lovebirds has been simmering under the surface since the tragic incident, and “Inside Voices” really has me worried for the state of their relationship.

Simmons next devises an “experiment” to prove she can’t be killed: drinking 3 out of 4 clear liquids before her when she knows one of them is a deadly poison. Fitz and Mack are thus horrified when she falls down in convulsions, but when Mack releases Fitz to help her we learn what a consummate liar she has become. She’s perfectly fine, and Yo-Yo now has her boyfriend locked in the cell instead of Fitz so that Team Invincible can set off in search of the weapons. The most ironic part is that, just like Jemma and Yo-Yo think their safety is assured by the very future they’re trying to change, Fitz thinks the future is immutable and yet feels real fear at the thought of losing Jemma in the present. It’s totally illogical, but then again people’s actions are often dictated by emotion rather than logic, which is one of the most realistic aspects in all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“Inside Voices” ends on an interesting flashback: Raina once absorbed Quinn into the Gravitonium, which means that Hall and Quinn are literally part of Creel right now. As nice as it is to see Ruth Negga again, it’s also a moment that really only resonates with avid fans that have memorized every detail of the show. But at this stage of the show’s history, I’m glad they’re paying tribute to their loyal base.