Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 Episode 10 “Leap”
Director: Garry A. Brown
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley
Runtime: 42 minutes
“Leap” is an episode of a very specific type that S.H.I.E.L.D. does very well. It’s not strictly a bottle episode but it relies on a similar kind of claustrophobic energy to build tension as the protagonists are trapped in a small area with a powerful danger. This time Izel, who like myself and many others predicted is able to possess others, has snuck into the Lighthouse and the agents don’t know who among them might currently be under her control. It’s an episode structure S.H.I.E.L.D. has used to great effect in the past in installments like “The Team” and “Self-Control”, the latter often being cited as one of the best episodes in the series’ history (to some it’s the singular best). “Leap” isn’t on that level but it is a very exciting, if somewhat dense, hour that stuns by finally revealing (most?) of the truth about Sarge and shocks with the season’s first really significant casualty.
As expected Izel jumped into Davis when he went off on his own in her ship and once inside the Lighthouse she hopped over into May and had her shoot Sarge. The body-switching continues for a while before the agents figure out what’s going on and Mack locks down the base. What follows is a tense confrontation as the agents confirm each other’s identities through shared secrets between individual pairs, allowing for personal anecdotes, some of which are touching, others amusing. Unfortunately, Izel still winds up getting what she wants, which is control of Mack so she can access the secure area where the gravitonium device containing the fear dimension from last season is located. Worse, she drops a body before proceeding.
Yes, Davis is dead and his death itself as well as its cold, sudden nature signals that S.H.I.E.L.D. is done playing around. It was announced at San Diego Comic-Con just a day before this episode aired that the upcoming seventh season of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which cast and creators have described as a direct continuation of story threads in the sixth) will be the show’s last, and with that knowledge in mind the unexpected death of a fan-favorite supporting character sends a very clear message: for the rest of the show’s run, no one is safe. However, while it is effective at raising the stakes, otherwise I’m not convinced Davis dying was completely necessary or that it will have meaningful consequences. The episode goes out of its way to make clear that despite the series’ extensive history of resurrections Davis’ is one death that will (probably) stick, showing us his eyes being closed and his body being taken away but my emotional response to these scenes never moved beyond surprise, and I consider myself a Davis fan. The fact is that the show never made him more than a comic-relief character (though a very effective one) so it’s hard to buy his death having that much of an effect on the main characters. Even the quiet moment of mourning given to Piper, the one character with whom Davis did have a fleshed-out dynamic, is too subdued to be that affecting. Still, Max Osinski always did a great job of lightening up the show with his charmingly dorky performances and if he and Davis are gone for good they’ll both be missed.
Part of the reason for these muted emotions, to be fair, maybe because the immediate threat is still there once Davis dies. Using Mack, Izel manages to get into the containment level but Sarge, having immediately started regenerating after the shooting, easily escaped Jemma’s watch and went to confront her himself. Sarge believes he’s fulfilling his mission of vengeance but Izel and Fitz arrive at different conclusions and we finally get some solid answers as to who and what Sarge is. The sci-fi mechanics are very complicated so bear with me: as it stands now we’re meant to believe that Izel and the consciousness calling itself Sarge both hail from races of formless beings, and in fact were seemingly lovers of some sort. When Coulson came in contact with the combined Monolith energies that created the fear dimension in “The Real Deal” last season the energy from the third Monolith (which Fitz describes as having power over creation) created an exact duplicate of Coulson’s body which was then sent by the other two energies through space and back in time. The copy was then taken over by the Sarge entity but the clash of Sarge’s consciousness with lingering aspects of Coulson’s caused Sarge to mistake Coulson’s memories of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team as a family that he lost as well as confusing his own longing for Izel as a longing to destroy her and then linked the two. Sarge was right in thinking he’s been on his mission for over a hundred years as his own abilities have allowed the Coulson copy to develop various superhuman attributes including longevity and regeneration. That’s a lot to take in and while the way in which elements of the series’ long history are brought back to ground the explanation in previously established mythology (kudos to the writers for having the fear dimension, which was relatively pointless last season, contribute to the series-long narrative) is impressive, I’m not sure the truth about Sarge totally fits with everything that’s been established previously. For one, why did Izel shoot him if she’s really hoping he’ll rejoin her? If the explanation there is that she was just trying to “wake him up”, last week’s cliffhanger will be rendered even cheaper. It will take a rewatch of the entire season to confirm whether everything actually fits together or not but while the creativity on display is commendable, the show’s mythology was more digestible when it relied on more standard sci-fi tropes. Even the strangest twists of past seasons like alien blood bringing people back from the dead and a virtual reality created through the study of a dark magic book are a lot easier to wrap one’s head around than “formless consciousness takes control of clone created by a whole in the universe.”
“Leap” itself is notable for its intensity and for giving answers to some of the show’s most currently pressing questions but it is dense to the point where it risks overwhelming the viewer. It does, however, set up a few very interesting threads as the season approaches its conclusion. Most immediately there’s the problem of Izel, who gets away with the gravitonium device by jumping into Yo-Yo (Mack voluntarily gives himself over as a prisoner to ensure her safety). More narratively important, of course, is whether the revelations about Sarge open up the possibility of Coulson returning, with the copy of his consciousness overcoming Sarge’s. Last but not least we have Fitz’s conspicuous comparison of Sarge and Izel to the other “non-corporeal” being S.H.I.E.L.D. has encountered, Ghost Rider, to consider. I doubt this means we’ll get a full-on Robbie Reyes cameo as Gabriel Luna was likely too busy with production on Terminator: Dark Fate while this season was shooting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ghost Rider mythology is invoked in a more comprehensive way going forward, given how many past plotlines are being revived and united
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 Episode 10
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s intensity continues to impress but the details behind the season's central mystery may be more complicated than necessary.