The Cross in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came to a close this month on an interesting Christological note. I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning and never had the complaints I read from others that it was too slow, didn’t have enough super powers, and whatever else. It’s a good show, and it didn’t get canceled like Agent Carter did (which is another good show, great show even, and it stinks that it’s cancelled.) The most recent season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. focuses on a vision one of the agents has of someone’s death, and central to that vision is a cross pendant.

I doubt I can keep from spoilers.

The season opens with the vision. A ship in space, the arc of the earth through the cockpit windshield, the cross pendant and necklace suspended in air, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on a sleeve. No face or identifiers of who, if anyone, might be in that aircraft. We learn after a few shows that an Inhuman (a substitutionary word for “mutant” with its own extraterrestrial history) has the ability to foresee details of a death when he touches someone. This ability brings him into contact with Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), the Inhuman agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is working on putting together an Inhuman tactical team, and when they touch each other, they see the vision of the cross on a ship in space.

“I’ve seen the future,” she tells her team, “and one of us is going to die.” 

Since the cross is the most unique part of her vision, viewers will assume that the person who dies has the cross on them. A new inhuman from Bolivia nicknamed Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) wears it for most of the season. After some conversations about vaguely Christian faith, she gives it to Mack (Henry Simmons) as a reminder to keep his hopes pinned there. He actually tried to give it back later on, saying she needs it more than he does, but her response is perfect.

“This isn’t a lucky rabbit’s foot,” she says. “This is a symbol of faith. Who would return such a gift?”

The camera shows us Mack putting the necklace back into his pocket, leading the viewer to worry that he will be the one to die when the vision is played out, but later the cross begins to change hands. Hyper-attentive fans will be pulling their hair out.

Along with this visual focus on a cross, the characters talk about “absolution.” It’s a word they hear from the enemy. What does it mean or refer to? This point appears to be intentionally vague. The enemy uses “absolution” as label for his end game. He intends to take over the world and perhaps rid it of all human life, thereby bringing peace through domination. If he intends this label in a direct way, he seems to have it reversed. He isn’t seeking absolution or forgiveness for himself or his people; he’s planning the punishment of humanity or a kind of retribution.

But Daisy actually is seeking absolution. Her experience in the hands of the enemy broke her completely. She wants to feel the full weight of the condemnation she deserves. By the season finale, she hates herself and would destroy herself if it would bring out her own forgiveness, compensating for her evil deeds. She wants to employ the line Phil Colson (Clark Gregg) has used repeatedly over the life of the show: I caused the problem, so it’s on me to make it right.

But the show writers appear to know enough about the crucifixion to know that Jesus wasn’t claiming responsibility for causing the problem. He wasn’t trying to redeem himself. He was the only one who never needed it. And so in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s crucifixion shadow game, the character who doesn’t believe he works well within the agency, who doesn’t believe he has enough to offer his teammates, chooses to sacrifice himself for everyone else.

Writer Jed Whedon tells Variety, “We find that there’s something sort of beautiful about someone doing the truly heroic act because they don’t believe that they’re a hero. He thinks the other people need to stay around to do good, so he’s doing it because he doesn’t think he’s a hero and in doing that, he becomes the ultimate hero.”

He laid down his life for others. That’s a good partial picture of Christ.

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