While a marked improvement from last week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is struggling to find its focus in an ever expanding, increasingly dense mythology. There are already no less than four major villains on the show, each with their own mysterious motivations and factions, and tonight takes the first steps toward a fifth group. All the while, S.H.I.E.L.D. itself is embroiled in internal conflict, the Agents coming to ideological (and often physical) differences. Yet with all this drama and all these warring factions, the show spends so much time spinning wheels.
After last week’s reveal that Andrew is Lash, the show wastes no time bringing him to blows with S.H.I.E.L.D. While Blair Underwood brings a lot of gravitas, the more we learn about Andrew, the less compelling he becomes. Both Underwood and Ming-Na Wen are great actors, but they just don’t have much chemistry together. And incredibly, Andrew receives a Terrigan exposure even more ludicrous than fish oil. After receiving Jiaying’s artifacts, Andrew opens a book filled with Terrigan dust, exposing himself. It’s a good thing that Andrew had the Inhuman gene, or else he’d be turned into a pile of ash. The S.H.I.E.L.D. intern who didn’t decontaminate those books is gonna get an earful.
Off in the A.T.C.U. / S.H.I.E.L.D. cold war, Rosalind and Daisy spend some time together. The two find their ideological differences before they finish their first shared breath. What’s interesting is that both articulate completely relatable viewpoints, and it’s easy to understand where both are coming from. What’s frustrating is that both articulate the exact same viewpoint. Both Daisy and Rosalin are proponents of forced indefinite detention for Inhumans; they just disagree about whether they should be in a prison cell or in a cube of goo. Daisy might be more humane than Rosalind, but she’s no Charles Xavier. At least the episode has a breathtaking moment as Daisy uses her powers to save a falling Rosalind. It’s the highlight of the show, and the first interesting use of Daisy’s powers this season.
I can’t tell you how fucking finished I am with FitzSimmons. This show has made me hate the characters by forcing them into an unwanted, seemingly endless romance. The show has an interminably long scene with Fitz watching Simmons’ home movies as she’s stranded on the alien world. This scene might have some pathos if these were Simmons last journal entries before she died, but it’s a lot less compelling that Fitz is snooping through her private diary while Simmons is off… somewhere, doing something. Though they only share one scene together, the romance between Bobbi and Lance is much more satisfying because they actually communicate with each other. And this subplot is not wanting for drama; Bobbi telling Hunter that it’s time they both swore off vengeance on Ward is the best, most compelling character beat in the episode. It’s the episode’s best scene, the show’s best romance, and since it’s a Whedon show, they’re almost certainly doomed.
In the final scene, Ward reveals his ambitious, world-spanning, diabolical plan, which is… to kill Coulson. Once more, S.H.I.E.L.D. arbitrarily places Coulson at the center of the action, telling us how awesome he is instead of showing us. It’s the recuring family motif I’ve talked about over-and-over again, but at this point it’s no longer a quirk of the storytelling, but an active failing. Katharine Trendacosta has a great editorial about this with regards to Spectre, but I’d go further and say this is a problem with modern action films in general, and S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular. Calvin Zabo, Jiaying, Jon Garett, Ward and Lash all have personal involvements and vendettas against the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Sure, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, but that doesn’t mean every villain needs a familial attachment. Hans Gruber wasn’t John McClane’s adopted brother. Hannibal Lecter didn’t kill Clarice’s parents.
Oddly enough, the one modern action film that has absolutely nailed a megalomaniacal villain with his own agenda? Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Wouldn’t it be weird if S.H.I.E.L.D. took cues from that movie?
2.5 Flashbacks out of 5. Of the many flashbacks in this episode, my favorite is the one that flashbacked to the beginning of the episode and let Andrew describe the onscreen action.
While I was quite taken with Joey in the first episode, I’m less enthusiastic about his appearance here. He experienced a ton of character growth, all of it offscreen. It’s really unsatisfying. (This is identical to what happened with Mike in season one.)
Standing in just a bra, Adrienne Palicki gets the most overt cheesecake S.H.I.E.L.D.’s had in awhile, yet still winds up wearing an extremely conservative suit in the following scene. It’s really impressive how much this show avoids sexualizing its women. Hell, a couple weeks ago, Simmons was swimming in her underwear and there was not an ounce of male gaze whatsoever.
So, Lincoln basically killed those A.T.C.U. agents, right? He was the one who moved in without orders, making Andrew Lash out. Wonder if that comes up in a future episode. Hey, at least it was nice for Rosalind to bring her men along to be redshirts.
Speaking of that scene, it was really cool to see the A.T.C.U. agents, Daisy, Lincoln, and Mac get into position while Coulson talked with Andrew. But… shouldn’t they have been in place before Coulson started talking with Andrew?
Lincoln’s powers still look like ass, but all would’ve bene forgiven if he blasted Lash and yelled out “Hadoken!”
I’m curious where Andrew took May. Was it Andrew’s home? Did he have those handcuffs and that chain lying around? Is this the first time Andrew Black Snake Moaned her?