A firebrand politician who’s leading a “Humans First” initiative, is secretly in league with the Russians, and is supported by a racist militia who think certain types of people are genetically inferior. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is commenting on current events, but the similarities are uncanny. Sure, many of these concepts have been in play for awhile on the show and a lot of the ideas circulating in our real world are hardly new. Still, it’s hard not to view such a blatant connection as anything but given how much it lines up with the situation we’re currently in. Mutants, and by extension Inhumans, have always been Marvel’s way of examining how society treats those that are different. The whole concept grew out of the Civil Rights movements of the ’60s, and the comics have certainly been using contemporary issues for the past few years to tell their stories. It makes sense then, that a TV show based off of some of those same properties would do the same. What’s intriguing, is that SHIELD is still a government agency, but a bit of a rogue one. Despite their renewed legitimacy, they’re still operating on their owns terms. And while Nadeer is a far cry from being President, it’s still a bittersweet fantasy to see a group of morally good freedom fighters operating from within the government and military to tackle extremist threats from our own politicians and citizens.

When the Watchdogs were first introduced, they offered some shadings of these ideas in their blind hatred of Inhumans. Now that we’ve spent more time amongst their ranks and the show has woven their story in with Nadeer, Radcliffe, and the Superior, the show really is firing on all cylinders. Though I still wish we had a few more Inhumans to focus on, especially one’s living outside of SHIELD, the new narrative has found a way to deal with the hatred without focusing all of the storytelling solely on the Inhumans. It’ll be interesting to see whether this story feeds into the supposed third arc of the season, now that Nadeer and Shockley are out of the equation. In fact, the Watchdogs in general seem to have been usurped by Ivanov and his Russian thugs, so that thread could be wrapping up.

145625_0080-900x601

Of course, we’re technically still in the LMD arc of the season, but that too seems to have come to a close. Sure, Radcliffe still has May and Aida is still alive, but with the mole story resolved last week and this week’s episode moving beyond simply the idea of LMDs, we’ve entered new territory. And it’s wonderful. You’re likely all sick of hearing how little I’ve enjoyed the LMD plot, and bodysnatching storylines in general, but this week finally brought things to an emotional place. Radcliffe has always been fun and the LMDs are interesting in theory, but the writing has never really done much with either to flesh them out and make us care. This week, we finally learn what’s been driving Radcliffe to go further and further off the reservation, and learn about his ultimate plan. The reveal that this has all been for the original Aida, Radcliffe’s ex, Agnes, is refreshingly human. Not only does it give Radcliffe some real motivation, but it finally gives Mallory Jansen something to do. She’s been fine as Aida, but she’s never been required to do much of anything. In this episode, she finally gets to act, and also helps bring out the more human side of Coulson.

Though Coulson has always been warm, he can still be pretty closed off and secretive. Hearing him open up to Mack and Agnes, and seeing him so desperate to find May, is the sort of character-driven writing that makes SHIELD so watchable. So despite the LMDs still technically figuring into the proceedings, the story has shifted to focus on more concrete drama. There’s Radlicffe trying to save the life of his dying love, Aida’s slow struggle to be more than what she was built for, Mace’s search to find his place in the agency and the world, and Coulson’s hunt for May and realization of his feelings. My only real complaints are that May is once again sidelined and Daisy has taken a backseat in terms of storytelling. The former is still the show’s most egregious mistake for the past few years, but hopefully they’re building to some amazing payoff. The latter makes sense as Daisy was so central to the Ghost Rider plot, and at least she got plenty of Quake action in this week. SHIELD is at its best when it balances strong, character-focused stories with plenty of comic book action, and this week delivered both in spades.

FINAL SCORE

5 Terrigen Crystal Keychains out of 5. I don’t think I’ve ever given an episode a perfect rating. While only time and lots of rewatching will tell whether this was one of my favorite episodes, it’s getting 5 out of 5 for doing such an incredible job at nailing every story beat, paying off long-running plots, and hitting all the highest points this show is capable of.

ONE-SHOTS

  • So Mace was captured. Seemed pretty pointless. They could have at least let him throw a truck or something. They could easily have captured Shockley before his goons arrived, then let Quake handle the Russians. Plus, where was there backup?

  • Hey, Agent Piper got her first mention since the premiere! Just no screentime. At least she’s still alive.

  • I literally yelled “F*ck yes” out loud when Shockley started cocooning.

  • I also like Mack returning to the role of Coulson’s better half and conscience.

  • Seriously, I will never get tired of seeing Chloe Bennet in a full-blown superhero costume. If she’s not in Infinity War, we need to boycott.

  • Since we know Mace is clearly a football fan, three guesses who he was rooting for this past weekend.

  • Kinda bummed Nadeer is dead. I thought she provided a different type of enemy and she was becoming more intriguing. Plus, her brother is still out there somewhere so that would have provided some interesting conflict.

  • Let’s hope next week solves the show’s new greatest mystery: why doesn’t Aida have an Australian accent?