In an interview in May, Thor screenwriter Zach Stentz talked a little bit about the making of the film. A big problem that he and co-writer Ashley Miller ran into is that Thor had no real opposition after landing on Earth. They had to fight a little with Marvel to use S.H.I.E.L.D., because Marvel was like, “‘Well, but S.H.I.E.L.D. are the good guys!’” Eventually, Stentz and Miller sort-of won, with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson serving as a strange, friendly antagonist to Thor and Jane Foster.
After fifty episodes, that blind naiveté permeates Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s actions are ethically murky at best, which wouldn’t be a problem if they were anti-heroes, or if the show were interested in exploring the morality of sprawling spy organizations in the modern era. But S.H.I.E.L.D. is consistently framed as an unambiguously moral force, Coulson always making the right decisions, even when questioned by his own operatives. And on the few times when an agent fails, it’s never because of their ethics, but because of how they hurt the other agents. We are meant to support S.H.I.E.L.D. not because they’re the good guys, but because they’re our tribe, our family.
Nothing better exemplifies that than Hunter’s storyline. Hunter’s in the dog house this week, after his mission against Ward went pear-shaped. It’s still unclear to me where S.H.I.E.L.D. was during this incursion; it’s not like they didn’t know about the operation, and May had enough time to show up and rescue Hunter. But none of that comes up this week, because everyone in the group is too busy blaming Hunter. He’s berated by no less than Coulson, May, Bobbi, Mac, and Daisy. There is no debate, no “we do not negotiate with terrorists,” no talk about how Andrew knew the risks of working with S.H.I.E.L.D. Hunter made a decision that threatened the family, which is the worst crime of all and accepted by all other agents. How strange is it that nobody points out the obvious, that Hunter is not responsible for Andrew’s brush with death: Ward is.
May and Bobbi make a mission to track down Ward in the night’s only fun subplot. May and Bobbi make a nice duo, and it’s a ton of fun seeing Bobbi back in the field, wearing disguises and speaking Mandarin. Yet like the rest of the episode, this subplot has some utterly bizarre politics. May admonishes Bobbi for trying to take the diplomatic way out of a situation, that Bobbi needed to be willing to do whatever it takes. But the episode never really challenges Bobbi on that front: when thugs arrive to beat the shit out of her, she doesn’t really hesitate to dispatch them in necessarily gruesome ways.
Why is it that this show struggles so hard to make their characters sound smart? Coulson deduces a manipulative plot from Rosalind tonight that’s so easy and so sophomoric that it makes both of them look like idiots. It still doesn’t quite top Coulson’s deductive logic from season one: that a man made typos, which means he must be heavy because, you know, heavy fingers. Still, having Coulson smugly run through all the ways that Rosalind is trying to deceive him is grating. The show shouldn’t be afraid to be subtle: you don’t need to have Rosalind literally bring Coulson’s favorite burgers onscreen.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that Rosalind isn’t going to be the central villain of the season; there are simply too many other, bigger fish to fry, none of whom Coulson wants to make out with. Yet Rosalind is still doing some pretty questionable shit, abducting Inhumans and suspending them in tiny, goo-filled cubes. Coulson questions his new partner for a moment before segueing to the real reason she’s doing this: her husband died years ago. This is treated as the pivotal justification for Rosalind, and it’s meant to endear her to us by episode’s end. Yet again, S.H.I.E.L.D. prioritizing emotional storyarcs over the actual considerations of two shady spy organizations. It wouldn’t bother me if the show was smaller scale, like about a private detective agency or something like that. But the stakes of S.H.I.E.L.D. are so high and so broadly global. I doubt a Congressional hearing would have any interest in Rosalind’s dead husband.
In the very first scene of the show, it’s revealed Andrew survived his fiery, certain death a couple weeks ago. Quite a few people predicted that Andrew would live, and that he was was secretly Lash. I did not, but mostly because I found the idea overly convenient. I was hoping S.H.I.E.L.D. would investigate and learn the identity of their Inhuman serial killer, but instead he’s plunked in their laps with no real drama. Plus, in an episode with utterly bizarre and questionable politics, Andrew gets the strangest moment: where he, as a psychologist, questions the merits of therapy now that he’s on the other side. Speaking from experience, psychologists are absolutely attuned to the effects of therapy, many of them seeking therapy themselves.
But if nothing else, S.H.I.E.L.D. did give us an extremely cool transformation scene. For the first time, Lash actually looked very cool tonight, and in broad daylight. S.H.I.E.L.D. improved its visual effects; if only it could improve just about everything else.
1.5 Autographed Bats out of 5. For my money, that baseball bat should’ve been a football autographed by Phil Grayfield.
We didn’t see Werner Von Strucker die, so he’s definitely alive, and in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. I think it’s a safe bet to assume that literally no one dies on this show.
Powers Boothe only showed up for two scenes, and they were the two best scenes of this episode. He’s a much better fit for the show than other big name stars like Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton. Hopefully we see much more of him soon.
Boothe’s yet-to-be-named character also appeared on the World Security Council in The Avengers. It’s cool seeing that kind of interconnectivity in the show, though it raises more questions. If Hydra had people on the World Security Council, then why did they try to kill them in The Winter Soldier? I’m deeply curious to see this character’s backstory.
Tonight also sees the debut of the interior sets of the new Bus, which looks sleek and dynamic and vastly more interesting than the last Bus, which looked like a hotel suite.
Mac gets the episode’s best line. When Hunter freaks out after an unconscious enemy’s phone starts ringing, sputtering, “I didn’t do anything!” Mac looks at him and says, “We know. It’s a phone.”