Tonight’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spends it’s runtime mostly establishing future storylines. The characters end the episode in about the same place they started, and there are no huge twists or revelations. Yet A Wanted (Inhu)man is the best episode of the short season, focusing more on building character dynamics and each characters’ rich inner lives. And while tonight’s episode is missing a few major players (both Lash and Ward are absent), it still feels like tonight’s three major subplots encapsulate the longterm storyarcs for the year: the A.T.C.U.’s hunt for Inhumans, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s infiltration of Hydra, and investigating the mysterious blue planet on the other end of the galaxy.
Even though these storylines are just taking their first steps, the episode doesn’t feel like it’s spinning wheels; this is one of the most character-centric episodes S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever done. And while some of the leads still struggle to feel meaningful, S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing some fascinating things with the characters at the margin. Simmons and Hunter are the highlights, Simmons pulling herself from a (literal) hell as Hunter risks his soul on a quest for vengeance.
But first, let’s focus on Lincoln. Tonight’s episode is the most Lincoln-heavy yet, and it strains under the pressure. Luke Mitchell still hasn’t found his footing as Lincoln, and can’t find the gravitas in the characters’ numerous emotional scenes. If nothing else, the episode establishes that Lincoln is a recovering alcoholic, which is infinitely more interesting to me than his Inhuman heritage. But more interesting than anything with Lincoln is the brief dynamic between Daisy and Mac, quickly becoming my favorite relationship on the show. Mac implanted Lincoln with a tracer without his consent, which Daisy views as a total violation of his privacy. The two both make compelling arguments in the classic “freedom vs. security” debate. As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. inches closer to Civil War, it’s easy to imagine Daisy and Mac representing the moral divide between two warring factions. I hope this causes Daisy to evaluate her place in S.H.I.E.L.D., whether the organization is actually helping her new Inhuman family or merely trying to use them.
But unfortunately, that probably won’t happen, because that might mean Daisy would leave S.H.I.E.L.D. The big problem with S.H.I.E.L.D. is that it treats its cast like a family, which isn’t really a surprise since it’s created by Joss Whedon. Whedon’s shows are about families, where the unity of the group is the single most important thing. Coulson’s actions make perfect sense in that context; everything he does is to protect Daisy, his surrogate daughter. But that dynamic is precisely at odds with what S.H.I.E.L.D. is. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a family, it’s an organization dedicated to protect the innocent and vulnerable. Lincoln is both of those tonight, yet Coulson was willing to trade him away in exchange for Daisy. The show could present this as a strategic move; Daisy is more important than Lincoln, and sometimes compromises have to be made. But for Coulson, it’s an emotional decision, and we’re supposed to accept it as “good” because we like both characters. But it’s yet another in a long line of morally questionable, highly emotional decisions made by the head of a major spy agency.
Simmons has returned from the alien world, and her recovery is slow. Elizabeth Henstridge is phenomenal tonight; she carries the weight of her trauma all throughout the episode, saying more with her eyes and posture than ten lines of dialogue. It reinforces my grousing about how the show wasted Simmons in the second season, and I’m still not convinced But her character has real purpose again. While most of S.H.I.E.L.D. is fixated on manhunts and political maneuvering, Jemma stares at the sky, first as the source of her trauma, then as the source of her mission.
I’m very intrigued by the twist at the end of the episode. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s return to the alien world would surely be the midseason finale, right? What could be hiding on that world? Maybe a Kree geneticist eager to study the Inhumans? Or an alien artifact, like the Cosmic Control Rod? There’s a lot of possibilities, but I think the single biggest get would be a Guardian of the Galaxy. Rocket and Groot are not happening, but there’s no reason Quill, Gamora, or Drax couldn’t pop up on S.H.I.E.L.D. I would kill to see a buddy cop team-up between Bobbi and Drax, chasing criminals, solving crimes.
And speaking of team-ups, May and Hunter make a fantastic Odd Couple; May the stiff no-nonsense professional, Hunter the talkative alcoholic slob. The two are infiltrating Hydra, greatly diminished from last season. I really don’t much care for this version of Hydra, full of douchebros and grungy bikers. They’re not as interesting as Daniel Whitehall’s sleek, organized, global Hydra from season 2.
But it’s Marvel; the villains are never as interesting as the heroes. So it makes sense that Hunter is the true star of tonight’s episode. I am gobsmacked at how much I’ve come to enjoy this character in such a small period. He was an irritant throughout the second season, totally redundant with the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fully capable, often snarky agents. Yet in just two episodes, the character has become one of my favorite on the show. S.H.I.E.L.D. is bringing Hunter to dark places on his quest for vengeance against Ward. I can’t see this ending well for Hunter; it really feels like tonight’s episode was a point-of-no-return for him. I don’t think this show has produced a more haunting visual image than Hunter, covered in blood and bruises, breathing over the dead body of a former friend.
4 Showers of Angst Out of Five. Simmons has been through a horrific trauma, so naturally, she takes a soothing shower filmed tastefully above the bust.
I really need you guys to fill the comments section with your crazy speculation about the blue world. What the hell was hunting Simmons, and why does she need to go back?
Tonight’s ending is similar to the premiere’s, Fitz hammering on the monolith, concluding on a transitional character beat rather than a big twist or final revelation. I think S.H.I.E.L.D.’s writers were watching a lot of Mr. Robot over the summer.
Lincoln’s powers look horrible this episode, even worse than the first episode. I really wonder if S.H.I.E.L.D.’s budget was cut from last season, or if the expanded cast eats up a lot more of the budget.
I really do like Coulson’s rational for teaming up with the A.T.C.U.: “I’m done fighting with people over who gets to fight the real fight. It’s a waste of time and resources.” It’s a very mature move. My prediction: by the end of 2015, the A.T.C.U. will be disbanded, and S.H.I.E.L.D. will be reintegrated to the US government. This will let S.H.I.E.L.D. play a natural role in Civil War, if Marvel decided to use them.
The scene with Hunter and his obnoxious drinking buddy is pretty funny, but I wish they’d left out the subtitles, and dropped May’s “It’s hard enough to understand you now” line. Make the audience really strain to understand Hunter’s conversation, before realizing it’s utterly futile.
Poor Simmons is so deadpan. “My curiosity faded once fear set in.” Aww.
FitzSimmons gets the best exchange tonight. Simmons (staring at Fitz longingly, thinking of all she’s been through and how Fitz has saved her twice): “I can’t thank you enough.” Fitz (glancing around): “Yeah, it’s a nice restaurant, isn’t it?”