AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D’s greatest strength is its ability to pivot on a dime into an entirely different tone or story-thrust than it had been in before, but that’s also its most prominent stumbling block: When the show can be anything, what exactly are people holding on to week-to-week? The previous seasons (in hindsight) aimed to mitigate this by dividing their first and second halves by broad over-arching storylines: Season 1 was “Why is Coulson alive?” followed by “Oh shit, HYDRA’s back!” Season 2 went with “What is Skye, really?” and segued to “Meet The Inhumans.”
But Season 3, thus far, doesn’t seem to have established a first arc or even a definite sense of purpose: Despite the season-specific “SECRET WARRIORS” branding, we mostly seem to be back in the scattershot, episodic structure of Season 1 but now the characters are all dragging two seasons worth of baggage and loose-end storylines. Maybe that’s deliberate, maybe we won’t know what this season is “really” about until CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR flips all the tables come May, but as of right now I’m missing the clear sense of purpose Season 2 already had by this point.
We’re back to a three-way split storywise this week, in any case: Coulson and Daisy (formerly Skye) are still trying to protect newly-made (or “outed”) Inhumans from both The ATCU and the monster Lash, Hunter and May are working to infiltrate Ward’s new HYDRA start-up gang and Simmons, having been rescued from an alien world by Fitz, isn’t re-adjusting to Earth all that well.
After taking a break last week to put the focus on reuniting Fitz/Simmons, “A Wanted (Inhu)man” turns back around to Coulson and Daisy racing against the government backed paramilitary outfit ATCU (Alien Threat Containment Unit) to get a handle on the rapidly-growing population of newly-turned Inhumans (read: Mutants, but because of Alien genetic-tampering from prehistory); the difference being that S.H.I.E.L.D wants to protect them and draft the willing into Coulson’s “Secret Warriors” team, while ATCU boss Rosalind Price wants… well, it’s not clear.
The key “wanted” aquisition this week is Daisy’s (still boring) lightning-throwing pal Lincoln, who isn’t interested in getting caught by either team but has to make a choice when ATCU leaks his name to the press and he finds himself in a tragic spot involving an old friend. Like everything else involving “Sparkplug” up to this point, it’s not particularly compelling but it does the job of misdirecting a twist: Coulson is willing to give up Lincoln when it turns out ATCU’s second-choice target is Daisy, but when he bolts (sorry) anyway The Director offers up a compromise: S.H.I.E.L.D (which, remember, is still technically unknown to still exist by nearly-everyone) will “temporarily” team up with ATCU.
Well… alright, then. It’s a nice gray-shades turn for Coulson, taking him back to the morally-dubious problem-solver space he occupied prior to THE AVENGERS, but apart from that I’m not seeing how this is especially different from the deal struck with Talbot last season. The expectation, obviously, is that when CIVIL WAR’s “let’s regulate superheroes” thing kicks in ATCU will be said to be an arm of that, putting Coulson and his Secret Warriors in an awkward place, but even if that’s the case it feels like a half-cooked plot turn for now.
The big secondary story continued to be Hunter and May (no James Hong this week, sadly) looking to climb into Ward’s Nu-HYDRA team, which involved Hunter having to go through a FIGHT CLUB-style initiation to even get a meeting. The whole thing felt ugly and tonally off (this is another storyline where the super-spies on both sides just kinda agree not to use any of the scifi gadgetry shortcuts they have other times just because), with Hunter spilling (and losing) a ridiculous amount of blood while May wipes out a trio of would-be sexual-assailants – yeesh. A little grit is fine, but this reeked of AGENTS as the MCU’s middle child trying to prove that it could be just as “cool” as its angry/ultra-violent baby sibiling DAREDEVIL.
The best stuff involved the Fitz/Simmons story, as Fitz’s awkward but endearing attempts to help lead Simmons back to normality felt like it was teasing more interesting developments (in terms of the characters) than the showier A and B stories. The “button” of Bobbi and Fitz having developed a close personal friendship between seasons (he’s helped her with physical rehab, she’s turned out to have serious skills filling in for Simmons in the lab – alongside him) is getting hit especially hard in-tandem with Simmons being “different” now; which could make for some really uncomfortable drama i.e. one party or the other feeling like they might’ve waited too long to say… something. To me, that’s more (potentially) interesting than the stinger of Simmons’ “I have to go BACK!” (which has to be a deliberate LOST-reference, right?)
- What’s up with Simmons? Could still be (literally) anything, but the idea that she might actually need to go back through the portal somehow (to help someone? to help herself?) is a good wrinkle. This being fan-theory bait, let me throw mine in: This isn’t the “real” Simmons.
- Speaking of fan theories, another one being floated is that the monolith/portal is some kind of judging-mechanism that only gobbles up people “guilty” of something – recall that Simmons (unknown to everyone else) straight-up murdered a baddie last season. Notably, it also went all gooey for Professor Randolph last episode.
- ATCU’s endgame? Honestly, I’d be surprised if a lot of the details of that still aren’t even clear to the people making the show: The degree of foreknowledge the Marvel TV team has of the Marvel Film team’s specific plans is unclear, and now that they’re serving two different masters (Kevin Feige now runs Marvel Studios as a separate-but-related Disney division, but TV and Netflix are still under the thumb of Marvel Inc. majority-stockholder Ike Perlmutter – a man the near-entirety of the film division famously despises) that’s not likely getting any better. My guess is that the ATCU’s “real mission” won’t be clearly delineated until it can be revealed as a “prototype” of the pro-registration side of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. That having been said…
- …CIVIL WAR, the comic storyline, led more-or-less directly into another Marvel’s event series (after WORLD WAR HULK, which sequelized the pre-CW PLANET HULK maxiseries) SECRET INVASION. In that story, it’s revealed that The Skrulls (alien shape-shifters) had been quietly infiltrating all levels of human society for decades to gradually prime us for takeover, and that they saw the post-CIVIL WAR fracturing of heroes as a perfect “coming out” opportunity. Of note, Skrulls are the ancient arch-enemies of The Kree – who created The Inhumans specifically as anti-Skrull bioweapons. Thus far our main known detail about Rosalind Price is that she’s good with disguises and otherwise lacks a tangible past. Oh, and the Skrulls? They have a Queen.
- I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Professor Randolph, and I don’t think he’s coming back as a good guy.
NEXT WEEK: Lash (apparently) gets an origin story in “The Devils You Know.”