TV RECAP: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 – Episode 17: "The Team"

“The Team” has been teased as “the one you’ve been waiting for,” since it’s plot supposedly involves finally giving the Secret Warriors (i.e. Daisy and the handful of good-guy Inhumans we’ve met so far this season) a full-fledged mission; in this case to rescue the rest of the cast from being held captive by Hive and Giyera. The sequence where this actually happens is pretty impressive, with the standout business being the chemistry between Yoyo and Joey, even if it does serve to highlight that giving AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D its own mini-Avengers to play with only highlights how much of an also-ran the series feels like in its lesser moments.

But whatever, it’s actually a tiny part of the episode, is over quickly and the entire Secret Warriors storyline more or less goes “That’s it, next thing!” by midpoint. Gotcha!
No, really. Once the rescue is done and the team is back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ with a willingly-captured Mallick (he wants to team up and fight Hive now to get revenge for his daughter), “The Team” more or less tips its hand and reveals the Secret Warriors’ big debut was basically misdirection for the episode’s true intent: A low-tech redux of THE THING.

Short version: Mallick tells Coulson about Hive’s ability to mind-control Inhumans, so all the non-Inhuman Agents get paranoid and decide they have to covertly lock down the base and try to figure out if any of their allies are infected without telling them. Naturally, this doesn’t work and soon enough The Inhumans are in quarantine (Daisy betrays them to her teammates) and now nobody trusts eachother – especially since, in all the confusion, someone killed Mallick. For a moment, it even feels like they’ve found the infectee… but it turns out they figured wrong, and the episode concludes on the now evil former good guy poised to potentially destroy HQ with everyone inside.

So who’s the baddie? Daisy, duh – who else was it going to be?

In truth, this is a pretty damn good episode up to that point. The quandry makes sense, the two Spanish-speaking Secret Warriors are great characters whose actors have a killer rapport, everyone’s actions make complete sense and there’s a palpable sense of loss to the idea of these people ceasing to trust one another even though there wasn’t any other choice to be had. Hell, on paper Daisy being Hive’s unwitting sleeper even makes total dramatic sense in as much as it leaves the team in the worst possible situation: The Agents and The Inhumans will have to put their mutual distrust aside to stop this, and the only teammate who truly lives in both worlds has been removed from the equation.

And yet, frustratingly, that also means AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D once again going back to the two wells that have become the most tiresome: The tendency of every damn storyline to lead back to Daisy and “Skye/Ward,” a pairing that wasn’t interesting when they where both human and is unlikely to be interesting now.

I don’t know. I’m trying to work out how this wraps up interestingly short of “death of a main character” or “unlikely actual reprecussions from CIVIL WAR” and the options feel pretty limited at this point. Daisy being “evil” for awhile, the turning out Hive because Coulson/May/Lincoln/whoever somehow gets through to her just feels like a retread of places we already went at the climax of Season 2 but not as good. Supposedly the “Fallen Agent” storyline is going to be stretched out over a 4 episode arc (“The Singularity,” “Failed Experiments,” “Emancipation” and “Forgiven”) with CIVIL WAR happening in the middle, with the season finale “Ascension” hitting one episode later.

I guess we’ll see, especially considering Season 4 is already greenlit.

TV RECAP: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 – Episode 16: "Paradise Lost"

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In the wake of some much needed diversion from formula in last week’s offbeat future-seeing episode, “Paradise Lost” gets us back to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Classic Recipe: a lot of low-tech-playing-high-tech diversions with the promise of later payoffs, capped off by a last-minute swerve and (for good measure) someone slamming their fist on the big red button marked Major Plot Point with enough flourish to almost make it feel like an earned moment as opposed to “Hey! The writers have just been informed of how CIVIL WAR shakes out.”

Spoilers after the jump…

To recap: Everyone is finally on the same page re: Hive, the ancient Inhuman HYDRA apparently worships as a god is on Earth wearing a Grant Ward skinsuit and building an ill-defined evil scheme involving his fellow Inhumans, but now things are complicated further by good guy Daisy and bad guy Gideon Malick both having experienced flash-forwards involving death last episode.

For a change, the main story this time is mainly about developing the villains; as we learn Hive’s back story (short version: he was the Mark I Inhumans’ General Zod, a genetically-engineered military mastermind who led the Inhuman rebellion against the Kree but then went mad with power and got himself exiled offworld) and get some background on Malick and HYDRA – though fans hoping that it might make AGENTS’ conception of the secret supervillain society make more sense are out of luck. But, then again, if “make more sense” is really high on your list of priorities for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., chances are you checked out of Season 3 awhile ago.

We here learn (courtesy flashbacks to a college age Gideon and his brother uneasily taking the reigns of the family business after the death of their father) that while all of HYDRA is aware of their Hive-worshipper origins, not everyone is still fully onboard. The Mallicks belong to the old school “draw lots to see who gets sacrificed to Hive” sect, while Red Skull and Daniel Whitehall’s Nazi-aligned faction were less devout about it and who knows what the S.H.I.E.L.D-infiltrating cats were on about. With a little extra push, this would all be a brilliant satire of how monumentally stupid the entire Illuminati/Bilderberger/Rothschild/Trilateral/”Bankster” globalist-conspiracy theory bullshit is when you lay it all out; but sadly AGENTS’ usually admirable resistance to self-parody won’t quite let it.

In any case: We glean this as Mallick, while waiting for HYDRA bigwigs to arrive for a fancy dinner in Hive’s honor at his estate (while also scheming to avoid a prophecized death he believes will occur at his god’s hands) recalls how Whitehall tempted he and his brother being tempted to the dark(er?) side by Whitehall, who reveals that Papa Mallick rose to power by gaming his participation in the lot-drawing ceremonies with a marked stone. The brothers resolved to reclaim the family honor by holding a fair-and-square drawing, and if you’re noticing that this is the first time we’ve ever heard that Mallick had a brother you know where that’s going.

Fortunately, most of that predictability pays off decently in terms of what however much of the other Mallick remains in Hive thinks of as karmic payback, and the whole thing has an appropriately lurid “70s pulp-Satanism” vibe; but there’s no avoiding that AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen too much in love with its own penchant for misdirection: We can see it coming by now.

Elsewhere, the B-story is all about Coulson and the non-Inhuman Agents breaking into a factory acquired by Mallick in order to set up either the cause or solution to whatever Hive’s big plan is. Finally getting to see Coulson start to lose it at the revelation that not only was murdering Ward against his own code but the direct cause of Hive being able to reach Earth is nice; but otherwise it’s a bit of a snooze. Even the promised one-on-one fight between May and Giyera  (Mark Dacascos) feels obligatory – c’mom guys! Dacascos and Ming-Na Wen are both legit icons of B-movie action, this is (literally!) Chun-Li vs Billy Lee… have some fun with it!

But whatever. The whole thing is really only happening so Giyera can be captured, taken back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and escape, leaving the conveniently off-site Daisy and Lincoln to decide that *NOW* is the time to call in the Secret Warriors reserve-troops… as opposed to the several other times where the stakes have been at exactly the same height. The problem is, while Dacascos has screen-presence to burn, the show has been too indecisive about Giyera’s role for him to suddenly be an all-stops threat now; so it all feels too obvious that the only real reason for the Warriors to go into action now is because AGENTS’ needs a team of powered-pepole to show up and have their actions be misunderstood so that the plot can sort-of sync up with CIVIL WAR.

Amusingly, the C-story that serves to keep Daisy and Pikachu safe enough to push the Plot Button is actually more interesting: They go to seek out an Inhuman survivalist in Australia who once burgled information about Hive’s back story from Afterlife, but the hook is that he’s one of the Inhumans from whom Jaiying ultimately denied Terrigenisis because… he’s a douchebag, I think? It sets up a novel bit of conflict where Lincoln baits him with Terrigen in order to grab a mysterious orb-like relic he’d stolen from Jaiying, but ultimately refuses him powers because he agrees with whatever their ex-leader’s reasoning was. It’s here that we get more information about Lincoln: He caused his girlfriend’s death in a drunk driving accident shortly before The Inhumans found him.

This all feels like so much further setup for Daisy and Lincoln to be on opposite sides when AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D’s version of the CIVIL WAR schism hits; but it plays out a lot more naturally than he Giyera story and I hope Australian Guy is a recurring character – especially if he turns out to be C-list SPIDER-MAN nemesis “The Kangaroo,” whose power set includes jumping very high and being from Australia.

As for the orb? No idea. It looks like something halfway relates to the Infinity Stone vessel from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY but covered with designs that look more than a little DOCTOR STRANGE-y; but at this point the safest bet is that they hadn’t fully committed to what it is or does when they (the show) designed it, so it looks like a lot of things to cover all bases.

NEXT WEEK: In “The Team,” The Secret Warriors get their buildup over with, at last, and someone turns out to be bad maybe. Personally, I’m hoping for Sexy Evil Simmons Who’s Been Part Hive All Along; if only to spare us the predictable arc of Fitz and Simmons being on opposite sides of CIVIL WAR LITE:

ALSO: The show loves the hell out of Hive reducing his victims to skeletons, and Mallick’s vision only shows him being partially zapped, so I’m renewing my old guess that he somehow winds up as Red Skull 2.0

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Review: HARDCORE HENRY (2016)

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HARDCORE HENRY is the sort of gleefully violent sensory-assault moviemaking that critics sometimes like to say feels “made by a madman,” but in overall execution it’s just a hair too deliberately-structured and well made for that to be a fair assessment. All told, the film is much closer to a (slightly) more polished version of a student film handed in by the class troublemaker; a show-off reel of every wicked, dangerous, inventive, perverse creative impulse they’ve got all in one go-for-broke splatter of imagination – as though they can’t believe someone finally let them play with the camera and they know it has to count because they’ll never be allowed to play with it again.

The results of such work are often tiresome, but at their best they offer a window into a unique, unrestrained vision. Like a lot of present-day art-school anarchists, director Ilya Naishuller’s vision is one thoroughly cluttered with the influence of YouTube parkour and the video-game aesthetic; but also one with an awareness (however nascent) of those influences beyond mere imitation.

MILD SPOILERS from here onward:

Set (I think?) in the near-future, its protagonist is a recently injured (dead?) man named Henry who’s just been Frankensteined back to life by his lovely super-scientist wife Estelle using technology that’s effectively made him a cyborg – complete with a titanium skeleton, onboard battery and a superhuman endurance for pain. It’s also, supposedly temporarily, left him without any memories and unable to speak, allowing the film the cheeky trick of letting its protagonist not only take the audience along for his adventure in video-game inspired First Person view but also to embody modern gaming’s favorite brand of protagonist: The mute, backstory-free, superhuman bullet-sponge cipher.

When Estelle winds up kidnapped (because video games, you see) by Akan, a telekinetic supervillain (because video games, you see) who wants her to make him a whole army of undead cyborgs (because v… you get the idea), Henry sets off to save her – aided in his quest by Sharlto Copley’s mysterious Jimmy, a living parody of NPCs who wanders in and out of the story to hand Henry his mission objectives… even as he’s repeatedly killed off, only to return with a costume change and a new personality.

There’s eventually a suitably high-concept explanation as to what’s going on with Jimmy that adds a welcome note of poignancy to all the gorehound fireworks that make up the rest of the film (in terms of creative bloodshed, HARDCORE HENRY makes DEADPOOL look like the kiddie-pool), but like most of the film’s reaches into science-fiction it feels less driven by narrative than by reverse engineering: “What sci-fi concept do we need to invent to have this bit of common video-game nonsense happen in the real world?” At one point, Henry even “powers up” by ripping a piece of combat-enhancing hardware out of a foes chest and graphically self-installing it into his own body like Mega Man as reimagined by David Cronenberg.

And make no mistake: While fans of extreme action-comedy in general will likely find plenty to enjoy in the film (the sheer number of new ways it finds for Henry to shoot, stab, slice, crush, bludgeon, bisect or even tri-sect the human body is something to behold) the places where Hardcore Henry becomes something like transcendent will land strongest with gamers. They’re the ones who’ll cue in on the specifics when Henry’s mission objective takes him on a wholly gratuitous tour of a strip club a’la Duke Nukem, or when a gaggle of oddly-unperturbed sex-workers reason out a somewhat counter-intuitive method for recharging the weary hero’s energy reserves (well, if it works for Kratos…) and will note the precise moment when the lengthy final confrontation with Akan (who already appears to have leaped, fully-formed, from a METAL GEAR SOLID sequel) switches from being the climax of a movie to a Boss Fight. If you’re looking for the gamers in your screening, they’ll be the ones already cheering when Henry kicks open a luckily-discovered first aid kit (yup!) filled with syringes conveniently-labeled “ADRENALINE” before Freddie Mercury’s vocals come sneaking in on the soundtrack.

It might be a step too far to call it “satire” of modern gaming, but it’s definitely a send-up; bursting at its (admittedly roughly-stitched) seams with the same love/hate exuberance about video games that REN & STIMPY had for classic TV cartoons – or that METALOCALYPSE had for heavy metal. It’s not necessarily a condemnation of the fantasy of inhabiting a video game (or of being a game hero in real life), but it recognizes that either option would be more comic than dramatic – even as it chooses to revel in the “fun parts” anyway: It knows enough to pause for a laugh when a pair of Jimmy’s allies showing up as leggy katana-wielding blondes in black vinyl catsuits, but you’re still getting leggy katana-wielding blondes in black vinyl catsuits.

Fortunately, it’s also got a few things on its mind about the medium beyond just hanging a lampshade on its own inherent silliness as an excuse to just keep doing it (though, yes, that’s most of it – this is a science fair volcano, not a geology thesis.) The aforementioned reveal of what, exactly, the deal is with Jimmy is the start of a string of Act 3 story turns that aren’t exactly unpredictable but arrive welcome all the same; retroactively infusing the preceding story (such as it is) with a vein of self-examination that should be familiar to gaming fans who’ve already taken their swings at the medium’s emerging canon of self-critical works like THE STANLEY PARABLE, PORTAL, BRAID and SPEC OPS: THE LINE. It’s the latter (a seemingly-conventional military shooter than gradually morphs into an apocalyptic denunciation of CALL OF DUTY-era narrative structure) with which Henry’s final denoument has the most in common – though the film is aiming less for condemnation than it is for “a swift kick in the ass” when it comes to the games medium itself.

At the beginning I referred to Henry himself as a kind of Frankenstein monsters, and so it’s appropriate that to the degree that HARDCORE HENRY wants to be “about” anything it’s about what a creation owes its creator and the very idea of identity and one’s choice in their own story. As the film races into its own climax (like any great video game there’s a castle to climb, a last wave of enemies to cut down and a Big Boss whose defeat requires every skill you’ve acquired) its central narrative question ceases to be whether or not Henry will save the princess and instead becomes who (or what) is really in charge of the hero’s destiny: Estelle, who “made” him and now requires the very services she installed? Akan, who started the story and drove the narrative? Jimmy, who set the goals and walked him through the missions? Or is Henry the one with his hand on the (figurative) joystick – and if not, shouldn’t he be?

Granted, it feels dubious to suggest that anything as enthusiastically frivolous as HARDCORE HENRY is really attempting some sort of existential statement. But a self-consciously blunt highlight reel of live-action video game homage turns out to be an amusingly insightful way to tweak narrative convention, even if a wicked final twist that lays all the self-examination bare could just as easily exist solely for Naishuller’s mischievous little boy instincts to indulge in vandalizing gaming’s most sanctified narrative device. But it can’t be avoided that video games – the type being referenced here, at least – live and die by their ability to give the player a cathartic fantasy of omnipotent power and absolute control precisely by limiting their options (“you can interact with anything so long as ‘interact’ means shoot-with-your-gun'”) and locking in their goals: Go to X, kill Y, obtain Z, do it again, the box says you’re the hero and the cutscene says this end goal is very important to you. Nor can it be avoided that applying that kind of setup to live-action humans can’t help but push all of the ever-familiar choice/fate quandaries right back up to the surface of a movie that’s already very proud of almost everything being on the surface.

And so as HARDCORE HENRY’S eponymous protagonist struggles bloodily to his feet at the midpoint of a particularly gruesome climactic battle, suddenly awash in questions about exactly what he’s done (and has been prepared to do) because this or that person handed him a task and told him what an awesome badass he was whenever executed the correct sequence of actions; it’s hard not to reflect (if just for a moment) on how much that same quietly-insidious method of incentive exists outside of video games or their action-movie tributes – whether the “goal” in question is fighting a war, going through the motions of schoolwork (or an office job) or just getting through the day in one piece. As thematic underpinnings go, “who’s pulling your strings?” may not be the most original question for a movie to ask, but it’s certainly something to think about…

…for however long until it’s time to strangle a bad guy to death with the sinews of one’s own detached eyeball, course.

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TV Recap: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 – Episode 15: Spacetime

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Another week, another “just fine” Season 3 episode that makes for a good watch but continues to feel like we’re running out of time to arrive somewhere more interesting by the finale, with the broader Inhumans storyline once again being waylaid for a chance at using the surprise-superpower gimmick as a way to get back into the monster of the week business that made so much of Season 1 so tiresome. Still, the idea this time is a novel one and the episode itself has some above-average direction, so call it a win.

Anyway…

The “Inhuman of The Week” this time around is a homeless guy with a variation on the DEAD ZONE power: He touches you, and you both get a premonition of witnessing someone’s death. That feels a little bit specific, sure, but trying reasoning out how Peter Parker got only those specific vague abilities of a spider sometime – spider’s don’t even have a “sense,” they know what’s coming because they’ve got lots of eyes and crazy-sensitive body hair.

But whatever. Circumstances contrive that Daisy and company show up to try and stop HYDRA from collecting the guy, only to not simply lose him to the bad guys but for Daisy to get hit with a premonition that appears to depict (among other things) Lincoln getting a beat-down, Fitz/Simmons standing inexplicably in a snowfall, Coulson shooting her – possibly to death – and May somehow not being involved in any of this.

This sets up the interesting part of the episode, wherein the Agents try to change the future by using Daisy’s vision to pre-plan their strategy (up to an including leaving the should-be participants off the mission entirely) while Fitz argues that it’s impossible by way of fourth-dimensional thinking. It’s a time-killer, as the first half of “change the future” stories often are (no prizes for guessing that May ends up not going after all because Lash business comes up) but the execution is charming in that low-tech AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of way and it does set up a nifty-looking one-take fight scene for Chloe Bennett.

Also, a “of the week” stories go, the situation for the homeless Inhuman is pretty affecting: A suburban dad whose life has been completely ruined by his ability and is running away from accidentally giving his loved ones (or anyone) unwanted death-visions. For a change, it even makes sense for HYDRA to be spending resources to acquire him, since Hive/Ward finds an immediate practical use for his powers – and the fact that a final touch from Daisy gives her a slightly longer vision of the “bloody spaceship” dream from the beginning of this half of the season certainly makes things (theoretically) interesting.

The B-story, though (C-story is May and Andrew finally having it out as he prepares to transform into Lash for what he’s pretty sure will be the last time) is sort of a snooze: Hive/Ward makes Mallick buy a company that makes powered-armor, mostly so we can get fun scenes of Powers Boothe throwing people and things around wearing what sort-of looks like a 90s X-Files prop; but it very clearly all about setting things up for Mallick (who got a death-vision of his own) to have a “What have I done?” moment between now and the finale. Also, everyone is now on the same page re: “Hive is running HYDRA and looks like Ward now,” so that should speed things along.

One thing to note: The TERMINATOR exchange between Lincoln and Coulson (“I’ve actually never seen the original.” “…You’re fired.”) was cute, and it’s interesting to see two episodes in a row based on establishing rapport between these two characters. Yes, the writers seem to be in “try out new pairings” mode lately (see also: May and Simmons, sure to be exacerbated now that Lash is on ice and the “cure” might be a thing.)

NEXT WEEK: Somehow, Daniel Whitehall is back for “Paradise Lost,” which is also supposedly going to give us some backstory on Mallick presumably related to whatever he saw in his vision. It also looks like we’ll get a look at what Hive “really” looks like, so put me down for hoping for another big rubbery monster to wrestle with Lash at some point.

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The MovieBob Anthology: Now Available on KINDLE!

Hey folks! BIG NEWS!

The MovieBob Anthology, the eBook series collecting the best of my work writing about film, video games, television and pop-culture over the last decade, is now available for purchase on your Amazon Kindle! Here’s a search-query that brings up the lot of them, hit the jump for individual links.



Okay, since this basically concludes the list of major platforms the book is now available in, I’m going to post all the links for each individual title. If it makes a difference to your purchase, I get the highest profit from ePub-format versions purchased directly from Lulu.com. However, the difference is fairly minor, so by all means please purchase based on your format of choice:

MOVIEBOB’S REEL BREAKDOWN (Movies)
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Nook
Kindle

MOVIEBOB’S REEL RETRO (Classic Movies)
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MOVIEBOB’S GAME OVERTHINKER & BEYOND (Video Games)
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MOVIEBOB’S IDIOT BOX (Television)
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MOVIEBOB’S GEEK STREAK (Geek Culture)
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MOVIEBOB’S SUPERHERO CINEMA (Comics and Comic Movies)
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MOVIEBOB’S STRANGE HOLLYWOOD (Movie History/Business)
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TV RECAP: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 Episodes 13 & 14 ("Parting Shot" & "Watchdogs")

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D’s third season has felt the most disconnected from the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not necessarily because it’s had fewer tie-ins (it’s about even with usual, so far) but because the series has doubled-down so much on its own mythology (the Inhumans, HYDRA’s “secret origins,” Maveth/Hive) that it’s largely traded in its previously-ubiquitous references to the bigger events being depicted in the MCU films for references to bigger events that aren’t being depicted anywhere – which leaves things feeling a touch on the awkward side.

Case in point, the last two episodes have been all about the supposedly global-scale panic being caused by the continuing emergence of new Inhumans; which we’re assured is happening largely through news reports and regular cast members talking about it – some of which is cleverly staged but most of which has had the effect of making it seem like the series is rushing to establish that “No, really, it’s suddenly a really big problem” in order to hit a crossover-point with CIVIL WAR.

Anyway…
PARTING SHOT:

Not much to be said here, other than that it’s a pretty solid episode hurt a bit by its need to function as a backdoor pilot for the MOST WANTED spin-off. The basic caper stuff all works, and the one-off (I think?) Inhuman villain who can control his own shadow is a fun effect, but the big “emotional” goodbye for Hunter and Mockingbird I never quite bought.

One infrequent weakness of the series “one foot in fantasy” approach to its spy-games storytelling is that problems seem to become untenable because they need to without much real consistency: Given that Coulson has already parachuted into a portal to another planet on a whim this season, it feels contrived that, now that we need these two characters to leave for another show, he suddenly arrives at a paperwork problem (Hunter and Bobbi, framed for an attempt on the Russian Prime Minister’s life, can either end their tenure as field agents or disappear into the wind) that he doesn’t have a gadget or an owed-favor for fixing.

The “spy’s goodbye” business at the end was a good scene, a testament to how far the cast has come as performers (and, maybe, a tease at the supposedly more oldschool-espionage flavor to be expected of MOST WANTED?); but it breaks down once you remember that the two central players being payed final respects to aren’t even members of the original cast, have only been around for a season and half and for about 1/3 of that time we thought at least one of them might be a villain.

WATCHDOGS:

So, here’s the thing about me and the Mutants/X-Men thing: My favorite aspect about the whole “superpowers-as-minority” thing is the part that’s the most bullshit when you get right down to it.

For all the platitudes about how it’s an MLK/Malcom thing, adding powers basically makes it into Objectivism by proxy i.e. an inferior majority of normals trying to hold back the self-realization of their betters either out of jealousy or because they fear the upheaval that the presence of superior leaps-forward are bound to bring – and like Objectivism, it’s equal appealing (if you fancy yourself marginalized because of your not-just-different-but-better-ness) and appalling (if you’re in touch with you basic humanity.) “Watchdogs” is AGENTS’ slow-build for The Inhumans as the MCU-brand Mutants getting to part where this becomes explicit, which means I dig it but then grumble at myself during the commercial breaks.

As the title implies, it’s an intro-episode for the MCU version of The Watchdogs. In the comics, they’re an ultra-conservative right-wing militia outfit who figured prominently in the “Captain America: No More” storyline, so it makes sense they’d show up now reconfigured as the militarized arm of the growing anti-alien/superhuman movement that’s expected to drive the plot in CIVIL WAR. In an amusing bit of writing, their new origin is being “Alt-Right” (read: wannabe neo-nazi dorks who know they’d get their asses kicked by legit skinheads) internet trolls who’ve been outfitted with military-grade hardware by outside benefactors – so, GamerGaters who do their own SWATing, basically. Clever.

In the comics, the Watchdogs turned out to be unwitting pawns of The Red Skull. Here, the top-baddie at first seems to be Titus Welliver’s returning Agent Blake; who’s hacked-off about being permanently injured by Deathlok in Season 1. I like that turn, but the secondary reveal that he himself is being jerked-around by HYDRA (so bad Inhumans using Inhuman haters to kill good Inhumans) feels like twist-overkill.

Anyway, their presence in the episode-proper is mostly about laying out foundation and establishing connections (they’ve got their hands on “Nitramine,” the implosion-bomb tech from the first season of AGENT CARTER); wrapped around a story about Mack being interrupted while trying to hang out with his brother on his weekend off – and yes, they do both the “family member who has no idea I’m a spy” angle and the “family member is angry about issue I’m on the other side of professionally” angle. As checklist cliches go, they work well enough.

More interesting is the non-worldbuilding C-story about Simmons wanting to learn how to do more active Agent stuff because she’s got survivor’s guilt about how often she has to get saved. Nice bit of lampshade hanging, and it looks to be leading into a May/Simmons thread which should be interesting for a few episodes (at this point I feel like the writers are making a lot of decisions based alternately on “Who hasn’t had any extended interaction yet?” and “Who would Tumblr most like to pretend is fucking?” – not sure which this would be.

We also get to see the seeds being planted of what will, presumably, be AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D’s side-contribution to CIVIL WAR, with Daisy getting impatient about anti-Inhuman bigotry and getting big into using her powers (and S.H.I.E.L.D. backup) to knock around and threaten the Watchdogs while other Agents want to be more conciliatory and understand the other side… we’ve all seen/read an X-MEN story at least once so you get where that’s heading, especially since they’ve already got an “Inhuman cure” plot thread cooking in the background. My question: If we’re going to do “Daisy almost goes rogue because S.H.I.E.L.D won’t let her be militant enough,” do they pull the trigger on bringing Jaiying back in some way?