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Mea culpa. I’ve been fairly insistent about the fact that last year’s aborted Mockingbird spinoff would teach ABC a lesson—namely, that getting rid of Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse is a terrible plan. True, the network’s been making noise about a new spinoff for awhile now, and has continued emphasizing that it wants to go forward with the Mr. And Mrs. Smith-esque idea Marvel’s Most Wanted, with the ex-spouses fighting and cracking wise on their own series. It’s easy to see how that’s an appealing idea for ABC, the kind of frothy fun that’s right up its alley. It’s harder to see how anyone could possibly think it’s not a wretched move for Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Nick Blood has become the indisputable comic center of this show, a breezily engaging actor whose charisma has made Lance Hunter come alive over the past season and a half. Hunter’s one of the only consistently reliable delivery systems for the type of simultaneously frenetic and funny action S.H.I.E.L.D. specializes in. He elevates the subpar material, and becomes electric when given a strong script. To lose him is to tear Xander away from Buffy, or pull Cisco from The Flash, or yank Mad Dog Murdock off of The A-Team. It sacrifices one of the strongest elements of a series for the sake of some corporate synergy. Getting rid of him would be idiotic. It would be as dumb as the show losing…Bobbi Morse.

It’s especially unfortunate the two have been abruptly packed off following the conclusion of this week’s escapade, because it was an excellent showcase for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s strengths, where forward momentum and the aforementioned funny/frenetic excitement was on full display. “Parting Shot” (that title has an unfortunate double meaning now, ABC) tracked Bobbi and Hunter’s infiltration of the Soviet base where Petrov hopes to enlist Malick into helping him set up the “secure space” for Inhumans. (Note that Daisy already hears those words as “prison camp.”) It’s quickly revealed that Malick had a simple plan all along: Lure the Russian Prime Minister to the base, have General Androvich’s dark-force-shadow Inhuman assassinate him, and stage a coup. It would’ve worked, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling agents.

The structure of the episode is smartly built. The back-and-forth between Hunter and Bobbi’s subsequent interrogations and the mission itself allowed for tension to build, both in the anxiety over who might be harmed during the fight and the uncertain outcome of our two heroes. Each tease was well-timed, and paid off later in the episode. From the biotech-imprisoned Inhuman later revealed to be the General (and his very cool power) to Bobbi’s suspicion that Malick had captured them, only for it to be revealed that President Ellis and Prime Minister Olshenko were watching behind glass the entire time, this installment unfolded with clockwork precision and effectiveness. The only real criticism comes from the show again cloaking its fight scenes in darkness and cutaway shots, meaning much of the action felt a little abbreviated, a common enough issue for this show but one that especially wasn’t needed here, as Palicki, Blood, and even Chloe Bennet (however brief her scenes were) showed up in fine form and ready to kick ass. Oh, and guess who showed up to fight just in time to get knocked out again? Nice work, Mack.

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Gideon Malick not only revealed a few more pieces of his plan this week, he articulated the connection to the larger MCU that will presumably play a role on the series as we approach the events of Captain America: Civil War. “These Inhumans are the key to our survival,” he growls, and in that sentiment you have the basis for not only the upcoming film but the centerpiece of the Inhuman debate that’s been raging all season. Rosalind’s ATCU was imprisoning Inhumans in little boxes, and the reasoning is now obvious: There may be hope to develop a vaccine, but a cure doesn’t seem forthcoming, which means world governments would rather have the super-powered beings on their side, not in hiding or opposition. It’s an Inhuman arms race, to quote the Prime Minister, and the country that can amass the most—well, it’s not exactly going to hurt any plans for world dominance that nation might harbor. Malick wants to be his own nation, in a sense, although when the time comes, it seems likely his allegiance to Hive will supersede any prior alliances or deals Malick has cut.

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But frankly, everyone else took a big backseat this week, as ”Parting Shot” functioned as goodbye for Bobbi and Hunter. Emotionally, it grounded the two of them and reaffirmed their connection. Coulson may have stressed how neither one broke under pressure, but the look in Bobbi’s eyes when the Interpol agent threatened her beau conveyed all the information we needed. Seeing her fear at his fate cemented the pair’s inviolability, which makes it all the worse that this was their swan song. As if that moment wasn’t enough, Bobbi doesn’t bat an eye when she makes the decision to kill the General rather than allow the slightest chance for the shadow-force to hurt Hunter. And Hunter’s dramatic beats are just as potent: Making amends with May, asking Bobbi for a vacation, and some of the best interrogation responses of all time (“Do you want to know our secret? Porcini mushrooms”) make this a classic Lance episode. For a while, I was worried he was going to be killed tonight, as he was basically given every single crowd-pleasing emotion to play prior to the end twist.

But no. Instead, the two are being spun off into their own show, which, though it has yet to be decided, looks like a dim-witted and unintentional effort by the network to kill Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., or at least wound it, possibly irreparably. One of the reasons season two was such a turnaround in terms of quality was the addition of these characters, and to ship them off after just one season of solidifying the series is a potentially severe destabilization of all the goodwill and narrative richness the show has earned over the past year. There are a few upsides to a smaller cast—primarily, a chance to give everyone attention and stop the regular marginalization of major characters in service of giving everyone some playing time—but sacrificing two of the best and most rewarding members of the team is a disastrous way of achieving this.

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That realization made the farewell ceremony all the more powerful. As Lance and Bobbi looked around and saw, one by one, each member of the team raise a shot glass and toast their beloved agents, the tears began to flow. (Offscreen as well, I should admit.) It was a beautifully understated and powerful sendoff for this duo, and it took its time, allowing everyone to have a moment, in a way the show almost never grants—at least to characters not named Fitz and Simmons. It’s as though the writers were saying what the show couldn’t: That these two will be deeply missed, and without them, everyone else feels a little less happy, and a little more uncertain, about the future to come.

Stray Observations:

  • “They did that for S.H.I.E.L.D. They did that for us. And they paid the price.” Amen, Phil.
  • Did anyone else want to hear more about the documentary that Hunter recommended to Gemma and Leo? The one about the Amazon?
  • “Amadeus Ravenclaw Hunter.” Oh, Lance, what the hell are we going to do without you?
  • Pretty weak stinger this episode. If all you’re going to give us is Malick and his daughter shooting skeet, you’re better off ending on the emotionally stirring goodbye scene.
  • “De nada.” “Pretty sure that’s not Russian.” “Whatever.”
  • Farewell, Lance and Bobbi. I wish you well, but more than that, I wish you’d come back.

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