Mack better watch his back, because Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. loves killing off black men. It started with Mike Peterson’s death back in season one, and while Mike’s demise ended up being a fake out setting him up to become Deathlok, the show is still committed to killing at least one black male character per season: Trip crumbled into dust when he was exposed to Terrigen in season two, and at the end of “Devils You Know,” Dr. Andrew Garner is stabbed in a convenience store and bleeds out on the ground when the shop explodes. (Or at least that’s what we’re supposed to assume happens when we see the legs of a body in a pool of blood, with a cell phone ringing next to it showing a picture of May on the bloody screen.)

Despite the unfortunate trend it continues, the potential death of Dr. Andrew Garner is actually a very effective plot development, one that ups the stakes in a much more emotional way than bringing in a mysterious gray monster that kills Inhumans with his blue flames. Lash works well for short bursts of excitement like this episode’s opening scene where he kills two pre-contagion Inhumans and the clone of an Inhuman working with S.H.I.E.L.D., but his character is so loosely defined at this point that he doesn’t bring any sort of lasting tension to the plot. This week we learn that his name is Lash, he’s an Inhuman, and that he transforms into his hulking hairy self from a smaller, less conspicuous form, meaning that S.H.I.E.L.D. has no idea what he actually looks like. There’s some vague talk about the reasoning behind Lash’s murders—one Inhuman thinks Lash is merciful, Lash says he’s doing what is necessary—but beyond that, he’s still an enigma that is primarily characterized by his resemblance to Street Fighter’s Blanka.

The special effects makeup for Lash tries to replicate the comic-book design by Joe Madureira as closely as possible, but there are some issues with the forehead that make it look more like a mask than a mutated face. Without the hair, the shape of the forehead makes for a cool illusion evoking both flames and a crown atop his head, but that doesn’t come through when the hair is added. Having the hairline underneath the forehead ridge is the big problem, drawing attention to the fact that the actor (Matthew Willing) is wearing a facial prosthetic. It’s easier for application purposes to not have hair coming out of all the peaks on Lash’s forehead, but the makeup would look more organic if that change was made.

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The design for Lash isn’t perfect, but I appreciate that he’s an Inhuman that doesn’t look like a normal (usually attractive) human being. Having Inhuman characters would ideally lead to more imaginative special effects makeup, but the series has barely taken advantage of this. This show’s visuals are very generic, so it’s refreshing to see bold character makeups like post-Terrigenesis Raina, who brought something different to the screen whenever she appeared. The series’ special effects makeup supervisor, Glenn Hetrick, is one of the judges on Syfy’s reality competition Face Off, which has featured many talented special effects makeup artists that could spice up S.H.I.E.L.D. with more fantastic character designs. That’s a big pool of talent that Hetrick is tapped directly into, and this show should use that resource to give the Inhuman characters stronger, more fantastic visual identities. (Some colors would be great because this show is a sea of gray and brown.)

Lash’s rampage forces S.H.I.E.L.D. and the A.T.C.U. to test out their new alliance by working together, which means more of Constance Zimmer, who has quickly stepped into the Show-Saving Guest Star role left empty by Kyle MacLachlan. Rosalind Price has significantly more allure as a villain compared to Lash because she functions as both a rival and love interest for Coulson, creating a heated dynamic for the characters that is bolstered by the chemistry between Zimmer and Clark Gregg. Daisy can see Coulson’s obvious attraction to Price, and she’s rightfully suspicious of a woman who has taken on multiple identities in the past, but Coulson isn’t interested in hearing Daisy’s criticism. It’s unclear if his heart is interfering with his mind or if Coulson has his own manipulative plan in place, but I’m hoping for the former because love creates fascinating complications in an antagonistic relationship.

The limited budget of this series means that it has restrictions on how heavily it can lean into the superhero and spy elements of the show’s concept, so character relationships are the real pull of the story. The climax of this episode involves May, Hunter, and Ward in a stand-off with Andrew’s life at stake miles away, and the script builds a lot of tension as the agents are forced to weigh the life of one ex-husband against the lives of all the people that will die if Ward goes free and Hydra continues to grow. When Hunter decides to sacrifice Andrew to get his revenge, he drives a huge wedge between himself and his teammate, especially because he fails to kill Ward, instead shooting him in the shoulder.

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If Andrew is dead, Hunter is going to have to face the wrath of May, and if Andrew is alive, this traumatic event will force the ex-spouses to figure out their relationship. It’s a moment that alters character dynamics, which is what keeps serialized television interesting. The writers have tried to make Lash’s rampage personal by having him go after Daisy and Lincoln in the first episode, but the only connection between Lash and his targets is genetic at this point, so there’s no emotional weight to his mission or the multiple murders he commits in this episode. Lash is a lone agent with a mysterious agenda and a talent for killing, but he won’t be a captivating character until he develops ties to the rest of cast.

Stray observations:

  • Next week we finally learn what happened to Simmons on the alien planet, which is good because I don’t know if I could have handled another episode of the writers stretching out this story by having Simmons dodge questions and refuse to explain herself when she says things like “I need to go back.” The writers justify her behavior by having her say that she wants to focus on the future instead of looking back, but it’s pretty clear that they’re padding out this subplot to mine some extra drama out of it. The drama has been mined, now its time to stop withholding information.
  • Theory about the reason Andrew left May in Hawaii: He underwent Terrigenesis and is secretly an Inhuman. That would be a nice twist for this episode’s cliffhanger and explain how he could survive the Hydra attack.
  • Considering Agent Carter had no black men in recurring roles and Daredevil had its main black male character murdered, the Marvel TV landscape desperately needs Luke Cage to improve representation.
  • How many episodes of this season are going to waste Adrianne Palicki’s talent as an ass-kicker by keeping her stuck in the lab? I’m getting as tired of Bobbi’s rehab as Bobbi is.
  • “Be careful. It’s got a laser finger.” Coulson’s fake hand better be able to do all kinds of cool stuff or he’s really dropping the ball as a head honcho super spy.

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