It’s not a coincidence that this episode of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. went flying by like a bullet train, stopping only in the final minutes to take a breath and look around to see where things lay. Almost everyone’s in an emotionally fragile place: Coulson’s still grieving the death of Rosalind, Fitz and Simmons are on eggshells around each other…even our mysterious Ward-alien is hurting. So the team—and the series—does what it does best whenever no one’s terribly excited about opening up and sharing some feelings: It charges headfirst into action, kicks some ass, and enjoys the exhilaration of a frenetic adventure. Not stopping for breath (or more than a heartbeat, in certain new people’s cases) is a good way of getting some additional distance from traumatic events, and “Bouncing Back” is a textbook example of how all the bells and whistles of a standard-issue S.H.I.E.L.D. case can actually function as a diverting distraction from interpersonal relationships, for both the audience and characters.
That’s not to say the episode wouldn’t have benefited from a little more engagement with the mental and emotional state of its core team, but when an episode is racing along with such gung-ho commitment, it makes for good fun, even if in retrospect it looks a little thin. The center of the episode, on first glance, appeared as though it would involve a new member of the team: Elena Rodriguez, a.k.a. “Yo-Yo,” although those of you invested in the comics realm also know her as Slingshot, a core member of the Secret Warriors. It took all of thirty seconds after the first good look at her to realize she would turn out to be something other than the villain our heroes initially pegged her as, since she was very nice to Mack (after knocking him out, of course) and turned out to be stealing guns to protect her community, not commit violent acts. But after an accelerated (how fitting) introduction to the team, Yo-Yo was on her way back to Bogota, albeit armed with a S.H.I.E.L.D. communication watch to stay in touch. Presumably, we’ll be seeing her again sooner rather than later, but still, it was a bit of a surprise departure after essentially dedicating the mid-season return to her debut.
Then again, we have plenty of folks who need checking in on, starting with everybody’s favorite will-they-won’t-they-come-on-WHEN-will-they couple, FitzSimmons. This week is Fitz’s turn to be a little silly, as he’s been keeping his distance from Gemma for the rather inexplicable reason that he didn’t do enough to try and save Will. Luckily, Simmons is sensible enough for the both of them. “I miss you,” she says plainly, brushing aside his concerns by pointing out that Will died helping her escape, and the notion that Fitz could have done anything to bring him back is absurd. So they both smile and…decide to start over? As friends? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see them back on team FitzSimmons, but does anyone really think they’ll be able to keep up the buddy-buddy routine for long before the profound feelings they hold for one another bubble to the surface? They’re making the cautious choice, when they should be admitting what Coulson told Fitz earlier in the episode, after the hurt young agent expressed regret over his actions: “Sometimes, there’s no choice but the hard choice. That’s the job.” In this case, the hard choice might be acknowledging all those messy feelings they have. But fair enough—baby steps for now.
Coulson, meanwhile, is 100 percent into Operation: Malick Takedown. He’s nowhere near resolving the anger and sadness that Rosalind’s death caused, but as May points out once the dust has settled, “Maybe you’re not supposed to get over it.” Some things leave a scar, she says, and the change to Coulson is likely permanent. Not that she minds the company: “You’ve joined the cavalry.” It’s interesting to see S.H.I.E.L.D.’s boss to try wage his battle on multiple playing fields: Meeting with the President (good to see William Sadler’s always-slightly-out-of-his-depth President Ellis), calling up Malick just to shine him on with the knowledge that every link to the phone call is now a target, and (most significant of all) forcing the young Von Strucker to take a trip to Tahiti. It was uncomfortable for everyone to hear “please kill me” being repeated once more, but at least this time it finally gave Lincoln a chance to do something right for a change. It looks like the show is determined to shove the Daisy-Lincoln romance down our throats (much like their tongues), and I appreciate them trying to give him some reasons to stick around beyond that relationship, but for now, Daisy is still the most interesting thing about him. Sorry, Lincoln.
As has been the case for the first half of season three, much of the lighthearted fun gets thrown to Lance and Bobbi, even though they spend part of ”Bouncing Back” as rigor-mortis-style statues at the hands of our mysterious new Inhuman. Hunter has quietly become one of the most essential elements of the show, thanks in large part to the series leaning into his genial sarcasm and devil-may-care bravado. This episode yo-yos back and forth between the various pairings of agents and locations almost as quickly as Elena does during her (very cool) demonstration of her power while imprisoned, but every time we cut back to the good-natured exchanges between this couple, the levity shone through, even when Lance was still an eye-flashed popsicle, and Bobbi was warning Bogota policia that they might want to skedaddle. Speaking of largely backgrounded characters, Mack once again demonstrated that he’s mostly good for standing around and having warm conversations, because his actual field time resulted in little more than being captured and learning he was outmatched. Someone remind me again why Coulson made him Acting Director last time out?
But while all the whiz-bang derring-do was taking place, the presumptive nominee for this year’s Big Bad was recovering in front of multiple television sets. It’s not being made much of yet, but it’s a fairly significant development that Hydra’s very reason for existing has now been fulfilled: they’ve brought the alien Inhuman back to Earth. Unfortunately for the creature, it’s in the form of a dead body, so our Ward-alien spends most of his (its?) time recuperating, pausing only to assuage doubts among the Hydra higher-ups about their commitment to his power. The episode’s end demonstrates that this rest period might be over, as he assures Malick that he’ll believe once he “makes him believe,” and reaches out his hand to release a wave of sandy skin particles towards Mark Dacascos’ Mr. Giyera. According to exec producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, Ward-alien is actually Hive, a creature from the recent Secret Warriors storyline that S.H.I.E.L.D. is borrowing from. The show’s version is deviating from the comics, as it does with almost all its characters, but still, it reaffirms that this nemesis is just as much of a force to be reckoned with as Ward predicted back in “Maveth.”
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. always tends to lean more into its breakneck action than its interpersonal drama (barring the occasional exceptions), but the show has gotten better and better at executing these distractions. ”Bouncing Back” set the stage for the second half of the season effectively, slowing down only once all the fireworks of a smartly staged showdown had receded. It was rewarding seeing our Inhumans starting to integrate their powers more smoothly into battles, especially Joey, whose gun-melting power was a nice addition to the added pleasure of seeing the giant smile on Elena’s face as she helped Skye (yeah, yeah, Daisy) take down the corrupt police force. By the end of the episode, our protagonists are in a good place, and it’s probably just in time for Malick—and Hive—to start ripping them out of it.
- Coulson has a new hand! Besides making Clark Gregg’s life a little easier, it’s fun to see Fitz develop this kind of tech for his boss, mainly because I can only imagine it’s hiding a few cool tricks.
- Daisy seemed like she was maybe in too good of a mood tonight, given how quickly she went from telling Elena, “You’re my new best friend,” to being fully on board Yo-Yo’s refusal to join the team.
- While we’re on the subject, Yo-Yo says she can only travel there and back to her original place within the duration of one heartbeat. Her heart must beat slow. As. Molasses.
- Lance complaining about not having powers was fun, especially his admission that he tried a fish oil pill in hopes of developing one. “I had my fingers crossed for X-ray vision.”
- Adrian Pasdar has always played off of Gregg nicely, so learning he’s to be the new A.T.C.U. head was welcome, if unsurprising.
- Welcome back, everyone, to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. coverage. I’ll be taking over weekly reviews (my Marvel love runs deep), and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments. As always, I encourage you to reach out with your questions and ideas, both here and on Twitter. I can’t promise I’ll respond to every tweet and comment, but I can promise I’ll do my best to read them all. Excelsior!