Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have had its flaws but managed to mostly overcome them by presenting a number of various complications (the A.T.C.U., Lash, missing Inhumans, a goddamn alternate planet), and by gradually doling them out over the course of the season. Some of those complications, like Simmons on that planet, worked better than others, like Coulson on on the Ward warpath, but the overall season (well, half season) focused primarily on bringing tension and action at every moment it could, sometimes to its detriment. At the very least, the show is exciting now, no longer bogged down by its initial slow beginning, its need to rely so heavily on the Marvel film universe, or storylines that feel more like they’re circling the wagons (what could be the big bad of S.H.I.E.L.D.? How about another S.H.I.E.L.D.?)
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of this review: holy crap, how great are Fitz and Simmons this season? Both actors have been given more aggressive, and juicier, material to work with, and Ian De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge have been knocking it out of the park every time. There’s something about Fitz taking that huge gamble reaching for Ward’s gun in the cold open that made me so proud of him. He really had no chance, but he went for it regardless, showing a character who’s no longer intimidated by Ward. Simmons, meanwhile, showcases the raw survival skills she developed when she was on that other world, escaping her cuffs with a sharp stick and, even ballsier, letting Andrew/Lash loose to avoid being re-captured. Like Fitz’s gamble, it was bold, but Simmons knows that she’s needed his help. Or, at the very least, Lash causing havoc would be enough of a distraction for her to escape.
The rest of the episode more or less just builds upon what was established before and kind of just runs through the motions. Which is usually the death knell for Agents but the energy, tight script, and relatively strong direction keeps the episode cooking. Sava in his previous reviews has often criticized the show with its bland direction, and while I’m not as harsh on that aspect as he is, I do think “Maveth” is particularly good looking for the show, with clear blocking of the action sequences and strong aesthetic that feels more comic book-y. And maybe it’s me, but this episode felt the most “Marvel” of the entire show so far, what with the three types of Inhumans infiltrating the castle (Daisy, the experienced; Lincoln, the intermediate; and Joey, the novice, whose surprise at successfully saving Daisy from gunshots was adorable), as well as all the crazy stuff that was happening on the planet.
I’m not sure what made me guess that the “creature” had possessed Will before Fitz found him–I think it was the fact that the episode played coy with his leg injury–but it’s a heck of a twist. More importantly, it allows the show to address the conflict of potential love triangle between Will, Fitz, and Simmon, without actually having to, you know, dedicate several episodes in the second half of the season to it (that kind of melodrama, no offense, is way outside this show’s purview). Both Fitz and Simmons showcase, at some level, the struggle that will arise if and when Will comes back, but again, both actors zero in on the importance of saving the guy, because, goddammit, they’re inherently good people. The Coulson/Ward conflict is less engaging, primarily because it kind of feels like Agents went out of its way to turn an antagonist who was hated by all into an antagonist who was despised by one single person. It tried to make it super-personal, but Rosalind was only killed in the episode prior, so it was never given a chance to build over the course of the season. (Ward’s death should have been at the hand of Bobbi, Lance, or even Daisy.) “Maveth” tried to push Coulson’s quest for revenge to the forefront with those Rosalind flashbacks, but it never felt earned. But he did crush Ward’s chest, slowly, which is a hell of way to kill someone.
There are some other elements that the episode did as best as it could. Mack taking full command as acting director was badass, although he was always a commanding presence, so I’m not sure why the show would have felt this would’ve been an issue. May quietly observing the carnage that Lash left behind was brutal stuff, smartly declining to belabor that dramatic point. He’s in the wind, and the show can always (and will most likely) come back to it. The actual infiltration was kind of by-the-numbers, and a bit lazy, too: for all the talk about how heavily armed Hydra was, they managed to slip in relatively easily. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point is just focused on being as entertaining as possible, and it worked for me.
- Kevin Johnson here, filing in for Oliver Sava, who had to take care of a personal issue. I will readily admit that I enjoy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but don’t normally delve too much into analyzing it, so this was a first for me. I hope I did it justice!
- I kind of found it weird that Ward was allowing Fitz and Will to just chatter on by themselves while marching. I guess that was hubris on Ward’s part, but still, there should have been a soldier right on them or something.
- Speaking of Ward, I don’t know what to think of his quasi-religious conversion speech he has while being held captive by Ward. It seemed like bullshit more than sincerity, but Coulson shot him in the arm, which was great. I think this was supposed to foreshadow the “reborn” Ward, in the form of a creature-possessed zombie, but, really, there was no need for that.
- Update: not sure where the name “Clarkson” came from. Went ahead and fixed those errors.