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Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. sacrifices a captivating relationship to fuel a bland plot

Illustration for article titled Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. sacrifices a captivating relationship to fuel a bland plot
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“Closure” begins with one of the best scenes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s third season, a casual dinner date between Phil Coulson and Rosalind Price where they try to bring a modicum of normalcy to their lives by enjoying some greasy fast-food burgers. It’s the kind of scene this show has all too few of, a relaxed, intimate conversation that is more concerned with strengthening the character dynamics than advancing the plot. The banter brings out the chemistry between Clark Gregg and Constance Zimmer, and there’s a lot of warmth in their interactions. They’re also just plain cute together, and the cute factor should not be underestimated.

The new reigning romance of the MCU—Jessica Jones and Luke Cage—delivers both cuteness and sex, showing how adorable the characters are when they’re just hanging out as well as hot passionate they are when they get down. Highlighting these aspects of their relationship makes Jessica and Luke’s dramatic moments hit much harder, and for a few minutes, it looks like Coulson and Price are getting a similar romantic push (albeit without the on-screen sex). And it feels real in a way Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. rarely does. It’s not especially easy to relate to secret agents and Inhumans caught in a never-ending battle against the forces of evil, but a scene of two people that are attracted to each other bonding over a meal brings the characters down to Earth and makes it easier to connect with their personal experience.

This is nice. I want to see more of this, I think to myself, and then Rosalind gets shot in the neck and dies in Coulson’s arms, destroying the brief illusion of reality and thrusting the series back into the fantastic world of evil organizations trying to open alien portals to advance their plot for world domination. It’s a development that is disappointing for a number of reasons: First, it’s a total rip-off of the Jenny Calendar plot from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where the father figure of the cast gets a romantic partner that is murdered by a former ally, and “Closure” is nowhere near as powerful as “Passion,” the episode with Jenny Calendar’s death. Second, it removes Constance Zimmer from the show, and her performance has been one of the strongest aspects of this season. Third, it wipes out Coulson and Rosalind’s relationship, which made the S.H.I.E.L.D. director much more interesting.

There was so much potential in their romance, but it’s all thrown away to give Coulson extra motivation in his fight against Hydra. There’s a slang term for this in superhero comics: “fridging.” That’s the act of abusing or killing a female character to provide motivation for a male hero, a term derived from a scene where rookie Green Lantern Kyle Rayner comes home and discovers his girlfriend has been murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator. Writer Gail Simone broke into the industry with her website “Women In Refrigerators,” which cataloged the numerous incidents where women suffered to progress the stories of men, and if the site was still running today, Rosalind Price would be the latest name on the list.

Grant Ward is the man responsible for Rosalind’s death, and the rest of the episode involves Coulson and his team hunting Ward down as Hydra prepares to open the portal to Maveth. The combination of Rosalind’s assassination and the ensuing fight between Coulson and Ward’s Hydra goons starts the episode with a lot of momentum, but it begins to dip as Coulson enacts his plan for revenge and the show returns to familiar narrative territory. The episode revisits a lot of material as it recounts Ward’s entire history from his troubled childhood to his alliance with John Garrett and infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and while a lot of the recap is intended to remind the reader of Ward’s relationships with the other members of the cast, it wouldn’t be necessary if Ward was a more compelling villain.

Gregg isn’t as engaging an actor when he’s asked to play grim, vengeful Coulson, and while the opening scene plays to his strengths, the rest of the episode has him in a bleaker mode that feels forced. The script and the score desperately try to bring weight and tension to the story, but Coulson and Ward’s heated phone calls aren’t particularly riveting, no matter how hard they throw their phones after they hang up. Also underwhelming is the reveal of Daisy’s superpowered team, which is just her, Lincoln, and Joey. The show has had nine episodes to introduce new Inhumans that could be a part of Daisy’s “Secret Warriors”; it introduced a grand total of one, and he appeared in the very first scene of the season premiere. It’s a total waste of a status quo that could have easily resulted in a flood of cool new characters with bold designs, but instead we get one guy who still looks completely human. (On the plus side: he’s gay!)


We already had an episode this season about trying to get the portal open, and that plot doesn’t suddenly get more interesting because Powers Boothe is involved now. This time around, getting the portal open involves Fitz and Simmons getting tortured, which is unpleasant, but helps ramp up the stakes while Ward and Coulson argue on the phone. Writer Brent Fletcher has a reliable source of drama in FitzSimmons because their relationship is so richly defined at this point, and it would be nice to see another pairing with that kind of depth on this series. Rosalind and Coulson could have been that pair, but their relationship is unfortunately sacrificed to fuel the overarching season narrative.

Stray observations

  • The Captain America: Civil War trailer was released last week, and it should be very interesting to see how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is affected by a movie that looks to deliver some very significant changes to the MCU.
  • Smart thinking from Coulson putting the aerosol air fresheners on the candles. An effective distractive with a great scent!
  • I’m surprised S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t immediately fall apart when Mack is made acting director. He’s lousy in the field, so I don’t know why Coulson would give him such a loaded promotion.
  • Doesn’t Brett Dalton know that he’s supposed to turn out to the camera when filming a shirtless scene? A missed opportunity for beefcake.
  • “Is it me, or is every burger that’s named the All-American just really awful for you?”
  • Rosalind: “Any sensible girl would swipe left in this moment.” Coulson: “Honestly, don’t know what means.” Rosalind: “You’re such a Luddite.” Coulson: “You know I have a flying car right?” Rosalind: “Yeah. It’s from the ’60s.”