After last week’s riveting shift away from this season’s major Hydra and Inhuman plotlines, it was inevitable that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s return to the norm would be a come down. Thankfully, “Among Us Hide…” doesn’t take much of a dip in quality, getting back to Coulson and the gang with a story that highlights the show’s strongest assets. It puts Bobbi Morse back in the field after an extended absent, creates tension between Daisy and Coulson, continues the humanization of Rosalind Price, and ends with a revelation about Lash that significantly complicates a lot of character dynamics moving forward. The episode isn’t as atmospheric or emotional as last week’s alien adventure, but it’s a step in the right direction for the season’s overarching narratives.

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As many predicted, Andrew Garner survived his attack at the end of “Devils You Know,” but that doesn’t diminish May’s thirst for vengeance in the slightest. She throws herself fully back in the fight against Hydra, and she pulls Bobbi along with her, reuniting the kick-ass female super-spy team that tends to deliver this show’s best action sequences. They disguise themselves to infiltrate a bank in the Grand Cayman Islands, where they show off their skill for deception before beating people up, and then they go after Werner Von Strucker in Lisbon, where they just beat a bunch of people up. It’s totally standard spy stuff, but things like sexy disguises and thrilling fights are standards of the genre because they have proven entertainment value. Ming-Na Wen and Adrienne Palicki are charismatic actors that keep Drew Z. Greenberg’s script engaging even as it hits traditional story beats, and while the stakes are high, they still bring a sense of fun to the table, particularly during the bank scenes.

“Among Us Hide…” strengthens Bobbi and May’s relationship by making May, a PTSD survivor, the support system for Bobbi, who is still unsure of her aptitude in the field. Bobbi has reason for concern—tests show that her lungs haven’t fully healed yet—but May thinks Bobbi is hiding behind these tests when she’s ready to be back in action. May has admired Bobbi since her recruit days, and doesn’t want to see Bobbi waste her potential like May wasted hers sitting inside a cubicle after Bahrain. She realizes that getting back to what you do best can be beneficial, and what these two women do best is pummel bad guys.

I’ve mentioned before how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the strongest female presence of any MCU property, and season three continues that trend. After devoting an entire episode to Simmons, the show keeps the focus on the women by reinforcing Bobbi and May’s friendship and delving deeper into the character of Rosalind Price, who is quickly becoming one of this show’s most complex antagonists. This week we learn that Rosalind is a widow who lost her husband to cancer, and she’s been gathering up Inhumans and putting them in stasis because she wants to keep them safe until a cure for Terrigenesis can be found.

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Inhumans are dangerous to themselves and others when they emerge from their cocoons, so the government is putting them in medically induced comas and storing them away so no one can get hurt. It’s a huge violation of civil liberties, but Rosalind really believes that what she is doing is right, and Constance Zimmer’s performance convincingly sells the character’s noble intentions. Rosalind’s not completely happy with her actions, though, and when she tells Coulson that she finds it hard to keep her humanity in all this, it’s a telling confession that suggests this season may delve further into the ethical compromises these characters and their organizations make to keep others safe.

Daisy doesn’t hear this explanation when she eavesdrops on Rosalind and Coulson’s conversation with one of Fitz’s fancy new dwarf drones, and she’s rightfully terrified when she finds out what the A.T.C.U. is doing to her people. When Daisy sees an Inhuman in one of those stasis containers, she sees herself in it, or her kinda-boyfriend Lincoln. Daisy knows that it’s possible to control Inhuman abilities and reintegrate into society, but the A.T.C.U. isn’t giving these people the option. Rosalind Price and her organization are stripping new Inhumans of their agency and imprisoning them, which sounds more like fear than compassion. Having fully functioning Inhumans out in the general population is a dangerous thing, and the A.T.C.U. assumes that the best option for homeland security is caging these superpowered individuals before they can ever reach a point where they’re a viable threat. Daisy vows to never work with the A.T.C.U. after what she sees, which is going to introduce considerable tension to her relationship with Coulson, who is totally buying what Rosalind is selling.

It’s great to see the show take advantage of the chemistry between Zimmer and Clark Gregg, and the romantic aspect of Coulson and Rosalind’s relationship is a big reason why their character dynamic is so intriguing. They’re both manipulating each other, but they’re also genuinely attracted to each other, making the manipulation a sort of spy foreplay. Coulson openly acknowledges that Price is humanizing herself so that he’ll let down his guard, but what if she’s telling the truth? What if she’s actually the wounded person she’s presenting herself to be, and what if that person is attracted to him and his own wounds? Maybe Rosalind picked up burgers from Coulson’s favorite joint to butter him up, but maybe she did it as a peace offering, getting him his favorite food as a way of showing how well she understands him and likes that person? Even though the writers are successfully humanizing Rosalind, there’s still that element of ambiguity in her motives, which maintains her threat level as her personality softens and becomes more empathetic.

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S.H.I.E.L.D. has a history of threats from within, and history repeats itself with Andrew Garner, who (as some have theorized) is secretly Lash. May learns this from a dying Werner Von Strucker as the episode flashes back to show what really happened when Andrew was attacked, and his transformation is the first time Lash actually looks cool. The CGI Lash has a more gargantuan physique than very large actor Matthew Willig, and it gives a stronger impression of Lash as an Inhuman monster. It’s like the difference between Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk and the CGI Hulk used in the Hulk and Avengers films; one looks like a human with some cosmetic alterations, while the others look like a completely different species of animal. (The hair on CGI Lash also looks much better, with thick spikes that replicate the look of the character as drawn by creator Joe Madureira.)

The transformation is a visual effects highlight for the series, but the most exciting thing about the Andrew/Lash reveal is how it alters the established character dynamics, giving this season another villain that has strong personal ties to the rest of the cast. All of this season’s antagonists—Lash, Rosalind, Ward—have intimate relationships with the heroes, and those bonds have made the conflicts more captivating. Lash was bland when he was just an Inhuman killing his own kind, but making him a member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. family realizes his villainous potential by significantly complicating his story.

Stray observations

  • This week features the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. debut of Powers Boothe’s Gideon Malick, who previously appeared in The Avengers as part of the World Security Council. Boothe is an actor with a big screen presence and talent for playing intense, immoral characters, so I’m hoping this isn’t the last we see of him.
  • Hunter is a solid source of humor this week, annoying his teammates because he’s desperate for something to do after getting taken off the Hydra mission. I like when the writers play into Nick Blood’s lighter side.
  • Rosalind Price’s favorite books are Margaret Thatcher biographies. How many versions of one woman’s story does she need?
  • “I get it: you were quick to violence and an innocent got hurt.”
  • “You know I run a spy organization, right?” Sometimes it’s easy to forget, Coulson.
  • “We’re screwed.” In Mandarin!
  • “He doesn’t think it’s ready yet, but that’s stupid ’cause it’s awesome, so I stole it.”

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