Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t taking its time with its current Hidden City plotline, and that is extremely refreshing after a first season that dragged stories out way past the point of intrigue. It’s beginning to look like this team may actually uncover their target destination by the end of next week’s winter finale, and if clues in “…Ye Who Enter Here” are any indication, that may mean a surge of Inhuman activity for the rest of the season.
There’s still time for this show to pull a bait-and-switch regarding the identity of the Hidden City, but as of now, it definitely looks to be Attilan or another Inhuman locale (recent events in Marvel comics have revealed that Attilan wasn’t the only outcropping of Inhuman people on Earth). Last episode made mention of “blue angels” and this week, Raina confirms that those celestial visitors were known as the Kree, the alien race that spawned the Inhumans in the comics by experimenting on prehistoric neanderthals. Raina also talks a lot about unlocking her and Skye’s potential, another hint that this show is gearing up for a big event that will result in a lot more superpowered characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’m hoping that if this show does go down the mass Terrigenesis route, the transformations are more dramatic than what Mack experiences this week when he touches the engravings at the entrance to the Hidden City. Mack feels intense pain before gaining super strength and going into a berserker rage, which could very well be the city’s defense mechanism to prevent intruders. Or it could mean that Mack is one of the “worthy” that can come in contact with these alien artifacts and survive without being incinerated, like Raina with the Obelisk. We don’t know what it means, but the mystery is certainly more intriguing than whatever was happening at this point last season. (Something with Centipede and a Clairvoyant?)
The major character work this week comes from Fitz and Simmons, who finally have the talk that has been a long time coming, but it’s a one-sided conversation. Simmons wants to tell Fitz that she needs him in her life even though she doesn’t have romantic feelings for him, but before she can explain herself, Fitz tells her that he’ll be leaving the lab so that he can work with Mack down at the garage, where he won’t be in her way. At the start of the series, I never would have guessed that these two would carry most of this show’s emotional baggage, but Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker’s chemistry really solidified the relationship between the characters, which makes their breakup all the more painful.
Simmons has lost that bond with Fitz this season, but she’s gained a new one with Bobbi Morse, who is dealing with her own complicated relationship issues after hooking up with her ex-husband last week. Scenes like Simmons and Bobbi’s conversation early in this episode show why Bobbi has become an important part of this show in a short period of time; like Agent May, she’s a veteran S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who brings lots of experience to the table, but she has a more laid back attitude and is willing to share personal information to strengthen her bond with teammates. There’s a nurturing quality to Bobbi that comes through most when she’s around Simmons, probably because they were both undercover together, and her willingness to listen makes it possible for Simmons to express the feelings that she’s been trying to avoid.
Director Billy Gierhart delivers more evocative visuals than usual for this series, but not all of those stylistic choices are successful. The episode begins with a dream sequence that plays with dramatic camera angles, quick cuts, and varying degrees of focus, but all the visual trickery gets in the way of the story to make for an awkward opening. It doesn’t help that Chloe Bennett struggles with making dream dialogue sound natural; she also has trouble convincingly playing fear and panic. Her performance draws attention to how much acting she’s doing when it should be on the creepy events unfolding in her mind, just as Gierhart’s direction pulls focus with overly aggressive camera work.
Gierhart and Bennett both fare better when it comes to the waking world, particularly the action sequence that reveals what Skye has learned while training under Agent May. Skye goes up against Hydra’s Agent 33 (still wearing May’s face) in a hotel hallway, and like the big action set-piece in “Face My Enemy,” the close quarters prove very beneficial to the combat. Bennett, Ming-Na Wen, and their stunt people bring a lot of force to the fight choreography, and Gierhart takes a page from Kevin Tancharoen’s playbook to showcase the athleticism and strength of the women in action. It’s the first time Skye truly comes across as a threat in battle, and that’s a very good thing.
Close quarters appear to be the key to exciting action sequences on this show, as evidenced by the fight between Mack and his S.H.I.E.L.D. colleagues toward the end of the episode. It’s primarily a showcase for Bobbi in action, and she’s able to hold her own against her superpowered opponent, taking a beating but ultimately putting an end to Mack’s mania by shocking him with her electrified battle staves. Unfortunately, that sends Mack back down the long drop to the Hidden City’s entrance, which may or may not kill him.
While Coulson’s team deals with the Hidden City, a Hydra strike team led by Ward overtakes the Bus, capturing Raina and Skye to bring them to Daniel Whitehall. With the team separated and the Bus about to get shot down by Hydra, things aren’t looking good for the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and that’s the exact kind of situation you want going into a winter finale. There are a lot of balls in the air for the next episode to juggle, which should ideally translate to a packed hour of television, and this week’s chapter accelerates the story momentum by delivering dynamic action and moving assorted subplots forward.
- Trip makes a joking reference to Atlantis this week, but it still counts as a reference to Atlantis in the MCU so there’s the tiniest shred of hope that we’ll see Namor in this world some day. (I believe Universal actually has the Namor rights, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those reverted back to Marvel soon.)
- Patton Oswalt returns this week as two different Koenig twins/clones/LMDs, and his sense of humor brings welcome buoyancy to an intense episode. The show needs an actor in the regular cast that can do effortless comedy, so I hope the writers make further use of Oswalt’s talents down the line.
- Koenig’s cloaking umbrella is really neat. I want more fun spy gadgets like that on this show.
- I think I’m starting to ship Trip and Simmons (that shirtless scene had all kinds of sexual tension). They shall henceforth be known as Trimmons.
- Bobbi and Mack have some sort of secret agenda, but I don’t think they’re working for Hydra. I’m going to think outside the box and say they work for M.O.D.O.K.
- “I was going to use of the off-color version of ‘messed up,’ but it felt inappropriate.”
- “You can’t do a sit-up, you think you’re going to hook up with The Cavalry?”
- “Someone get that girl a new flower dress.”
- “We’re human, Skye. We just have the potential to be more.” That sure does sound like an Inhuman tagline.