This week, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally got to do something it’s been wanting to do for a long time. It was a moment we could all see coming, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment of its inevitable unveiling. True, it may have annoyed you, or delighted you, or come and gone so quickly that you didn’t get to really consider it, but however it was received, it was clearly a moment that had to happen, sooner or later. I refer, of course, to Phil Coulson finally getting the opportunity to say, “Gimme a hand!”

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If “The Inside Man” was birthed out of the writers’ desire to get that little throwaway line off their chests, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest, as this episode delivered an entertaining mission, but mostly provided a lot of table setting, and when we weren’t being treated to either of those two things, it was working awfully hard to sell us on the Daisy-Lincoln romance. I’m not going to keep harping on this, because we’ve established that it’s a bit of a chore to deal with this seemingly chemistry-free pairing, but moving forward, the show needs to give us a reason to invest in them, because at present, Lincoln has all the appeal of first-half-of-season-one Grant Ward. Nothing says, “Sexy!” like someone who’s seemingly defined by their milquetoast relationship. Granted, the sparring session was shot well, with a kinetic energy, but unless they’re shadowboxing every time they interact, there’s no energy here.

So let’s talk about the good stuff, instead. These single-mission-centric episodes are a reliable tactic for Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D., because they provide the best structure for the show to play to its strengths of fast-paced action and witty banter. They hearken back to the crackerjack fun of series like Mission: Impossible, or even The A-Team, two programs from which S.H.I.E.L.D. borrows more than a little DNA. While this installment lacked the essential feel of an adventure like “A Hen In The Wolf House,” it at least moved the story forward a couple of beats, largely by bringing Adrian Pasdar’s General Talbot more firmly into the fold. The entire thing was a bit rushed—let’s find the inside man! Talbot’s the inside man! But Malick has his son! Now we’re all on the same team!—and yet it maintained enough propulsion to overcome the brevity with which all of this was conveyed. (Paging Dethlok: Your storyline is being recycled.)

Who else wouldn’t mind seeing more of The Comic Adventures Of Agent Coulson And Glen Talbot? Pasdar and Gregg clearly have a ball playing off each other, and make for excellent foils. Pasdar has really mastered Talbot’s tenuous balance between clever tactician and graceless diplomat, demonstrating how the general’s command of strategy doesn’t extend to reading people terribly well. And seeing him slowly warm to Coulson, as the latter set aside agents potentially capable of capturing Malick to instead save his son, was the quiet emotional heart of the episode. He’ll betray Coulson to save his child, but he’s not so dumb as to think Hydra would just let him walk. If they start integrating him more frequently, it could pay real dividends.

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Not that we don’t still have good old Lance Hunter to keep things delightful. Bobbi’s paramour was in fine form this week, from being the first one to realize the team was being set up, to delivering an impassioned statement of purpose about protecting his friends, to ever-so-slightly ignoring Coulson’s ban on bringing weapons along, which provides the best exchange of the hour. (Hunter: [Reveals weapons.] Bobbi: “I love you.” May: “I don’t hate you quite as much.”) It’s been too long since the character has had the chance to really let loose physically, the way he did during his and May’s infiltration of the Hydra Boston contingent, so here’s hoping the feisty guy gets an opportunity to again unleash that victory-at-any-cost inner strength.

Some of our most beloved protagonists spent this week mainly on the sidelines, unfortunately, as Fitz and Simmons were relegated to a B-plot that all but disappeared them from the screen, even as it introduced a significant wrinkle to the Inhuman storyline. Having Creel return as Talbot’s right-hand man was a smart way to bring back a cool character with a visually striking power, something the show can always use more of, even if its budget probably grumbles every time the Absorbing Man is onscreen. Revealing that his blood might be the key to making a vaccine to the Inhuman transformation is a sensible way to continue exploring the ethics and morality of how to deal with the alien question, even if it feels like Dr. Kavita Rao from X-Men: The Last Stand is waiting to tap the show on the shoulder and say, “Look, if you’re going to steal my bit, at least do it better this time around.”

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But in the long run, all of this is a sidenote to the main plot line developing in “The Inside Man”: The alien entity and Inhuman that has taken over the deceased body of Grant Ward, who we may as well officially start calling Hive, because that’s who he is. After Malick’s concern about the generally shitty state of Hive’s human host body, it was clear that problem would be rectified, and in the most striking visual image of the episode, we see just how Hive manages to achieve that adjustment. Seeing the bloodied skeletons of five innocent people, scattered around the goopy body of Brett Dalton (who probably high-fived himself after realizing that was the end of some awkward-looking makeup), covered in yellow goo, was a striking way to end the episode. Additionally, it lent a new menace to the villain, who was releasing some of that sandy body matter at the end of last week toward Mark Dacascos, and does the same this week to Lucio, meaning Hive has himself a powerful Inhuman servant. (Plus, it should be acknowledged that Dalton, who began this show as a bland block of wood, turns out to be a wonderful chameleon, shading from Ward’s evil slickness into otherworldly menace with smooth believability.)

Going forward, the show will have its hands full servicing all these various stories effectively, but last season demonstrated that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets more inventive and resourceful whenever it seemingly paints itself into a corner. Ending with the reveal that Bobbi and Lance have stowed away on Malick’s place was nice, but even better was the news that Malick and Petrov are going forward with the plan to create a sanctuary space for all Inhumans to live together. Granted, Malick will try to turn them into a Hydra army for Hive, but as the back half of the season begins taking form, it’s good to see the show isn’t backing down from tackling twenty ideas at once. Trying to juggle that many balls means you’re going to drop a few, but keeping as many in the air as it does is a worthwhile sight in its own right, even in a standard-issue installment like this.

Stray observations:

  • Anyone else think there’s the real possibility that this “sanctuary space” might eventually develop into the show’s version of Genosha, the mutant homeland of the comics? That, to me, is way more exciting than Malick just pulling a few dozen Inhumans into the service of Hive.
  • “Call me Glen. Occasionally.”
  • “It’s all loose-y goose-y under there.” Talbot really had some good lines tonight.
  • Oh, another one! “Do me a favor and shoot him first.” Episode MVP, in retrospect.
  • Daisy got the short end of the stick tonight, having to deliver not only a clumsy romantic subplot, but being made to utter some clunky boilerplate defenses of Inhumans to both Bobbi and Lincoln. When she said, “I don’t know what’s going on with me right now,” it felt like an admission by the show that it’s using her poorly at the moment.
  • That being said, no one derisively says “Shake and Bake” as well as Nick Blood.

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