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Trust turns to betrayal as the endgame begins on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Illustration for article titled Trust turns to betrayal as the endgame begins on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
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Every member of Phil Coulson’s team has undergone profound changes since the series began. Melinda May returned to the field, making peace of a kind with her Cavalry past, until her life’s love transformed into an Inhuman, and she had to take him down. That pain is shaping her still. Leo Fitz suffered brain damage after Ward dropped him in the bottom of the ocean, and has struggled to regain his sense of self, not to mention his relationship with Jemma. Simmons was sent to work undercover after her partner almost died, but then, just as she was ready to act on her long-simmering feelings, our lovable scientist was pulled into an alien planet, where she became someone new all over again. Coulson, the head of it all, almost lost his mind, did lose his hand, and now blames himself for the current situation, thanks to his personal motive of revenge against Ward.

But Daisy Johnson, a.k.a. Skye, has arguably changed the most. After a lifetime of loneliness and abandonment, she found a home at S.H.I.E.L.D., and invested her identity with the new mantle of being an agent. Then, her world was shaken (sorry) when she became an Inhuman—learning she was literally alien, someone other than who she thought herself to be. That may have changed her most profoundly of all, and gave her a new world, new sense of belonging, and a new mission of discovery and protection. Through it all, she learned to trust others, to develop the confidence and peace of mind that enabled her to set aside a lifetime of experience and allow Phil Coulson—and his team—into her heart and head.


But now someone else is in her head. And it doesn’t like to share.

“The Team” used the first proper assembly of the Secret Warriors to do a variation on one of my favorite narrative tactics: the Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Someone isn’t who they’re pretending to be! Hive’s infection of Daisy was a great excuse to spend an episode doing the superhero equivalent of a locked-room mystery. Much like ”Spacetime” from two weeks ago, which used the glimpse-a-future-death power of Charles Hinton to play with the sci-fi conceit of changing the future, Hive’s ability to control Inhumans allowed for a three-act play. Set in that most generic of S.H.I.E.L.D. locations, the endless hallways-and-computer-rooms set (and honestly, do the bad guys’ lairs have to be just blander versions of the same hallways?), the first stage was the rescue from Hydra and capture of Gideon Malick; the second part involved the “who can you trust” mind games; and the third was the eventual finger-pointing at Lincoln, which made for a fun if not entirely unexpected twist reveal that Daisy was the true mole.

And also like “Spacetime,” the execution was good, but not excellent. Let’s look at what worked: Director Elodie Keene finally started putting some Inhuman powers to excellent use. The raid on the Hydra base—to put it plainly—kicked ass. It was a treat watching Lincoln wield his powers in new and visually exciting ways, primarily via his electrical-lasso trick. Joey and Yo-Yo made an exemplary team, as he rendered the bullets harmless and allowed her to take out all the floor’s security at once. (Plus, solid Spanish-language banter: “So, you invited him up and then just left?” “Yeah. I’m the worst.”) Even Chloe Bennet, whose character’s power has been pretty clearly established as being of the “stick out arm, insert CGI effect” variety, is starting to figure out the little nuances that make her fun to watch in action. That half-smile she gave after taking out Giyera? The best.

Which is why it was a bummer to see the Inhumans go from being the best part of the episode to the most awkward, after Coulson orders the lockdown of the base as a result of Malick’s warning. Their post-mission exhilaration, their curiosity about the S.H.I.E.L.D. base—it all made sense, right up until the moment they learned of Hive’s infiltration. Yo-Yo’s skepticism was understandable—she hasn’t had the best experience with police-like authority figures—but it was odd to see them pivot so abruptly, especially Joey. I understand the show was trying to paint them as innocent victims reacting badly to encroaching walls, but it was clumsily handled. Coulson’s speech to Daisy at the end put a big bow on this week’s theme (we get it, S.H.I.E.L.D., trust is a valuable thing, and Hive wrecked it), because the show is addicted to making subtext into text. Maybe it’s time to go cold turkey, just for a week? See if you can’t do an entire episode without calling out the underlying ideas? Only a suggestion.


But all is still forgiven, because of FitzSimmons. Not only did the dynamic duo perform a rather graphic autopsy of Lucio’s brain this week, but the show gave all the ’shippers out there a moment of true joy. After all the back and forth between different planets, different emotional states, and a couple very awkward conversations (no, you’re not going to live down saying you were “cursed” anytime soon, Fitz), there was a simple and heartfelt kiss. Jemma called it out: “We’ve waited long enough,” she says, and she’s right. They know each other better than anyone, and there’s no more need to delay things. Their happiness at finally expressing their feelings so directly was infectious, and for a brief moment, “The Team” was a sweet and affecting installment of the series. And thank God for Fitz turning that hokey-ass line about having “something magnificent right in front of me” into a joke, because much like Jemma, my response was to openly laugh.

Illustration for article titled Trust turns to betrayal as the endgame begins on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If there’s any idea being set up here, as we head into the “Fallen Agent” endgame of the season, it’s the concept of faith. It’s addressed most explicitly in the conversation between Coulson and Malick, before the latter is killed by Daisy, thereby making Malick’s vision of his death at Hive’s hand come true, in a manner of speaking. Gideon continually wants to stress the divine nature of Hive, that he “is a god…just not ours.” And decades of devotion have made Malick unable to see Hive any other way. Even after realizing he had set loose not God, but “the devil,” his understanding is the same, merely the flip side of the religious coin.

But Coulson has had direct experience with gods. He’s seen them at work, for good and ill. “I’ve met gods. Gods bleed,” he says, echoing the line from Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2. (“If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him.”) There’s a new god in town, but it’s not a superhero, and Coulson is determined to set right what Hydra has worked all these centuries to finally achieve, by returning their Inhuman to Earth. The sphere that Daisy steals is clearly a part of Hive’s legacy; his destiny, as told by James last episode, seems to be coming to fruition—leading an army of Inhumans. But if the Enlightenment taught us anything, it’s that faith needs a vessel, and when we no longer believe in God, we have to believe in others, our loved ones, and ourselves. This is what Coulson really means by “prayer” in his talk with Daisy at episode’s end. It’s the need to find purpose, one that now resides in the goodness of his fellow humans (or Inhumans), and the strength of will to see that trust through. Hive might be assembling an army, but don’t count Phil Coulson out—he has a habit of coming back to life. What inspires faith more than rising from the dead?


Stray Observations:

  • Malick’s abrupt rejection of his former god makes sense, brevity aside: Hive killed the one person Malick believed in more than Hive.
  • Oh, right: Yo-Yo has a little crush on Mack. Or had, rather.
  • Once the Inhumans turned on one another, the bizarre fears made a little more sense, as their team was all they had. But it still should’ve developed a little more organically.
  • “Sorry. Had to get the band back together.” Never pegged you for a Blues Brothers fan, Daisy.
  • It was interesting seeing Hive refer to Daisy as “Skye” again, given that all it has are Ward’s memories of her. Really looking forward to seeing how that history plays into their relationship, now that she’s under his thrall.
  • Speaking of which, does Hive have any idea how to spend $960 million dollars? I suppose Ward-Hive has some good ideas. Feel free to share your ideas with me on Twitter. A golden cape?
  • Actually, S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to need that money to fix their base, now that Daisy has quaked it to pieces. Someone call Damage Control.

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