The big crisis at the end of episode two was Melinda May’s condition, and that struggle comes to a head this week. The people who have been infected by Lucy and her ghostly cohorts are dying, painfully and horribly, so Jemma brings a restrained and screaming May to Radcliffe’s place, hoping he can pull a rabbit out of a hat. And that’s just what he does. After realizing the infection was triggering unending vivid waking nightmares, sending its victims into ongoing adrenal overdrive—in short, literally scaring them to death—he reasons they need to hit the reset button, restoring May’s mind to its pre-triggered normalcy. It just requires the teensiest bit of, well, killing her. So the challenge looks well within the bounds of the two scientists’ abilities, especially given Jemma’s at the ready with a defibrillator.
And then the power goes out there, too.
The blackout episode is a common TV trope, but Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. puts a thrilling spin on it, because the narrative ploy awakened greatness in areas the show needs it most—namely, the action and pacing. As always, the series excels when it has the gas pedal firmly pressed to the floor, and by goosing the mechanics with not one, but two ticking-clock scenarios (three, if you count the second-act race to get Robbie’s brother Gabe out of harm’s way), S.H.I.E.L.D. pivoted smoothly from last week’s discussion-heavy plotting to an adrenaline-laced adventure. (May isn’t the only thing with adrenal glands on overdrive in “Uprising.”) Even when it slowed down for a heart-to-heart, as happens between Daisy and Gabe during Robbie’s jaunt to the pharmacy, it functioned as a practical moment for the audience to catch its breath, before launching back into the sprint towards a satisfying finish line: The reintroduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the mass public of the MCU.
The biggest news is the massive launch of a well-orchestrated, global cabal of Watchdogs, led by a mysterious leader—unless you think Senator Nadeer is the architect of it all, which seems too easy. True, her reveal as a malicious power broker attempting to incite mass outcry against the Inhumans, and placidly celebrating the murder of 17 of them during the blackouts, mark her as a significant threat going forward, but it’s unclear whether she’s calling the shots, or just helping fire the bullets. And even if the former is the case, it would take a larger organization to make this kind of concerted effort come together, with EMP attacks in each of the four major cities where S.H.I.E.L.D. has been relocating Inhumans over the past months. So while the twist was expected—unless the “Inhuman Resistance” was the dumbest group of Inhumans in history, this was a setup—it still made for a satisfying moment when our heroes burst in to that Miami rooftop and kicked some ass.
And the ass kicking was great tonight, a key ingredient the show still struggles with more than it should. First-time S.H.I.E.L.D. director Magnus Martens proved his action bona fides on series like Banshee and Luke Cage were no fluke, as he not only makes every fight scene pop and flow with distinction, but he lent each one a sense of group dynamics and collective struggle that the superhero battles often lack. Primarily with Mack, Fitz, and Coulson’s takedown of the Watchdogs, but extending even into Daisy and Robbie’s smackdown of the punks threatening Gabe (honestly, how big of an asshole do you have to be to go after some random kid in a wheelchair?), it was refreshing to see the fight choreography acknowledge none of these people are fighting in a vacuum. Coulson and Mack‘s teamwork was the best, both of them strategically throwing punches and feints geared toward pushing the enemy into one another’s crosshairs, but it was a good week for group dynamics, all around.
Surprisingly, Yo-Yo was the one who shined the brightest in the mechanics of “Uprising,” getting strong character beats and stronger superpowered moments throughout the hour. This was the first time since last season we really got to see her put her powers to good use, and the results were propulsive and well-executed. It helps that her super-speed ping-ponging is a visually exciting ability (tough guys suddenly realizing the gun that gave them such bluster is no longer in their hands will never not be enjoyable), but also, it was folded smartly into the flow of action, making her hyper-speed light display and subsequent disarming of the guys guarding the EMP a highlight of the episode, no pun intended. The choice to have the two-second lights flicker on and off was also a cool effect, giving Martens a chance to play with the conventions of fight scenes in a visually arresting way.
All of the Watchdogs stuff was so good, it almost put the May storyline on the backburner, were it not for the gravity of her situation. Thankfully, Simmons and Radcliffe are two of the most delightfully accessible personalities on the team, and pairing them together is a guarantee of strong scenes. It didn’t make watching May suffer any easier to handle, but by the time Radcliffe’s hooking Aida’s power source up to the defibrillator in order to resuscitate May, you knew everything was going to be okay. Plus, it gives Simmons something to be nosy about, meaning she’ll hopefully be brought into the fold of those who know about Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy sooner, rather than later.
This might sound strange in an episode where May’s life was literally on the line, but Daisy’s poor arm was arguably the most unsettling element of this installment. Yes, Gabe called her out as being Quake, and warned her against associating with Robbie any more. And yes, Daisy’s collusion with Yo-Yo was sending consternation through the assembled team, if by “assembled team” you mean “Mack and his inability to accept the current situation, or even what making a promise to someone entails, apparently.” But when she unravels that wrap covering her arm, revealing the disturbing marks running up her skin, it’s unnerving and squirm-inducing. As is Robbie’s comment that, when she used her power, he “heard a bone snap.” Shudder.
True, the show continues to love making its metaphors and allegories as explicit as possible, as demonstrated by Daisy turning off S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Jeffrey Mace’s public address about how a “team divided is a team defeated” mid-aphorism. But just as she still feels justified isolating herself from her former teammates—at least until someone manages to converse with her long enough to make her realize she isn’t going to fly as a solo act, long term—Robbie is a fiery hothead even when his skull isn’t engulfed in flames, according to Gabe. It’s a useful way to point out that people’s emotions are always in flux and easily swayed by fear, whether it’s Ghost Rider’s brother or Yo-Yo’s former dear friend, ready to immediately turn her back when Elena is revealed as an Inhuman. “How do you cure fear?” is the question posed by both Dr. Radcliffe and Coulson/Mace this week, and while revealing S.H.I.E.L.D. is back in action may have been the smartest move to counteract public fear, it’s a little too likely people like Yo-Yo’s girlfriend won’t care. As May could tell you, without a hard reset of the brain, such insidious feelings can only grow.
- It was good to see Yo-Yo address the tension generated by Mack’s steadfast adherence to the rules. “There shouldn’t be any secrets between us.” “Why not? There’s nothing else between us.”
- It shouldn’t surprise me, but it was delightful to see that Fitz counts time between EMP pulses with a “One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee.”
- Speaking of which, he got another of the better lines of the night, when confronting his team’s utter lack of even basic Boy Scout merit badge knowledge. “Rudimentary science, yeah, no big deal, just rudimentary science, maybe save the day.”
- I like how Robbie’s story is being teased out in steady doses, rather than a clumsy info dump. Hearing him relate the vain hope that, if only he can right the “correct” wrong, he might lose the demon, was a useful line for those unfamiliar with Ghost Rider, especially in his most recent incarnation from the comics.
- Not gonna lie: There was a brief beat, while Jemma was futilely delivering CPR, where I had to think, “No, they’re not gonna kill May, we will honest-to-God riot” before remembering Aida was powered down behind the bookshelf.
- I’ll let Radcliffe have the last line: “Right, then we’ll all go and have lots of drinks.”