Wednesday, September 30, 2015

RECAP: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 3 - Episode 1: "Laws of Nature"

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And we're back.

One thing is for certain: Whenever AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D (and yes, I'm going to be the one pedant who insists on still typing out the periods on that) eventually wraps up, it's going to be fascinating to unpack. Popular culture in general will likely be chewing over the particulars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for decades in terms of its substantial place in the evolution of mass-entertainment - specifically, the rise of continuity-drive cross-media storytelling - but AGENTS feels like it's always going to remain its own strange animal: Tasked with expanding and setting-up the concurrent movies but denied access to the most notable "toys" while also telling its own story, it's effectively been three different shows across three seasons with characters and relationships turning on that same absurd axis.


Case in point: It now completely impossible to talk about Season 3 without "giving away" the laundry-list of reveals and twists that made up the first two seasons longest and most well-played gambit: Chloe Bennett's mysterious orphan super-hacker turned quick-study neophyte Agent Skye has actually (unknowingly) been the Marvel Comics superheroine Daisy "Quake" Johnson this whole time, and "her people," The Inhumans, have been lurking in the Cinematic Universe's shadows for even longer. Which means that AGENTS' mission statement now includes laying the groundwork for a Marvel movie that isn't due to come out for another four years.

Short version: The Inhumans are basically Mutants (though they came first) but with a more complicated lineage as seemingly "normal" humans who ancestors were experimented on by The Kree ("The Blue Ones" from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) in pre-history who manifest super-powers and/or monstrous new forms when exposed to the alien element Terrigen. Most of them walk the Earth not knowing their own true identity, with a few isolated communities of "full" Inhumans living in secret, but at the climax of AGENTS Season 2 a quantity of Terrigen was released into the ocean and has now dispersed into the ecosystem to such a degree that "new" Inhumans are popping up everywhere. (This, you may have guessed, is an expansion of the original comics' conception of The Inhumans, undertaken with an eye on letting the MCU tell X-MEN stories without needing the "real" X-MEN.)

As Season 3 opens, S.H.I.E.L.D (still not "officially existing") has rededicated itself to managing the outbreak, both by trying to help the new Inhumans and contain those that turn out to be dangerous; with one eye on drafting those willing to be part of Director Coulson's "Secret Warriors" program. Oh, and Skye isn't "Skye" anymore: She's going by Daisy, and arrives in the first scene of "Laws of Nature" having fully-emerged as S.H.I.E.L.D's resident in-house superhero. Her focus for this episode is bringing-in (and expositing-to, of course) newly-changed Inhuman Joey Gutierrez, who has metal-melting powers and a touch of irony to his origin: He's gay, and not particularly enthused about effectively having to "come out" all over again.

Elsewhere, the rest of the team are dealing with their own personal fallouts from Season 2: Hunter and Bobbi/Mockingbird are back on non-speaking terms, with her doing time in the lab waiting for a leg to heal and him brooding over revenge plans against the turncoat Agent Ward. Coulson is the only person who can't get used to Skye's new name, is worried that Agent May isn't coming back from "vacation" and can't find a mechanical arm (it got cut off) that feels right. Agent Mack is feeling glibly-innadequate now that Daisy is "the muscle" and Agent Fitz is scouring the globe in an obsessive quest to rescue Agent Simmons, whom they know was "eaten" by The Monolith but not why, how or if it can be reversed (as it turns out, she's been zapped away to an unnamed alien planet.)

Otherwise, the plot of "Laws" was mainly concerned with some clever misdirection involving the reveal of what looks like our new "bad guy team" for Season 3, ACTU (Advanced Threat Contaiment Unit) a government-backed paramilitary unit tasked with neutralizing all the people-with-powers stuff that keeps happening over in the movies. I'm hoping there's actually further misdirection going on here, since another "Bad S.H.I.E.L.D" feels kind of lazy (HYDRA is down to just Ward and some biker bros as of Season 2), but the introductory gag is pretty cool: Coulson and ACTU's mysterious leader Rosalind Price had both assumed that eachother's teams were responsible for the murders of various Inhumans, but as it turns out there's a third party: Lash, an evil Inhuman who (in the comics, at least) feels that Terrigenesis transformations are being handed out too willy-nilly and goes about hunting/killing those he deems unworthy of the Inhuman mantle.

Bullet Points:

  • The big setpiece, a powers-vs-powers brawl in a hospital between Daisy, lightning-tossing Inhuman Lincoln and Lash is suitably impressive stuff; but if AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D is committing to going the full-on superhero route (via the Secret Warriors business) it's going to need to raise it's game to compete with ARROW, THE FLASH and (potentially) SUPERGIRL.
  • Since Gutierrez can melt metal, it feels like a safe bet that they'll ask him to try and do... "something" to The Monolith, yes?
  • It's tempting to start wondering whether ACTU will be a precursor of the "let's regulate superheroes" stuff coming in CIVIL WAR, but I wouldn't bet on it - yet. Ike Perlmutter, the much-maligned Marvel bigwig recently ousted (forcibly) from having say over the movies, still technically controls the TV division and the two halves already didn't get along great (logistically or otherwise.)
  • Speaking of which: I'll stop harping on this eventually, but I'm still annoyed that the TV Agents weren't on the rescue-helicarrier in AGE OF ULTRON. Obviously Coulson couldn't have been there, but if Fitz/Simmons or one of the Koenigs were just matter-of-factly onhand it would've been appropriate and a really cool moment.
  • Speaking of The Koenigs, how long do we have o wait for Patton Oswalt to show up again?
  • Nice Continuity seeing President Ellis from IRON MAN 3 onscreen again.
  • Apparently the Hunter/Mockingbird spin-off series that was confirmed but then canceled while the Season was in production is back on the "yes" list, so I wonder how that's going to work. Is the idea that they'll go off and continue the conventional S.H.I.E.L.D vs HYDRA stuff with Ward while the "main" series focuses on being not-X-MEN?
  • Who is Rosalind Price? Is she's another "secretly someone from the comics" reveal, thus far it's too well hidden to even guess.
  • Where is Simmons? No idea, but the best guess is probably the Kree Homeworld or somewhere else Kree-related. Yes, it'd be fun if she ran into someone from GUARDIANS out there. No, that probably will not happen.
  • Why did The Monolith (supposedly deadly to Inhumans) take Simmons but nobody else? Obvious answer would be "she's an Inhuman," but I wonder if it'll be that simple...
So far, I'm digging it. It's not as much of a "Holy SHIT this got better suddenly!" blowout as Season 2's premiere was, but I'm liking where things are going thus far. One imagines that there's some CIVIL WAR buildup to come that's going to get everyone's hopes up (the Inhuman-outbreak thing would fit well into that story, but so far they're not even mentioned in the plot-descriptions for that movie) but for now I'm looking forward to seeing how things play out. Will we get some indication of the more "familiar" Inhumans (Black Blot, Medusa, etc)? Will some Cosmic Marvel stuff crop up in Simmons' story? I'm looking forward to it.

NEXT WEEK: "Purpose in The Machine" isn't teasing much plot, but I'm intrigued to see the team standing in what looks like an old-fashioned Universal Monsters mad-science lab and I'm really happy to see the return of Peter MacNicol's expat-Asgardian, who was a highlight of Season 1. I hope they wind up asking him to be a regular (MacNicol's CSI: CYBER character is being replaced by a series-hopping Ted Danson, so he's got the space open...)

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