Thursday, March 17, 2016

TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D - Season 3 Episode 12: "THE INSIDE MAN"

Yes, I skipped over the first midseason-comeback episode.

I watched it, but somehow couldn't summon the urge to say much consequential about it (plus, last week was kind of rough here, so... yeah) other than "I also wonder who that is in the bloody spaceship" and to note that making Talbot the public-face of ATCU-but-actually-S.H.I.E.L.D. is cute foreshadowing for the seemingly-inevitable CIVIL WAR crossover, i.e. even if what's going on with the Inhumans on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and the really similar stuff going on with superheroes in general in the movie don't officially "connect" it's very appropriate that Glenn Talbot and "Thunderbolt" Ross are filling two different levels of the same job; plus Pasdar is really good in the part (and yes, it'd be great if he and Hurt had a scene in the movie.)

Otherwise, Episode 11 mostly felt like catch-up time (which is fine) and using Yo-Yo Rodriguez's introduction as a narrative way to get across exposition about not every Secret Warrior recruit sticking around S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, i.e. "You deserve to also live normal lives" here translating to "Thanks for having a cool new power for us to show off for an episode, see you again at the season finale!" Oh, and Coulson's super-meta exchange with the President (a character from the "movie side") about how his team will keep doing what they do behind the scenes an "You'll just keep pretending we don't exist?" Okay, that's funny - not "write a whole recap" funny, but funny.

"The Inside Man," on the other hand? Great episode.

Maybe not a classic, but easily the best Season 3 has managed apart from the Simmons-on-Maveth one-off and a better "normal" episode than the show has aired since the first half of Season 2 - and as much as I'll still hold that the series going all "budget X-Men" at the end of that season as being the series' peak so far, it's also still true that the show is at it's week-to-week best when it just gets to be "Weird NCIS;" using the toybox of Marvel hand-me-downs as a way to be a kitschy spy show with one or two extra levels of misdirection. And that's what we get here.

The storyline this time, with the interplanetary portal stuff out of the way but with S.H.I.E.L.D. not yet aware that HYDRA is taking orders from Zombie Ward whose really an Inhuman "god" made of slugs, Coulson and Talbot have to go attend a U.N. conference about "the Inhumans problem." Ostensibly that's because that's what would happen but really because Fox just made $800 million from DEADPOOL so the X-Men aren't coming home any time soon so the project to remake THE INHUMANS as replacements must continue and that means you do a "the world finds out about Mutants Inhumans and reacts poorly" story.

Either way, they're mainly going (Talbot under duress: His wife seemingly just left him because he took the ATCU job and he's still not fond of Coulson) to try and figure out which of the visiting dignitaries are actually working with HYDRA leader Gideon Malick; which means the pair have to go in an shmooze their supposed colleagues while The Agents engage in the series' second favorite pastime outside of sneaking around for clues in empty Los Angeles-area office spaces: Sneaking around for clues in hotel rooms. Whatever, the main point is setting up spycraft-gotchas, and the rate at which they drop throughout the episode is impressively daffy even for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. In brief:

  • Coulson and Talbot are attacked by Crusher Creel: The Absorbing Man
  • BUT WAIT! Creel has actually been cured of his HYDRA brainwashing, and now he's (kind of?) a good guy - and Talbot's personal bodyguard.
  • Coulson and Talbot chat up the dignitaries. Russia wants to let all The Inhumans move to Russia, and it turns out Australia has an Inhuman captive somewhere.
  • BUT WAIT! Talbot betrays Coulson, "outing" him to the dignitaries as a spy - he was Malick's inside man the whole time!
  • Malick shows up and announces to the world (or, rather, a dozen or so people in the room because this is AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D) that Coulson is the Director... of HYDRA.
  • BUT WAIT! Talbot isn't evil, his hand is being forced: HYDRA is holding his kid hostage, and that's what his wife was actually angry about.
  • BUT WAIT AGAIN! Creel is working for HYDRA after all, preventing Hunter from saving Talbot's kid.
  • Malick predictably betrays Talbot, orders him killed along with Coulson.
  • BUT WAIT! Creel is good, after all! He saved the kid, and he saves Talbot and Coulson.
That's a fun hour of TV right there, especially given that one of the incidental characters being able to turn himself into metal or stone is just "something that happens" and not the main focus.

The B-stories were also pretty good, if a little on the overly-telegraphed side. I really like the dynamic that Malick has with Hive/Ward, i.e. this guy's whole life has been dedicated to a quasi-religious cult all about bringing this Lovecraftian horror to Earth but now that he has he's increasingly irritated that "god" is a weird zombie who just wants to sit on a couch watching TV and thumbing through books all day. It looks like that back and forth is coming to an end given how the episode wraps up, but so far watching Malick and the bad Inhumans react to Hive as "Not Apocalypse" is more interesting than Hive itself.

B-story #2, meanwhile, picks up the "can we cure it/should it be cured?" half of the "X-Men stuff you need to get out of the way" pile; with Simmons working out that Creel surviving touching Terrigen means his blood can conceivably be used as a vaccine against Terrigenesis. Interesting to see them slot Lincoln into the obligatory "Mutant Inhuman who can see the upside of calling it a cure" role; not so much for what it means for his character (someone has to be in this slot and it can't be Daisy, so...) but because they've finally found at least something for Lincoln to do.

NEXT WEEK: Episode 13 is called "Parting Shot," so don't be surprised if this is where Hunter and Mockingbird take off to go get ready for their spin-off.