Friday, April 01, 2016

TV RECAP: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 Episodes 13 & 14 ("Parting Shot" & "Watchdogs")

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D's third season has felt the most disconnected from the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not necessarily because it's had fewer tie-ins (it's about even with usual, so far) but because the series has doubled-down so much on its own mythology (the Inhumans, HYDRA's "secret origins," Maveth/Hive) that it's largely traded in its previously-ubiquitous references to the bigger events being depicted in the MCU films for references to bigger events that aren't being depicted anywhere - which leaves things feeling a touch on the awkward side.

Case in point, the last two episodes have been all about the supposedly global-scale panic being caused by the continuing emergence of new Inhumans; which we're assured is happening largely through news reports and regular cast members talking about it - some of which is cleverly staged but most of which has had the effect of making it seem like the series is rushing to establish that "No, really, it's suddenly a really big problem" in order to hit a crossover-point with CIVIL WAR.

Anyway...
PARTING SHOT:

Not much to be said here, other than that it's a pretty solid episode hurt a bit by its need to function as a backdoor pilot for the MOST WANTED spin-off. The basic caper stuff all works, and the one-off (I think?) Inhuman villain who can control his own shadow is a fun effect, but the big "emotional" goodbye for Hunter and Mockingbird I never quite bought.

One infrequent weakness of the series "one foot in fantasy" approach to its spy-games storytelling is that problems seem to become untenable because they need to without much real consistency: Given that Coulson has already parachuted into a portal to another planet on a whim this season, it feels contrived that, now that we need these two characters to leave for another show, he suddenly arrives at a paperwork problem (Hunter and Bobbi, framed for an attempt on the Russian Prime Minister's life, can either end their tenure as field agents or disappear into the wind) that he doesn't have a gadget or an owed-favor for fixing.

The "spy's goodbye" business at the end was a good scene, a testament to how far the cast has come as performers (and, maybe, a tease at the supposedly more oldschool-espionage flavor to be expected of MOST WANTED?); but it breaks down once you remember that the two central players being payed final respects to aren't even members of the original cast, have only been around for a season and half and for about 1/3 of that time we thought at least one of them might be a villain.


WATCHDOGS:

So, here's the thing about me and the Mutants/X-Men thing: My favorite aspect about the whole "superpowers-as-minority" thing is the part that's the most bullshit when you get right down to it.

For all the platitudes about how it's an MLK/Malcom thing, adding powers basically makes it into Objectivism by proxy i.e. an inferior majority of normals trying to hold back the self-realization of their betters either out of jealousy or because they fear the upheaval that the presence of superior leaps-forward are bound to bring - and like Objectivism, it's equal appealing (if you fancy yourself marginalized because of your not-just-different-but-better-ness) and appalling (if you're in touch with you basic humanity.) "Watchdogs" is AGENTS' slow-build for The Inhumans as the MCU-brand Mutants getting to part where this becomes explicit, which means I dig it but then grumble at myself during the commercial breaks.

As the title implies, it's an intro-episode for the MCU version of The Watchdogs. In the comics, they're an ultra-conservative right-wing militia outfit who figured prominently in the "Captain America: No More" storyline, so it makes sense they'd show up now reconfigured as the militarized arm of the growing anti-alien/superhuman movement that's expected to drive the plot in CIVIL WAR. In an amusing bit of writing, their new origin is being "Alt-Right" (read: wannabe neo-nazi dorks who know they'd get their asses kicked by legit skinheads) internet trolls who've been outfitted with military-grade hardware by outside benefactors - so, GamerGaters who do their own SWATing, basically. Clever.

In the comics, the Watchdogs turned out to be unwitting pawns of The Red Skull. Here, the top-baddie at first seems to be Titus Welliver's returning Agent Blake; who's hacked-off about being permanently injured by Deathlok in Season 1. I like that turn, but the secondary reveal that he himself is being jerked-around by HYDRA (so bad Inhumans using Inhuman haters to kill good Inhumans) feels like twist-overkill.

Anyway, their presence in the episode-proper is mostly about laying out foundation and establishing connections (they've got their hands on "Nitramine," the implosion-bomb tech from the first season of AGENT CARTER); wrapped around a story about Mack being interrupted while trying to hang out with his brother on his weekend off - and yes, they do both the "family member who has no idea I'm a spy" angle and the "family member is angry about issue I'm on the other side of professionally" angle. As checklist cliches go, they work well enough.

More interesting is the non-worldbuilding C-story about Simmons wanting to learn how to do more active Agent stuff because she's got survivor's guilt about how often she has to get saved. Nice bit of lampshade hanging, and it looks to be leading into a May/Simmons thread which should be interesting for a few episodes (at this point I feel like the writers are making a lot of decisions based alternately on "Who hasn't had any extended interaction yet?" and "Who would Tumblr most like to pretend is fucking?" - not sure which this would be.

We also get to see the seeds being planted of what will, presumably, be AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D's side-contribution to CIVIL WAR, with Daisy getting impatient about anti-Inhuman bigotry and getting big into using her powers (and S.H.I.E.L.D. backup) to knock around and threaten the Watchdogs while other Agents want to be more conciliatory and understand the other side... we've all seen/read an X-MEN story at least once so you get where that's heading, especially since they've already got an "Inhuman cure" plot thread cooking in the background. My question: If we're going to do "Daisy almost goes rogue because S.H.I.E.L.D won't let her be militant enough," do they pull the trigger on bringing Jaiying back in some way?