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In the wake of some much needed diversion from formula in last week's offbeat future-seeing episode, "Paradise Lost" gets us back to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Classic Recipe: a lot of low-tech-playing-high-tech diversions with the promise of later payoffs, capped off by a last-minute swerve and (for good measure) someone slamming their fist on the big red button marked Major Plot Point with enough flourish to almost make it feel like an earned moment as opposed to "Hey! The writers have just been informed of how CIVIL WAR shakes out."
Spoilers after the jump...
To recap: Everyone is finally on the same page re: Hive, the ancient Inhuman HYDRA apparently worships as a god is on Earth wearing a Grant Ward skinsuit and building an ill-defined evil scheme involving his fellow Inhumans, but now things are complicated further by good guy Daisy and bad guy Gideon Malick both having experienced flash-forwards involving death last episode.
For a change, the main story this time is mainly about developing the villains; as we learn Hive's back story (short version: he was the Mark I Inhumans' General Zod, a genetically-engineered military mastermind who led the Inhuman rebellion against the Kree but then went mad with power and got himself exiled offworld) and get some background on Malick and HYDRA - though fans hoping that it might make AGENTS' conception of the secret supervillain society make more sense are out of luck. But, then again, if "make more sense" is really high on your list of priorities for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., chances are you checked out of Season 3 awhile ago.
We here learn (courtesy flashbacks to a college age Gideon and his brother uneasily taking the reigns of the family business after the death of their father) that while all of HYDRA is aware of their Hive-worshipper origins, not everyone is still fully onboard. The Mallicks belong to the old school "draw lots to see who gets sacrificed to Hive" sect, while Red Skull and Daniel Whitehall's Nazi-aligned faction were less devout about it and who knows what the S.H.I.E.L.D-infiltrating cats were on about. With a little extra push, this would all be a brilliant satire of how monumentally stupid the entire Illuminati/Bilderberger/Rothschild/Trilateral/"Bankster" globalist-conspiracy theory bullshit is when you lay it all out; but sadly AGENTS' usually admirable resistance to self-parody won't quite let it.
In any case: We glean this as Mallick, while waiting for HYDRA bigwigs to arrive for a fancy dinner in Hive's honor at his estate (while also scheming to avoid a prophecized death he believes will occur at his god's hands) recalls how Whitehall tempted he and his brother being tempted to the dark(er?) side by Whitehall, who reveals that Papa Mallick rose to power by gaming his participation in the lot-drawing ceremonies with a marked stone. The brothers resolved to reclaim the family honor by holding a fair-and-square drawing, and if you're noticing that this is the first time we've ever heard that Mallick had a brother you know where that's going.
Fortunately, most of that predictability pays off decently in terms of what however much of the other Mallick remains in Hive thinks of as karmic payback, and the whole thing has an appropriately lurid "70s pulp-Satanism" vibe; but there's no avoiding that AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen too much in love with its own penchant for misdirection: We can see it coming by now.
Elsewhere, the B-story is all about Coulson and the non-Inhuman Agents breaking into a factory acquired by Mallick in order to set up either the cause or solution to whatever Hive's big plan is. Finally getting to see Coulson start to lose it at the revelation that not only was murdering Ward against his own code but the direct cause of Hive being able to reach Earth is nice; but otherwise it's a bit of a snooze. Even the promised one-on-one fight between May and Giyera (Mark Dacascos) feels obligatory - c'mom guys! Dacascos and Ming-Na Wen are both legit icons of B-movie action, this is (literally!) Chun-Li vs Billy Lee... have some fun with it!
But whatever. The whole thing is really only happening so Giyera can be captured, taken back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and escape, leaving the conveniently off-site Daisy and Lincoln to decide that *NOW* is the time to call in the Secret Warriors reserve-troops... as opposed to the several other times where the stakes have been at exactly the same height. The problem is, while Dacascos has screen-presence to burn, the show has been too indecisive about Giyera's role for him to suddenly be an all-stops threat now; so it all feels too obvious that the only real reason for the Warriors to go into action now is because AGENTS' needs a team of powered-pepole to show up and have their actions be misunderstood so that the plot can sort-of sync up with CIVIL WAR.
Amusingly, the C-story that serves to keep Daisy and Pikachu safe enough to push the Plot Button is actually more interesting: They go to seek out an Inhuman survivalist in Australia who once burgled information about Hive's back story from Afterlife, but the hook is that he's one of the Inhumans from whom Jaiying ultimately denied Terrigenisis because... he's a douchebag, I think? It sets up a novel bit of conflict where Lincoln baits him with Terrigen in order to grab a mysterious orb-like relic he'd stolen from Jaiying, but ultimately refuses him powers because he agrees with whatever their ex-leader's reasoning was. It's here that we get more information about Lincoln: He caused his girlfriend's death in a drunk driving accident shortly before The Inhumans found him.
This all feels like so much further setup for Daisy and Lincoln to be on opposite sides when AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D's version of the CIVIL WAR schism hits; but it plays out a lot more naturally than he Giyera story and I hope Australian Guy is a recurring character - especially if he turns out to be C-list SPIDER-MAN nemesis "The Kangaroo," whose power set includes jumping very high and being from Australia.
As for the orb? No idea. It looks like something halfway relates to the Infinity Stone vessel from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY but covered with designs that look more than a little DOCTOR STRANGE-y; but at this point the safest bet is that they hadn't fully committed to what it is or does when they (the show) designed it, so it looks like a lot of things to cover all bases.
NEXT WEEK: In "The Team," The Secret Warriors get their buildup over with, at last, and someone turns out to be bad maybe. Personally, I'm hoping for Sexy Evil Simmons Who's Been Part Hive All Along; if only to spare us the predictable arc of Fitz and Simmons being on opposite sides of CIVIL WAR LITE:
ALSO: The show loves the hell out of Hive reducing his victims to skeletons, and Mallick's vision only shows him being partially zapped, so I'm renewing my old guess that he somehow winds up as Red Skull 2.0
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