Monsters and Romance: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Mid-Season Finale

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is halfway through Season Three, and so far, it’s been quite a ride. The Terrigen compound has triggered the transformation of humans into Inhumans all over the world. S.H.I.E.L.D. found a new rival when the President created the organization ATCU to neutralize the Inhuman threat. A monster emerged, dedicated to murdering Inhumans. Our characters visited another world. Hydra began to rebuild, and we discovered that the organization was older and more nefarious than anyone ever imagined. We have seen the S.H.I.E.L.D. team put through the wringer, and witnessed betrayals, tragedy, love, loyalty, and bravery. Today, we recap “Maveth,” the mid-season finale, and look back at the entire first half of the season.

Since its earliest days, Marvel has been notable for the humanity displayed in its comics. Where other brands focused on the “super” in superheroes, Marvel focused on the heroes themselves, the people with the powers, and the others in their lives. In Spider-Man comics, the supporting cast of Aunt May, Gwen, Mary Jane, Harry, and Flash, and their interactions with Peter Parker, were as important as his battles with the supervillains. The Fantastic Four was shaped by their friendship and their family relationships, and the fact that the rivalry between Reed Richard and Victor Von Doom stretched back to their college days gave added dimensions to their clashes. And in the earliest adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury was surrounded by wartime comrades like Dum Dum and Gabe, love interests like the Contessa, and a whole host of allies and adversaries. Many people look to old monster comics as the precursor to Marvel’s superhero books, forgetting that many of their creators also did a lot of work on the old romance comics. And that attention to emotions and relationships helped fuel a unique approach to storytelling. Marvel comics, despite the fantasy aspects involved, presented heroes that felt like real people, and built a strong following because of it.

This half-season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had some great action and adventure. The episodes were well plotted, and moved at the breakneck pace of the best Lee/Kirby creations of the past. But what made this season stand out was the strength of the characters that we have gotten to know over the last few years, and it was their interactions that gave the episodes their power. We saw the terror involved in the Inhuman transformation through the eyes of Joey, an ordinary guy whose normal life was shattered by his new powers. We saw Bobbi and Hunter deal with the consequences of her taking a bullet for him, as she lost her confidence, and he recklessly tried to prove himself worthy. The attention the show gave to May’s personal life in the beginning of the season lent real depth to the horrifying realization that it was Andrew, her ex-husband, who had transformed into Lash. Ward found a father figure again in the shadowy Hydra leader Malick, and we realized how lost he is without someone to follow. Ward’s family history proved crucial as Coulson used Ward’s relationship with his younger brother as a bargaining chip. We saw both Mack and Daisy grow as agents and as leaders as the season progressed.

A real stand-out of the season was the relationship between Fitz and Simmons. When we first met these characters, their relationship felt like a kind of cartoon caricature. But now, through all their troubles, their bond feels real, and powerful, and honest. Fitz is determined to make Simmons happy, no matter the cost to himself, and it was interesting to see her torn between her feelings for him, and for Will, the astronaut she met while stranded on the Blue Planet. We saw Coulson’s emotions surface like never before as he opened up to a relationship with Rosalind, the leader of ATCU…and then watched him transformed by rage after her murder.

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Episode Recap

Our heroes are split as the episode begins. Fitz is a prisoner of Ward and a team of Hydra minions on the Blue Planet, where Coulson lies unconscious after his reckless dive through the interplanetary portal. The rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is heading toward the English castle where the other end of the portal is located, and where Hydra gathers, ready to bring back a monster who will lead their conquest of the world. On the Blue Planet, with the Hydra team, Ward and Fitz argue. They see a giant Hydra symbol in the distance, an obvious artifact of some ancient civilization.

A Quinjet links with the new S.H.I.E.L.D. command ship, Zephyr One, and newly-appointed Director Mack interviews Bobbi and Hunter (and they trade some snarky quips, which Mack excels at). The assembled team looks at data from the castle, and Skye finds signs that Inhumans have been stockpiled in stasis pods, while Joey asks ‘new guy’ questions. Mack decides there will be two infiltration teams: one to sweep the castle, one to secure the portal.

In the castle, Malick gets a briefing from his Hydra minions; he is obsessed with bringing the Hydra monster back to Earth. Simmons tells him that he will fail. He reminds her of the Hebrew word for death, “Maveth,” that is carved around the castle, and tells her Fitz will die. Skye discovers that there are aqueducts under the castle that Mack, Hunter, and Bobbi can use for infiltration. May and the Secret Warriors (Lincoln, Skye and Joey) are heading to the castle.

On the Blue Planet, Fitz finds Will’s hideout, and promises Ward that Will can be their guide (apparently where there’s a Will, there’s a way).

Coulson is dreaming that he is in bed with Rosalind, and she says she is not gone, she is right here, and that they just overslept. But then she tells him he needs to wake up, and he does—at the bottom of a ridge on the Blue Planet. He takes off his useless chute, and checks his weapon. Fitz argues with Ward about Will. Will says that he was wounded when he was attacked by “It.”

Back on Earth, Joey melts away the aqueduct grating with his Inhuman powers. Above them, Hydra goons are taken out by May. The team sees Hydra’s telekinetic Inhuman in the distance, and Skye warns them about him. Hydra loses their electrical power. Simmons breaks free.

Back on Blue Planet, Fitz and Will bond as they trek across the wilderness. Fitz tries to get his support. Will leads them through a canyon.

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Simmons finds the Inhuman stasis chambers, while Hydra realizes she is gone. She finds Andrew in the flying S.H.I.E.L.D. extraction pod, and he asks her to set him free, and let him help—he claims he will protect her. She complies, and he turns into Lash and takes out two Hydra minions while she runs away.

On the Blue Planet, Coulson finds the trail of the Hydra team. Ward asks Will about the Hydra structure they saw upon arrival. Talks to him about the Inhuman contagion. A dust storm is coming in. Mack, Hunter and Bobbi are in the castle, and as Mack strategizes, Bobbi takes the initiative to just go out and neutralize some Hydra guards (too bad they didn’t show it—her fight scenes are always great). On the Blue Planet, with the windstorm making it hard to see, Will starts ruthlessly taking out members of the Hydra team. He and Fitz make a break for it.

In the castle, Daisy uses her quake powers to take out minions in the Hydra command vehicle. Joey melts bullets, Lincoln uses his energy blasts, and they take out the Hydra telekinetic Inhuman. Simmons finds May, and tells her Lash is on the loose. On the Blue Planet, in the windstorm, Coulson takes out two more Hydra minions and wounds Ward—and tells him to lead the way to the others. Skye and Simmons link up with the rest of the team, as they barricade themselves into the portal chamber. They prepare for the portal to open. May is missing, out looking for Lash. She doesn’t find him, but follows a trail of destruction, and finds a horrible scene among the Inhuman stasis chambers; there are bodies and parts of bodies strewn everywhere.

On the Blue Planet, Ward and Coulson talk as they walk. Ward philosophizes, and says he has a sense of satisfaction, and has found his purpose. Coulson wounds him again. Ward is a ranting true believer in the Hydra cause, and appears to be losing his mind. Back at the castle, Simmons tells the team about “It,” and what Hydra had planned. Mack can’t wrap his head around the idea of an ancient alien god coming to Earth. Simmons says she feels that “It” is a being of great power, who laid waste to the Blue Planet. May returns, and reports that Lash has killed all of the Inhumans.

Malick finds all the Inhuman bodies, and tells his troops to storm the portal chamber. “That’s an order,” he tells them. Coulson spots Fitz and Will in the distance, and tells Ward to walk faster.

In the castle, Hydra tries to blast their way in. Mack says he will remain to the last possible minute to try to open the portal, and wants the rest of the team back to Zephyr One. They resist and Mack snaps, “That’s an order.” (A lot of orders are being insisted upon today.) Daisy argues that at least she should remain with him, to use her quake powers to keep the portal open, and he grudgingly agrees.

Will and Fitz are heading toward the portal as quickly as they can limp. They see signs of ancient buildings, which Will says that Jemma never saw. Will tells him about nine cities and the ancient war they fought. Fitz asks him how he knows so much, and while trying to treat his wound, finds that his leg is artificial. “Will” admits that Will is dead—he is “It.” Fitz and “It” battle, and Fitz holds his own for a while, but “It” leaves him lying on the ground, and heads toward the portal. May and Bobbi are on Zephyr One, and May orders the flight crew to bring weapons on line. In the castle, Mack tells Daisy, “OK, Tremors, let’s hope this works.” (I love that nickname.) Coulson sees “It” standing over the defeated Fitz, and shoots at “It.” Ward sucker punches Coulson, and they roll toward the hillside toward “It” and Fitz. Daisy and Mack stand by the portal, waiting.

Ward and Coulson battle viciously while “It” heads toward the portal. Fitz gets back up, and shoots “It” many times. May orders weapon systems on line preparing to fire on the Castle. Ward and Coulson still battle, and Coulson finally beats him. Fitz searches in a pack for more weapons, and finds a flare pistol. He uses a flare to incinerate “It.” In the portal chamber, Daisy’s nose starts to bleed and she faints.

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On the Blue Planet, Coulson stands over Ward, mentions all the death and destruction he has caused. He remembers Rosalind’s face. And then he kills Ward with his artificial hand, which he leaves behind. He and Fitz head toward the portal, while “It” lies burning. May decides they can’t wait any more, and fires on the castle. But out of the smoke flies the S.H.I.E.L.D. extraction pod, and it soars up to link with Zephyr One. May, Mack, Fitz and Coulson comes out, while Simmons looks for Will. Daisy kisses Linc. Coulson is comforted by May. And Fitz breaks the bad news to Simmons. They are battered, but the team has emerged victorious, and everyone has survived.

In the stinger, however, Malick and a minion head toward the airport in a car, but standing in front of him is a zombie Ward, obviously possessed by “It.” Perhaps Hydra’s plan succeeded, after all.

 

Thoughts

This was another strong episode, to cap off a very strong start to the season. There was a lot of action, and some fierce fighting. The Inhuman powers of the Secret Warrior team were used sparingly, but we got some enticing hints of things to come. Joey’s enthusiasm for his new powers was a nice, humorous touch. From her reaction to the Inhuman slaughter, it appears May realizes that Andrew is gone, and only the monstrous Lash personality remains. Mack did a great job as acting Director, rising to the occasion. Fitz ended up being a true warrior, battling “It” with all his might. The portrayal of Simmons and her mixed emotions on seeing Fitz and not Will was heartbreaking.

In this episode and the previous one, we saw Coulson transformed by Rosalind’s murder. He let his rage fuel him, but in the end, his rage ended up bringing Hydra’s plan to fruition. His murder of Ward left a new vessel for “It” to inhabit, just like “It” had inhabited Will’s body after Simmons escaped. And since “It” has access to Ward’s memories, Coulson has created an enemy with a personal grudge against him. The show enters the season break on a positive note—the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has come together like never before. But now they face a threat like none they have faced before…I can’t wait to see what happens next.

So let the discussion begin: what did you enjoy about the season so far? What were your favorite action scenes? And favorite character moments? What do you think they could have done better? And what do you want to see when the show returns after the Agent Carter’s California adventures? As Stan Lee used to say back in the ‘60s, “Don’t yield, back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”

Alan Brown has been a fan of S.H.I.E.L.D. from its comic book beginning fifty years ago. He still remembers reading that very first adventure in Strange Tales #135.

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