Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Back in the Thick of It

The second season of Agent Carter showed Peggy to be in rare form, and her foray to Hollywood was an enjoyable romp from beginning to end. But now that Agent Carter has reached her “Hollywood Ending,” it’s time to switch our Tuesday night viewing back to the remainder of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Three. The first half of the season saw the rise and fall of the rival agency ATCU, visits to a far-away planet, the rise of a new Hydra faction, the birth of the Inhuman Secret Warriors team, Coulson finding and losing love, then getting revenge by killing Grant Ward—only to have Ward return as host to an alien menace. Now let’s take a look at Episode 11: “Bouncing Back.”

Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!

What we already know

These days, you approach most TV programs, especially the start of a new season or a segment of a season, with a lot of advance knowledge. Not only are you familiar with the events of previous episodes, but in the weeks leading up to the new episode you see a steady stream of photos, news items, casting information, episode titles, synopses, and video clips, if you spend any time at all on the internet. So going in, we knew a lot about what we would see in tonight’s episode, and indeed, quite a bit about the shape of the rest of the show’s season—not the least of this news is the renewal of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a fourth season.

We saw the rise and fall of the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, or ATCU, play out during the first half of the season, and the deaths of its leader, Rosalind Price, as well as her chief lieutenant, Luther Banks. We also witnessed the anger and passion her death evoked in the normally unflappable Coulson. We’ve seen clips indicating that Coulson will be meeting with President Ellis and General Talbot, which implies that they may be asking S.H.I.E.L.D. for help with the growing Inhuman situation, filling the vacuum left by ATCU’s collapse (I, for one, welcome the return of Talbot, who was a great adversary in Season Two). And in a clip released before the show, we saw Coulson standing in front of a device that looked like part of the TAHITI resurrection machine, and talking to Fitz about needing someone who could give them more information about Malick. This seems to imply that Coulson might be letting his emotions mix with his work, and is thinking about bringing his romantic interest, Rosalind, back from the dead.

We also saw Grant Ward’s attempts to resurrect Hydra, only to find that more of the organization survived than he had expected. He found himself and his ragtag collection of thugs absorbed into the faction led by former World Security Council member Gideon Malick, who not only was gathering Inhumans to supplement his organization, but who knew a lot about the monolith that acted as a gateway between worlds, and a secret history of Hydra that stretched back for centuries, centered around using the monolith to bring their leader from the planet Maveth to Earth. Malick is still on the loose, with what appears to be a well-organized and well-funded Hydra at his beck and call. We can assume that Malick’s cover as a government official is now blown, but it hardly looks like he has lost his secret sources of power.

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At the end of Episode 10, Ward returned to Earth as some sort of zombie, and press releases have confirmed that he will be playing a character inspired by the character Hive from the Secret Warrior comic book series. That character, a product of Hydra labs on Earth, was a kind of parasite or symbiont that drew on the knowledge of all its various hosts, and also the physical powers of its hosts. Obviously, this television version, while it appears to have similar powers, has an extraterrestrial origin and a lifespan that goes back centuries, if not millennia. This new Hive appears to have laid waste to a great civilization on the planet Maveth—and has the power to inspire fear in an Asgardian warrior. After all, in Episode 3, the expat Asgardian-turned-professor, Elliot Randolph, explicitly warned S.H.I.E.L.D. not to use the monolith. S.H.I.E.L.D. will be facing not just Grant Ward, but a malevolent being that wears Ward’s face, with powers approaching those of a god. It makes you wonder if Gideon Malick truly realizes the powers he has unleashed.

We see indications that characters will be coming and going; we know that Crusher Creel (Absorbing Man) will be returning as an adversary. We have seen the origin of the Secret Warriors, with the original three members of Daisy, Lincoln, and Joey, and their first joint action in storming Hydra’s castle in Episodes 9 and 10. Another clip revealed that Alicia, the “multiple woman,” from Season Two, will be returning, and may be joining the existing Secret Warriors. And from press releases, we know another Inhuman will join the team, inspired by the comic book character, Slingshot, or Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez; this character, who has super speed powers, will be played by new cast member Natalia Cordova-Buckley. If you’ve been following the reports about a new ABC pilot called “Marvel’s Most Wanted,” you’ll know that Bobbi and Lance may soon be leaving S.H.I.E.L.D., perhaps not on good terms, and joining adventurer Dominic Fortune (to be played by Delroy Lindo), who shelters them while they try to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that put their lives at risk. How this may affect the rest of Season Three remains to be seen.

It certainly remains to be seen how Fitz and Simmons will reconcile their feelings going forward, and deal with the traumas they have endured. Agent May had to come to terms with the fact that her ex-husband, Andrew, has become a murderous monster, Lash, and is now on the loose. Mack has to grapple with his misgivings about S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans, and Coulson; and after his successful turn as temporary S.H.I.E.L.D. director, it will be interesting to see his role going forward. Daisy has to deal with her new role as head of the Secret Warriors, and also her growing feelings for teammate Luke. And we will see how Coulson handles his own trials and tribulations, and whether or not he can continue to be an effective leader for S.H.I.E.L.D. moving forward. The growing number of Inhumans around the world, the resurgence of Hydra, and the new danger of Hive, all will test S.H.I.E.L.D.’s abilities and its resolve. The characters we have grown to care for are in for some trying–and interesting–times.

“Bouncing Back”

The episode opens with a spaceship in orbit, three months from now. The ship is full of blood and wreckage, and we see a brief glimpse of a S.H.I.E.L.D. shoulder patch. Doom awaits someone.

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As expected, Coulson gets to meet with POTUS this week, and the President wants his help. But memories of the Hydra takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. are still too recent and traumatic for the President to be seen openly working with S.H.I.E.L.D. So, there will be a new head for ATCU, but the President assures Coulson that ATCU will work for S.H.I.E.L.D. behind the scenes. And it turns out that Gideon Malick is like those banks that are too big to fail: he is too powerful in too many nations, and even the President can’t go after him. Furthermore, in a twist, Coulson didn’t want Fitz to revive Rosalind—instead, he wants to put the comatose Von Strucker boy into the TAHITI machine to find out what he knows about Malick and Hydra. They get a lead, which Coulson uses to make (and trace) a direct call to Malick, which forces Malick to close a number of his offices around the world (a major setback for his corporations). Coulson is grim, driven, burdened by his wounds, and as May tells him at the episode’s end, has “joined the Cavalry.” Hopefully, though, this dour period will end, and he will regain his mojo at some point in the season and become the wisecracking Coulson that we all know and love, again.

While Coulson pursues his leads, most of the team (Mack, Daisy, Joey, Hunter and Bobbi) is in Colombia, where someone with extraordinary powers has stolen weapons from the police. At first, they think the thief possesses the power of invisibility, but then they realize they’re dealing with super speed. The woman, Elena, captures Mack, and they try to communicate without a common language. Daisy and the others find them and capture Elena, at which point Joey (who speaks Spanish) is able to talks with her, and finds that she is trying to pursue justice by stealing weapons from corrupt cops. Her powers allow her to move incredibly fast, but after a single heartbeat, she returns to her original position—much, in Mack’s words, like a “yo-yo.” Her cousin is caught disposing of the stolen weapons by Bobbi and Hunter, but they all fall prey to the corrupt cops, who kill the cousin. Because one of the cops is an Inhuman with “Medusa-like” paralysis vision, we’re robbed of a great Bobbi fight scene, and soon it is Bobbi and Hunter who need rescue. The entire team, along with Elena, storm the police station, neutralize the corrupt cops, and destroy their weapons. Just as they manage to capture the Inhuman cop, Hydra arrives, and plucks him from their grasp. This whole sequence was a lot of fun, with plenty of good action and adventure.

In Malick’s Hydra lair, we’re reunited with the creature from Maveth, now in Ward’s reanimated body, regaining its strength by eating lots and lots of raw meat and generally being creepy. At the end, it tells Malick that he will soon believe, and some sort of dust spews out from the creature’s hands. It seems that Malick may not be running things for much longer…

At the end, we get some nice character moments: Elena and Mack bond over their religious faith, but she wants to stay in Colombia to use her powers to fight for good in her own community. He leaves her with the S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent of a Dick Tracy watch, so she can keep in touch and call for help if they need it. (Hopefully, she will get in touch soon, as she is a compelling character with interesting powers and good chemistry with the rest of the team.) The underused Joey doesn’t seem destined to be with the team much longer, deciding he wants to go home. Luke gets the same offer, but wants to stay with Daisy, and they smooch. Fitz and Simmons talk about the gulf between them in a well-acted scene, and decide to start anew, as friends. And Coulson finds out from the President that his new ATCU sidekick will be General Talbot, which offers all sorts of fun possibilities for the future.

In the end, we get a preview of the next episode with lots of super-powered fights going on, and we can’t forget from that initial spaceship scene that doom is awaiting for someone from S.H.I.E.L.D. So there is lots to either look forward to, or to dread, depending on your point of view!

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Final thoughts

Tonight’s episode set up a lot of plot points for the rest of the season, but also managed to tell a good adventure story along the way. The new quasi-legitimate role for S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a lot of sense for the show, as they will still keep their current scrappy underdog role, but also will have some sort of a plausible relationship with other governmental agencies. Yo-Yo was a great new character—her powers are impressive, but can be portrayed without breaking the special effects budget, so it appears she will be back. On the other hand, we must remember that Joey also debuted with much fanfare in the season opener, and now appears to be hanging up his spurs. While Coulson feels like he’s scored a win against Hydra by the end of the episode, he still doesn’t know that Ward now exists as the host for the very threat that they tried to keep on the other side of the portal to Maveth.

Overall, the members of the team interact quite well together, as the actors (and the viewers), now know their various roles. May didn’t have nearly enough to do in this episode, which I hope the writers will soon rectify. I think the best thing about the episode was how it set up a new relationship between Coulson and General Talbot—Adrian Pasdar and Clark Gregg bring out the best in each other, and are always fun to watch.

For those of you who don’t get enough of the Agents from the TV, in January, as part of the recent relaunch of all its titles, Marvel introduced a new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic. While set in the Marvel comic book universe, the comic brings in many of the characters and elements from the TV show onto the page—in the current storyline, we meet a woman named Lola who may (or may not) have inspired the name of Coulson’s beloved flying car. If you are interested in both S.H.I.E.L.D., and in comic books, it is worth checking out.

So let the discussion begin. As in the first half of the season, this post will kick off a discussion I will shepherd throughout the rest of the season. If you’ve registered a Tor.com user account, you will be able to follow the thread using the “My Conversations” feature. Feel free to come back each week and discuss the latest episodes, or share any S.H.I.E.L.D. news you might hear. In the words of the indefatigable Stan Lee, “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 over fifty years ago. He still remembers reading that very first adventure in Strange Tales #135.

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