Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 Premiere, "Laws of Nature" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back!  I’ve been excited for this ever since the season 2 finale, and I have to say, I don’t think it disappointed at all.  Like I said in last week’s “MCU Review,” I thought that the opening sequence was extremely well done.  The effects were excellent all through the episode, the acting was very good, and the character interactions believable.  It definitely felt like we missed a few steps in a few of these relationships, but I’m going to assume that they will be filling in a lot of those blanks over the first 3 or 4 episodes.

The one thing I’m definitely going to say up front, however, is that a lot of things did not go the way I expected.

The episode begins with a new Inhuman named Joey discovering his powers even as he is discovered by the Advanced Threat Containment Unit.  Just as they are about to either bring him in or put him down, however, their team experiences a very localized “Quake” (rimshot) as S.H.I.E.L.D. steps in to rescue him.  We also get our first look at some of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. tech:  Daisy’s gauntlets, the adaptive pod they put Joey in, Zephyr One (the giant Quinjet), and even Coulson’s (third) prosthetic arm.

Joey is an interesting character, and I can see some possibilities for why they decided to make S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first rescued new Inhuman gay:  he has already had one life-altering secret which he was hiding.  However, when he “came out of the closet,” it changed his life—and he thinks for the better.  I can definitely see them working this angle as an alternative viewpoint for why these Inhuman powers may actually be a good thing.  And they did give that exact payoff at the end of the episode when Joey tells Daisy that he’d had to live with a secret whose revelation improved his life and Daisy responds that the world is not ready for this particular secret to be revealed.  However, I do have concerns with this.  For one thing, is this going to turn into “LGBT Preaching Hour”?  Nothing in the history of Marvel Studios or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would lead me to think that, but you never know.  And even if it doesn’t, it could still become a little too heavy-handed.  Regardless, the fact that Bobbi got all her information about Joey from looking at his Facebook page was really funny.  Remember, kids:  whatever you put on Facebook is fair game for covert government organizations to look at!

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Early on we also meet one of the major “villains” (I’m still not sure if the A.T.C.U. is a true villain) and get to know a little more about them in this episode.  I found the entire slow reveal of what the A.T.C.U. is to be very interesting and very well done.  At first they are a government-ish agency of some sort which is trying to keep the “alien threat” contained—one which is willing to use lethal force if necessary.  They are scary, but only because we don’t know them and don’t know their intentions.  However, that perception changes extremely quickly when Price is shown in her facility looking into a morgue full of bodies being dissected—that is exactly what Hydra (or at least Whitehall, List, and Strucker) would be doing in this situation!  Is the A.T.C.U. some sort of Hydra group?  Hunter answers that question very quickly:  they are not Hydra, or at least they are not using the money in the flagged Hydra accounts.  That’s not exactly reassuring, though.  Coulson and Bobbi also discover that “Price” has worked for just about every government agency with initials (thank you, Burn Notice), and all under different aliases.  Does that mean that “Rosalind Price” is just an alias that she is using?  If that’s the case then my “Abigail Brand” theory is still alive, though she does not seem anything like Brand.  Regardless, that deception and (potential) espionage would suggest that she is up to no good and that her organization is also up to no good.  So when Coulson and Hunter confront her and she turns the tables on them, it becomes abundantly clear that she has resources and definitely poses a major threat.  However, when she demands to know why Coulson has been killing the new Inhumans, it really throws us—and especially Coulson—for a loop.  Suddenly the A.T.C.U. goes from an organization which is killing and dissecting to an organization which has been cleaning up the wreckage left behind by someone who has been executing new Inhumans.  I was kind of expecting Coulson and Price to come to some sort of cooperative agreement at that point, but I suppose we couldn’t be so lucky; after all, it took almost half a season for Coulson and Talbot to agree to work together.  By the end of the episode we think we know that the A.T.C.U. is not killing people to dissect them, but we definitely know just how high this goes:  at least as high as the President of the United States (the same one from Iron Man 3), who parrots her words at a press conference—“the laws of nature have changed, and until the laws of man change to reflect that we can only do what we think is right.”

It may have gotten lost in everything else, but Price revealed something else:  there are more new Inhumans out there which neither group has recovered.  I don’t think the A.T.C.U. has actually found any who were alive; the only ones they have are those killed by Lash.  S.H.I.E.L.D. has only recovered Joey.  Presumably, all of the other living Inhumans have been “recruited” by Lash—just like in the comics, he’s building his own Inhuman group.

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However, Coulson’s conversation with Price only serves to build up to the biggest reveal of the episode:  Lash.  Daisy and Mack are having a conversation with Lincoln, it gets heated, and the lights start flickering—and Lincoln isn’t doing it.  The three of them run out to the hospital entrance and are confronted by the monstrous, hulking form of Lash, who executes a hospital security guard with a beam of energy from his palm.  I thought the effect for his energy beam was really good—though he is depowered substantially (in the comics he straight-up disintegrates people)—and the makeup was incredibly bestial.  We didn’t see it in the light that much, but what we saw was good.  According to the showrunners, they were trying to make him look as animalistic and non-human as possible, and I definitely think they succeeded; he looks less human than even his comic counterpart.  The fight between Lash and Daisy, Lincoln, and Mack was decent for the use of powers, though I’m expecting that before long we will see much more impressive battles between powered combatants on this series.  I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Lash over the course of the season or half-season.  We didn’t get to know anything about him in this episode, so hopefully his future appearances will explain more about his story.

There were a lot of smaller character moments throughout the episode, probably too many to recount.  Bobbi and Hunter were not on speaking terms for most of the episode, and it turned out that Bobbi had asked for her wedding band back.  Their relationship seems to be on the mend—better than ever—and they are even talking about remarriage.  However, Hunter doesn’t want to take that leap until he’s put Ward into the ground.  He seems even more hell-bent on killing Ward than May was last season!

Now that Simmons is gone everyone has pretty much moved on except for Fitz, with Bobbi taking Simmons’ place in the lab (she is a biologist like her comic counterpart).  Bobbi and Fitz don’t have nearly the rapport of Fitz and Simmons, but Bobbi is covering for Fitz’ frequent trips around the world searching for answers about Simmons’ disappearance.  One of these trips brings him to a terrorist group in Morocco, with whom he made a deal to acquire a scroll in exchange for a briefcase of Splinter Bombs.  Did anyone else find themselves thinking that Fitz really was desperate enough to give Splinter Bombs to terrorists?  I kinda did.  In the end he only gets one word from the scroll:  מות  (“mooth” (v.) or “maweth” (n.)), which is Hebrew for “death.”  Coulson tells him that he needs to move on, despite how difficult it is, and he even explains what happened to May, his “right hand.”  Fitz seems to accept it, but after Coulson leaves he takes a shotgun, breaks into the Monolith containment box, and starts pounding on it, demanding answers.  I thought that Fitz’ reaction to everything that had happened was incredible.  We’ve seen Fitz go over the top a couple of times on this series, but this one by far took the cake.  The character moments with Fitz and Coulson were also really interesting for the insight they gave us into Coulson’s character.

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Lincoln and Mack had a major confrontation, but it felt to me as though this wasn’t their first one.  Last we saw of them, Mack was knocking Lincoln out cold on the aircraft carrier, so they weren’t on the best of terms—but that’s not enough to get to this point.  From the context, S.H.I.E.L.D. had already tried multiple times to recruit Lincoln, but every time he refused.  And who can blame him?  The way he was talking sounded exactly like a disillusioned cult member who has rejected everything that the cult stood for.  He put his trust in Jiaying, but she led him astray.  What she said about the Inhumans was not wrong—their gifts can absolutely be beautiful and good—but the end result of her campaign against S.H.I.E.L.D. broke Lincoln’s faith in everything she’d told him.  Now he wants to forget about his Inhuman heritage and build a new life.  But now that his secret is out and both Lash and the A.T.C.U. are looking for him, I am very curious to see what will happen next.  I still think that he will end up with S.H.I.E.L.D. sooner or later, but I wonder if the A.T.C.U. won’t capture him and coerce him into working for them first.

Oh, and after the last commercial break they showed Simmons trying to escape from some pursuers on an alien planet.  It’s unclear when this happened—whether right now or when she first arrived on the planet months earlier—but it does clear up one question:  the Monolith is some sort of portal.  Next week we will probably find out where it leads.

Everything in this episode really felt like it needed to be there—even the quick little asides about Ward and May.  The Fitz-Simmons subplot was important for how it set up next week’s episode.  They needed to get in those little character moments between Bobbi and Hunter and Daisy and Lincoln.  Even those quick references to Sokovia and Pym Technologies made sense in the context.  But it still felt like too much.  Admittedly they did have to establish how much had happened since the season 2 finale:  new Inhumans are starting to emerge at an increasing rate, multiple groups are after them, S.H.I.E.L.D. has new toys, everyone but Fitz has moved on.  They also needed to show where the key relationships stood and where the absent characters were.  It even made sense for them to show the simulation of the spread of Terrigen through the ecosystem:  less than 18 months after the carrier battle the planet will be covered (not exactly Terrigen Bomb-fast, but still…), and well before that there will be major incidents all over the world.

It all felt like it was necessary, but it also felt like they didn’t have enough time to devote to any of the minor subplots and the time they did give to those could have been used filling out the major ones.  And that is not a knock against Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; any series with this many main characters would struggle with trying to give them all their fair share. That is why I am glad that Marvel and ABC are moving forward with Marvel’s Most Wanted:  it will give them another avenue for some of these subplots (particularly with Hunter and Bobbi) and allow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to devote a little more time to their own plots and characters.  Hopefully in the meantime Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will reduce the number of subplots by half for the non-premiere/finale episodes.

All in all, I am very excited that this show is back and that it is devoting so much energy to establishing the Inhumans, who will pay dividends down the line all through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I can’t wait to see how this season will shape up.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you think that there are too many characters for a single series?  What new Inhumans do you want to see?  Where do you think Simmons is?  Let me know in the comments!

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  1. How was Joey able to board the jet or be transported to it when any metal in his vicinity melts.

    1. I was confused at first also, but Bobbi explained it fairly early on. Essentially, the pod that the placed him in is made from a special kind of adaptive material. This allows the pod to adapt to whatever abilities the new Inhuman possesses: his pod adapted to his metal-melting ability (somehow) so it doesn't melt. And until he learns to control this ability, he will be staying in the pod 24 hours a day.

      It's kind-of a "the wizard did it" explanation, but it kinda makes sense since SHIELD developed all these new toys between the seasons, all of which were specifically designed to help them with the new Inhumans.