Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 7, "Chaos Theory" REVIEW (SPOILERS!)

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I think this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Chaos Theory,” might have been the most emotional one to-date.  It saw the payoff of a major plot thread from the first third of the season—which incidentally offered one of the biggest character moments we’ve gotten yet from one of the original cast members.  On the Inhumans and Secret Warriors fronts, this episode also offered some interesting development with a couple of potential new Secret Warriors being set up to join the team in the near future.  Additionally, two more of the major plots of the half-season received very quick and interesting developments near the tail end of the episode.

There was a lot that happened in this episode, so hold on tight!

We start right off the bat with the ramifications of Werner von Strucker’s “dying confession” (he’s in a coma, though, so they could bring him back at some point).  The opening scene is a pair of flashbacks which stand in sharp contrast to each other.  In the first, Andrew and May are enjoying their tropical vacation and May is surprisingly happy.  In the second, Andrew is going through some of Jiaying’s books to try to help S.H.I.E.L.D. understand the Inhumans and the potential threat they pose.  Instead, he opens an old ledger (a genealogy of the Inhumans—Genetics Council Easter Egg?  Maybe, but probably officially unrelated) and sets off a booby trap Jiaying placed in it:  a Terrigen Crystal breaks, and Andrew is exposed and begins to transform.  I like this opening for the contrast it offers between their happiness together and the abrupt end to that happiness when Andrew transforms.  I also like that it places May and Andrew front and center—and this episode is really their story, with everything else tying into it.

In the present, Coulson and Daisy are arguing about the merits of the A.T.C.U.’s containment policy while Andrew/Lash listens in.  Daisy thinks that the A.T.C.U. is completely in the wrong for locking people like her up, but Coulson seems to be sympathetic to Rosalind (I can think of a couple reasons why…).  Coulson and Rosalind are going to brief the President and other leaders on the Inhuman situation, and Coulson wants to have a success story to share (one that’s not Daisy)—and that’s where Joey Gutierrez comes in.  Andrew offers to meet with him to reevaluate him and then send the report to Coulson in time for his meeting with the President.  However, while this is going on, May starts doing some digging of her own and discovers Andrew’s secret.  Evidently she was completely unaware of Lash before now—which actually makes sense since she was with her father at the beginning of the season and then out with Hunter for the rest.  However, she learns from Daisy that Lash can transform into a human, and from Andrew’s flight logs that he was within 30 miles of 5 Inhuman murders.  She goes to the off-site facility where Andrew is meeting Joey to confront him.

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I really liked seeing Joey again, and especially seeing him with more control over his abilities.  He uses his power to melt a file cabinet down and turn it into a smooth, shiny ball of polished metal.  That is far more control that he displayed in “Laws of Nature” (3x01) when everything he touched melted!  I’m glad they decided to progress him along further, since that’s what we should expect after a couple of months have passed, especially since he knows what happened (unlike Daisy last season).  He’s also talking about Daisy’s Secret Warriors and the possibility of doing some good there.  However, in stark contrast to Joey’s apparent control it seems abundantly clear that Andrew is just barely controlling himself.  In fact, he has a sudden and jolting daydream of turning into Lash and putting a hole in Joey’s chest—something which I’ll admit made me jump.  However, just as Andrew was starting to behave erratically and menacingly (was I the only one expecting Andrew to “Lash out” and kill Joey this episode?  I don’t think so), May barges in and orders that they be given privacy.  As soon as Joey and the agents are out of the room, she turns on Andrew with what she knows, demanding to know if it is true.  He starts to panic, and Ices her before he can instinctively transform and kill her.  I think the best part of that scene was the pleading in May’s eyes and voice, almost begging him to tell her that it wasn’t true.  But it was.  And he ran off with her.

Meanwhile, we can pick up with Mack and Lincoln, who are meeting off-books.  Lincoln tells Mack that he believes Lash must be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent because all of his Afterlife friends have been killed.  And because they are all experts at blending into human society, only someone who already knew about them would have been able to hunt them down.  And the only way to know would be to have Jiaying’s ledger.  And S.H.I.E.L.D. has the ledger.  Mack agrees to help him get to the bottom of it.  This seems somewhat contrived as a way to get Lincoln back into the S.H.I.E.L.D. fold, but it does also make a degree of sense.  As far as we know Lincoln, Daisy, and Alisha are the only survivors of Lai Shi/Afterlife, and as far as Lincoln knows the only way for an outsider to find out who they are is by reading Jaiying’s ledger—which S.H.I.E.L.D. has.  And the only agents he can know for a fact are not Lash are the two with whom he fought against Lash at the hospital, Mack and Daisy.  I’m not sure why he wouldn’t go to Daisy, but I wonder if he isn’t trying to protect her after their moment in “A Wanted (Inhu)man” (3x03).  Regardless, at this point this seems like the simplest way to move the plot forward and return Lincoln to S.H.I.E.L.D.

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I really like how high-tech they are making Zephyr One, up to and including the way-out-there docking method for quinjets.  Daisy gives Rosalind a tour of the base, but the two of them immediately come into conflict over the A.T.C.U.’s fear of the unknown and the length to which they are going to fight something they can’t understand and which Daisy does not consider a threat worthy of their level of response.  Of course, Coulson isn’t thrilled that his new partner and surrogate daughter aren’t getting along.  However, Rosalind does seem to be coming around, at least as far as Daisy is concerned.  Naturally, she and Coulson start flirting behind closed doors when she offers to help him tie his tie before his meeting with the President.  However, that has to be put on hold when Mack and Lincoln arrive and they piece together that Andrew must be Lash.  They all fly off together to rescue May and find Andrew.  Oh, and Lincoln drops the bombshell that Andrew doesn’t have the ability to shift between human and Lash forms; his body is still in transition.  Once he finishes transitioning, “Andrew” will be completely gone, replaced by “Lash.”  I can definitely see the build-up to this reveal:  we found out pretty early on that Daisy and Raina’s bodies weren’t feeling quite right after Terrigenesis.  Lincoln explained in “Afterlife” (2x16) that the body goes through a transition period as it adapts to having a thousand years of evolution occur instantaneously.  I can see the progression from this concept to the idea that major physical alterations such as Andrew’s would take a while to fully take hold, considering the degree of difference between Andrew and Lash—on top of everything else, Lash is substantially taller!  And considering the formfitting nature of Inhuman chrysalises on this show, it would make sense that those extreme changes couldn’t occur within those tight confines, unlike the larger, more butterfly-like chrysalises in the comics.

Meanwhile, Andrew is starting to lose himself after taking May to the old Culver University Administration Building.  He does not want to do what he’s doing; he’s doing it because he has to.  He blames everything Lash has done on “instinct,” though I don’t know if “instinct” can account for his refusal to kill Daisy when he had the chance.  He also compares what he does to what May did in Bahrain (I knew that would play a part in this!).  In the end, he is left begging her: “I never gave up on you.  Please don’t give up on me.”  It’s at this point that they kiss and Coulson walks in.

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What follows is easily the most complex set piece of the episode as the A.T.C.U., S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Secret Warriors (Daisy, Mack, and Lincoln) move into position to subdue Andrew/Lash and force him into a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment unit and then move on him.  Lincoln, blind with rage at what Andrew/Lash did to his friends (did no one see this coming?  I mean, seriously) barges into the room where Coulson is trying to talk Andrew in without incident, and accuses him of murder.  Andrew transforms into Lash, and the two of them fight.  All through the following fight I was more-than-half-expecting Lash to kill someone important, but he just barely avoided it every time.  First Mack prevents him from killing Lincoln, then Coulson prevents him from killing Mack.  The A.T.C.U. team arrives just in time to save Coulson, and Rosalind jumps in just in time to save a couple of the A.T.C.U. agents.  Lash drops Rosalind at least three stories, but Daisy uses her powers to catch her above the ground and save her life, which is pretty awesome.  Lash disappears, but he and Lincoln find each other before long, just as a newly-freed May is examining the wreckage of the A.T.C.U. team.  Lincoln and Lash fight again, but May breaks them up by putting herself in front of Lash and appealing to Andrew.  This may be one of her most intense moments, as she literally tells her ex-husband to just kill her and be done with it: she has imagined a lot of different scenarios for her death, but never that she would be killed by Andrew.  All of this has a profound effect on Lash, to the degree that she talks him back into Andrew.  And then before anything else can happen May empties an entire magazine of real bullets into him, pushing him backward into the containment unit, and activates it.  The look on May’s face when she tells Coulson that she didn’t know that shooting Andrew wouldn’t actually kill him pretty much says it all:  she is every bit as torn up and conflicted and devastated by this loss as she was by what happened in Bahrain, and perhaps more so because it’s someone for whom she has real feelings.  All in all, I really liked the intense action and good character drama, particularly with May.  However, I was kind of surprised that Lash didn’t kill anyone we care about!

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Once they are safely away, Rosalind offers May the option of placing Andrew in stasis while they try to find a cure.  May is still pretty shell-shocked and turns to Daisy, who says that she wants them to be able to do something for Andrew after he helped her so much.  I think this scene serves several purposes:  it places Lash in the A.T.C.U.’s control, pays off the stasis gel from the last episode (“Among Us Hide…,” 3x06), and shows Daisy growing to accept the possibility of the stasis gel being a viable option for some Inhumans.  I don’t think this means she’s completely comfortable with what the A.T.C.U.’s been doing—you can see it in her face—but she’s willing to go along with it in extreme cases like Andrew’s.  At the end of the episode, May flies off into the sunset, thinking about Andrew and her lost chance at happiness with tears in her eyes.

I think this episode also gives us the most development to-date in terms of fleshing out the final roster for the Secret Warriors.  There’s of course Daisy, the leader, but we see 3 or 4 other potential members in action as well.  Mack’s been there since the beginning—but I think that at some point Fitz is actually going to design a “shotgun-axe” for him to use!  Joey has gained substantial control over his abilities and seems very much interested in joining the team.  Lincoln is finally in the fold with S.H.I.E.L.D. and doesn’t want to go anywhere.  And May… we don’t really know what May’s doing right now, but it’s always possible she will join the team, though I don’t think it’s likely.  There are 3 episodes left until the midseason finale (assuming they follow last year’s schedule), so we could definitely see a “Secret Warriors 2.0” team in the midseason finale.

Now on to the minor plots.  First up is Bobbi and Hunter, who only received a handful of scenes in this episode.  The gist of their one intimate scene is that Bobbi does not want them to go after Ward again because she doesn’t want to lose Hunter… and she doesn’t want them to lose themselves in revenge.  This offers a major counterpoint to Andrew and May, where Andrew has completely lost himself in Lash’s mission of “curing” the Inhuman outbreak.

The two of them also appear in a scene with Fitz, who is poring over the data from Simmons’ phone to try and find a way back to the planet.  Though Fitz is not the emotional center of this episode—that’s actually May for once—this is still an emotional moment as he is trying to push himself to go through the data, even though there are multiple reminders of Will.  There are a couple of very touching moments where Fitz is listening to her journal entries directed at him and she is talking about all her future hopes with him.  She also mentions that there are a few times when the moons and stars seem to disappear, but I’m not sure the significance of that.  At some point we’ll probably find out.  In the end, Fitz makes a connection between the NASA mission logo and a symbol they saw on the wall of that English castle in “Purpose in the Machine” (3x02).  This leads him to believe that the same group was responsible for both sets of Monolith experimentation.  And perhaps this group will know how to get back to the planet.

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The final minor plot comes at the tail end of the episode when we see Ward and Malick having a meeting.  Malick kind of scoffs at Ward’s apparent missteps with Werner, but in the end he does seem willing to work with Ward.  Ward for his part reveals that his ultimate goal is to “cut off the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., because without Phil Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t grow back.”  That is certainly a worthy aspiration for a Hydra Head, though considering that last time Hydra went after S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson lopped off four heads with a single chainsaw swipe, I don’t know how successful Ward can expect to be, inside knowledge aside.  Besides, without Coulson there are still at least 3 viable replacement Directors in May, Daisy, and Weaver.  Oh, and Fury’s still around.  However, the plot thickens when it is revealed that Rosalind is at least in communication with Malick.  At this point we don’t know if she’s working for him, knows his nefarious purposes, or just thinks he’s an important government leader; it looks like we will find that out next week.  However, that will definitely be hard on Coulson, since the two of them are now sleeping together!

Overall I really enjoyed this episode.  It paid off some major developments in good ways.  I especially liked how this episode focused so heavily on May and her reaction to discovering that Andrew is a “monster” who is killing Inhumans.  Even if you saw that plot twist coming last week, May’s reaction still made it worth it.  This episode did a decent job of furthering all the major plots of this half-season and tying them together quite well.  However, it still felt like most of the characters—thinking especially Bobbi and Hunter—didn’t have their stories done justice.  It all tied together well, but I really prefer having a few less plots given a lot more development.  Hopefully Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will find a way to conclude several of these plots this half-season and focus in a little more on a smaller number in the second half.  Also, I can’t wait for the spinoff to start, since I’m sure that will cut back the number of characters and plots for each series.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you think there’s too much going on in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season?  What is your ideal Secret Warriors roster?  Personally, I like the one we have (Daisy, Mack, Lincoln, Joey), with the addition of Alisha and Deathlok, though that seems a bit Inhuman-heavy. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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