Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 9, "Closure" REVIEW (SPOILERS!)

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You know, I’m kind of tempted not to publish a review of “Closure” (3x09), because I only review an episode after I’ve seen the whole thing, and clearly this episode still isn’t over!  I think we can safely say that this episode is one of—if not the—biggest cliffhanger of the entire series.  In fact, I kind of think that “Closure” and “Maveth” (3x10) could just as easily be the 2 halves of a TV movie as 2 separate TV episodes.  But this is just a review of the first half, which contains some wild twists en route to that cliffhanger ending.

The episode begins with Coulson and Rosalind enjoying a nice dinner from Coulson’s (and I think Rosalind’s) favorite burger joint.  It is so sweet to see that Coulson’s accusations—to say nothing of the revelation that Rosalind’s A.T.C.U. really was infiltrated by Hydra—did not get in the way of Coulson finding happiness with Rosalind.  After all, they spent no less than eight episodes demonstrating that Rosalind is Coulson’s equal in every way:  intelligence, spycraft, retro memorabilia…  And Coulson is even worried about her going back into the A.T.C.U. to get answers from Malick about Hydra and the Inhumans he’s taken.  This is such an adorable opening, that it’s possible to forget what series this is—and who the showrunners are!  Fortunately, the Whedons make sure this doesn’t last too long:  glass breaks, and suddenly Rosalind is breathing through an extra hole in her neck.  Boom!

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We don’t have to wait long to find out who shot her; I like the shot following the bullet’s trajectory back to everyone’s favorite ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent—and current sociopath—Grant Ward looking through a sniper rifle scope.  The cinematography definitely reminded me of the farm scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine with Agent Zero, but it’s a hundred times better because we know all three characters involved intimately, know exactly what’s going on, and actually care about the character who died and why the one killed the other (and for the record, I called that it was Ward as soon as I saw the length of the shot).  Ward of course calls Coulson to gloat while Coulson is still in shock and horror at watching Rosalind die in his arms.  And then Ward sends a bunch of Hydra thugs to take him out—Malick later called them Ward’s “Bones Brigade,” which I’m assuming is a reference to the skateboarding team of the same name.  The scene of Coulson fighting his way out of the apartment is pretty cool, and probably Coulson’s biggest action sequence of the season.  Mack shows up just in time to rescue Coulson from Hydra and return him to S.H.I.E.L.D., where he absolutely implodes on himself in grief.  I love the scenes in this episode where instead of showing us what’s happening, they show us people’s reactions to what’s happening while we listen to it.  The two I noticed were Coulson trashing his office in grief while everyone listens from downstairs and Fitz listening to Ward torture Simmons.  Both times it was a much more powerful and effective way to tell the story than simply showing what was going on.

At this point Coulson goes completely nuts.  He starts interrogating the original members of the team to find out anything they know about Ward which he can exploit.  We learn a few things from these scenes, and it is fun to watch all the original team members reflect on their experiences with Ward in the first season.  However, the keys are that Ward viewed Fitz like a little brother to protect and that Daisy believes he kills not because he feels nothing but because he feels too much.  This gives Coulson an idea of a weakness to exploit:  Thomas Ward, the third Ward brother.  He leaves Mack as acting director while he, Hunter, and Bobbi go on a mission to track Ward down.  I like that before they leave Coulson goes a little nuts on Hunter, deflecting blame for Rosalind’s death onto him before acknowledging he blames himself for not killing Ward while he was in their custody.  All these little scenes of Coulson grieving really help to flesh out his character, particularly in regard to Rosalind.  The three of them track down Thomas Ward and we learn from him that Ward used to protect him from their family, but that he changed after throwing him down into the well.  While talking to Coulson on the phone, Ward shows himself to be incredibly protective of Thomas, despite everything they’ve been through, including Thomas changing his name to hide from him.  Ultimately, Coulson uses Thomas to keep Ward on the phone long enough to trace Ward’s location.  However, this is where everything starts to go to hell.

Meanwhile at S.H.I.E.L.D., Banks—Rosalind’s second-in-command—is explaining his and Rosalind’s history with Malick, in the hopes that the information will lead to the man responsible for Rosalind’s death.  However, I have to admit that I was really suspicious of him from the moment Rosalind got shot, because it seemed like he was the only person outside of the immediate members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team (whom I tend to trust) who knew that Rosalind was on to Malick—I assumed he was the leak who told Ward and Malick.  So when he led a S.H.I.E.L.D. team to the Distant Star facility, a NASA installation associated with the Pathfinder mission (which Rosalind and Banks were both aware of, though the funding came from an independent source, Gideon Malick) and suddenly shot them all, I assumed that he was the leak.  However, that expectation was turned on its head when the gun levitated out of his hand, turned around, and shot him in the head.  It turns out that Giyera, a.k.a. “Discount Magneto,” a.k.a. “The Chairman,” was there and controlling Banks’ handgun.  He and Hydra capture Fitz and Simmons, who are with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, and bring them to Hydra.  I am impressed by how well this series has been disguising its reveals lately, though it does seem like there are too many where the obvious choice is wrong; I wonder if they shouldn’t turn it on its head and let the obvious choice be correct for once, just to catch us off-guard!

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Ward and Malick want to use Fitz and Simmons to figure out how Simmons returned from the planet and how they can bring their Inhuman leader back.  In order to do so, Ward demonstrates just how stone-cold he can be.  He allows Giyera to torture Simmons while Fitz has to listen (without being able to see), as a way to soften him up and make him more susceptible to Ward’s “persuasion.”  (Fun Easter egg:  Ward comments on Simmons’ “Furiosa vibe,” a reference to Charlize Theron’s character in Max Max: Fury Road).  Finally Fitz decides that he’s had enough of listening to the woman he loves being tortured:  he needs to make it stop by going along with Hydra’s plan.  I found this whole plot fascinating for the insight it gave us into Fitz and Simmons, as well as the accurate portrayal of this type of interrogation technique:  Ward’s goal was never to turn Simmons; the whole thing was directed at Fitz, because it is harder to listen to someone being tortured—especially someone you love—than it is to endure torture yourself.  When considered in these terms, it makes perfect sense that Fitz would agree to help Hydra.

Ward and Malick have an interesting dynamic in this episode.  Malick doesn’t like Ward’s single-minded focus on getting revenge against Coulson; he sees his as a much higher purpose than that.  His purpose is to return “IT” from the planet and fulfill Hydra’s millennia-long mission.  As an interesting aside, this episode seems to suggest that Malick—and now Ward—is the only Head of Hydra left who understands the original purpose of Hydra, because he has all five mini-Monoliths.  Considering that they seemed to be symbolic of Hydra’s true mission, the fact that he has them all would suggest that no one else is left who knows.  He mentions Alexander Pierce and John Garrett as other Hydra leaders he considered bringing on-board, but that the only leader he saw as being of the right mindset and forward-thinking vision was Ward himself.  Malick even goes so far as to call Ward “the best soldier we [Hydra] ever made” as a way to “encourage” him into leading their team to the other planet.  Ultimately Ward agrees, which I think suggests that he is now viewing Malick as a father-figure along the same lines as Garrett.  I really like all the information this gives us about Hydra, and especially about Malick.  We really don’t know very much about him, but we do know that he is a master manipulator, if he is able to manipulate Ward even when Ward knows he’s being manipulated!

In more set-up for the midseason finale, Mack is having trouble with his role as acting director, as he does not know how to respond to Coulson’s impending offensive against Hydra, considering that they lost the element of surprise, they are outmanned and outgunned, and they do not have time to put together a plan.  Ultimately, Mack clears Lincoln and Joey for service on the Secret Warriors, and takes as many S.H.I.E.L.D. resources as he has available to attack Hydra.  Though we do not get to see the “Secret Warriors 2.0” (I was right about the basics, though we have not seen Alisha or Deathlok thus far) in action this episode, it’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ll see them in action next episode.  Also, Mack gives Joey and Lincoln a hell of a motivational speech:  “Either you fight, or you let them win.”  At this point, they leave to fly into battle against Hydra.

The episode ends with Ward leading a Hydra squad and Fitz through the portal (created by the 5 mini-Monoliths) to the other planet.  And just before the portal closes, Coulson jumps out of the quinjet and dives through the portal.  The final shots are of Ward leading his squad through a sandstorm while Coulson tumbles down a hill and hits his head on a rock at the bottom.

It is pretty much certain that this episode is serving as a massive set-up for an epic midseason finale, and I really can’t wait for it.  In terms of a distinct plot for this episode, the best I can think of is Coulson’s reaction to Rosalind’s murder—it drives him to all kinds of extremes.  However, even more important than that is that this really serves as the first half of what could very easily turn out to be a TV movie which will see the formation of a new superhero team to face off against an opponent who will likely have them colossally outmatched.  Everything in this episode is designed to build anticipation for next week, and I really don’t think it disappoints!

What did you think of this episode?  What do you most want to see next week?  Do you want to see any more characters added to the Secret Warriors?  Let me know in the comments!

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