Friday, April 15, 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 16, "Paradise Lost" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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First off, I should apologize for not publishing this review much earlier.  Unfortunately, my Tuesday night meeting ran extremely late and we were unable to even watch the episode until Wednesday… and even at that we couldn’t watch it until the evening.  So I am writing this review on Thursday and I will publish it on Friday morning.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to the episode.

“Paradise Lost” is a surprisingly fitting title for this episode… and I’m ashamed to admit that the book wasn’t my first thought when ABC revealed that title.  In this episode we learn more about three of the most underdeveloped characters in the series, and all three benefit greatly from the development and back story.  We also discover a possible method by which the villain can be defeated—something that’s getting to be really important as we get closer and closer to that epic 2-hour season finale that’s just a little over a month away!  There are three plots going on in this episode which do not connect beyond themes, but it never feels jumbled or confused; I think that losing two characters and their attendant character dynamics/subplots has something to do with that!  All in all this is a very good episode, but it is pretty clear that it is acting as setup for next week’s episode.

We start off by peeling back the layers of Gideon Malick’s character in a flashback to shortly after his father’s death in 1970.  At the same time we are also introduced to another Malick brother, Nathaniel (who hasn’t appeared or been mentioned so far, which was enough for me to guess where this was going).  The two of them are summoned to meet with the still-incarcerated Daniel Whitehall, who tries to recruit them to his science-based Hydra arm, rather than their belief-based Hydra arm.  They refuse, however, despite his revelation that their father was actually afraid of being selected as the “Traveler” to go through the portal and that the proof could be found in his copy of Paradise Lost.  The boys return home, where Nathaniel looks in Paradise Lost and discovers a white stone with a chip in it, which their father would swap out for the one in the bag so he could always be sure of not taking the white stone.  The boys’ faith is shaken, but they agree to be better men than their father and Gideon throws the stone into the pond.  In reality, he throws a duplicate and keeps the chipped one, which he uses during the next day’s ceremony.  Unfortunately, in the end there are only two rocks remaining for the two boys, and Gideon takes the black one, leaving the white one for his brother, who is devastated by the betrayal.  This flashback does a lot to fill in gaps in our understanding of the interconnection between the Hydra we saw in the movies (which followed Red Skull) and the “Ancient Hydra” which Malick represents.  The two groups do know about each other, but the Nazi organization looks down on the ritual sacrifice of the other as mere superstition.  This also offers an “out” for Baron Zemo never mentioning Hive’s return to Earth:  He just plain doesn’t care because he’s a follower of Red Skull’s ideals, rather than those of the Malick family.

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There is a continuity question raised by Whitehall’s appearance in this episode:  namely, how does it fit with “The Things We Bury” (2x08), where it appears that he had no knowledge that Hydra had survived the fall of Nazi Germany?  It’s a fairly straight-forward answer, but my opinion is that this episode shows Whitehall remaining active within the imprisoned Hydra.  However, he is still locked up because there’s nothing exciting for him to do on the other side.  When he is released, he asks “After all these years, why now?”  And the answer isn’t that Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., but that they have found the woman.  As another note, Reinhardt/Whitehall isn’t overly surprised by the revelation that Hydra has been under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s protection.

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From here we can jump right into Hive’s revelation of himself to the other members of Malick’s group of “Ancient Hydra” believers.  He visits Malick’s mansion and calls a meeting at which he reveals his true form to those present.  We don’t get to see his face—we just see the transformation and the back of his head—but it’s definitely not a bad effect.  It’s not exactly movie-quality (though there are movies with much worse effects!), but it definitely makes me think that there’s a thing with Medusa hair standing in Malick’s dining room wearing a Matrix-style trench coat.  Malick, however, is not happy with Hive’s proximity, as the vision he saw in the previous episode was (unsurprisingly) his own death at the hands of Hive.  He believes that Hive retains the memories of his previous hosts, one of whom was Nathaniel, and that because of this he knows that Malick feared death and feared being chosen.  He believes this will come back to haunt him when Hive executed him to make an example.  Malick’s fear in this episode is certainly justified, and it is some of Powers Booth’s best acting so far (in my opinion), as he isn’t a power-tripping businessman trying to make his dreams come true anymore; he’s seen something that really makes him afraid.

The twist at the end of the episode was really well done, especially after how well they built up Hive’s subtle hints that he knew what Malick had done and was going to punish him and after watching Malick’s terror throughout.  In the end, instead of killing Gideon Malick, Hive elects to give Stephanie Malick (Gideon’s beloved daughter who’s entire character arc has been “I want to meet him” and “He’s hot”) a literal “Kiss of Death” and murders her to teach Gideon the true meaning of sacrifice.  This actually shatters Malick more than his brother’s selection or even his contemplation of his own mortality had.  And I really wasn’t expecting it!

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Paradise Lost gives us a good jumping-off point to talk about Lincoln and Daisy’s plot in which they visit an Afterlife (untransformed) Inhuman who may have information about Hive.  James is basically introduced as an Australian badass who’s kind of a jerk and landmines his front yard just in case he gets visitors.  He’s not a fan of Jiaying or her group because she refused to let him pass through the Terrigen Mist.  However, for unexplained reasons he broke into Afterlife’s archives and started hunting for information about an ancient Inhuman who would be the “Second Coming.”  He gives them a Kree orb which is somehow connected to Hive, and also explains to them exactly who Hive is.  According to James, Hive was one of the first Inhumans, specifically created by the Kree to serve as their General who would lead the Inhumans (presumably in the MCU equivalent of the Kree-Skrull War).  His power allows him to control Inhumans directly, simplifying the process of planning and executing a battle.  However, Hive led the first Inhumans to revolt against the Kree and drive them from the Earth.  Unfortunately, the Inhumans themselves grew to fear his power and allied with regular humans to defeat Hive and banish him to the other end of space.

And that’s where the Paradise Lost metaphor comes in, with Hive literally taking the place of Satan in the story.  Hive is created as a great leader who could serve his creators but rebels against them, perhaps because it is “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (Satan’s motivation in Paradise Lost).  However, his coup is short-lived as he (like Satan) is sent into exile in part due to his actions. This may also point to Hive’s “fatal flaw,” which could be his pride:  he “teaches” Malick the meaning of sacrifice, but does not believe that this action will have any negative consequences for him personally.

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Armed with this knowledge, Lincoln and Daisy return to their quinjet, but Daisy also needs clarification on another point before they can continue:  James revealed that Lincoln almost killed his last girlfriend—what does that mean?  Lincoln explains that all Inhuman descendants feel an emptiness within them which can only be filled by learning of their heritage—I feel completely justified in comparing this to Augustine’s Confessions, where he says that man is made for God, and “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”  This “emptiness” or “restlessness” drove Skye (Daisy pre-transformation) to search for her parents and it drove Lincoln to drink.  His then-girlfriend wanted to make him a better person, but he wouldn’t listen.  One night he drank far too much and got behind the wheel.  She followed, and she was nearly killed when he wrapped the car around a pole.  Gordon appeared at that moment, and the Inhumans saved both their lives and brought Lincoln back to Afterlife, where they gave him purpose and meaning.  I find the idea of “emptiness” being an indicator that one might be Inhuman to be fascinating, because it actually helps to ground the series in reality, where there are people who search for meaning in all the wrong places.  I don’t know if this is the entire story of Lincoln’s history, but it would explain a lot of the clues they’ve left for us.

The final plot in the episode involves Coulson taking the rest of the team to investigate Malick’s hostile takeover of Transia.  They discover that the one selling point of Transia over Malick’s own company is their agrochemical facility, which is doing some frontline research.  Coulson and the rest go to investigate, but arrive too late as Giyera has already led a team in scrubbing the facility.  Fitz and Simmons are able to find a few things which help them figure out that the facility was doing research on invasive species and Hydra wanted the research buried.  It seems like a safe bet that something in this research will prove vital in ultimately defeating Hive—or at least in “un-Hiving” Inhumans who have been added to the Hive mind.

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While they are there, Giyera returns to confront them, and Coulson and May set up a trap for him, in which Coulson leads Giyera into an empty room where May can fight him.  The choreography for their fight is quite impressive (of course, the fighting on this show generally is), and shows off both characters’ respective abilities.  In the end, however, May is able to knock him out long enough for S.H.I.E.L.D. to place him in a containment pod.  Unfortunately, they left a few things in the pod, like a seatbelt which Giyera is able to use to force the pod doors open while they are in flight.  Giyera fights his way to the cockpit past Fitz, Mack, and Coulson (whose prosthetic hand he is able to control), where he uses his power to force Zephyr One into a forced landing in a Hydra facility in the Netherlands.  May is barely able to get out a distress call to Daisy before Giyera knocks her out.

Daisy and Lincoln receive the distress call and Daisy starts to panic because their entire team was on Zephyr One.  However, Lincoln suggests that she needs to activate the Secret Warriors Initiative to rescue them.  Daisy doesn’t think the Secret Warriors are ready, but accepts that they don’t have much choice.  I do think they have a choice here—S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t what it once was, but it’s still got more agents out there than just Coulson’s A-Team—but given the threat they are facing it doesn’t surprise me that Daisy wouldn’t be thrilled about sending regular agents to take on Hive and his team!  And in any event this is really just giving us an excuse for this:
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I think I can give them a pass if it means “Secret Warriors, Assemble!”

Overall I really enjoyed this episode.  The surprise death of Stephanie Malick was quite well executed, especially as I was expecting her to become a little more important than that!  There wasn’t a ton of action in this episode beyond the Giyera scenes and Daisy and Lincoln double-teaming James (which was cool), but the character development more than made up for it.  I feel like I understand Hive, Malick, and Lincoln much better after this episode.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you like the reveal that Hive was originally created as the Kree’s Inhuman General?  Were you surprised by the death?  Let me know in the comments!

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