Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 20, "Emancipation" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Overall, the penultimate episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 (counting the 2-hour finale as a single episode) definitely did its due diligence in setting events into motion for the season finale.  The battle lines between the two sides are drawn.  Hive’s plan is now in perfect focus.  If Hive succeeds, it is clear that that would mean the end of the world—or at least the end of the human race’s dominance on this planet!

At the same time, “Emancipation” also succeeded in presenting the natural tie-in between Captain America: Civil War and this show.  It made perfect sense in the context of the show, and the position taken by Coulson and his team fits with both what we know of their characters and the events of the show.  It isn’t as game-changing as the Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in from 2 years ago, but it does set S.H.I.E.L.D. on a new path moving forward as they consider how best to address the government’s desire to register and document all enhanced individuals.

This episode does just about everything it needs to do, and it does it all quite well.

Warning:  There are spoilers for both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America: Civil War in this review.

The episode opens with a news report of Captain America’s disappearance after his “public feud” with Tony Stark and the Avengers—I’m still not entirely sure when this takes place within the narrative of Captain America: Civil War, but my guess is shortly after the U.N. bombing.  Of course, the “public feud” could just as easily refer to the climactic battle between the two teams of Avengers.  Ultimately, that isn’t quite as important as the conversation between May and Coulson, as well as Coulson’s discussion with General Talbot.

May does not want the government getting in the way and using the Sokovia Accords to “hamstring” their ability to counter Hive’s plans.  And this really does come out all through the episode:  S.H.I.E.L.D. can handle Hive; all they need from the government is room to operate.

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Talbot, however, does not want to accept this as an answer at first.  He is there to meet Coulson because the President believes that S.H.I.E.L.D. has “undocumented enhanced assets” working for them, and he wants these assets to be documented in conformity with the Sokovia Accords.  Coulson, however, does not want to document the Inhumans for several reasons.  In the first place, S.H.I.E.L.D. operates in the shadows, not the spotlight, and bringing registration into the mix would force them into the spotlight alongside the Avengers.  When Coulson introduces Talbot to Elena, they reveal their second reason for not registering:  the registration can be misused if it falls into the wrong hands.  If anyone in Colombia discovered that Elena is an Inhuman, she and her entire family could face reprisals because of her actions against government corruption.  Talbot doesn’t think that would happen; Elena thinks he’s na├»ve.  Coulson next brings him to visit Lincoln, who is still locked up in isolation after trashing his immune system last week.  Lincoln is clearly going stir-crazy and all-but-begs Talbot to get him out of there in exchange for agreeing to be registered—Coulson rejects it.  Finally, Coulson brings him to the containment pod where they have been keeping Lash, a.k.a. “Rasta-Hulk,” ever since he transformed for good.

Things take an interesting turn when Talbot asks to know where Daisy is and reveals that the U.S. Military actually saw satellite footage of her in Hive’s village with Hive himself.  Coulson finally agrees to “read in” Talbot on the Hive situation—it’s pretty funny when Talbot refuses to believe that the “devil” is real and he’s an Inhuman.  That’s something that I really appreciate in this episode:  Talbot’s banter with Coulson.  In general Talbot serves as the straight-man for all Coulson’s wisecracks, but every so often he gets a good line.  Talbot quickly accepts that Coulson is actually serious about the potentially-global threat posed by Hive and proposes taking the situation away from S.H.I.E.L.D. and letting the Military go in and bomb Hive to pieces.  Coulson’s response is pretty much the answer to why this show exists:  “By the time they believe you, it will be too late.”  Simply put, S.H.I.E.L.D. exists to protect people from the weird things they would never believe, and that even includes the military.  And that is why Coulson refuses to align S.H.I.E.L.D. under the Accords:  oversight would slow them down.  All Coulson needs from Talbot is time and leeway to act.  But Talbot doesn’t want to give it to him.

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Granted, you can definitely see why Talbot wouldn’t want to leave Coulson to his own devices:  while Talbot is on the base, Daisy actually breaks Lincoln out of his room using her hacking skills.  Lincoln has been cooped up and longing to see Daisy ever since she was turned by Hive, so it isn’t exactly much of a stretch to think that he would want to escape and join her (without Hive).  It’s actually pretty cool how Daisy can use her knowledge of the base systems to get Lincoln out without him confronting more agents than the one guy assigned to guard his door.  However, as soon as the team realizes that he’s out, they start searching for him, and Mack finds him in the quinjet hangar where Daisy is waiting to hijack the jet’s autopilot and fly her to him.  Lincoln and Mack have a very quick fight as Mack tries to stop him, but Lincoln of course electrifies himself and shocks Mack.

And this is when the biggest twist of the episode comes in:  Lincoln was playing Daisy the whole time!  He, May, and Coulson allowed Daisy to hack in and break him out, but when she activated the quinjet, he wasn’t on board; instead, it’s Lash that will meet Hive at his new base.  This gives us a really good sequence as Lash fights Hive and we see that his powers are actually a perfect counter to Hive.  His energy beam completely disintegrates the parasites that Hive attacks him with, and he cuts a hole through Hive’s chest instantly.  However, Lash’s purpose here is not to destroy Hive as we initially assumed.  Rather, Lash leaves Hive lying on the ground and goes to save Daisy, who just came out to stop him from killing Hive.  Lash knocks Daisy to the ground and puts his hand over her chest.  But instead of killing her, he actually purifies her by removing all the parasites from her.  It’s not entirely clear exactly how the process works, but my guess is that he can kind of sense the parasites and attack them individually.  Daisy is freed, but while Lash is distracted, James returns and puts a hole through Lash’s chest with his flaming chain(!), killing him.  Fortunately, Daisy is still able to escape and return to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the stolen quinjet.

While I did enjoy the fight between Lash and Hive, I thought it was a little too small, particularly with Lash having been built up as such a powerful antagonist.  In comparison to what I was hoping for, the fight was just over too quickly.  Perhaps I would have been more satisfied if they’d pulled out something new for Hive so that he had more of a chance against Lash.

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The major Hive plot for the episode focused on his continued attempts to recreate the experiment that created him.  He and James lure a group of the Watchdogs (remember them?) into a trap where James takes them down by channeling his fire through a chain.  They bring the Watchdogs back to base and lock them in a storage container.  Dr. Radcliff pumps his new compound formed from Daisy’s blood, Terrigen, and Hive’s parasites into the container, where it succeeds in transforming the Watchdogs.  And what happens?  The “Alpha” test of the compound produces a group of “Primitive” abominations which are utterly stupid, blindly loyal, and super strong.  In other words, Hive created the Alpha Primitives!  I thought this was a cool direction for them to take with Hive’s plan:  He doesn’t exactly want the humans to turn into Inhumans with the same awesome abilities as Daisy or James; he’s content with an army of subservient drones.

Near the end of this episode, Fitz and Simmons realize what Hive’s endgame is (based on their knowledge of both Will and Ward).  Using the compound which Dr. Radcliff created, Hive can transform regular humans into Alpha Primitives under his control almost instantaneously.  However, in order to do so en mass, Hive would need to detonate a bomb filled with the compound at a high enough altitude for the compound to spread over and infect a majority of the human population—in other words, a variation of a Terrigen Bomb.  And unfortunately, Talbot reveals that Hive actually has just the warhead he needs to put this plan into motion.  So next week’s season finally is going to see Coulson and the Secret Warriors attempting to prevent Hive from detonating his Terrigen Bomb and enslaving the majority of the human race as Alpha Primitives.  And unfortunately this is not the kind of thing that they can just call in the Mighty Avengers to fix; who’s going to believe them?

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There is also one other subplot to discuss:  Mack and Elena.  Her previous episodes made it quite clear that there was some sort of spark between them, even if the humans-vs.-Inhumans subplot from “The Team” (3x17) put them at odds with each other.  In this episode they are clearly back to being friends.  In fact, she even dotes over him a little, helping him with his injuries from last week’s confrontation with Daisy.  When Lincoln knocks Mack out, Elena is the one who berates Lincoln for injuring members of his own team.  And then at the end of the episode, she gives her crucifix to him, telling him to “keep the faith.”  Taking this whole relationship/friendship into account, this is actually being done quite well, even if it is only being used to imply that Mack will be the agent in the quinjet who dies in next week’s season finale.  I really hope that this will not be the case, as Mack has become one of the better characters on this series in the past season.  However, I don’t really have an alternative theory to propose.

This was a fun episode.  It followed up on the key themes from Civil War which needed to be addressed on the series.  It put the characters in place for the season finale next week.  It offered some decent action—even if it wasn’t as much as I was hoping for between Hive and Lash.  I was disappointed that Lash didn’t get a better sendoff, but it was at least okay considering that he gave himself up to save Daisy.  On that note, I don’t think Lash’s preordained purpose was specifically to save Daisy; I think it would be more accurate to say that his purpose was as a counter to Hive (which isn’t the same thing as saying that his purpose was to kill Hive).  Based on his power set, Lash could both destroy Hive and free an Inhuman from his control.  In the episode, Lash chose to use his power to save Daisy specifically.

What did you think of this episode?  Did you enjoy the Civil War tie-in?  Did you see the “Alpha Primitives” coming?  Let me know in the comments!

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