Thursday, October 13, 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 3, "Uprising" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its very strong fourth season in “Uprising,” as we see both the dark side of the Sokovia Accords (and attendant Inhuman Registration) and the dark side of human nature at work.  This episode feels like it has been a virtual necessity ever since Captain America: Civil War introduced the concept of the Sokovia Accords—a document which all enhanced individuals must sign, under which they are registered and monitored by the governments of the world.

And along with this exploration of the Accords—and why Steve Rogers didn’t like them in the first place—we also get some very strong development from our main characters.  These last few episodes have actually felt a little more like what I think people were expecting from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it was first announced:  a show set against the backdrop of enhanced people running around but which focuses on representatives of the massive international peacekeeping agency tasked with keeping the enhanced people in line.  The cast is spread out all across America, and all working on different pieces of the same puzzle, with the Director (officially named “Jeffrey Mace” for the first time on the show) as the only real connecting link.  This makes S.H.I.E.L.D. itself feel bigger while the (extremely large) cast feels a bit smaller and more manageable.

The main action of the episode centers on the Inhumans (for a change) and the consequences of the Sokovia Accords for them.  It turns out that part of the Accords deals specifically with the Inhumans, requiring them to register like the Avengers.  Since then S.H.I.E.L.D. has also been relocating Inhumans to cities around the world, including Miami, Los Angeles, and London.  Unfortunately, it turns out that keeping a written list and placing Inhumans in cities around the world may not be the best policy, as Coulson discovers that the Inhuman Registration list has fallen into the hands of the Watchdogs (you remember them, right?), who use the information to target Inhumans around the world by creating blackouts in the relocation cities which they blame on the “Inhuman Resistance.”  I have to say, I really liked what they did with the blackouts and the “Inhuman Resistance” false flag.  Blackouts create chaos which they can exploit, and pinning the blame on their enemies is guaranteed to bring the public over to their side.

This was also a good opportunity to explore Mack’s non-relationship with Elena, which does not get a lot of mention, beyond the fact that (again) Mack does not want to be personally involved with an asset.  Elena does get several good scenes in addition to that, however.  The first one that stuck out to me was when she was subtly fighting against the Watchdogs by stealing their guns in a heartbeat and dropping them in a planter.  The reaction from her friend—horror and fear to learn that Elena is an Inhuman—was a great way to bring home what all of this means for the Inhumans.  Our primary focus in this series is on the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and powered people themselves; we see very little of the reaction by regular people to coming into contact with enhanced individuals.  The fact that Elena’s friend wants nothing to do with her—even after Elena saved her life—is a good way to remind us of the stakes for regular people.  This episode also gives us the (obligatory) speedster-speed sequence as Elena disarms a small army of Watchdogs in a matter of seconds.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has only used the trick a couple of times (since their only speedster is Elena), and they don’t have quite the flair of the movies, but it is still a fun sequence.  I especially like that they introduce it with the glowstick that turns into a long streak of light.

It was also cool to see Fitz using old-school science to solve their problem for a change, instead of relying on technology.

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The Los Angeles aspect of the episode was also cool, as Quake and Ghost Rider are easily the two darkest and most intense characters on the show.  Seeing Robbie interact with Gabe was a good way to humanize Robbie, who up until this point was primarily a force of nature.  Now we get to see more clearly the care between the brothers—which gets driven home even more by Gabe when he tells Daisy to stay away from his brother because she would be a bad influence.  The biggest problem I have noticed with this aspect of the plot is that it seems to be developing much more slowly than we are really used to (at least over the last 2½ seasons).  Daisy has been angry at herself, feeling guilt over Lincoln’s death, in denial, and on the run for more than 6 months (and 3 episodes) and at this point she feels no closer to a breakthrough than she was at the end of season 3.  I like getting to see this side of her, but I’m ready for her to deal with her guilt, stop using her powers to injure herself, reconcile with S.H.I.E.L.D., and become the leader of the (new) Secret Warriors.  At some point that’s what’s going to happen, right?

The final major plot for the episode involved May and her ghostly touch.  Simmons and Radcliffe must work together to figure out what is wrong with her, discover that her brain is being over-stimulated, and decide they need to kill her to reset her brain.  Simmons’ reaction to the diagnosis and proposal is a great moment for her character, especially with as dark as she has gotten lately.  She still cares about her old team members, so the idea of losing May terrifies her.  When the power goes out at the moment she’s about to restart May’s heart, Simmons’ reaction of starting CPR and begging May to come back is very realistic and very much in-character for her.  I’m still not sure how stopping May’s heart and restarting it undid the ghostly touch affect, but as far as plot devices go, this one did a good job of tying this plot in with the others.

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One other note on the May plot concerns Director Mace.  I really like what they have been doing with his character.  Thus far we have been led to believe that Mace has some sort of ulterior motives and is not to be trusted.  He is way too smooth and personable.  He tries way too hard to be nice to Coulson.  So when he refused to disclose May’s situation at the end of episode 2, we were to feel justified in mistrusting him.  However, in this episode it turns out that he really did have everyone’s best interests at heart:  he sent May to the best facility available.  When that didn’t work, he brought her back to Simmons and Radcliffe since they are the (somewhat) experts.  He does prevent Coulson from being there when they try to save her, but that is only because Coulson is too personally involved and is needed in Miami.  I love Mace’s line to Coulson that “This is the call you would make in my position” because that is absolutely correct, and it shows that Coulson is not always in the right.  I do wonder if eventually Mace will turn out to be a villain, but I really hope that he does not.  I think that if they do it right, Mace can function in the same role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Captain America does in the movies:  he is the representative of “moral good” against whom all the other characters measure themselves and find themselves wanting.

I did have one serious negative concern with this episode.  At the end it is revealed that 17 Inhumans were killed during the blackouts and ensuing rioting.  However, we do not know any of these people, so we have no reason to feel anything for their loss.  Why should we care about these 17 Inhumans instead of the thousands of people hurt during the rioting?  Even seeing faces or seeing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reaction to the news would have been better.  I’m also not sure what I think of the senator at this moment, since she is nothing but dislikeable at the moment.

As a whole this episode was a strong continuation of the plot on all points.  The characters get a lot of good moments.  The effects are all great. The plot works together nicely.  And this episode answers a lot of burning questions from the end of the previous season, particularly with regard to the Sokovia Accords.  I was actually surprised that a network TV show would be willing during a heated election cycle to tackle the issue of registration, and that it would do so in this way.  There is a definite case to be made that Inhuman Registration (and the Accords as a whole) is analogous to a firearm registration list:  it’s a list of names saying “here are the people who have the ability to defend themselves and the ability to stand up to some form of tyranny.”  And what happens to this List?  It winds up in the wrong hands, and criminals/tyrants attempt to use it to take out major perceived threats.  But it doesn’t have to be the Watchdogs behind the whole thing; a government could be backing them and using them to fuel fear against people with the ability to protect the innocent from oppression, and using that fear to capture all the power for themselves.  “Registration inevitably leads to confiscation”—or in this case to murder or capture.

What did you think of this episode?  Who do you think is backing the Watchdogs?  Do you like what they are doing with Daisy’s character?  Let me know in the comments!

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