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Before getting into the actual review, let’s quickly talk about Doctor Strange. Last night’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the first new episode since the movie came out, and in the past there has been something of a tie-in with the movie in the following AoS episode. Some of those tie-ins (particularly with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron) are relatively big and can spoil the movie’s ending. This is not one of them. In fact, there is no mention of Doctor Strange anywhere in the episode—and that’s a good thing. The events in Doctor Strange were big and potentially universe-shattering… but they occurred in such a way that S.H.I.E.L.D. shouldn’t really know anything definite about them. Coupled with the major, potentially universe-shattering events S.H.I.E.L.D. is already dealing with, and there’s no reason for S.H.I.E.L.D. to really get involved with the minor events they could be aware of. The fact that they don’t try to shoehorn a Direct Tie-In into the episode shows that the showrunners are confident enough in their series to let it stand on its own and not try to take advantage of the connective tissue marketing ploy.
Having said all of that, there is still a very small Thematic Tie-In between Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Strange. It’s not much of a spoiler for either. Both play with the concept of the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse—something Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually (may) have done in season 1!
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its strong run with the aftereffects of Eli Morrow’s Darkhold-guided experiment. Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie are all left suspended between two dimensions, still able to see what is happening in the main universe but unable to interact with it. The rest of the team, meanwhile, cannot see or hear the three of them, giving us an intimate look at all the characters coping with grief. Coulson and Fitz start off trying to find a way back while simultaneously grieving the pain that their disappearance has to be causing their friends. However, as they are pulled further and further into the other dimension, they have to face their own mortality more and more. Out of the rest of the team, May gets the most character development from this episode as she finally has to face her buried feelings for Coulson. This drives her to desperate measures in an attempt to bring Coulson back—assuming he’s not actually gone.
One of the most fascinating moments in the episode—at least as far as planting seeds for future episodes—is when May and Radcliffe have AIDA read the Darkhold so she can figure out how to reverse the accident that pushed Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie into the dimensional gap. AIDA does have the computing power to read and “download” the Darkhold’s information safely, so it makes sense. And it works out well at the moment since she succeeds in building a portal to rescue them. However, the tag at the end certainly suggests that all is not well, as AIDA is using the portal technology to create a human brain. To me this foreshadows AIDA turning against S.H.I.E.L.D./humanity in the second half of the season, perhaps in an arc reminiscent of Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’ve been somewhat expecting such a twist ever since AIDA’s introduction, and especially since Radcliffe and Fitz taught her the “art of the lie,” so I am excited to see where this is going.
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One of the surprise hits in this episode is Robbie’s arc. Up until this moment in the series Robbie has been at odds with the Rider; now that Robbie is being dragged to a new dimension, the Rider abandons him to overshadow Mack (mostly because he is nearby and rides a motorcycle). However, once the Rider is gone, Robbie has to have him back. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mack becoming the new Rider at first, but I really liked what it did for Robbie’s character: he makes a new deal with the Rider to keep him from destroying Mack. After this there’s no way he’s getting rid of the Spirit of Vengeance again. I love what they’ve been doing with origins lately. Taking Robbie as an example, the last episode gave an origin for his powers (he makes his “deal with the devil” while dying on the road), but that only shows how he got the powers. This episode is when Robbie truly becomes the Ghost Rider: this is when he accepts and embraces his fate rather than trying to run from it.
After my comments on the last episode, I really like what they are doing with Director Mace’s character, particularly in this episode. I think this is the first time we really get a sense that Mace is a “lawful good” character. Up until this point he has been rather ambiguous—every “good” action is paired with a “bad” one—but this is when we see more of the inner workings, specifically when he is trying to get Simmons returned from Senator Nadeer’s facility. He really does care about his agents and have their best interests at heart. I think that’s pretty clear from his refusal to let Mack go after Eli without a plan to counter Eli’s newfound power. If he were just concerned with the “common good,” letting the agent try to stop the villain would have made the most sense; since he actually cares about the agents, he is willing to risk what may happen in the meantime if it means that the next time they confront Eli they may have a plan.
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The one arc that fit the least with the episode was Simmons with the newly-transformed Inhuman. I understand the importance of this in explaining Simmons’ absence from the main part of the episode, as well as explaining Nadeer’s “favor,” but it didn’t feel entirely necessary as an extension of the inter-dimensional splice arc. I really liked what it did for Simmons’ character: she is gentle and nurturing with the new Inhuman, in sharp contrast to the cold and sterile approach of the other scientists at the facility. I also really liked how this developed Nadeer and her anti-Inhuman agenda: what on Earth is she doing with this new Inhuman??? And what is going to happen to him now that he made the unfortunate decision to come out of his chrysalis? I don’t think Nadeer’s plot will come to fruition during next week’s midseason finale, but it certainly could connect with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s battle to stop Eli, particularly if the new Inhuman appears as part of the fight they teased between Eli and the “New Secret Warriors” of Daisy, Yo-Yo, and Robbie.
All in all, this was a great episode. It was far more personal and character-driven than a lot of episodes, and that made for a nice change of pace. At the same time, the episode also puts a lot of things into motion which will almost certainly come into play either in the midseason finale or the second half of the season.
What did you think of this episode? Who do you think the new Inhuman is? What do you think Nadeer is planning? Let me know in the comments!