[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, episode 14. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. took a bit of a break from their ongoing storyline bringing in Inhumans and taking on Hydra to offer a fond farewell to Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) in 'Parting Shot'. The episode was somewhat of a backdoor pilot for the pair's spinoff series, Marvel's Most Wanted, and largely let the the Secret Warriors, as led by Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and growing threat of Hydra take a back seat, while Hive (Brett Dalton) was absent entirely.
This week 'Watchdogs,' written by Drew Z. Greenberg and directed by Jesse Bochco, refocuses on the bigger picture -- both of the show's third season and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team pick up the pieces after the departure of Bobbi and Hunter as they resume their dealing with the emergence of Inhumans around the world. In 'Watchdogs,' Coulson's team is up against a group of scared and hateful humans targeting powered individuals, as well as the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent pulling their strings. Meanwhile Mack (Henry Simmons) brings his work home with him when he visits his brother Rueben (guest star Gaius Charles).
Don't Call Him Alfie
Though 'Watchdogs' begins with Mack on vacation -- and venting to his brother about troubles at work, including the "transfer" of his two closest work friends -- he's brought in to deal with the situation created by the Watchdogs. The entry point to the episode through Mack's banter with Reuben goes a long way to help ground 'Watchdogs' with an emotional tether, again demonstrating that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is strongest when fully embracing its roots in the spy genre of television, while exploring the emotional consequences therein. So, the basic story of Mack's brother learning about his secret career as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is one we've seen before, but it works because Mack leads both Reuben and the viewer through it, which gives Mack a chance to shine.
Throughout his time on the show since joining in season 2, Mack has largely acted as a supporting character to other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Mack has literally supported Bobbi as her backup in season 2, provided a contradictory viewpoint in season 3 as he distrusted Inhumans while Daisy accepted them, and facilitated plot development, such as giving the green light to Daisy's team of Secret Warriors. But 'Watchdogs' allows Mack to really step into the forefront for the first time on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Simmons bringing new life and depth to Mack as a protective brother and agent -- while also making it abundantly clear that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been completely underutilizing both Mack and Simmons.
The Watchdogs' Bite
Before leveling up to domestic terrorism, the Watchdogs were mentioned earlier in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 as an online hate group, specifically targeting powered individuals like the Inhumans. Now, after they attack an ATCU facility and make it implode, their organization becomes a more significant threat to the mission of Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. However, since nothing is ever as it seems on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Watchdogs are quickly revealed to be led by former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Felix Blake (guest star Titus Welliver) -- who suffered a spinal injury at the hands of Deathlok in season 1. However, he has now sided with Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe) and Hydra.
'Watchdogs' is another instance in a line of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes that prove the show has hit a groove in their spy vs. spy storyline. With the constant double crosses and shady organizations led by even shadier figureheads, the series has fully leaned in to its genre. As epitomized in Coulson taking Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) on their own mission and offering the newest recruit a test (that he passes with nearly flying colors), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provides plenty of spy drama. The writing and directing of 'Watchdogs' work to provide a fun and entertaining hour of television that manages to continue the storyline of the season as well as establish themes that will be explored elsewhere in the MCU.
The Hunt For Lash
In a storyline that was largely disconnected from the main goings on of the episode, we learn that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is feeling guilty about the sacrifices others have made so that she could live, particularly the moment she unleashed Lash in order to save herself from Hydra's Inhumans. However, this plotline is poorly realized in comparison to other threads of 'Watchdogs' and seems to serve more as a means of giving both Simmons and May (Ming-Na Wen) something to do throughout the episode, while reminding viewers of their ongoing emotional story threads, and continue to set up the cure Simmons has been developing for Inhumans undergoing Terrigenesis.
Still, the scenes between Henstridge and Wen are well-acted and, as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has demonstrated in the past, the show will certainly capitalize on both the emotional and story implications established in this C-plot storyline down the line of the season. But, with the other aspects of 'Watchdogs' so strong in comparison, it's difficult to see these scenes as much more than detracting from the more exciting parts of the episode.
Since it was conceived, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been reactionary to the films of the MCU; Captain America: The Winter Soldier blew up the premise of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. while other tie-in episodes -- such as with Thor: The Dark World -- featured the agents dealing with the aftermath of an Avenger's antics. But, in addition to introducing the Inhumans in season 2, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 has provided plenty of legwork and context for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and that is especially apparent in 'Watchdogs.' The episode deals with the public unrest caused by the events of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron and further establishes the world that would call for the Sokovia Accords.
Once again, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. proves that it is able to stand on its own as an entertaining television series, while also act as an important glue that helps to bring the whole MCU together.
A few other observations and notes:
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. offered a quick reference to fellow Marvel TV offering, Daredevil. During the Watchdogs video on the news, the ticker below the headline read, "Gang war rages in Hell's Kitchen. Authorities searching for a solution." Is that referring to the brutal murders of Frank Castle, or some other event in The Defenders' realm?
- Nitramine, the chemical used to make the Watchdogs' exploding bombs, was created by Howard Stark after World War II -- perhaps one of his "bad babies" from season 1 of Agent Carter?
Share your thoughts on the episode and theories about what’s to come in the next episode in the comments below!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with 'Spacetime' Tuesday April 5th at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: