[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, episode 16. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week, the writers and directors on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stretched their genre muscles, attempting to put a new twist and visual flare on a fairly standard time travel storyline in 'Spacetime.' Though, visually, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. achieved one of the more unique episodes of the season, the story of 'Spacetime' was somewhat lacking. The episode had a relatively self-contained storyline, but 'Spacetime' also served to set the stage for a conflict between the Secret Warriors and a Hive-controlled Hydra -- as well as important elements of this week's episode.
Now, in 'Paradise Lost,' written by George Kitson and Sharla Oliver and directed by Wendey Stanzler, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes a bit of a breather from the otherwise fast-paced back half of season 3. Previous episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., since returning from the show's midseason, hiatus have focused on giving certain characters a sendoff, highlighting those who have remained, and all ultimately bounding toward the final showdown of the season. 'Paradise Lost,' however, takes the time to fill in some of the holes in the backstories of Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) and Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), while also providing some important Inhumans history and propelling the plot forward.
Together to the End
We learn more about the Malick family in 'Paradise Lost' through flashbacks of Gideon's betrayal of his brother, Nathaniel (Joel Dabney Courtney), and the present-day storyline of him telling his daughter, Stephanie (Bethany Joy Lenz), about his vision of seeing his own death at the hands of Grant Ward/Hive (Brett Dalton). The parallel stories unfolding in the past and the present, with their similar themes of loyalty and family, are beautifully interwoven.
These stories work exceptionally well together as a lead up to the reveal that Hive contains the memories of Nathaniel -- as well as his feelings of betrayal at the hands of his brother. Calling for a sacrifice, both Gideon and viewers are left thinking he'll pay the price with his own life, but Hive decides Stephanie's life will be Gideon's sacrifice in order to balance the scales. Although the chilling shift in Hive to Nathaniel -- epitomized by echoing Gideon's brother's words back to him, "Together to the end" -- the death of Stephanie rings hollow.
Lenz's character was essentially introduced in 'Paradise Lost,' only having appeared in a short end scene previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Stephanie was barely established as a flat personification of a daughter figure before falling to Hive's parasites. After the death of Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) in 'Closure' led to Coulson's (Clark Gregg) subsequent murder of Ward, killing off another supporting female character -- and one that is entirely two-dimensional -- to facilitate the emotional storyline of a more prominent male character ventures fully into the realm of lazy storytelling and falling back on tropes.
Two History Lessons In One
In the back half of season 3, Lincoln has largely acted as the source of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Inhuman knowledge, helping Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) learn more about the Inhumans' biology. However, since Lincoln's knowledge of Hive is lacking, he and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) seek out an old Afterlife resident, James (Axle Whitehead). Though this mission is ostensibly about the information on Hive, it provides a fun C-plot to the other story threads of 'Paradise Lost' as Daisy and Lincoln use their powers to get through James' front yard filled with land mines and trade jabs with the irascible Inhuman.
However, the important aspect of this storyline is the Inhuman history lesson given by James, revealing that Hive was one of the first Inhumans and the leader of the army that rebelled against the Kree. But, he also inspired fear among his own kind, so the Inhumans banded together with humans in order to banish Hive to Maveth. Following these revelations, and spurred on by James, Lincoln tells Daisy about his time before Afterlife, and the incident in which he nearly killed his previous girlfriend. Though the Inhumans history will certainly come into play again on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- and could serve as the basis of the Marvel Studios Inhumans movie -- the newest piece of Lincoln's backstory seems to be more of another hint at a turn toward evil.
The Secret Warriors Unite
In the B-plot of 'Paradise Lost,' the majority of Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team go after Giyera (Mark Dacascos), who has shifted his loyalties from Gideon to Hive, in an effort to track down the reanimated Ward as well as learn more about the ancient Inhuman. With the other aspects of the episode offering important backstory or other exposition in order to move season 3 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. forward, this mission feels like an outlier and a necessity in order to give all the characters on the show something to do this week. Though certain discoveries, like Simmons' declaration that Hive doesn't control parasites but is itself a parasite, are necessary to establish Hive's abilities, the team's capture at the end of the episode seems to be the most important aspect of this story thread.
With the majority of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team captured on a plane under the control of Giyera and in a Hydra base, that leaves Daisy and Lincoln -- as well as the agency's Inhuman members spread around the world -- as their only hope of rescue. So, after plenty of teasing throughout season 3 (and even before the third season premiered), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will finally unite the Secret Warriors... next week.
All in all, 'Paradise Lost' was tasked with imparting a great deal of necessary exposition, while offering a brief respite from the fast-paced season 3. The episode offered moments of fun, and an exciting fight sequence between May (Ming-Na Wen) and Giyera, but largely fails to live up to previous highs of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3.
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 ‘The Team’ Tuesday April 19th at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: