[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, episode 20. There will be SPOILERS.]
Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned from its midseason hiatus to dive fully into the Hive storyline, the series has delivered episodes that are, in equal turns, beautifully directed, intriguingly plotted out, and focused on the character-driven arcs of season 3. Additionally, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has weaved a storyline pitting Phil Coulson's team against an enemy that hits too close to home in many respects -- all leading up to a final showdown between Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hive.
This week, in the penultimate episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 -- before the two-hour season finale -- 'Emancipation,' written by Craig Titley and directed by Vincent Misiano, Hive continues working on the formula for turning humans into Inhumans. Meanwhile, at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Coulson receives a visit from Glenn Talbot after the Sokovia Accords have made it a requirement for all enhanced individuals to be registered, but that takes a back seat when Talbot learns of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fight against Hive. Elsewhere, Lincoln connects with Daisy in an effort to be reunited. 'Emancipation' delivers an exciting penultimate chapter of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, fully equipped with fun moments for fans of Marvel properties, but one that largely suffers in service of setting up the season finale.
It's All Connected
'Emancipation' is the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to air after the domestic release of Captain America: Civil War and, as such, features plenty of not-so-subtle connections to the latest film entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, previous MCU tie-in episodes either suffered from needing to abandon the ongoing storyline of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or feeling insubstantial -- such as the case with Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Instead, 'Emancipation' manages to weave the Sokovia Accords and Talbot's visit to HQ into the overarching themes of season 3 as well as the build up to the finale. The result is perhaps one of the best MCU tie-in episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. while Coulson and Talbot debate how the organization should operate and under how much government oversight -- it's a return to the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the ATCU at the beginning of season 3.
However, the film side of the MCU isn't the only Marvel property 'Emancipation' references, as the episode also unveils Hellfire in his true comic form -- fiery chain and all. In the Secret Warriors series, on which much of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 is based, Hellfire fights alongside Quake, a.k.a. Daisy Johnson -- that is, until he's found out to be working for Hydra.
Although 'Emancipation' doesn't feature a scene of Daisy and James fighting together, the episode does deliver an exciting -- and downright cool -- sequence of James/Hellfire using his fiery chain to take down some members of the anti-Inhumans Watchdogs grassroots organization. But, though the moment delivers on a Marvel Comics character Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been building toward in recent episodes, Hellfire largely falls by the wayside of the bigger players and story arcs of 'Emancipation.'
Serving A Purpose
Ever since the reveal of the Inhumans, Fitz and Simmons have been attempting to learn more about them, from their culture to their physiology, and Lincoln has been imparting his own knowledge of his people. One of the more interesting notions he mentioned was that Inhumans develop their powers based on an evolutionary need -- essentially to serve a purpose. Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't explored the concept in depth (and it sounds, on the surface, extremely similar to The Flash with the powers developed by its metahumans), 'Emancipation' returned to the idea that certain Inhumans were given their powers for a specific purpose. In the case of one Inhuman, Lincoln believes Lash was given powers with the purpose of killing Hive.
However, because the concept of Inhumans having a purpose hasn't been developed well enough by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the reveal that Lash could potentially be the only thing able to kill Hive is rushed. Then, Lash's subsequent death is even more hurried as the episode needs to establish his powers are capable of extracting Hive's parasites from other Inhumans. But, given Fitz and Simmons have been looking for a way to cure the Inhumans of Hive's hold, Lash certainly does serve a purpose -- though his purpose may be too convenient to the plot to warrant any earned emotional response from viewers.
Agent Johnson Comes Home
After an episode that saw Daisy betray everything to which she was loyal -- S.H.I.E.L.D., her friends, Lincoln -- the agent seemed to be wholly on the side of evil thanks to Hive's mind control. In fact, her dedication to Hive led to the breaking down of her partnership with Mack in the previous episode, as the two fought to save the each other from themselves. However, after a secret plan for Lincoln to seemingly betray S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to be with Daisy only to betray Daisy in order to help S.H.I.E.L.D. locate her and Hive, the agent is rescued by Lash and returns home.
Certainly, Daisy's turn on the side of evil was compelling to watch, especially as the consequences were felt by everyone else on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. But, 'Emancipation' trades the emotional drama of previous episodes for action set pieces between Hive and Lash that largely set up the season 3 finale. This is much the same for the entire episode as 'Emancipation' is a serviceable penultimate installment, setting up what should be an equally exciting and compelling Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale.
Other observations and notes:
- In the final scene, Elena gives Mack the necklace from Daisy's vision of the future in which one of the agents dies. Has Mack's fate been sealed or is this simply a misdirection?
Share your thoughts on the episode and theories about what’s to come in the season finale in the comments section!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 concludes with ‘Absolution/Ascension' Tuesday May 17th at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: