[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
Prior to its midseason break, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 tackled the global consequences of Inhumans undergoing Terrigenesis, further setting up the dispute that will take center stage in Captain America: Civil War later this year. Additionally, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) led a campaign within S.H.I.E.L.D. to assemble her team of Inhumans -- the Secret Warriors -- that was realized in the midseason finale consisting of herself, Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), and Joey (Juan Pablo Raba). The finale, 'Maveth,' also saw Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) confront Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and ultimately take a step toward darkness by killing the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, leaving room for Ward to be overtaken by the Inhuman that resided on the alien planet.
Now, in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. midseason premiere titled 'Bouncing Back', written by Monica Owusu-Breen and directed by Ron Underwood, Daisy and Mack (Henry Simmons) lead their team on a mission in Colombia when they learn of reports concerning a powered individual. Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson searches for Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), doing whatever he deems necessary. However, Malick's attention is focused much more on the member of his team that returned from Maveth: Ward -- who has been reanimated by the ancient Inhuman that inhabited the planet. Acting as a re-entry point to the season, 'Bouncing Back' is effective in juggling the various story threads, both old and new, in the season, while making sure each plot beat and character moment get their time to shine.
A Yo-yo, A Quake, & An Inhuman Walk Into A Bar…
The main thread of the episode is focused on Daisy, Mack, Joey, Hunter (Nick Blood), and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) tracking down an Inhuman in Bogotá, Colombia who has stolen a shipment of weapons from the local police. A misunderstanding follows between Mack and the Inhuman, Elena Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), both of whom believe the other to be their enemy. Both eventually realize they're fighting on the same side: Mack against corrupt Inhumans and Elena against the corrupt local police officers -- who prove to have their own Inhuman team member with Medusa-like powers of temporary petrification.
The conflict and eventual resolution between Mack and Elena is a smaller-scale version of the larger worldwide conflict between humans and Inhumans. In fact, it also acts as a conclusion to Mack's own conflict in accepting the humanity of Inhumans -- seeing them not as "others" but as people. Since the Inhumans were introduced, and it was revealed that Daisy was both an Inhuman and a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., the schism between humanity and inhumanity -- as well as Daisy's efforts to bridge it -- has been a throughline that gives the season's emotional conflict weight.
But, not only do the character beats of this episode work within the season as well as the confines of 'Bouncing Back,' the mission in Colombia is also a tight, action-packed story that effortlessly brings the viewer back into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s third season. The team's meeting with Elena is a self-contained story that works to establish where all the major players are since we last saw them in the midseason finale. However, the episode doesn't get bogged down in telling the viewer what has happened, rather 'Bouncing Back' thrusts the audience into the mission with Daisy and the others, and the story unfolds from there. What unfolds is an hour of exciting television that viewers have come to expect from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Phil Coulson, here."
In the penultimate episode of the season's first half, Coulson suffered a major loss when Ward killed Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) -- while she was sitting across from him at dinner, no less -- and the S.H.I.E.L.D. director took a major dark turn that was largely earned by the storytelling to that point. This turn reached its logical conclusion when Coulson killed Ward in revenge for Rosalind. But, though it may have seemed an entirely new Coulson was born on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and, certainly, Coulson is no longer the same character he was even at the beginning of season 3) 'Bouncing Back' establishes just how much -- and how little -- he has changed.
This new Coulson takes a more hands-off approach in directing the other members of S.H.I.E.L.D., largely delegating leadership to others like Daisy and Mack. Coulson proves his willingness to "make the hard choices" as he says, subjecting Werner von Strucker (Spencer Treat Clark) to the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine -- which he claimed was worse than getting his hand cut off. But, for all of Coulson's darker choices, he is granted moments of levity, like picking up von Strucker's secret phone to be connected to Malick and enjoying the Hydra holding muzak. Gregg has often worked as the emotional glue holding Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. together and he expertly resumes that role in 'Bouncing Back,' playing both the serious and humorous moments perfectly.
You Will Believe in Hive
One of the quieter aspects in a comparatively more action-packed episode is the re-introduction of Ward, who has been confirmed to be inhabited by the Marvel Comics villain Hive, an enemy of the Secret Warriors from their series in the comic books. The new development for Ward paves the way for an entirely new character to be explored by Dalton. While Ward as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was cold with a heart of gold and Ward as a Hydra agent was full of gregarious swagger, Hive is much more contained with a quiet menace that makes him more terrifying than either previous incarnation of Ward.
Though Ward/Hive doesn't appear too much in 'Bouncing Back,' with the main focus of the episode elsewhere, Dalton is able to effectively portray a worldly and calculating villain. Hive is quickly established as a force that can almost lazily strike fear into Malick and the other Hydra agents while also commenting on humanity -- "They've advanced, but they haven't changed" -- the way anyone else might talk about the new generation of smartphones. Certainly, the stakes of the second half of season 3 and whether Hive will be an exciting villain rest on Dalton and his portrayal of the Inhuman. We may have seen Ward go through major character changes before on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but his re-introduction as Hive proves to further illustrate Dalton's talents and bring the show to new heights in 'Bouncing Back.'
A few other observations and notes:
- Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are distant at the start of 'Bouncing Back' but the two attempt to bridge that chasm by starting over with a handshake -- and a fist bump.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe's U.S. President Matthew Ellis (William Sadler) appears in 'Bouncing Back' to further establish the conflict between humans and powered individuals/Inhumans, while also offering a reference to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- Both Hunter and Bobbi confirmed they are not Inhumans -- and they should know since they tried the fish oil pills.
- Glenn Talbot (Michael Gannon) has been named the new leader of the ATCU, replacing Rosalind, and will be reporting to Coulson.
- A three-month flash forward at the beginning of the episode focused on a space vehicle of some kind with what looked to be blood droplets floating in zero gravity with a cross necklace and a suit with a patch on it. What could that mean?
Share your thoughts on the episode and theories about what’s to come during the second half of season 3 in the comments below!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘The Inside Man’ Tuesday March 15th at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: