[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
In the midseason premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the show jumped right back into the action with Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Mack (Henry Simmons) leading a mission to recover a new Inhuman in Bogotá, Colombia. Although Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) became an ally to S.H.I.E.L.D., Daisy decided the Inhumans working with their organization should have the freedom to come and go as they please - though Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) decided to stick around. Meanwhile, Coulson (Clark Gregg) attempted to track down the new head of Hydra, Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), who was more preoccupied by the Hive-inhabited Grant Ward (Brett Dalton).
In 'The Inside Man', written by Craig Titley and directed by John Terlesky, Coulson leads a team of human agents with Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar), the new head of the ATCU, to an international symposium on the alien contagion. However, Talbot's connection to the old enemy Carl Creel (Brian Patrick Wade) proves to cause trouble with Coulson's agents, particularly Hunter (Nick Blood). Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) discover Creel's blood has an interesting effect on the blood of Inhumans while Daisy and Lincoln disagree about what should be done with these results. 'The Inside Man' is another strong episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as the show continues to prove its adeptness in balancing Inhuman world-building, character exploration, and its roots in the spy genre.
Coulson's Right Hand Man
Since returning from its midseason break, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been particularly strong in giving its episodes focus on singular storylines that work toward building the larger season narrative - something the series was lacking in the first half of the season 3 with many of the agents spread out on different and seemingly unconnected missions. Adding Talbot to Coulson's team of trained secret operatives provided a nice foil to Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki), Hunter, May (Ming-Na Wen), and Coulson himself - re-establishing just how good they are at the spy game in comparison to Talbot's wild guessing when trying to determine Malick's inside man in the symposium.
This contrast makes the reveal that Talbot is actually Malick's inside man - since the Hydra head kidnapped Talbot's 12-year-old son in order to manipulate the new head of the ATCU - all the more surprising. Of course, the episode lays the groundwork for the reveal by showing Talbot arguing with his wife Carla and having Talbot mention his son George by name. But for the most part, the reveal works within the frame of the episode. However that's all undone by Talbot's subsequent betrayal by Malick, who refuses to honor their deal and instead orders his agents to kill both Talbot and Coulson.
Certainly Coulson and Talbot's dynamic of the spy and the army man is a compelling aspect to 'The Inside Man' - and takes on a more humorous tone following Talbot's double-crossing and then return to the side of the good. The question of Talbot's loyalties yo-yo back and forth too quickly to truly appreciate the reveal that he was Malick's inside man at the symposium, but it does put an interesting spin on his position as Coulson's right hand man. Now that Talbot is the head of the ATCU Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is sure to build further on his partnership with Coulson, hopefully providing more missions with the unevenly matched pair.
An Inhuman Cure?
Between the midseason premiere and 'The Inside Man', Lincoln has been working with Fitz and Simmons to help them understand the scientific side of Inhuman biology, with the show establishing certain revelations about the Inhumans. In 'Bouncing Back' Lincoln revealed that an Inhuman's powers are developed during Terrigenesis based on an evolutionary need at the time, which seems to be a trite superhero TV show explanation along the lines of The Flash's metahumans developing powers based on what they were doing when the particle accelerator exploded. Which is to say, it felt out of place in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole since the series borrows more from the spy genre than comic book tropes.
Further along that point, the revelation in 'The Inside Man' that Creel's blood has the ability to prevent or slow down Terrigenesis of an Inhuman going through the process is certainly ground that has been covered by other comic book adaptations - particularly the mutant cure in X-Men: The Last Stand. Within the episode, the discovery of how Inhuman blood reacts to Creel's blood provides a vulnerable character moment for Lincoln, as he reveals his comparatve struggle with his powers to Daisy. However, though this larger cure story thread is just at its beginning, it has the potential to retread a storyline much too familiar to fans of comic books and comic adaptations.
We Are Hive
As was the case in 'Bouncing Back', the buildup of Hive in 'The Inside Man' and how the ancient Inhuman will fare as the villain in the back half of season 3 rests on the shoulders of Brett Dalton. The character of Grant Ward has gone through a major change before when he was revealed to be a member of Hydra, but the transition into the cold and menacing Hive - whose creepiness is expounded by Hive speaking using "We" - is much more stark. However, Dalton manages to carry it off in a manner that paints Hive as a completely separate and more wholly villainous entity.
Additionally in 'The Inside Man', Hive reveals more of their powers and their limitations, stating that they can only overtake a dead host and that they will not "feed" on their own kind, referring to other Inhumans. We see, or at least get an idea about, what Hive means in reference to feeding when they request fives humans - who are reduced to bone and a pool of blood by the end of the episode and Hive is seen rising from it with what appears to be a fully healed body. These brief glimpses in Hive's nature along with Dalton's performance as the Inhuman works to establish Hive as one of most terrifying villains on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to date - and foreshadows what's sure to be a horrifying battle with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team later in season 3.
Share your thoughts on the episode and theories about what's to come in next week's episode in the comments!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with 'Parting Shot' on Tuesday March 22nd at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: