Loyal marvel fans living in Fresno all all over the world will likely know that while the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have gone on to achieve massive commercial and audience success, their first outing into the realm of television, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., has had a far bumpier road to take on the path to success. The first season initially premiered to great promise, but as the season progressed a multitude of problems emerged that frustrated the viewers who were expected some must-watch superhero entertainment involving more familiar face within the Marvel Universe. These faults led to steadily declining reception and declining ratings, until a significant tie-in to the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier turned the series’s entire status qua on it’s head. This shift led to the show taking a much more interesting arc that paid off for fans who remained loyal to the show even through it’s most drab moments.
In spite of initial question whether continuation of the show was going to go forward, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was ultimately renewed for a second season, which right out of the gate bore a much closer resemblance to the show many of us had in our heads when the project was first announced. As fan favorite character Phil Coulson and his team tackled the menace of Hydra, another, more super powered plot line lay waiting in the wings. Indeed, after taking a mid-season break that was filled in with the first season of fellow Marvel show Agent Carter, the series came back with a totally different narrative focus, one that introduced followers of the MCU to the growing rise of the Inhumans, a race of superpowered people from the comics books. Originally introduced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during their classic run of Fantastic Four during the 1960s, the Inhumans were a race of humans created by the aliens known as the Kree that developed superhuman abilities after being exposed to Terrigen Mist, a mist produced by alien crystals that can fundamentally alter one’s DNA. This change in direction for the second season led to a lot of new dynamics, particularly in relation to the character Skye, now revealed to be this show’s adaptation of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Daisy Johnson, a character with the power to generate earthquakes, hence her comic book code name “Quake.” The season ended with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. having to defeat an evil plot by Skye’s own mother to save the world, but that victory came at great cost to the team, including the disappearance of one of their own.
But now, in the wake of the ending of the second season and the release of not one, but two major MCU films released this year, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have returned for their third season. But what new developments do they have in store for us this time?
The episode opens with a man named Joey (played by Juan Pablo Raba) on the run from a group of highly trained and heavily armed operatives out to capture him for his newly developed Inhuman abilities, which in his case involves liquefying metal he comes within three meter of contact with. Joey is understandably very scared and confused by what is happening to him and seems to have nowhere else to turn to, but before these mysterious villains can capture him, he is rescued by Daisy, Mack and Hunter. After being taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, Joey is forced to live as asocial leaper, isolated from Coulson’s team and the rest of the world. When this is made clear to Joey, he does not take it well as his aggression only succeeds in making him feel worse. To aid in calming Joey’s growing instability, Daisy and Mack seek out an familiar face: Lincoln Campbell, an Inhuman who helped teach Daisy to control her powers when they first developed. Lincoln is working on creating a new life for himself working at a hospital, but things become more complicated when a bizarre creature appears threatening them all.
The enemy group (referred to as the Advanced Threat Containment Unit) has been conducting experiments on the increasingly rising reports of people getting exposed to the Terrigen Mist and developing Inhuman abilities. Coulson and his team investigate this group and corner a woman named Rosalind Price (played by by Constance Zimmer) who appears to be their leader.
Meanwhile, Fitz is away on a solo mission in Morocco, with Bobbi covering for him. He is looking to find his partner and unrequited love Simmons, who went missing after the events of the season two finale, and so he arranges a meeting with a local mob boss to investigate a lead into the monolith from last season. But will Fitz get out of his situation alive? And just where has Simmons disappeared to anyway?
Right away I was pleased with the way this episode opened up. Joey is an ordinary guy who just happens to have developed powers that are beyond his understanding and are something he clearly wants nothing to do with. Through him we are allowed to see the average Joe, outsider point-of-view of what its like to become an Inhuman, a view that is likely being shared by many more people across the world right now. Juan Pablo Raba does a very convincing job of selling that weight; even though we have never seen this character before, we have total empathy for him and his sudden sense of isolation. He never asked for this life, it was merely thrust upon him and now he may have to abandon his old life forever because of it. There are scenes where he is watching television and the news is reporting on him, calling him a monster or some sort of alien. it is clear that even if Joey ever did manage to escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. he would not have much of a life to return home to anymore.
As a lifelong Marvel fan who, sadly, has only limited knowledge of the Inhumans, the way that the show has been handling them so far comes across as being very much like X-Men. Watching Daisy (formally known as Skye), joey and other develop these powers and them be cast out be society and hunted down by other forces practically screams mutants to me. In fact, after re-watching the season two finale “S.O.S.,” Jiayang’s methodology and her extreme lengths to protect her people felt very similar to Magneto. This may or may not be Marvel’s way of filling in the void left by the X-Men franchise (which, so long as Fox has there way, Marvel may never get back), but so far it appears to be working. I do look forward to seeing how the show develops the Inhuman mythology of this universe, especially with the Inhumans film still many years away.
This approach to the Inhumans mythos also fits in well with were we currently are with the MCU films as well. During season two there was a loose tie-in to Avengers: Age of Ultron (Remember that dues ex machina Helicarrier the conveniently showed up during the battle?), and in this episode there are clear references to a growing unrest taking place in the world following the disaster that happened in Sokovia. There is even a blink-and-you-miss reference to the events of Ant-Man as well. But back on topic, all of this apparent unrest and societal backlash against people with superpowers feels right in line with where the show and the MCU are currently headed as we wait patiently for next year’s release of Captain America: Civil War, which, if this show can find a way to tie into as well as they could with Winter Soldier, then we may really be in for something this season.
The main characters that make up Coulson’s team seems to be pretty good here, though it looks like the focus is going to be more spread out and some characters may deliberately be seeing more focus than other s in certain episodes. Daisy and Mack made for an unexpected but effective pair in this episode, and it was great to see that Hunter already had a plan in the works to take down Ward the next time he sees him. Coulson himself is coming to terms with the state of the world right now and the new opposition he is facing…as well as being short a limb. The mechanical arm was definitely interesting and I am curious what crazy ideas Joss Whedon and Marvel decide to go with that. It is important to note that neither Ward nor May were anywhere to be seen in this episode, adding to my theory that the character focus will be more spread out this season. As far as we know, May is still on vacation after the end of last season and Ward is still on his quest to reassemble Hydra, which I am sure we will be getting back to fairly soon.
But to me, and other critics such as Eric Goldman of IGN, the break out character this week was Fitz. It was such a far cry to see him go from the sad, tragically impaired character that he was in season two to this much more (seemingly) stable person willing to go to great personal extremes to find a way to get Simmons back. it adds an almost James Bond flare to Fitz seeming him on his own on an international adventure and dealing with foreign mobsters with little fear even though we all can tell how much obvious trouble he is clearly in. We have seen clear signs of Fitz’s love (nee borderline obsession) for Simmons in the past, but this is taking it to a new level. He final scene, where he totally looses his temper on the monolith, is a fantastic piece of acting by Iain De Caestecker.
I also enjoyed the twist that episode took to the “villains” is this one. When we first see these people, they seem to be straightforward antagonists out to capture and wipe out the growing population of Inhumans. As we get closer to the end of the episode however, we come to a tense standoff between Coulson and Rosalind, who not only knows far more about Coulson’s group than we thought she would, but her organization’s motivations, while perhaps misguided, are nowhere near as black-and-white as we first assumed and, quite frankly, are not too far off how S.H.I.E.L.D. themselves are currently handling things. By the end of the episode, the status qua for the ATCU is set in stone and we have ourselves a whole new dynamic that not only will help define this season but also, I believe, bring us closer and closer to what we will be seeing in Civil War.
It was good to see Lincoln come back so soon after we last saw him last season. As the show’s most prominently featured Inhuman besides Skye (excuse me, “Daisy”), and considering their relationship that forms last season, it was a natural choice to bring him back as a main player in the cast. His role was mostly kept on a re-introductory level here, but already his new life is unhinged and he will need to find his place soon if he wants to survive, which goes along with the already reported direction the show intends to go with adapting the “Secret Warriors” concept from the comic books.
On a side note, we don’t get to see a whole lot of the creature that has been killing some of the Inhumans, but this is a rare situation where it very much resembles a comic book character I know, but its not really is that character at all. What I mean is that when this creature confronts Daisy, Lincoln and Mack in the hospital very much resembles the villain Blackheart…You remember the 2007 Ghost Rider movie? Look up Wes Bentley’s character from that movie and see what he looks like in his original comic book form; that basically what this thing looks like. However, in truth, this character has been confirmed to be another Marvel villain called Lash (played by Matthew Willig), a character who I have no real knowledge of. But regardless of my own confusion of the villain’s identity, his appearance made for a nice supernatural threat for the trio to face and adds to the mystery of where we will truly be going this season.
Lastly, after he sudden and very spontaneous disappearance at the very end of the season two finale, it was nice that we did not have to wait a number of episodes to actually see Simmons’s fate. With the MCU consistently heading in a more cosmic direction leading us to Avengers: Infinity War, I am very anxious to see where exactly she is currently stranded and what it will mean for the season.
The strength of the show lays within the performances. Clark Gregg continues to engage us as Director Phil Coulson, a character he first created in the original Iron Man film. This time Coulson is a man with much more weight and responsibility on his shoulders as he has to balance his responsibilities for leading his organization, dealing with a potential pandemic, and trying to keep his team together and keep the Inhuman population as under wraps as possible…Plus, y’know, the whole loosing an arm thing. Both Ming-Na Wen and Brent Dalton set this one out, but I have little doubt that they will continue to do the work they have been doing as Melinda Mey and Grant Ward, respectively, particularly Dalton, who’s character has been promised to sink further and further into his own self-woven web of corruption and betrayal. Chloe Bennet really shines now as Agent Daisy Johnson, a.k.a. Quake, formally known to all of us as Skye. Her character has already grown noticeably since she was first introduced as a witty teenage hacker that everybody was putting over for little reason, but now she is a hardened warrior with superpowers that seeks to do the best for her people while still remaining loyal to her organization and the only family she has left. As I said before, Iain De Caestecker steals the episode as Leo Fitz, now getting to show off a adventurous, more fearless side of himself rather than the introverted lab agent or the mentally challenged character he was for much of season two. He also allows the unhealthy obsessive side of his character to come out more in this episode, particularly the ending where he lets his anger out is an uncharacteristic but very relateable fashion. Elizabeth Henstridge only appears at the end as Jemma Simmons, but as I said, I look forward to seeing what she does with her character this season. Nick Blood returns as Lance Hunter, this time appearing much more as a loyal and strategic soldier rather than a questioning mercenary, but he still brings that same wit and charm he did last season to mix up the dynamics of this team. Adrianne Palicki was a welcome addition last season as Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird, and while it was good to see her recovered so fully from the beaten she got at the end of last season, I do kind of have to agree with IGN that seeing her enter the season in a lab coat was a bit of a stretch. Henry Simmons continues to be the likable muscle as Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, and here he gets to continue his role from the progression he had last season; in particular, it makes sense that he seems to be the member of the team most cautions and jaded of the Inhumans (besides Daisy of course). Luke Mitchell joins the cast full time as Lincoln Campbell, a.k.a. Sparkplug, and while he is just a bit too much of a pretty boy for my tastes, he is a fine actor and one with some serious chips on his shoulder, angry at those who raised him for deceiving him his whole life, but not exactly being on board with S.H.I.E.L.D. either for being the ones who unearthed that deception and brought it down. I look forward to seeing what path he takes this season as well. Special note needs to be paid to Juan Pablo Raba for his extremely relateable performance as Joey, a major heart and soul of this episode in addition to being our primary (and very credible) point-of-view character, as well as to Constance Zimmer as Rosaline Price for her cold and calculating performance that bounced off so well against Gregg. Other performances the season will include Andrew Howard as Banks, Matt Willig as Lash, Daz Crawford as Kebo, Peter MacNicol as Elliot Randolph, William Sadler as President Matthew Ellis, and Blair Underwood as Andrew Garner.
Overall, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.–Season Three is currently shaping up to be a solid continuation of where season two left off, and one that seems to be promising to finally give the fans what they really wanted from this series all along. I cannot say whether those fans who have long since jumped ship will necessarily feel motivated to come back again, but for those of us who stuck with it this far, I think we will be rewarded this year…especially by May of 2016 with Captain America: Civil War comes out.
Here’s to the future of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Phase Three kicks off right here!