Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 3
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD makes the most of a standard blackout plot by focusing on how the characters react to the various challenges in front of them.
A blackout is a fairly common trope in shows like this but the episode makes up for it by ramping up the tension and pacing by providing viewers with three distinct scenarios with a time limit. One of them is understated and resolved more quickly than the others but the episode juggles these really well.
The main scenario is the global effort by the mysterious Watchdogs to turn the public against the Inhumans. At this point it’s not difficult to tap into the fear that is already rife among the people and push it to full blown hysteria directed at the Inhumans. A good case study for this is Elena who is shown with her friends who don’t know about her abilities. When they think she’s a normal girl they’re fine with her but her best friend completely disowns her when she finds out that Elena is an Inhuman. We are all familiar with people fearing those who are different in one way or another so as reactions go it is one that sadly makes sense. It’s also a really powerful moment that is played perfectly by Natalia Cordova-Buckley who really conveys the sense of loss as she loses her best friend.
Having the EMP initially be blamed on the Inhumans before revealing that the Watchdogs are behind it is perhaps a little obvious as twists go and I think the episode incorrectly plays it as a twist when it was obviously never supposed to be Inhumans behind the attacks. Instead it really shows how easy it is to tap into fear and doubt that already exists. It was very easy for the Watchdogs to amplify what is already felt by a large number of the public and make Inhumans seem dangerous.
These scenes are amazingly well executed from the character banter to the action sequences involving a solid mix of hand to hand combat and Elena’s powers. It’s great to see the team playing to their strengths and the need for the character dynamics to work is clear.
Elena and Mack are a great example of this. Their relationship has been defined as “will they/won’t they” for a while now and somehow it doesn’t come across as insufferable. Their regretful exchange where Mack says “There shouldn’t be any secrets between us” to be met with a cold “Why not? There’s nothing else between us.” is cutting and powerful. It encapsulates the stalled nature of their relationship and could be seen as a microcosm of the Inhuman/human tension at the heart of this episode.
The reveal that Senator Nadeer (Parminder Nagra) is behind this attempt to discredit Inhumans was completely expected but the reveal that her brother died during the Terrigenesis process and is stuck in a cocoon state offers her really solid motivation. She lost someone she cares about due to the Inhumans albeit in an indirect way so it makes sense that she would hate them in a misguided way. I’m fairly sure that her brother will turn out to be alive with his Terrigenesis somehow delayed but for now it’s enough that she thinks he’s dead.
It’s interesting that once the problem is dealt with it forces Mace to push up his time table on revealing S.H.I.E.L.D. to the public. It was planned for a month later but the people need hope and need to know that they are protected. It’s a controversial thing to do but it might come at the right time. I wonder how long it will be before Mace reveals that he’s an Inhuman himself and shows people that not all Inhumans want to destroy them. It will be a bold move when he does it but it’ll be interesting to see what it does to the credibility of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organisation.
Some of Mace’s words are really on the nose especially with how they apply to Daisy. He mentions that a “team divided is a team defeated” which of course connects to Daisy who is still in self imposed isolation. She stops listening to Mace’s address at that point which indicates that she still has a long way to go before coming round to the idea of rejoining the team. She is still a very tortured and lost person and there’s lots of healing that needs to be done before she can feel comfortable accepting help from S.H.I.E.L.D. again.
Her pain manifests physically in this episode and it’s really brutal to see. Using her abilities does her physical harm and it becomes symbolic of her loneliness being self defeating. The more she operates on her own the more hurt she gets. It’s an effective use of symbolism and the make-up team did an excellent job with the bruises on her arms.
Daisy’s team-up with Robbie ties into her loneliness nicely nicely as he’s a loose cannon that she feels is a means to an end. She was originally tracking him because she felt that he was dangerous and now she works with him because they have a common enemy. There is also plenty of curiosity about his origins in there too which makes her stick around longer than she otherwise might have. Daisy struggles to rely on others at this point and Robbie is someone who doesn’t really need help either.
We find out more about Robbie and his curse. It seems to be connected to his Uncle Elias who is the key to his abilities in the comics. Robbie seems to think that getting vengeance for his Uncle will rid him of the curse. I dare say that this will be expanded on in later episodes but for now the slow release of information about Robbie is proving to be really effective.
Robbie’s brother Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie) also gets a lot of screen time here. He is shown to be intelligent and firm when he susses Daisy out as Quake right away. Even though he’s in a wheelchair he recognises Robbie as someone who needs to be protected as shown by him warning her against associating with him any more. He doesn’t know about Robbie’s Ghost Rider identity and recognises Daisy as being really bad for him. It’s not something that Daisy can disagree with as shown by her immediate departure.
I really like the dynamic between Robbie and Gabe so far. They are very close as brothers which makes sense considering they have nobody looking out for them. As I mentioned above Gabe may be in a wheelchair but he isn’t weak by any stretch. He offers Robbie much needed support and Robbie looks out for him as well. It’s a really well executed relationship and I look forward to seeing more of it. There is also fear at the root of it with each of them fearing the safety of the other and Gabe shows his fear of Inhumans through his concern that Daisy being around his brother will attract trouble.
As I said above, there are multiple time limits in this episode and Robbie is involved in one of them. It’s a smaller one as he has to get to Gabe before he is attacked by looters taking advantage of the fact that there is no power. It’s a bit of a stretch that they would pick on some random guy in a wheelchair but it does allow for an awesome action sequence where Daisy and Robbie work together to defeat the looters. The focus is on teamwork and this is evident in the other action sequences in this episode. It was great to watch and shows that Robbie has plenty to offer when not in his Ghost Rider form.
The third ticking clock is the race to save Agent May who is pegged for certain death due to her ghostly infection. Dr. Radcliffe has the idea of removing the infection by killing her for long enough to be close to brain death. It’s a risky idea that plays out about as predictably as you might expect but it was plenty tense. It was really cliché for the power to cut out just before Simmons went to revive her and this episode is another example of the defibrillator being used without setting clothes on fire. This is an inaccuracy that has always bothered me so it irritates me that an otherwise excellent episode falls into that trap.
May’s predicament also ties into the central theme of fear. Radcliffe states the problem plainly – “how do we cure fear?”. It’s a question that applies to any part of the episode and probably any part of the season. Radcliffe and Simmons’ efforts to save May’s life are frantic enough to overcome most of the shortcomings of these fairly predictable scenes. There’s also the added complication of Simmons knowing about Aida’s power source which will surely lead her to discovering Aida in the not too distant future.
As a final point we must surely be at the point where this show has a noticeable affect on the movies. S.H.I.E.L.D. is now a public organisation after operating in the shadows for so long so surely Tony Stark will have something to say about that. Maybe he will have to learn that Coulson is alive. It seems unavoidable now.
An excellent episode that develops the theme of fear throughout its various plots. Elena’s friend shows a personal example of humans being afraid of Inhumans and this is continued through Gabe’s concern that Daisy attracts trouble for Robbie. In the third plot May is literally consumed by fear as a result of her ghostly infection. Despite some predictable aspects of May’s story the episode hangs together nicely with impressive focus on the character dynamics. The episode also boasts some excellent action sequences that showcase teamwork in really creative ways.
- excellent action
- solid focus on character dynamics
- an impressive sense of tension and urgency throughout the plots
- the predictable elements of the May section of the plot
- slightly muddy focus on the reveal of the Watchdogs