Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 3 Episode 14
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD gives Mack and Lincoln the majority of the focus as an extremist group start a violent campaign to get their point across.
Just under a month from now -in the UK anyway- sees the release of the highly anticipated cinematic spectacle that is Captain America: Civil War. I’ve kept away from most of the details about it but at its core it will be about the conflicting ideologies of Captain America and Iron Man that reach a point where they come to blows over what they believe in. At least, that is what the core should be so time will tell if it succeeds.
The reason I bring this up is that ideological differences are starting to become more prominent in this show and manifest in a big way through this episode. It is explored from different angles such as Mack and his brother, Daisy and Mack and the Watchdogs group against society in general.
Mack takes point in this episode so I’ll start with him. He feeds into the other aspects of the conflict so he’s a great focal point to explore. The first thing we see is Mack spending time with his brother and it’s clear right from the beginning that it’s a problematic relationship. I was really impressed by how natural the whole thing felt. It was immediately put across that they used to be close but years of minimal contact have started to erode what they have. They were slightly estranged but not to the point that the whole thing was awkward. It was subtly presented and added a real sense of depth and realism to their scenes together. Their tense relationship was especially evident when Ruben (Gaius Charles) called Mack out for lying to him. It’s clear that this outburst was coming and it was only a matter of time before something set it off.
Mack and Ruben differ greatly on how they perceive Inhumans. Ruben sees them as freaks where Mack sees them as people that need to be protected just like everyone else. It’s easy to see why Ruben would be swayed by the Watchdogs as he is simply afraid of something he doesn’t understand. He has been led to believe that Inhumans are something to be feared and doesn’t have any context to alter his opinion. It’s a very human reaction that makes sense and informs the sense of betrayal he feels when finding out that Mack has been lying to him about what he does for a living. In many ways Ruben represents the views of an average member of the public and having him drawn in by the flashy displays of the Watchdogs is entirely believable. His mind is changed when the Watchdogs try to kill him which allows him to reevaluate his thinking but having two sides with valid and relatable motivations makes for a compelling argument.
The Watchdogs provide an interesting perspective on the role of those with super powers in society. They specifically refer to the events of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron as justification for their radical actions and the really interesting thing is that from an outsider perspective it might look like there are no controls placed on the Avengers or others with super powers which leads to people not feeling safe and a large degree of unrest around when the next disaster will hit.
This must surely tie into the events of Captain America: Civil War as people need to feel that they can count on their government to make them feel safe. The fact that it has been confirmed that secrets have been kept from the general public that would end up causing the death of innocents only aggravates the situation. I don’t agree with what the Watchdogs were doing because I think that using violent actions to prove a point is misguided and unlikely to bring about the level of change that people want it to but I can understand the desire to act out against what you may feel is unfair. It also manages to be very topical considering what goes on in our world every day.
Using the Inhumans as a lens to explore society’s approach to those who are different is a great choice. Many of the discussions in this episode circle the issue of what rights Inhumans should have. Are they people or should they be treated differently because they are -in theory- dangerous? You can apply this discussion to the treatment of minority races in certain communities as well as how prisoners should be treated. These are very real debates that pretty much everyone has an opinion on and the use of the Inhumans in this show really tugs on that thread to the point where the viewer is challenged to make up their own mind on it.
Daisy is a great example of this as she is struggling with the idea herself. She wants her people to be accepted by society but she has no problem abandoning the civil liberties of someone she vaguely suspects might be involved with the Watchdogs. They are branded terrorists so she sees any supporter of them to be her enemy. It doesn’t matter what form that support takes so it could be as simple as posting comments online in agreement with their agenda. It brings in the idea of what role the government should have going above the law when there is a vague suspicion like this. It’s also interesting that Daisy was the hacker speaking out against the system back when she was introduced so having her identify this as the best way to deal with a problem is a huge step for her. Arguably not a good one but the fact that she shows commitment to her decision to act is commendable in itself.
It’s also great to see the show have the characters have such polarising views. Mack has real trouble compromising someone’s rights and refuses to be a part of it. He doesn’t stop it because he knows he can’t but he refuses to be associated with it. There’s a tension to his friendship with Daisy that I hope to see continue over the coming episodes.
Coulson and Lincoln make for an unusual yet surprisingly welcome pairing. Lincoln is about as bland as they come in the context of this show and this episode doesn’t really do anything to redeem that but having him work with Coulson brings him out of his comfort zone. He was recently evaluated for his potential as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Coulson was unimpressed with the result. The fact that he is only on the team to be close to Daisy shows lack of commitment that Coulson doesn’t want so the whole mission is a test of his loyalty.
This leads to an interesting scene where Coulson orders him to kill Agent Felix Blake (Titus Welliver) which causes Lincoln to protest before delivering what would be a non lethal blow. Of course it was all a test and Blake was actually a hologram so there was no chance of Lincoln killing anyone. Coulson was impressed by Lincoln’s respect for human life and finding an alternative way of following orders. Coulson needs people like that on his team so it goes a long way towards him proving himself. If only some work could be done to make Lincoln a compelling presence rather than focusing on a chemistry free relationship with Daisy.
Having Felix Blake be the leader of the Watchdogs works really well as it gives what would normally be a disparate group purpose. Blake’s agenda is clear and his motivation for hating S.H.I.E.L.D. is easy to understand. He swore and oath to defend something that was a lie and now he sees Coulson working with Inhumans as further betrayal of that idea. He specifically mentions H.Y.D.R.A. being who he was really working for but interestingly he doesn’t have a problem taking information of weapons from them to further his cause. He is showing signs of a leader who has been corrupted by his own ideals to the point that he doesn’t realise that he is part of the problem. This makes him a really complex villain character and I’ll be interested to see what happens when Malick inevitably betrays him.
Simmons turning her attention to improving her skills with a gun as a response to something I thought had been forgotten was nicely done as well. She feels guilt over unleashing Lash to kill the Inhumans in her way and save her life so she wants to learn how to defend herself and never be put in that position again. May constantly tells her that she did the only thing she could and it wasn’t her fault. Lash was the one who killed those people not her so feeling guilty is simply counter productive. Simmons still doesn’t agree but offers to help May find him to help make amends for releasing him. She also offers the alternative of putting a stop to Andrew’s transformation and bringing him back which May is completely against. She is fixated on ending the problem by killing him and doesn’t want to be distracted by any sense of hope. May can’t handle letting herself appear vulnerable like that and refuses to allow that to happen otherwise she might not be able to go through with killing him. It’s powerful stuff and shows how deep May’s inner conflict is at this point.
The episode was fairly light on action but the building implosion was a really striking image as well as the devastation left behind it. Mack and Ruben’s escape from the house was a definite highlight. It was tense and atmospheric plus Mack finally got to make his shotgun axe so that was a nice piece of continuity. We also got to see Daisy use her powers plenty so when action was used it was used very well.
Just a brief extra note that isn’t really related to anything significant. Daisy briefly mentions the name Damage Control towards the end of the episode. I wonder if she means the group that clean up after the destructive superhero battles. If so then that is really cool.
An excellent episode that displayed differing ideologies in interesting and relatable ways. Mack and his brother Ruben were used really well in the story and their relationship felt very real which helped ground the episode. Lincoln is still a really boring character but Coulson testing him worked well enough. Simmons trying to improve her self defense skills to deal with her guilt over releasing Lash was long overdue after that thread being largely forgot about. It seems that this show is starting to set up Captain America: Civil War and it’s doing so in a way that feels organic and enhances the storytelling here.
- Mack’s realistic relationship with his brother
- the exploration of the conflicting ideologies
- organic setup for Captain America:Civil War
- Lincoln not getting any more interesting