‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Midseason Finale Review: Big Death and Bigger Twist End ‘Maveth’
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Midseason Finale – Maveth:
Ever since he turned his back on S.H.I.E.L.D. in season one, Ward (Brett Dalton) was always going to end up having to face justice inevitably, and it seemed most likely it’d come at the hands of Coulson (Clark Gregg). And yet, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. threw me for a loop with the events of this midseason finale. “Maveth” is an epic hour of TV that plays a lot like a movie and, save for a few stumbles here and there, mostly satisfies like one too. This is still one part of a larger story though, so I’m anxious to see where we’re headed next. But for now, I’d argue this was the best episode of the season so far.
This episode was great for many of the same reasons “4,722 Hours” was great. The alien world, Maveth, provides a wonderfully atmospheric sense of dread. It’s an otherworldly nightmare, and it’s all the more unsettling for how familiar it is, since it looks like Earth, has breathable air like Earth, along with drinkable water, and edible vegetation and animal life. For all intents and purposes, it IS Earth, but with a blue tint and no proper day/night cycle. It’s a livable place, sure, but it’s a hellhole. From a narrative standpoint, it helps us to understand, sight unseen, why something that originated on this world would spell bad news for Earth. We don’t need to see Death, or whatever the villain Hydra is trying to bring back to Earth is called, to recognize the threat he poses. That adds to the tension of what’s already a pretty tense episode, particularly since it’s centered on characters with wildly different and conflicting goals. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) wants to rescue Will (Dillon Casey), Ward wants to bring Death (a name I’m going to use until the show gives us a different one) back to Earth, Coulson wants to kill Ward, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team on the other side wants to rescue their people and prevent Hydra from bringing Death through the portal. That’s all well and good, but not everyone can succeed in their goals, even on a show where the good guys routinely manage to win out in the end. With that said, I was surprised by just how much failure the good guys endure, even in victory. For instance, although Fitz promised Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) he’d bring back Will, that mission was doomed before he even set foot on Maveth. Turns out, the “Will” whom Fitz rescued is really just Death in disguise. The real Will died saving Simmons. It’s a stunner of a reveal, and I thought the show handled it well. Throughout the episode, Will drops tidbits of information he couldn’t possibly know unless he was native to the planet, from the directions through the No Fly Zone (which the real Will had marked on his map but never properly charted) to the history of the alien civilization that had once lived on Maveth, an intelligent race that was inevitably destroyed by its own in-fighting. We’re given clues, and those clues build until “Will” is finally revealed to be the exact being Hydra has been trying to find. And this being’s existence only further compounds the eventual failure of the good guys: even though Fitz is able to stop Death from going through the portal — by shooting “Will” with a flare gun, causing his body to burst into flames, in an awesome visual — the creature still manages to make it through the portal…albeit in the body of Grant Ward.
I’ve sort of talked around the big event that characterizes this episode, largely because I’m still in a state of shock that the show went through with it. The death of Grant Ward has been a long time in coming, and so it probably shouldn’t have been too surprising when Coulson uses his robot hand to crush the traitor’s chest. If anything, the surprise here was due to my own shortsightedness. I had figured Ward would have to die eventually, but it never occurred to me that he would bite it here. But when Fitz shouts at Coulson to leave Ward behind so they can catch the portal, only for Coulson to look back wistfully, I suddenly realized what the show was about to do. I was so stunned, it was almost hard to process that Coulson was actually killing the guy, as he essentially caves in Ward’s sternum…very….slowly. It’s brutal, and all the more so because it’s bloodless. The brutality is in the sound design and in the physicality of Dalton’s performance, and it’s remarkably effective, in that regard. It’s also effective in how it changes the dynamic between Coulson and Fitz. Once they make it safely back to Earth, we close the episode on Fitz and Coulson exchanging a dread-eyed look, as if acknowledging that nothing can be the same again, now that Coulson crossed that line and murdered Ward in cold-blood. However justified he might have been in doing so, good guys often operate on a moral code that dictates it’s better to bring in a bad guy alive than to kill him. But Coulson let the memory of Rosalind (Constance Zimmer) cloud his better judgment. He paid Ward back in kind for all the death and destruction he’s caused, and while it’s hard to really fault Coulson for making that choice, it’s hard to know just yet whether this was a one-time bending of the rules, or the beginning of a downward spiral. That look between Fitz and Coulson speaks a thousand words and none, telling us that what happened on Maveth will haunt this characters, but not telling us what might come of that burden. But hey, gotta leave some story for the second half of the season! And it looks like we’re going to have a lot of it, now that Death has hitched a ride to Earth in Ward’s body, reuniting with Malick (Powers Boothe). While it’s a bit of a copout to go back on the death of Ward almost instantly, I thought this was a clever way to keep Brett Dalton on the show. After all, Dalton is a terrific villain, and it’s looking like he’s going to be playing a different kind of villain anyway. Whatever this thing is, it isn’t Ward. I can’t see this thing maintaining Ward’s acerbic wit or cynicism. This creature seems to be the distillation of every evil impulse the real Grant Ward has ever had, but without the human ability to be reasoned with. I’m genuinely excited to see how Dalton’s performance changes now that he’s playing the true head of Hydra.
As for the rest of the episode, I had a bit of a hard time feeling too invested in the S.H.I.E.L.D. assault on the Hydra castle. I love it any time Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki), Hunter (Lance Blood) and May (Ming-Na Wen) get to go charging in on an action scene, but the happenings on Maveth were far more compelling. With that said, I thought there were some interesting developments. Mack’s (Henry Simmons) uncertainty as a leader is perhaps the most interesting his character has ever been, as he’s essentially learning the tremendous amount of pressure a S.H.I.E.L.D. director must endure, and how frustrating it can be to have your orders questioned by your subordinates. And what’s most fascinating about it, to me, is that Mack never really gets the hang of his role as interim S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Sure, he’s able to take charge in the way a general on the battlefield might, and he even names May his successor if he should die, but at no point does her ever seem particularly confident in his role. Simmons plays Mack almost as if he were in over his head, and I liked that interpretation a lot, because it’s a departure from the sort of strong-jawed, sure-footed action leader we tend to see on shows like this. Another element I liked was Simmons experiencing guilt over the deaths of all the Inhumans in the Hydra compound, since she let Andrew/Lash (Blair Underwood) out of his containment chamber in order to help her take down Hydra. In protecting her own life, she condemned countless innocent Inhumans to death, as Andrew goes from killing Hydra agents to murdering every single cryogenically frozen Inhuman in the building. While Andrew was the culprit, Simmons shares in that responsibility, and I’m wondering how the rest of her team will react if/when they discover that Andrew only escaped because Simmons let him go. In much the same way things are likely to change between Coulson and Fitz, I think Simmons is going to come under considerable scrutiny from the rest of her team for the choice she made, once that choice comes to light. It’s intriguing as a potential plot point for the future, but it’s also paying dividends now, with Simmons struggling silently with her decision and its consequences.
“Maveth” is a suitably epic conclusion for this half of the season for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as the show continues to elevate the “epic midseason finale” approach to an artform. I’m not sure where the show is headed with Zombie Ward at its head, but I’m definitely all-in with the show on whatever direction it plans to take. This is a series that has earned back a lot of good will, thanks to tight plotting, strong pacing, and stronger performances. I really enjoyed this first half of the season, and I’m anxious to see what the second has to offer.
But what did you think of the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Midseason Finale, “Maveth”? Sound off in the comments!
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