‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: Just Rename It ‘Agents of S.K.Y.E.’ Already
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 2 Episode 14 – Love In the Time of Hydra:
I’ve long been one of the staunchest defenders of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and while I still do generally enjoy the show each week, “Love In the Time of Hydra” just did absolutely nothing for me. A lot of that was the heavily expository nature of the episode, but just as much was about how a wide, varied array of conflicts all inevitably circle back to being about one person.
Alright, so maybe it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that this episode was all about Skye (Chloe Bennet). Really, it wasn’t. But what was frustrating was that so much of the episode hovered around stories concerning her, when there were far more interesting arcs waiting to be explored in the wings. For example, we spend an inordinate amount of time with Skye as Coulson (Clark Gregg) transports her to a safehouse. The Corvette speech was poignant in its own way, with Coulson comparing Skye to his dad’s classic car (the same one that now flies), but that was pretty much the only worthwhile moment. And that’s because progress isn’t really made. Skye doesn’t get better at controlling her powers, because the safe house and the power-inhibiting gloves that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) fashions for her essentially allows her to avoid having to deal with it right now, which is kind of a cop-out. We basically just get a lot of hemming and hawing over whether or not Skye can be rehabilitated, and just what level of threat she represents both to the enemies and to S.H.I.E.L.D. proper. It’s not a bad story to explore, and I quite like Chloe Bennet (seriously, I’ve never understood all the flak she gets), but every time we switched back to Skye, the momentum of the episode stalled. Hell, the story with Ward (Brett Dalton) and Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) had to once again explore Ward’s latent feelings for Skye before business could really pick up in any meaningful fashion, and even the story with the rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. faction is at least partially focused on the search for Skye, as “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” is concerned about her disappearance since it’s yet another mark against Coulson’s leadership. It’s this latter plot point that drives much of the dramatic tension of the episode, as the internal division among S.H.I.E.L.D. continues unabated.
It turns out that “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a collection of agents working under Robert Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos), a man who owes his life to the late Agent Hartley (Lucy Lawless). Naturally, her death caused the first significant concern in Coulson’s leadership, and as a result, he assembled a group of fellow agents who also have concerns about whether or not Coulson is the best possible choice to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. right now. Basically, it’s the S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent of “The Ancient Mystic Society of No Homers,” with everyone banding together to hate on Coulson and figure out ways to get him out of power. Gonzalez blames Coulson for Hartley’s death and every other bad thing that’s happened as a result of his obsessive search for the alien city, and both Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) agree that Coulson has been compromised due to the secrets he’s been keeping. It’s a solid, if a bit unspectacular, reveal. But what works about it isn’t that it creates another faction for S.H.I.E.L.D. to fight, but rather that you can kind of see why they would blame Coulson for, say, the transformations of both Skye and Raina, and the death of Tripp. Coulson is a solid S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but is he really the right man to be Director of the organization? Even if I don’t necessarily agree with their methods, and still consider Bobbi and Mack to be a bit more on the traitorous side, I can at least see where Gonzalez and his agents are coming from, and that makes this all the more compelling.
Also compelling was the confrontation between Bobbi and Hunter (Nick Blood), who manages to escape captivity from the aircraft carrier by stealing a submersible vehicle, but not before failing to turn Bobbi back to the light. It’s a surprisingly emotional sequence, with Bobbi saying that everything she felt for Hunter was real. For his part, Hunter tries to get Bobbi to run away with him, saying that this isn’t something she has to do, that they can find a solution together. But Bobbi insists that she can’t, and it’s an excuse that sounds less than “I can’t” and more like “I won’t” to Hunter’s ears. The Bobbi Morse/Lance Hunter relationship has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this season so far, because even though it’s clear just how toxic they are to one another, it’s just as clear that these two have immense feelings for one another. But they’re also two people who are largely defined by their careers, and the connections made therein: Hunter is gradually getting out of the mercenary mindset he’s been in since we first met him, whereas Bobbi is actually regressing into someone who’s almost completely driven by duty. She can’t leave with Hunter because, as she explains, she has an obligation to finish what she started, and that means seeing this Coulson investigation all the way through.
Sure, she doesn’t trust Coulson anymore, but Bobbi isn’t necessarily painted as a bad or sketchy person (at least not in the same way Mack is, for whatever reason). She has the best interests of S.H.I.E.L.D. at heart, and so even while Hunter manages to escape, her first priority isn’t to recapture him, it’s to re-infiltrate Coulson’s team. And apparently, she only needs six hours to accomplish whatever vague task she’s setting out to accomplish. At the very least, this gives her a significant head start over Hunter, who won’t be able to reach dry land to contact S.H.I.E.L.D. for another 12 hours, at the earliest. I always love a good race against time, and that’s more or less what this story is presenting, so I’m looking forward to next week’s infiltration, since it looks like a potentially interesting conflict. At the very least, Coulson and May (Ming-Na Wen) seem to be anticipating something, since neither trusts the excuses Mack is giving them for why Hunter hasn’t been around. I guess I wrote off Coulson’s perceptive abilities way too soon last week.
Another interesting arc was the reemergence of Ward, who actually manages to be a fairly sweet guy this week. Granted, it all could just be a part of his sociopathic tendencies, mimicking the emotions of a caring partner as the situation requires, but for the most part, he’s very encouraging towards the depressed Agent 33. She’s basically in love with Ward, and thinks the way to his heart is through Skye. So she uses the face-changing mask to look like her, creating for an exceedingly awkward near-hookup that was fairly jarring, since there managed to be an “otherness” to Chloe Bennet’s performance as Agent 33-as-Skye that made this just seem wrong (just as it should have seemed). But, once again, dealing with the residual fallout over Ward’s feelings for Skye detracts somewhat from the far more intriguing “closure” arc, as Ward takes over what’s left of Hydra by abducting Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) in order to allow Agent 33 to gain a measure of revenge against him. And that’s exactly what she does, giving Bakshi a taste of his own medicine by forcing his eyes open and subjecting him to similar brainwashing techniques as the ones he subjected her to while prepping her for Whitehall. It’s a story that illustrates that the cold-blooded Ward is still in there, and he’s still a very serious threat that’s going to need to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Yet the story also has a silly, campy element to it, as General Talbott (Adrian Pasdar) questions his team, pinches the face of a lieutenant, and even pulls a gun on his own wife while trying to find Agent 33, who is in disguise in his headquarters. It’s a jarring bit of comedy that doesn’t really feel of a piece with the rest of the episode, but I actually didn’t mind it, because Pasdar commits fully to the bit. And it also offered us a badly-needed reprieve from Agents of S.K.Y.E.
I still have faith in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. going forward, as this felt more like a table-setting episode for the hell that’s about to break loose next week. But even then, I still feel there are better ways to do an exposition-heavy episode than “Love in the Time of Hydra”. For me, this was the weakest episode of the half-season, but I’m far from falling off the S.H.I.E.L.D. bandwagon just yet.
For more: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.