‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: ‘Chaos Theory’ Is the Biggest Tearjerker Yet
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 3 Episode 7 – Chaos Theory:
As an action-adventure procedural, it’s always surprising when Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. busts out some truly emotional, tearjerking moments. But “Chaos Theory” is perhaps the most emotional hour of the show’s run. Or, rather, it’s one of the most emotional, at least. This was an episode that blurred the line between friends and enemies, and friends and lovers.
This week’s episode deals with the fallout from the revelation that Andrew (Blair Underwood) is really Lash. It was an awesome twist, and it drives the story into poignant territory here, as May (Ming-Na Wen) and Andrew take a look back on their relationship, almost as a form of introspection about their situation. Long before the duo even got to this point, the show has told us that it’s not so much that May and Andrew are wrong for each other, but rather that the various complications of their very separate lives makes their being together somewhat implausible. And so it is here, albeit in a more tragic way. Instead of their relationship failing because, as Andrew puts it, they were young, it fails here for reasons that have nothing to do with anything either of them did wrong. After all, it’s not as if Andrew asked to be turned into Lash. Sure, once he DID became Lash, his horrific actions were all his own. Nobody forced him to kill anybody. And yet, it’s still got the tint of tragedy due to the extenuating circumstances. He had to end the relationship with May once he was infected with the terrigen mist, because the alternative was putting May in danger since, knowing her, it’d be unlikely she’d ever leave him to his fate alone. It’s a relationship that seems almost destined to fail, which is why it’s so poignant when, during the flashback to Hawaii six months ago, May expresses how she never thought she deserved this sort of happiness with Andrew. May is a beleaguered character, and while she’s the de facto badass of the series, that role usually comes at the expense of inner peace. While this episode neutralizes the Lash threat, it doesn’t seem like May has come any closer to reclaiming the happiness she lost.
I don’t think it was a surprise that Andrew’s transformation ended up being an accident, as he ended up opening Jiaying’s booby-trapped ledger of all the Inhumans across the world. But I did find it surprising how effectively that plot device ended up tying everything together. The ledger not only allowed Lash to find and kill all the various Inhumans he’s been offing, it’s also the key artifact that allows Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) to deduce that Andrew must be Lash, since Lash has been killing Inhumans he could only have known about if he had Jiaying’s ledger. This allows all the different teams looking for Andrew to center in on his location to help free May, who’s been abducted by her ex-husband. It’s compelling when a villain commits to his ideals and believes he’s in the right, and that’s basically what we get here with Andrew. I don’t know if I buy that the terrigen mist is causing him to go insane, but it’s clear that Andrew is committed to serving as the “cure” to this Inhuman plague. He’s like a more militant version of Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer), who argues to Daisy (Chloe Bennet) that no matter how well-intentioned an Inhuman might be, some of them pose a real threat to society, whether through lack of control over their powers or whether out of a genuine desire to do harm. Of course, the irony here is that, in eradicating his fellow Inhumans, Lash is proving to be part of the problem. Hell, he even kills a bunch of ATCU guards during his escape, and nearly kills Rosalind by throwing her off a balcony, if not for Daisy saving the day by unlocking the ability to slow a person’s descent (and proving Daisy’s point that some Inhumans can actually use their gifts for good, although I don’t think that was a point Rosalind was ever refuting).
The story comes to a head with the climactic showdown between May and Andrew, as May fights back tears as she accepts the blame for their marriage failing the first time, stating that she gave up on him. However, it was that rigidity and coldness in her personality that allowed her to walk away in the first place. In May’s terms, she was never as kind or as loving as Andrew, which is why this is all the more difficult. It’s a powerful performance from Ming-Na Wen, who illustrates that May is someone who knows, deep down, the kind of person Andrew truly is. For May, her Andrew is NOT a maniacal mass-murderer. In a way, it’s almost as if she doesn’t want to have to blame him for everything that’s happened. And the show keeps the moralizing to a minimum so that it remains ambiguous for us as well. DO we blame Andrew for what happened? Or was he the unfortunate victim of a booby-trap, who ended up losing his sanity in the wake of being transformed into something hideous and inhumane? It’s a moral grey area, and I like that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. trusts its audience enough to make that kind of decision for themselves. And yet, no matter where you land on the question of Andrew’s personal responsibility, May still has a job to do, and so she shoots him, point-blank, sending him tumbling backwards into a containment vault that will neutralize his powers and render him unconscious. While Andrew lives, May admits that she didn’t know if the bullets would kill him or not, which should tell you all you need to know about how May privileges the greater good over her own feelings. That said, she does still decide to hand Andrew over to the ATCU with the hopes that their cryogenic processes will be able to buy them more time to find a cure before Andrew turns into Lash forever. So it seems like May now has her motivating mission for the season. And it’s really not a bad one, considering that this storyline with Andrew has been some of the most compelling storytelling that May has ever been featured in, outside of the incident in Bahrain. Ming-Na Wen is too good of an actress not to use in tearjerking scenes like that finale, and I’m interested in the possibility of her getting to play a broader role than the head badass of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team.
And yet, the tearjerker scenes weren’t solely the province of May and Andrew. The story between Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) reaches its arguable apex this week. In short, Fitz is still fighting his conflicting feelings of jealousy over Will, and a genuine desire to help get him home for Simmons’s sake. But that all changes once he unlocks the data from Simmons’s phone and finds her recordings in which she all but admits to having always had feelings for him, even stating that she pictured them living together in an old cottage she used to pass as a girl. Watching Fitz react to Simmons’s goodbye message was absolutely heartrending, and one of the most subtly well-acted moments for Iain De Caestecker this season. I’ve long maintained that the FitzSimmons relationship is the strongest character bond of any pairing on the show, and these moments are largely why, since Fitz and Simmons can be the B-story of a given episode, and they’ll still elicit more emotional resonance than many A-stories. Here, Fitz confronts Simmons about her feelings under the guise of updating her on the latest findings (in this case, he discovered that the patch on Will’s jacket corresponds to a logo at the temple where the portal opened, implying that a faction above NASA may have had something to do with all this). It’s a moment that’s been three seasons in coming, with Fitz trying to give Simmons an out by claiming she was just dehydrated and tired when she made those admissions on the alien planet.
However, Simmons remains firm, stating that she was as clear-headed as she’d ever been when she recorded those messages. As they watch the sunrise together, they…opt to do nothing about it. And you know what? That choice felt real. It felt honest. Just look at Fitz’s face throughout the scene while Simmons is talking about her clear-headedness. He has this look on his face that screams, “Oh my God, she loves me too!” It’s complete and utter disbelief, but also abject terror at how this might change things. Never mind that pursuing a relationship now might, even subconsciously, cause Fitz not to give his all to bringing Will home, for fear of potentially losing Simmons. Both parties seem to understand how fraught with complication this relationship could be, so they take the neutral path and choose to table their feelings for now. Because, in a situation like this, that’s all you really can do without causing a drama bomb. Unlike Andrew and May, I would imagine Fitz and Simmons want to get this right the first time. For me, this was easily the most emotionally affecting story of the season so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the search for Will affects this pairing, moving forward. Needless to say, both De Caestecker and Henstridge have been doing phenomenal work this season.
The other storylines varied between intrigue and more romance subplots. We have Hunter (Nick Blood) give up on the hunt for Ward (Brett Dalton) when Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) demands that he stop, stating that she wants neither of them to seek vengeance. It’s a taxing endeavor to constantly try and get revenge, and it leaves a hollow feeling once the desire is sated. Hunter is disappointed, but he understands, and…well, that’s it. They say that they love each other, and I’m hoping this means we’ll get to see them together on-screen more, less because of their appeal as a romantic pairing, and more for their appeal as a team on this show. I know a spinoff was rumored for these two characters, and I can see why. I’d totally watch a Bobbi/Hunter spy show. However, I don’t think I’d have much fun with a show centered on Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) sex life. Yes, he and Rosalind finally seal the deal, and it comes at a very tricky time: Ward is meeting with World Security Council member Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe) to go over the plans they’re making together. Malick has given Ward the location of Werner Von Strucker, who is only unconscious and not dead, apparently; but Ward still needs help. His plan is to cut the head off of S.H.I.E.L.D. by killing Coulson once and for all, stating that once he drops Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t grow back. The assumption is that this will be easier said than done, but it’s hard to be sure, since the big reveal at the end of the episode is that Rosalind is actually working with Malick. At what capacity, I’m not certain, but this certainly adds another layer of intrigue to what’s becoming a delightfully tangled mess of relations.
All in all, I found “Chaos Theory” to be one of the best episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., due to a solid script with emotionally affecting moments, and an ensemble cast that really brought their A-game. I could get used to the series exploring more character-driven arcs, abandoning the plot-driven trappings of similar action-adventure shows, which tend to be all about solving the next mystery or taking down the next big bad guy. This renewed focus on character is doing wonders for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’m hoping the show is able to keep up the momentum.
But what did you think of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Chaos Theory”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., read our recap and review of last week’s genuinely stunning “Among Us Hide…”!