‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 3 Episode 14 Review: Mack Gets Spotlight In ‘Watchdogs’
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 3 Episode 14 – Watchdogs:
When Mack (Henry Simmons) first joined the team, it seemed his loyalties were divided. With Hunter and Bobbi now gone from the team, it seemed he was in a position for his loyalties to be divided once again, as his major anchors on the team are gone. Sure, he still has Daisy (Chloe Bennet), but it feels like S.H.I.E.L.D. is making greater and greater demands of Mack, and that can be taxing when you’re faced with keeping your entire life a secret from the ones you love most. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t always focused on Mack individually, but “Watchdogs” illustrated that he’s capable of being a very effective, compelling leading man. With that said, the anti-terrorism story managed to be every bit as engrossing, believe it or not.
The main story involves the hunt for the leader of the Watchdogs, an anti-Inhuman terrorist group that levels an ATCU building and threatens broader attacks. It’s a startling parallel to modern politics, as we end up seeing Daisy bend morality in the name of the greater good of tracking down the group’s leader. It’s clear that we’re meant to see S.H.I.E.L.D. as the ones in the right, but is it really so wrong to question the threat the Inhumans and other superpowered beings clearly present? As the Watchdogs’ leader eventually states later in the episode, The Avengers are considered Earth’s heroes, and yet they not only introduced the Chitauri to our world, they also created Ultron and unleashed havoc as a result. While performing terrorist acts and going on witch hunts for Inhumans isn’t exactly the right way of going about this, the Watchdogs have a bit of a point. Considering the collateral damage the world has suffered, it’s not the worst thing in the world to take a second look at just how much this world depends on superpowered people to protect it, and how much leeway they’re given by the government as a result. In fact, it’s compelling enough that I found myself wishing the show had dug deeper into that theme, because there are interesting moments of morally dubious behavior. For instance, while training Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) out in the field, Coulson (Clark Gregg) discovers that his former friend and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. teammate Felix Blake (Titus Welliver) is the leader of the Watchdogs. After Blake spews his anti-Inhuman rhetoric, Coulson decides he’s heard enough and orders Lincoln to kill Blake, in direct opposition to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s usual protocol. It’s a fascinating character moment because it portrays Coulson as a more ruthlessly efficient director, someone who no longer takes chances or allows himself to be weakened by sentimentality. Similarly, Lincoln choosing to actually go through with it illustrates that he’ll do what must be done, even if he doesn’t agree with it. However, this is undone when it’s revealed that this image of Blake was a hologram all along, which Coulson recognized pretty early on. While I’m glad we’ll still have Titus Welliver around for a while, I kind of wanted to see Coulson continue down that darkly logical path, solely to freshen up his character. Then again, I think the show is going for a more mature Coulson, someone who can keep his personal grudges out of the business of justice. At the very least, this development doesn’t hurt Lincoln’s depiction as someone who’s willing to do what must be done to become a proper field agent. And that’s progress, particularly considering how little development Lincoln has gotten since last season.
But this is an episode largely focused on Mack, who meets up with his younger brother, Ruben (Gaius Charles), from whom he must hide his entire S.H.I.E.L.D. life. Turns out, Ruben thinks his brother is working for an insurance company, and doesn’t understand why he keeps letting his work life interfere with his home life. Although it’s a show about a secretive organization, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has rarely explored the double lives some of its agents must live. It’s an interesting narrative thread to explore, since it allows us to see what Mack truly values. Ruben finds himself identifying more and more with the Watchdogs, and Mack finds himself trying to bring his brother back to the light, while simultaneously trying to keep his secret from getting out. While Ruben is hard up for cash, and Mack is career-oriented, we come to discover that both men value family above all else, as Ruben has helped his parents out when Mack wasn’t around, and Mack straight-up tells Ruben that he’s part of the reason he’s even in S.H.I.E.L.D., to protect people like him from threats like the Watchdogs. Ultimately, Ruben learns the truth when the Watchdogs attack at their family home, and it leads to a pretty exciting action sequence, as Mack creates a “shotgun ax” and carves a path of destruction through the Watchdogs’ ranks. One of the smartest choices the episode makes is to use this action sequence as an opportunity to bond the brothers. In some stories like this, the person would recoil from their loved one upon finding out what they’re really like. Hell, I had every expectation in the world that Ruben would cut off all contact with his brother after seeing what an efficient killing machine he is. But instead, the show pivots in the opposite direction, as Ruben comes to understand the kinds of risks his brother takes in order to protect people like him. Mack took a bullet for Ruben, and it signified that while Mack isn’t always around, he clearly does care, more than he could make Ruben understand through words alone. And yet, not only does Mack care for Ruben, it’s clear he cares for what S.H.I.E.L.D. represents to, both the camaraderie and the work itself. Mack really isn’t the cold, standoffish guy he once was when we met him. He’s a vital member to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, and he comes across as someone immensely dedicated to their mission. This episode made me wish for more like it, where Mack is prominent and we get the occasional look-in on the families of these agents, to get a sense of who they are outside the context of S.H.I.E.L.D. operations.
Of course, that’s kind of the story we’re getting now with May (Ming-Na Wen). Sure, her hunt for Andrew/Lash (Blair Underwood) is situated firmly within the context of S.H.I.E.L.D. operations. But it’s also a grudge that extends beyond those operations and into the realm of personal responsibility. She feels it’s her duty to bring down her ex-husband, and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) feels a similar sense of responsibility over all the people who died when she released Lash — all so that she could live. It’s a great character arc for Simmons, who spends the hour trying to get over her guilt by training herself to be more capable with a gun, so no one else has to be hurt trying to protect her. It’s a story that separates her from Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) — who spends a significant portion of the episode with Daisy, trying to avoid becoming a human bomb — and as “4722 Hours” proved, that can be a great thing. And I say that as someone who loves her pairing with Fitz. While it feels like adding Lash to the plate means spreading these storylines too thin, I have confidence that the show will be able to pull off this precarious balancing act. And if not, we’ll at least get some cool action scenes in the bargain.
“Watchdogs” is an episode that might have felt more significant had there been a greater focus on the increasingly political subtext of the show’s storylines. But for a character study of one of the most macho members of the team, I thought this was a terrific hour of TV. While Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t a perfect show, it’s one that is continuously engrossing in ways both big and small.
But what did you think of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 Episode 14, “Watchdogs”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., read our review of last week’s emotional, game-changing “Parting Shot”!