10:11 pm EDT, March 22, 2016

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 3×13 review: Raise a glass

Bobbi and Hunter take a bullet for S.H.I.E.L.D., but that’s just the beginning in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3×13, “Parting Shot.”

Against many expectations (certainly against mine) tonight’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. served as a bitterly sweet farewell to Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter. After a year and half fighting for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson — and with each other — Mockingbird and the mercenary have flown off to tell another story.

But that is a story for another time. Right now, it seems much too soon to say goodbye.

Though that of itself feels strangely fitting. Bobbi and Hunter have always been an entity of excess in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For as well as they worked within Coulson’s team, they have never been entirely synchronized with its rhythms. As a pair, they were always a little too fast, a little too secretive, a little too together. The series convinced us that they were too loyal to leave; in the end, it turns out that they were too loyal to stay.

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The mechanisms by which Hunter and Bobbi take their leave of S.H.I.E.L.D. span the gamut from bizarrely clumsy to touchingly elegant. Bobbi, Hunter, May, Mack, and Daisy infiltrate a heavily guarded Russian facility like it’s a 711 on Free Slurpee Day (that is to say, with no stealth whatsoever), while the tangled intrigue of Malick and the Russians is frustratingly convoluted.

On the other hand, that convolution does support the flashback technique in “Parting Shot,” which is used to a surprisingly strong effect. The audience’s assumptions as to Bobbi and Hunter’s actions and fate are as mercurial as the pair themselves. Hope and suspicion flicker in between despair and faith as the walls draw in around our seemingly invincible protagonists.

The accidental architect of those walls is a shadow-manipulating Inhuman called “The General.” But with all of his formidable power, the General was just a device to set up the real challenge — Hunter and Bobbi’s looming sacrifice. It is in this conflict where the elegance of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3×13 is most on display.

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Hunter, whose skepticism of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s codified loyalties is on display a mere minutes before, who chafes under Coulson’s orders to let Malick fly away free, stands alone to protect the Russian Prime Minister against a murderous shadow. Order-following, S.H.I.E.L.D.-devoted Bobbi tracks down the General and shoots him dead, leaving her team safe, but she and Hunter are defenseless against Russian retribution.

“S.H.I.E.L.D. is about sacrifice,” May tells Hunter earlier in the episode. “Not for you or me, but for the greater good.”

Sacrifice is what Bobbi and Hunter are left to face — and are, most remarkably, willing to face — by the time Coulson returns with a desperate escape plan. Though both the immediately dire circumstances and subsequent release are rapid and rather puzzling, what happens in between brings their arc to its apex.

Fighting defines Hunter and Bobbi. It is evident in every choice they make, every challenge they face. It is an inextricable element of each individually, and of their relationship. As Bobbi tells Coulson, they are not exactly cut out for quiet lives in offices in labs.

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Bobbi and Hunter have have fought so desperately hard to be able to fight; and now, they choose not to fight at all. To protect S.H.I.E.L.D. with their lives, passively, and without protest.

It’s a Luke Skywalker moment if there ever was one, and it’s clear that the significance of the moment is not lost on Coulson.

Speaking of Coulson, the Director is the common thread stitching together the three painful scenes that separate Hunter and Bobbi from the team. Coulson’s covert goodbye escalates when he breaks the news to the horrified team that Mockingbird and the mercenary are not coming back. But both of these scenes are forgotten in the wake of the “spy’s goodbye,” which hits like a falling refrigerator.

It’s a long scene, and one that perhaps stretches the credibility of how much secret toasting might be possible in a crowded bar. But really, who cares? With Bear McCreary’s score swelling in the background, the scene manages to honor Bobbi and Hunter’s relationships within in the team — especially to Simmons and Mack — with barely a word.

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It is deeply moving, and overwhelmingly effective. Everyone walks away safe and well. No friendships have failed, no love has been lost. And yet, something that was so recently whole has now been broken.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3×13 ends with the introduction of Gideon Malick’s ice-cold, Hive-fangirl daughter, but I’m more than willing to postpone the importance for another week. It’s too soon to worry. For now, it’s time to raise our own glasses to our two most audacious of spies.

Hilarious. Maddening. Sweet, absurd, appalling, and wonderful. They came in to S.H.I.E.L.D. when it was fractured and desperate, and in all of their wonderful ridiculousness, helped to make it — and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — whole.

We’ll miss you guys.

How do you feel after ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 3×13?

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