11:26 pm EDT, March 29, 2016

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 3×14 review: Diversions from the norm

Mack dealt with stress on the homefront and at work, while Daisy got some big ideas on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3×14.

I confess: For the first time this half season, I am disappointed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

The central problem with “Watchdogs” (though far from the only problem) is, well, the Watchdogs. It’s not so much that the group is presented as a direct and depthless metaphor for modern scare-politics (and, ah, the politicians-who-shall-remain-nameless that promote them.) The problem is that that correlation doesn’t seem to make much sense in the layout of the Marvel Universe. Making a connection between an unjust government and Inhumans is sketchy at best; linking Reuben’s empathy with the Watchdogs’ cause is a leap that deeply undercuts the episode.

But because the Watchdogs are the centrifugal force at the center of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3×14, their unsteadying influence infects Daisy as well. To be clear, it is not beyond belief that Daisy would choose to take a violent path with her powers. Daisy is stubborn, shrewd, and passionate about her beliefs — theoretically, the plotline should be a strong one.

agents of shield 3x14

But the forces that compel Daisy to violence in “Watchdogs” are, frankly, just not compelling enough. The episode takes her from zero to two hundred with an unimpressive nudge from online trolls. Perhaps it’s meant to be a commentary on those of us who do battle with digital forces of evil, but I would have preferred seeing Daisy pushed — really pushed — to the point where she felt her actions were necessary. (Leaving the question of “justified” for another time, perhaps.)

As it stands, the consequences of Daisy’s intimidation campaign are ultimately minimal. Fitz’s flirtation with nitromene is a contrivance to keep her busy. Mack’s injury (procured after a long and frustratingly obvious display of heroism to adjust Reuben’s opinion) is treated as minimal. Certainly, further consequences of Daisy’s vigilantism might be forthcoming, but for now, her acceleration is a disappointing shift in her character.

And Daisy isn’t the only one who has made such a shift. While I sympathize with Agent Blake awakening from his terrible injuries to a world gone an almost Walking Dead-degree of insane, the character’s sharp turn toward rage-fueled violence is tough to swallow. It is another story decision that is presented with an almost deliberate lack of nuance, which is puzzling. Forget understanding his point of view; when faced with a villain who waves pom-poms for guns, it’s hard to so much as take him seriously.

Which is unfortunate, as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to want us to take Blake very seriously indeed.

agents of shield 3x14

All this being said, there are areas in which “Watchdogs” works very well. Henry Simmons continues to deliver one of the most thoughtful, understated, and versatile performances of the series, elevating the circumstances of the episode with Mack’s trademark dignity and wit. Amidst a story swamped in several layers of chaos, something as silly as his slapdash (and long-awaited) shotgun axe becomes an earned moment of palpable delight.

Similarly, the developments between Simmons and May are quite powerful, albeit quietly. For all that May and Simmons speak fairly frankly with each other — Simmons about her overwhelming guilt, May about her heartbreaking plans for Andrew — there is a subtlety at work between them. Each woman is doing something that comes naturally to the other, charging through foreign territory in pursuit of something they each think they want. (Spoiler alert: It’s not actually what they want.) Hopefully, together May and Simmons can find a balance that achieves a mutually desirable outcome.

Speaking of mutually desirable outcomes, Lincoln finally seems to have hit good ground with Coulson. That’s a good thing, and not just for my hopes for a relief of angst. With all the chaos behind and ahead of them, it looks like the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are going to need every pair of hands they can get.

What are your thoughts on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 3×14?

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