Agents of SHIELD is a show that has to juggle a lot of balls, existing as it does in a shared universe with multi-million dollar movies and attempting not to look out of place on a TV budget. To the credit of all involved, it mostly manages it, but occasionally there is creaking around the edges for various reasons. This was one of those episodes.
Coulson is following Ward and Fitz and their HYDRA escort on the alien planet, Mack and the rest of the SHIELD team (and their Inhuman backup) are trying to decide what the best thing is to do, and the world hangs on a knife edge dependent on whether or not HYDRA will succeed in bringing back an ancient alien of unimaginable power to lead an army of Inhumans to enslave the human race. The stage is set for an epic story to be told, but the problem that nags at the back of the mind as events unfold is this: if the world is in such epic danger, where are the Avengers?
Back in Season 1 when the show was made to intertwine its second half with the events of The Winter Soldier, it was carried off with aplomb, and Cap, Black Widow et al not being around made sense (they had their own stuff to deal with and this was the story of the collapse of SHIELD told from the inside after all). Here, with such high stakes and potential threat to the whole world, and with a man left in charge of what remains of SHIELD who is clearly overwhelmed by the responsibility he bears, and lacking in resources to carry out the job, it makes less than no sense that nobody at any point says ‘Hey, why don’t we call up Tony and his mates, or maybe see if Nick still has that Helicarrier?’
It may seem petty, but unfortunately the show needs its mid-season finale to be epic, and with the wider MCU being a bit quiet at the moment and no larger scale events for the show to hang onto the coat tails of, it makes the mistake of creating a problem that is clearly too big for these characters to ever attempt to remedy on their own when they have the assistance of gods, monsters and billionaire playboy philanthropists to call on in the background. Heck, I would even have settled for some bit of expository dialogue somewhere explaining that the costume brigade were busy and not able to help at this time – anything which attempted to explain away this fairly gaping logic hole. But no, in a show which explicitly trades on its part in a wider world, we are expected to forget that world for an hour and accept that this small bunch of desperadoes are going to do it all alone.
Which is not to say that they don’t do it with style. Almost the whole cast gets a chance to shine in an action-jammed episode. Clark Gregg has fun with a Coulson torn between duty and a burning need for revenge. Brett Dalton gets to deepen Ward a little with some unusual reminiscence and reflection and even Henry Simmons gets to do a little more with Mack than usual. All told, it stands with the very best episodes of SHIELD in many ways – plenty of action, suspense, drama and more than one big twist. It delivers so much, outperforming its budgetary and time constraints as it so often does, but unfortunately I spent the whole episode with the burning question of where the big guns were and why they hadn’t been called distracting me from everything else.
That said, the ending – in terms of the show itself – is suitably dramatic and gives us surprises and juicy stuff to look forward to in the season’s second half. There are a couple of characters we are clearly going to see more of in the future, and this is welcome. It’s just a shame that the writers seem to have forgotten (or assumed that the audience wouldn’t care) about retaining that sense of believable continuity with the wider MCU.
Verdict: A suitably riproaring mid-season finale to what has been overall a strong third season, let down a little by eyes leaving the ball in terms of wider continuity. 7/10
Greg D. Smith