Agents of SHIELD: Review: Season 3 Episode 4: Devils You Know

SHIELD 3.4The menacing beast from Episode 1 returns, and seems intent on mulching its way through every Inhuman it can find. ATCU and SHIELD start to co-operate more, though not always willingly. Hunter gets himself into really deep trouble despite May’s cautioning. The team suffers a potentially crushing blow, and Gemma is still teasing us with phenomenally intriguing half-statements…

Last week’s episode felt just bad all the way through – barely any action, far too much nonsensical and often contradictory dialogue; overall it just felt like the writers had taken a week off and left things in the hands of someone else.

This week, there was more action, some intrigue and a decent sense of threat, but overall it’s still not firing on all cylinders like the SHIELD I knew and loved in its initial two seasons.

Take the opening – a young couple of Inhumans are minding their own business in a lovely domestic scene before a knock at the door reveals their old friend Alisha (the multi-person inhuman from last season) come to warn them that the Terrigen has got out. They then ask her if she has received a strange email. Before the conversation can get much further, the big scary beast from episode one bursts in, dreadlocks and all, kills everyone in the room and leaves. Daisy and Mack burst in because SHIELD are monitoring from the air, Coulson sitting with Alisha’s (other? Primary?) self and then Mack and Daisy give chase while SHIELD attempt to secure as much evidence from the site as possible before the ‘real’ authorities show up. Then ATCU turn up confronting Daisy and Mack, with Coulson standing alongside Rosalind to mutter some platitudes to Daisy about ‘means to an end’ before having an extended bout of ‘Coulson flirts with Rosalind’ and then everyone heading back to base.

The elements are all there – action, suspense, quick-paced back and forth between frenemies. But it all just falls flat because it isn’t clever enough to keep up with itself, or do more than just wave an unconvincing hand to distract you from the bits that don’t make sense. Why send Alisha in alone if they suspected danger? Why have Daisy and Mack round the corner as back up if – as they lamely say amongst themselves – they didn’t? Why bother trying to secure the evidence before the ‘real authorities’ turn up if Coulson is then going to lead ATCU right in without even telling the rest of the team? And where on earth did Alisha suddenly pop up from in the first place?

More questions than answers is unfortunately the template for the rest of the episode. We learn, through tracking down the originator of the mysterious email – an inhuman called Dwight Frye with the ‘power’ of…coming out in hives and a migraine when he’s near another Inhuman (I’m not making this up) that our big dreadlocked nemesis is called ‘Lash’. ATCU take him in with Daisy and Mack accompanying them, only for the truck to get attacked. Lash kills Frye and then wanders off, Daisy being aware enough to see his shadow alter and become smaller and human as he stalks away, leaving us to question exactly who he might ‘really’ be.

Hunter’s quest to ‘work his way from the bottom’ to get to Ward comes to a spectacularly rapid conclusion, as he’s delivered straight to Ward on the eve of his very first Hydra ‘assignment’. Having had his phone smashed and been driven there in a car boot, Hunter seems alone and done for, until May turns up from nowhere to rescue him, Coulson and others en-route in a plane having apparently sussed his location by Voodoo (I struggle to think of a better explanation and the episode sees fit to provide us with none) and a predictable shootout ensues, punctuated abruptly by Ward’s tossing out of a phone showing Andrew being monitored in real time. Toss down your guns and walk away, Ward says, and I will let him live. We cut between this and scenes of Andrew being confronted in the store he’s in by the HYDRA thug with the phone and Von-Strucker junior (remember him?) who turns up with a lighter and a mate with a can of petrol. Hunter won’t wear it though, and comes out shooting, though predictably only clipping Ward before he escapes, and we are left with a lingering shot of a pair of shoes and legs, a pool of blood and petrol and baby Strucker running away from the exploding store. Meanwhile May pouts at Hunter. Is Andrew dead? How will May take that news? Can we have at least ONE situation with some sort of resolution in this damned episiode?

Elsewhere, Gemma continues to not speak to Fitz much and vaguely confide in Bobbi, starting up her own research into everything to do with the monolith in an apparent quest to reconstruct it. After a half-confrontation with Fitz about it mid-episode, when he accidentally finds her folder of super-secret-work-that-nobody-must-know-about-and-how-dare-he-invade-her-privacy (lying about on a bench in the lab) and a cringe-worthy scene of her apologising to Bobbi for snapping that just serves as another opportunity for Bobbi to declare, wistfully, that she has that ‘bad feeling’ that Hunter is in trouble, Gemma finally talks to Fitz about it all. In the end tag.

By which I mean, Fitz asks her why she wants to rebuild the portal (because apparently having glanced through her sheaf of papers for ten seconds or so his super-smart brain has worked it all out) and she says ‘I have to go back, and you have to help me. Something happened to me out there, and it’s time I told you everything’ before we fade to black for another week.

Other, less interesting questions the episode dangles in front of us include: What DID really happen between May and Andrew on THAT vacation? (Honestly, it seems from the conversation between them halfway through the episode that even they aren’t 100% clear on this) Are ATCU trying to hide their worst excesses from SHIELD? (more pertinently, why would they bother?) and is Coulson hiding certain parts of his Inhumans recruitment drive from Andrew? But honestly, my main question is ‘Where has all the smart planning and writing gone all of a sudden?’

Verdict: Possibly the series is struggling to stand on its own narrative after two seasons of tying in fairly closely with a dense movie release schedule and maybe as the next wave rolls into cinemas in the coming months all will become clear, but as it stands, the series is hurting. While a slight improvement on last week’s entry, this is still far from the series’ best. 6/10

Greg D. Smith

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