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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rushes through a lot of story to move towards its endgame

Illustration for article titled Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rushes through a lot of story to move towards its endgame

With the end of the previous episode fresh in viewers’ minds, and Daisy’s visions of an inevitable S.H.I.E.L.D. agent’s death in the future, you would think that S.H.I.E.L.D. itself would be in dire straits. Other than a broken leg, though, Coulson and the gang are right back at it. One team is zipping around the world, performing some questionable missions; the other team participating in some Mad Men-meets-Orphan Black spy games. It’s all very endearing, but it’s all very rushed–you can tell the writers are both scrambling to set the table for the season finale, and pad for time until that point. “Singularity” is a fine episode, but it’s also a fast one, which allows the stakes to be raised, but at the expense of giving its characters the proper room to breathe.

The two characters that fare the best are Fitz and Simmons, and that’s because, as has been mentioned before, Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge are just wonderful together. The two play dress-up as they infiltrate a fancy underground club of transhumans (humans who improve themselves via tech) in order to find a Dr. Radcliff, someone who they believe can find a cure for Hive’s parasitic control. Adding another layer of comic book complexity–transhumanism–on top of the Inhuman plot feels way too much, especially at this point in the season, but it works, if only because watching the two fumble through the club and their feelings is just adorable. It’s also a bit clunky: they make a wonderful pairing, but watching them work through their love while the fate of the world is at stake is a difficult balance to maintain, and I’m not sure the episode nails it. Bobbi and Hunter “turning off their comms” for their lovers’ spats worked because they’ve always been one step removed from the agents within S.H.I.E.L.D. Fitz and Simmons doing it comes off a bit selfish, considering they have more affection and respect for their teammates, who are in serious trouble. Still, the two have a wonderful rapport, and they finally get to “do the deed” at the end–even if the timing couldn’t possibly be any worse.

“Singularity” tries to be about connecting, about characters thriving with or faltering without those who know them best. And while the episode does its best with Fitz and Simmons (give or take a Mack, who will forever be alone), it stumbles a bit with Coulson and May (give or take a Lincoln, who will forever be angry). The latter team decides on a whim to go after Alisha since they believe she’d be a prime Hive target for his army. Now, correct me if I missed it, but why decide on her? Especially since Joey and Yo-Yo seem like bigger targets? (I know technically they’re in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s custody, but still, keeping them around in the story would be fun!) As an added bit of tension, Coulson demands Lincoln wears a murder vest that can be triggered remotely if Hive were to possess him, but gives the trigger to May. She rightly calls him out on it, especially since he seems so willing to have someone else take Lincoln down but is super protective of Daisy, who’s arguably more dangerous with what she knows. (I feel like there’s a bit of metacommentary here: sure, a lot of people don’t like Lincoln, but “just kill him off” is kind of a wrong-headed way to deal with him. Sending him off is probably the smarter way to handle him, which Coulson does. He’s a good fighter but his “pining for Daisy” outbursts are literally the only thing he does.)

What works slightly better are the various talks between Coulson and May, mainly because the two are broken people who nevertheless have to continue making hard choices. The episode pulls their personal dilemmas from their pasts: May’s encounters with Lash, and Coulson’s fatherly need to protect Daisy. The former is more fruitful than the latter (Coulson calling Daisy the daughter he never had is taking it too far, I think), but at the very least, they make a good team that’s on the same ”tortured leader” wavelength; just watching them investigate James’ trailer, and survive the subsequent explosion, was pretty cool. In a way, having the two of them watch Talbot execute a simultaneous attack on all the remaining Hydra strongholds feels like a moment of vindication for their past sins, but as Coulson implies, it’s a hollow victory. It’s also a weirdly throw-away moment: is Hydra completely done as an enemy? Probably not, but no matter how you slice it, the appearance of wiping out all of Hydra in one go comes off too sudden, and too lazy.

Another bit of sudden plot development is when Hive, Daisy, and James arrive at the transhuman club and kidnap Dr. Radcliff. See, Fitz and Simmons manage to work their way into Radcliff’s good graces with a needle to his prosthetic eye, but lose him when the three Inhumans come crashing in and ruin the place. Hive and Daisy make the show’s third connective pairing (give or take a James, who will forever be fun); earlier in the episode, they bond somewhat as Skye and Ward for a brief moment. At the end of the episode, the two attempt to emotionally manipulate Fitz and Simmons: Daisy pleads desperately to Fitz to stop pursuing them, while Hive taps into his inner Will to try and work Simmons a bit. What I like about this is that it gives a unique shade to Hive’s parasitic mind control. Its focus on upping the pleasure zones of the brain when the infected are around each other doesn’t preclude the core characters’ past affection for others. Daisy’s plea was definitely genuine, even as she held Fitz up by his throat; you could tell she was fighting that urge to kill him. But more surprising was Hive’s low-key charm to tell Simmons to stay out of the way as well. He was definitely trying to fool her, but I honestly think there was a bit of sincerity there, from both the Will and Ward parts of him. There’s a chance those memories are strong enough to stand up somewhat to Hive’s control, but it’s tough to tell if the show will follow up on this in any meaningful way.

Stray observations

  • Thanks to Alex McCown and the rest of the AVClub staff for letting me sub in tonight once again. I enjoy this show quite a bit!
  • The opening single-camera track through the destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. base, ER-style, was pretty damn cool. The show has definitely opened up is visual storytelling style, which is always appreciated.
  • Hive, Daisy, James (who basically has Gambit powers), Alisha, and Dr. Radcliff bought a town together, presumably with Malick’s money. It seems sweet, until you realize they’re planning to use it to do more Kree experiments on people. Yikes.