Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Episode 3.01: “Laws of Nature”

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the strange!

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Last season ended with Inhumans and Monoliths and a whole lotta promises that SHIELD was going to continue going Full Comic Book, and we waste no time making due on those promises, as this episode is absolutely chock-full of superpowers, aliens, sweet science-y magic, and barely contained breakdowns.

But we’ll get to those breakdowns in a bit. First, the superpowers! Construction foreman Jose “Joey” Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba) just wanted to reduce his risks of heart disease with a little fish oil, and now he’s melting metal with his mind while two secret agencies fight over which one gets to take him into custody. Yay for being popular?

Skye Daisy arrives with Mack and Hunter to quake, rattle and roll, then they load Joey into a flying box and take him back to their sweet new plane (nickname pending). Eventually he reaches base, where Lab Coat Bobbi(!!) serves as the Welcome Wagon, if by “welcome wagon” you mean “freak the guy out even more than he already is by revealing personal details about is life.”

But that information was friends-only, so, like, there was still some cool spy hacking going on, okay?

“But that information was friends-only, so, like, there was still some cool spy hacking going on.”

Joey’s pretty much immediately likable, a decent guy who even in the midst of all this insanity still has time to apologize for all the melty stuff, sincerely thank people for asking about his well-being, and worry for others’ safety as much as his own. His half-panicked laughter when Skye Daisy tells him about the whole Alien DNA thing is wonderfully real and endearing. He’s also Latino and gay, which not only adds some extra representation to our cast, but (given recent Kentucky county clerks and Great Wall of Mexico talks) helps tie the in-show Inhumans crisis with real-world events on a couple levels.

As for our returning characters, they’ve been … in flux, to say the least. Bobbi’s putting her biology degree to work, helping out in the lab while she recovers from last season’s injuries. Skye Daisy and Mack are in charge of finding and helping Inhumans. Coulson is working to track down the leader of that other covert organization. Hunter’s planning a mission to find “him” (Ward, I’m guessing). May is in Actual Tahiti, I guess. Simmons is still trapped in the monolith. And Fitz is …

Our little science cub has grown into a ferocious Leo!

Our little science cub has grown into a ferocious Leo!

Convinced there’s a way to save Simmons, he’s gone globe-trotting, chasing clues that lead him to an ancient scroll that’s supposed to explain what the monolith is (probably not a prank designed to rain Christmas gifts down on us, despite what certain Twin Peaks-inspired podcasts would have us believe). Chill AF Fitz faces down some generic bad guys and peels out with the relic like a freaking boss while somehow still making me want to wrap him in a blanket and snuggle him because HE IS SO SAD, YOU GUYS.

The rest of the team is worried for him but don’t know how to address it—Bobbi thinks he’s working through his grief while Mack thinks he’s avoiding it, and there’s a case to be made for both views here—so they’ve given him a long leash. Besides, they’ve all got their own business to handle: Skye Daisy and Mack seek out Lincoln (who?), the world’s least interesting lightning bender, to see if his Inhuman expertise can help Joey; and Coulson and Hunter have found their mystery leader, a woman with a half-dozen aliases currently going by Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmerman). To get to her, they walk into a painfully obvious trap.

"Let's... let's just pretend we did this on purpose, okay?"

“Let’s … let’s just pretend we did this on purpose.”

Rosalind and Coulson have a Snappy Dialogue-Off to see who’s Spy Fu is stronger, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them spar (and see Coulson caught off-balance by how much she knows about him, personally). The main points to take away from it are: (1) Rosalind is in charge of “neutralizing” the Inhuman threat until “the laws of man can catch up with the new laws of nature,” and (2) her agency’s been collecting the dead Inhumans for research, but they aren’t the ones killing them. So if it’s not her, then …?

And that means it’s time to check in on Skye Daisy (the struggle is real, Phil!) and Mack at a hospital where Lincoln (him?) is trying to live a normal life. He gets all “my mother-figure was a manipulative extremist so now I’m going through my belated teen angst phase” on them, which is thankfully cut short by the arrival of the guy who’s been tearing holes into Inhumans:

SONIC. THE. HEDGEHOG.

He's WAY past cool.

He’s WAY past cool.

My Marvel lore is fairly limited, so sound off in the comments if you recognize this guy, but he looks Kree-ish and really enjoys dissolving matter. Bullets and superpowers barely slow him down, but Daisy manages to drop Sonic through the floor, and he opts to retreat rather than face the incoming police. Lincoln (plant?) storms off to fend for himself. Well, I’m sure that won’t lead to a future rescue mission.

Coulson and Hunter also engineer an escape via … some kind of spy tech, anyway … and return tp base. As the president addresses the nation about his new Advanced Threat Containment Unit (ATCU) created to handle these changing laws of nature (parroting Rosalind and making it clear who’s really in charge here), Daisy chats with Joey again and doesn’t blast him into a wall this time (progress!). The series oh-so-subtly draws its real-world connections as Joey pushes for the importance of (ah-hem) coming out, but Skye Daisy (I was doing so well, too!) doesn’t think the world is ready for Inhumans yet.

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1-9.2“I thought the How I Met Your Mother finale was pretty good, okay?! THERE, I SAID IT.”

The episode zips right by thanks to all these new characters and rapid-fire plot points, but it’s in the final moments when SHIELD zeroes in on its core cast that it reminds me why I’ve come to like it so much. Coulson does what no one else was willing to do and approaches Fitz, urging him to move on after his ancient scroll only gives him the Hebrew “death” (mot) as an answer. The two share one of the week’s few unguarded interactions as Coulson finally vocalizes the discomfort we’ve been seeing all episode regarding his hand, as well as admits how much he misses his own former confidante, the strangely absent May.

Coulson tells Fitz “nothing feels normal because nothing will feel normal,” and it’s only here I realized just how much of this episode was about everyone throwing themselves into their missions so they wouldn’t have any time to think about themselves. Most of our characters are long-time spies trained to focus on their jobs and keep a lid on their emotions, but they’re not machines, and the pressures of recent events have left cracks they can’t quite hide, despite their best efforts. A part of me wonders if all the deflection and repression isn’t also an intimate version of the broader Inhumans secrecy vs. openness debate, and if we’ll see that function as a thematic through-line going forward.

"Nah, it's cool, looking at my own severed mummified hand in a case every day is in NO way unsettling."

“Nah, it’s cool. Looking at my own severed mummified hand in a case every day is in NO way unsettling.”

Faced with a dead end, Fitz has no choice but to address his grief head-on, blasting through the monolith’s security locks and screaming at it to “do something.” Ian De Caestecker is fantastic here, but more to the point: SERIOUSLY, SOMEBODY, GIVE THE LAD A HUG ALREADY. I’m squeezing my arms as tightly around my tablet screen as I can but he doesn’t seem to notice! Where’s Teddy Bear Mack when you need him?

While Fitz’s demands don’t do anything for him, it works brilliantly for us at home, as we zip away from HQ and over to somewhere blue and sandy. Yes, Simmons’s Season One wish for a TARDIS has come true in the least enchanting way possible, as she’s now fleeing an unknown pursuer and staring up at a sky that is most definitely not Earth’s.

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But I’m sure she’ll be fine. She is, after all, a Doctor.

This, That, and the Other

  • Coulson drinks out of a Grumpy Cat mug. It’s the little things.
  • So glad Mack has become a regular team member. Henry Simmons has such a great dynamic with everyone on this show. I swear I could listen to him and Daisy half-argue, half-collaborate for an entire episode.
  • And on that note: Fitz, please build Mack a “shotgun-ax combination of some sort.”
  • Coulson’s simulation predicts Terrigen (and awakening Inhumans) will go global in about 17 months. Something tells me “17 months” in MCU time will take us to about … oh, let’s say May 6, 2016, shall we?
  • They sure were hamfisted with that “mystery girl”/”I’m sure she’d prefer ‘mystery woman'” exchange, but I still like that this is a show interested in addressing casual sexism, even if they could stand to be more graceful about it.
  • It says something about how far SHIELD has come as an ensemble that the episode didn’t suffer from the total lack of May. That said, I was relieved to see her in the next episode preview. Also Ward, because hating him is ever so much fun.
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