Oh, the (In)humanity.
After last week’s stroll down memory lane, we’re back to running full-speed through the present, as our many main characters combine, split, and collide to tell several stories and one big reveal: Lash’s alter ego. Regardless of whether or not the answer surprised you, there’s no denying it’s going to change the game in a big way going forward.
In terms of narrative structure, this may be SHIELD’s best work to date, skillfully blending a whole mess of plot lines in a way that forwards all the individual arcs while also doing a lot of work to push the central conflict (the Inhumans) forward on several fronts. It’s busy but coherent, and still finds time to breathe through small, significant interactions and character beats. For the first time since the season premiere I really don’t have any complaints other than that the weaving story lines make it a lot harder to recap succinctly, but I’ll do my best, and hopefully this won’t get out of hand along the way.
We begin with good(?) news at least: Andrew survived the explosion and is surprisingly unscathed from it. He says Coulson’s man saved him, although he died in the process (to the family and loved ones of Agent McNameless …) and he managed to get clear of the blast just in time. If this sounds fishy to you, then congratulations! You’ve upgraded to Paranoia Level: Coulson, and your suspicions will be rewarded by episode’s end!
The accident has rage-fueled May back into the field. She volunteers to take over the Ward search in Hunter’s place. Joining her will be Bobbi freaking Morse, whom May determines is ready for action. With some help from Fitz, the two infiltrate a bank to break into Strucker’s safety deposit box in hopes of figuring out where he might be hiding.
SHIELD continues to kind of suck at subtle undercover missions, so of course their nifty bomb alerts security. Bobbi’s Diplomacy rolls aren’t quite high enough, so the two have to fight their way out. Which they do, of course, because have you met these two? May’s peeved that Bobbi wasted time trying to talk her way out of the situation at all, and gives her a typically gruff but effective May Pep Talk about letting her past “experience” make her stronger rather than fearful. Bobbi will soon take this to heart … but we’ll get to that later.
First we need to check in with Big Bad Wannabe Ward, who wants to find Strucker before SHIELD does. He lucks out when he receives a call from former World Security Councilmember and HYDRA Head, Gideon Malick (the amazingly named Powers Boothe). Strucker’s come to him for help, but Malick’s playing the long game, so he offers Strucker to Ward in exchange for future favors. After some vague yet menacing game metaphors, the two agree, and Ward sends #2 Man Kebo after the kid. Everybody, to Lisbon!
HYDRA gets there first, but just barely, allowing May and Bobbi to stretch those ass-kicking muscles of theirs. And boy, do they ever: May grapples with a pair of guys and Bobbi takes on the other three, including Kebo. Pool Duel time! Bobbi almost drowns but manages to stave him off (ba-dum tish) long enough to get clear of the water, pose, shoot off a badass one-liner, and calmly electrocute him.
May gets to Strucker right before he bleeds out, and while he doesn’t give her Ward’s location, he does drop the episode-ending plot bomb:
(Okay, this theory’s been floating around for a couple weeks now, so maybe that gif is an exaggeration. But, I mean, c’mon. It’s a good gif. It deserves some mileage.)
We’ll deal with this story-shaking reveal in full next week, I’m sure. For now, though, we have other adventures to recap. For instance: Coulson and Rosalind going on a date!
Okay, so it isn’t technically a date because Coulson won’t stop suspecting Rosalind of foul play, but the two wind up at her house after a break-in derails their trip to the ATCU facility. Coulson (a man after my own heart) judges her based on her books and admires her autographed baseball bat, but won’t let himself relax long enough for a nice take-out burger dinner date. Despite his obvious interest in her, he wasn’t kidding when he told Daisy he’d learned how to cut himself off from emotional attachment during missions, and by the end of the house call he’s actively looking for reasons to distrust her. Annoyed, Rosalind takes him to the facility as requested.
Meanwhile back at SHIELD HQ, Daisy and Mack are following their hunches about Lash: He has to be someone with insider information, so it stands to reason he’s an ATCU guy. They make Banks (the sour-looking bald dude who’s always standing just to Rosalind’s right) their prime suspect and decide to tail him, although they want to be careful so as not to ruin Coulson’s date. I mean, appointment. (No, I still mean date.)
Hunter, the scolded, overeager puppy that he is, asks (okay, begs) to be their driver. He spends most of the episode trying to get off of everyone’s shit list, and despite his, er, less-than-subtle methods:
He does quickly get a hold of Banks so they can send a DNA sample back to Simmons. While they’re, ah-hem, “drawing blood,” Banks receives a text about a drop-off at Endotex Labs, so the trio follow this lead and see where it takes them.
Banks himself is a fully human dead end, but the text leads them straight to Rosalind’s Inhuman Containment Facility, where Daisy uses a swiped prototype Stealth Dwarf (“Bashful,” one assumes) to spy on the lab. Her timing is either perfect or terrible, depending on your point of view: She sees not only a “drop-off” containing an Inhuman in suspended animation, but also Coulson and Rosalind calmly viewing the proceedings. And if you thought things were tense between Coulson and Daisy before, you ain’t see nothin‘ after this.
In the facility itself, Rosalind tells Coulson she sees what they’re doing as equivalent to putting someone in a medically induced coma until they can find a “cure” for their abilities. Much of this is motivated by her late husband, who died of cancer years ago. She wishes she could have done for him what she’s doing for the Inhumans, and genuinely sees this as the best possible option. Coulson isn’t quite as comfortable with it as she is, but he at least agrees with the premise of Inhumanity as a illness and sees where she’s coming from.
There is, of course, one huge issue here, which is that nobody’s asking the Inhumans’s opinions on any of this. While it’s true that there probably are some (like the migraine guy from two weeks ago) who would willingly go into suspended animation, there are plenty of others who wouldn’t (Lincoln in particular comes to mind). To default to “this is an illness and we’re doing it for your own good” denies the other person agency and seriously dehumanizes them. Rosalind thinks she’s doing good here, and Coulson mostly agrees, which speaks more to their own personal (mis)conceptions and prejudices than it does their altruism.
All of which is, well, not great, but also very human, a topic that comes up again and again this week. Andrew talks about creating a “psych profile” for Inhumans but then admits they’re all different (almost like regular humans, HMMM). Daisy is vehemently against Rosalind’s methods because it denies basic human rights to people going through the same changes she did. Rosalind shows her own humanity when she explains that her mission comes out of a misguided attempt to help others the way she couldn’t help someone she loved. And then there’s this exchange about which of them are “human,” which gets sadder and sadder the longer I think about it:
I’m in a strange (read: great) place with Coulson where I simultaneously want to shake him and wrap him in a warm blanket and protect him from everything forever and ever. It’s one of my favorite places to be with a character, because it generally means nuanced writing and a lot of room for personal growth. This season has had its hiccups, but overall I’m quite pleased with the way it’s developing its cast, and that continues here.
I’m not sure where SHIELD is planning to take Coulson (and his relationships with both Daisy and Rosalind) this season, but his inability to deal with the changes that have happened to both him and his team, combined with his continued need to try (and fail) to separate “Phil the person” from “Coulson the agent,” is becoming increasingly troubling. I suspect it’s going to lead to a lot of grief if he doesn’t find a way to face it soon.
This, That, and the Other
- Welp, now we know why Andrew peaced out on May so suddenly. Damn you, Fish Oil, for sinking our ‘ships!
- SHIELD has done such a great job establishing its large female cast as distinct, flawed, and capable characters (take note, MCU films!) that our antagonist’s casual sexism was almost endearing. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever found myself saying “Oh, honey, that’s cute” after a line like this one.
- In between creating cleverly spelled fake IDs and pulling up data on the world’s saddest bank manager, Fitz ran some failed simulations on the Monolith and performed the spy equivalent of Facebook-stalking Will (Relationship Status: It’s complicated). The guy’s a heck of multi-tasker.
- Oh yeah, and Lincoln is still on the run and in contact with Daisy. Also, Andrew wants to know where he is. That’s guaranteed to end well!
- “We know. It’s a phone.” If you were wondering: Yes, Mack’s deadpan delivery is still my favorite thing.