Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Episode 3.07: “Chaos Theory”

He who fights monsters, etc.

Agents of SHIELD

This week on SHIELD: Personal confrontations, ideological debates, moral abysses, violent resolutions, multiple feelings, and ‘ships launching and sinking and filling with holes and getting pulled out of the bay and set on land to be possibly fixed once a construction crew can get to them, you know, maybe, one of these days, funds permitting. One thing’s for certain: When this is all over, everyone on this team is gonna need that vacation to Maui.

Not much in the way of subplots this week, as pretty much every story winds up funneling to the big Lash confrontation, but we do have a couple unconnected bits. First, Bobbi finally tells Hunter to knock it off with the “I love you so that means I get to commit self-destructive and morally ambiguous acts in your name!” nonsense, and forwards the episodes ongoing themes about “monsters” and not losing yourself in the name of revenge or the greater good.

greater good-short

Also, Simmons passes over her cell phone for Fitz to extract the data and see if he can find any clues. He gets to see her and Astronaut Mike Dexter Will together, which is really hard for him, but he also listens to her audio and video files where she gives status updates as if she’s speaking directly to him. Fitz basically watches her slowly dying, all the while talking about what the two of them “could have had,” which doesn’t necessarily make things easier but it does at least show him what she went through and how important he was (and is) to her.

Along the way, he discovers a symbol carved into the base that matches the one on Will’s suit, and wonders if they might be connected to the group who sent Will through the portal. Find them, and maybe you find another way to the Desert Otherworld. He shares his intel with Simmons as well as admits to watching all the videos. The two don’t have any answers at this point, and neither is interested in lying to the other, so for now they agree to simply watch the sunrise. Or, to summarize for both the characters and your recapper:

feels - don't know what they're doing

Past that, the central focus of “Chaos Theory” is Andrew, Lash, and the escalating Inhuman crisis. On the political side, Rosalind and Coulson team up for a meeting with the president and other global leaders to discuss the new Inhumans. Coulson brings Daisy along in hopes she can sway Rosalind towards a more humanitarian approach, but their trip gets derailed when Mack brings Lincoln aboard the plane with some important intel: Lash has been specifically targeting Afterlife residents, which means he must have access to Jiaying’s ledger. It doesn’t take long for everyone else to draw the threads, especially since Coulson just learned that May and Andrew skipped out without telling anyone.

And speaking of May, she’s done a little sleuthing of her own, and is very concerned by what she’s found. She confronts Andrew about Strucker, his sketchy flight records, and deleted blood records, hoping to give him a chance to explain himself before she tells the rest of the team. Andrew responds by icing her and handcuffing her in an office at the university where he works.

Did you even read the couples' therapy handbook, Dr. Garner?

Remind SHIELD to never ask Dr. Garner to lead a couples’ therapy session.

The not-so-good doctor spends the entire episode riding the edge of a breakdown, though for a while it’s hard to say what direction that breakdown’s going to go. He’s fighting with a violent compulsion to hunt down Inhumans, a compulsion he’s attempted to justify as “necessary” because he’s only killing “the bad ones.” Given the way he reacted to Joey Gutierrez, who is basically the (In)human version of a golden retriever, it seems more likely that these self-imposed rules come from Andrew, not Lash, and that the compulsion will eventually extend to slaughtering all Inhumans, maybe even Daisy.

We’ve never seen an Inhuman before whose personality/brain chemistry was so directly and dramatically affected by the transformation, which makes the show’s attempts to frame this as an “illness” a little jarring, but I suppose it makes sense if you do a little headcanon work where the Kree intended to have some Inhumans function as police or hunters. It adds an extra layer of complication to the whole situation, that’s for sure.

Andrew’s slowly becoming the monster everyone thinks he is, and despite his best mental gymnastics, he seems to realize this on some level, as his plea for May’s “help” is just vague enough that it’s hard to tell if he wants her to help him hunt or help him stop hunting. When Phil joins them on the scene “as a friend” and tries to talk Andrew into turning himself in, it looks like it might work. So as long as everybody stays calm and keeps Andrew from feeling threatened, I’d say we can settle this peacefully and DAMMIT, LINCOLN!

I’m officially downgrading you from “bland” to “THE WORST.”

I’m officially downgrading you from “bland” to “THE WORST.”

So, yeah. Lash takes over and starts killing people and SHIELD and the ATCU struggle to take him down. Daisy saves Rosalind’s life, which may warm her up to the idea of Inhumans as individual people instead of some faceless “threat” or “disease,” and May winds up shooting Andrew into a containment chamber without actually knowing if he’ll survive it.

I think SHIELD made a mistake hiding Lash’s identity from us as long as they did, as actually seeing Andrew lose himself to these “instincts” would have made this all a lot more emotionally impactful, but they hit the right beats with May, at least, showing her guilt-driven insecurities, how much she cares for Andrew, and ultimately her willingness to put aside personal feelings to protect the safety of others. She’s always been a favorite of mine (and of many others, from what I can tell), but the show (and Ming Na Wen, of course) has done great work fleshing her out as an actual person instead of just the team’s stony badass in the last 1.5 seasons, making her decisions this week and her final, private breakdown both understandable and painful.

Whedons SMASH! Whedons HATE happy couples!

Whedons SMASH! Whedons HATE happy couples!

I have a lot of thoughts this week and am going to subject you guys to all of them, but first, a tip of the hat to Coulson and Rosalind, who not only hooked up but did so in the most understated “well, duh, of course this was gonna happen” way possible, and in a moment that was all but buried in the sting’s reveal that Rosalind is working with Gideon Malick (although I suspect Ros has been mostly on the level with us and doesn’t realize how nefarious her boss really is).

I know this ‘ship is doomed like every other ‘ship on this damn show, ’cause see above caption, but I seriously adore the banter and chemistry between these two, so allow me to giggle and cheer a bit before everything falls apart next week.

hydrasweetie

Aftershocksthoughts

While it’s debatable how well SHIELD articulated its main themes through its characters this week (they really should have introduced this “slow transformation” and “personality change” stuff with Inhumans sooner), I will give it credit for setting up a genuinely complicated situation here, and doing its best to address it from a sympathetic, nuanced place that encourages discussion among its cast and audience alike. “Inhumans” are beginning to function as a catch-all metaphor for a lot of social groups who deal with “othering” in the real world, which makes it a much more relevant (and difficult) conflict than your standard “good guys with superpowers vs. bad guys with superpowers” story.

Rosalind and Daisy have a great argument this week about whether to prioritize Inhuman agency or the potential loss of human life. I think the kneejerk reaction is to agree with Daisy that “everyone deserves a chance to be who they are,” and to give each Inhuman a choice about how to handle this change. Some may choose stasis and reversal (I hate calling it a “cure” for the same reasons Daisy cites); others may choose the reversal but reject stasis (I could see Lincoln going this route, actually); still others may want to remain Inhuman and use their abilities to help, or at least not hurt, others (Daisy and hopefully Joey at this point, because I really like him and want him to join the cast). And, of course, there are those who would choose to do harm, in which case Daisy would argue they should be dealt with like human criminals. Essentially, she doesn’t think we should condemn people before they’ve chosen to do anything wrong.

LOOK AT HOW HAPPY HE IS, I JUST WANNA RUFFLE HIS HAIR.

How could you condemn this man, JUST LOOK AT THAT SMILE.

Andrew/Lash throws a tricky wrench into the conversation, though, because his transformation has made it so the issue of “choice” has gotten very muddied. He’s not accidentally hurting others the way Daisy did at first, but he’s also not entirely in control of his actions due to the violent “instincts” that come with his more gradual change. Between his criminal acts and mental instability, he’s deemed incapable of making his own decisions, so it falls on those closest to him (May) to make the choice for him. In the end, both she and Daisy decide to put him in stasis, and I can’t say I’d have done differently here.

We’ve talked before about how Joey allowed SHIELD to draw some real-world connections between Inhumans and certain marginalized groups, and this week I think we see something similar, as it’s not hard to interpret Andrew’s condition as a fantastical version of mental illness, maybe even substance abuse (not that you have to, of course, just that it read that way to me). I’m a little uncomfortable with some of the implications here, as I think it forwards some harmful stereotypes (the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are nonviolent, after all, and it sucks that media keeps ignoring this), but the series does at least side with Daisy that Andrew is “sick” and deserves aid, not “insane” as Lincoln insists (and have I mentioned that I don’t like Lincoln, because h’oh MAN do I not like Lincoln). If SHIELD can continue to explore this connection with other, less violent Inhuman characters, it could prove a worthwhile, perhaps beneficial conversation in the long run. I hope they at least try, otherwise this Lash arc will wind up with some concerning elements that I doubt the creators intended.

daisy-lash

Lash was everybody’s main argument for why Inhumans needed to be monitored and contained, although Rosalind and Daisy had different ideas about what “contained” meant, and in the end I think he served to bring the two a little closer to understanding each other. More than that, he showed both sides that their “Daisy-to-Lash Spectrum of Inhumanity” was a gross oversimplification. Everybody was ready to write him off as a “monster”—the villain to Daisy’s hero—but it wound up being much more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that, and the more everyone realizes that, the messier the situation gets—but the more empathetic they get as well, one hopes.

I’m not sure where the series will finally land on this conflict. I’m not sure I know where I will land, to be honest. But I’m glad the writers are working in these shades of gray and asking these questions, because it makes for a viewing experience that’s as much a conversation as it is a story. And that’s a pretty great place for a piece of fiction to be.

This, That, and the Other

  • Sorry this one was a few hours late, team. I had Hulu issues early on, and then I couldn’t stop vomiting words onto the page. Hopefully the super-sized post makes up for the delay.
  • Why yes, I did spend most of this episode imagining Jed and Maurissa shouting “Whedons HATE happy couples!” and smashing a bunch of miniature ships with character names scribbled on them.
  • “You were so quiet and pasty” is somehow a sweet compliment when Elizabeth Henstridge says it. The woman has a gift.
  • Did anyone else get well and truly fooled by that “fantasy” of Andrew turning into Lash and punching a hole in Joey’s chest? Or maybe I’m just particularly gullible, ’cause my jaw ’bout hit the floor for a second there.
  • Having Mack pop up in the background of Andrew and May’s “POV scenes” was a nice way to establish his story while also foreshadowing that it was connected to theirs. I may critique SHIELD here and there for not spending enough time on certain events or people, but given the sheer number of characters and stories they’re juggling at this point, they really have done a remarkable job of keeping the various plots coherent and drawing connections both thematically and between characters.
  • “You want to go steady?” Ugh, that was a nasty one-two punch of adorkable and heartbreaking, you jerks.
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