Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Episode 3.09: “Closure”

This is why we can’t have nice things.

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Despite its title, “Closure” isn’t about resolutions so much as massive shake-ups. Most of the story lines function as setup for the big Part 1 finale that’s swiftly closing in, and the last few minutes leave us hanging from a cliff (or lying at the bottom of one unconscious, more accurately). Which isn’t to say that this wasn’t an intense 40-odd minutes of television. My heart, ripped out and pumping feebly on the ground at my feet, can assure you there was plenty to discuss.

We begin with a date of the Coulsalind variety. They’re eating burgers by candlelight! They’re chatting about upcoming missions and bantering playfully! They’re… did I just hear a gunshot?

UM. UM. UM.

UM. UM. UM.

And now, a reenactment:

Me: OH NO ROSALIND.

Me: WHAT. WARD. WHAT?!

Me: Ohhhh wait, I get it, Coulson’s having a nightmare. It’s like that Joey fake-out from a couple weeks ago. Ros is fine!

Me: …Wake up, Phil.

Me: See, see? His phone’s ringing but it’s actually his alarm, he’ll worry that he’s getting too emotionally attached to Rosalind and it’ll cause a little conflict betwee…

Me: …WAKE UP, PHIL.

Me: PHIL.

Me: Phil…?

Phil:

Screenshot_2015-12-02-08-00-43

Then I was dead inside for the rest of the episode! ♪ THANKS, WHEDON FAMILY, YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST.

Although, personal, knee-jerk reaction aside, this was a really shitty way to write Ros out of the show. She was a good character who deserved a lot better than a fridging. Disappointed in you for this one, SHIELD team. But alas, there’s more story to cover, so I’ll turn my side-eye back to the TV, stuff my heart back into my chest, and continue with the recap.

After a private burst of Pheels, Coulson turns his grief and season-long sense of helplessness into cold rage and gets to work tracking down Ward. He interviews every member of the original team in an attempt to find any weakness he may have missed. It’s rull awkward, but it does lead him to a potential chink in Ward’s armor: His younger brother, Thomas, the only person in his family he actually wanted to protect. But to make this work, Coulson’s going to have to make some, er… un-director-like decisions. So he puts Mack (Maaaaack!) in charge as “acting director” while he goes off to have a dish best served NOW.

And heyyy, I know a fellow rule-bender who’d just love to come along for the ride!

SHIELD agents have got to find a nicer way to ask their friends to go on missions with them.

SHIELD agents have got to find a nicer way to ask their friends to go on missions with them.

So Hunter and Bobbi join Coulson on what the movie advertisements refer to as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. It’s a risky plan put together by a man who’s been slowly unraveling all season and has finally reached his breaking point, but everyone else wants Ward dead, too, and no one has the heart to tell Coulson to stand down. The best Bobbi can do is remind him to separate his feelings from the mission, but Coulson flat-out rejects this: It hasn’t worked so far, he says, so now it’s time to say screw professionalism and focus on the vendetta.

Malick and Ward are butting heads over a similar issue, actually: Malick is a big-picture guy focused on the future, while Ward is (and likely always will be) driven by more small-scale, personal desires and a desperate need to rectify (and rewrite) the perceived “wrongs” of his past. Malick is starting to get a feel for him, though. More on that as it develops.

HYDRA and SHIELD’s goals will lead them to a major clash by the end of the episode, but a smaller (and more upsetting) one occurs in the early going. Banks recognizes the NASA logo from Will’s uniform, so he takes FitzSimmons to the “independent contractor’s” old base. Naturally, HYDRA is there waiting for them, and their metal-manipulating Inhuman buddy Magneto Mr. Giyera (Mark Dacascos) makes short work of our few remaining ATCU allies. Alas, poor plot devices.

FitzSimmons fall into HYDRA hands, Simmons puts on her Game Face, and Malick continues to prove that HYDRA is about as casually old-school sexist as it gets.

Tear out his throat with your teeth, Jemma!

Rip out his throat with your teeth, Jemma!

Our big-picture vs. small-scale conflict comes into play again, this time with Simmons and Fitz. She’s willing to die to keep HYDRA from getting their hands on “the thing” on the other side of the portal, and endures a mess of torture along the way (all off-screen, thank goodness). But Fitz can’t take the sound of her in pain—especially when Ward gets in on the action—and eventually cracks. He tells HYDRA how to get back through the portal and agrees to travel with their operatives into the Desert Otherworld. I want to shake him. But also, I want to hug him. Probably I can do both.

On the other side of the hostage hotline, Team Phil stages a robbery in order to kidnap Thomas Ward (Tyler Ritter). He’s understandably terrified until Bobbi (the only person in this group with anything resembling a lick of sense at the moment) decides to treat him like a human being and explain what’s going on. But, I mean, he and Grant are brothers, so surely the strength of their bond will—

Popular fella, ain't'cha, Grant?

Popular fella, ain’t’cha, Grant?

Thomas only gets one major scene but he makes it count, providing meaningful development on Grant and his family. He knows that his brother is dangerous because he refuses to admit to any wrongdoing; instead, he rewrites the past to justify his actions, making him either the hero or the victim (or sometimes both). Look no further than his insistence to Thomas that “SHIELD killed someone I loved” for proof of that. Grant continues to be an exceptionally well-written villain, someone whose actions make sense even if they’re not excusable. As Daisy noted, she (and the series) can’t forgive him, but she can understand how he got here.

SHIELD also takes a small but vital beat to remind us that Thomas is a basically decent, well-adjusted guy who’s fought to come to terms with his past and is trying to live a normal life. “Just because you grow up in a family of abusive monsters doesn’t mean you have to become one” might be a little on-the-nose, but it’s an important line nonetheless, both in terms of reminding us that Grant’s atrocities are inexcusable regardless of circumstances, and to show that past experiences certainly shape people, but they don’t have to define them. It could also be a warning for Coulson himself, given the path he’s currently traveling, but we’ll see how the next few eps progress.

Closure Summary dot PNG

“Closure” dot PNG

In terms of plot, Thomas also keeps Grant talking long enough for Coulson to trace his location. Proving that they haven’t completely gone Dark Side, Team Phil drops off Thomas and promises to keep a security detail on him to ensure his safety.

Back at base, Acting SHIELD Director Mackenzie is having himself a rough first day, particularly for a guy who’s both fiercely loyal and prefers to err on the side of caution. And when he calls Coulson for advice, he throws the phone across the plane, so, you know, super-helpful there, Phil. Mack weighs his options with Daisy and May, but in the end he overcomes his aversion to Insane Suicide Missions and decides to go in guns blazing. Well, guns, and… other things.

But shhh... we gotta keep these warriors a secret.

But shhh… we gotta keep these warriors a secret.

May approves of Mack’s brief, gruff pep-talk, and Daisy approves of his decision to finally give her a freaking team of superhumans. The two share a moment.

fistbump - amy seth

Their friendship remains the best new pairing to come out of this season. BroTP 5eva.

The backup will arrive shortly, but for now, Malick’s sending Fitz and a HYDRA squad through the portal—and he wants Ward to lead the operation. Malick plays Ward like a fiddle, acting the proud father-figure and using Ward’s desire for importance and belonging, as well as his desperate need to feel like his actions have all been justified, to get him to agree to the mission. And so Ward abandons his “closure” for a chance at a new future. You almost pity the guy. Almost.

Team Phil is coming in fast with a heat reading on the central room. Coulson somehow recognizes Ward’s heat signature and freaks the eff out when he sees him jump into the portal with “either Fitz or Simmons.” So you can recognize that guy’s shape but not your own agents? Tsk, tsk. HYDRA spots them (of course) and starts firing at their plane, but Phillie Phanatic over here isn’t about to retreat—instead, he abandons Hunter and Bobbi and dives straight into the open portal.

Bobbi’s face says everything you need to know about this decision.

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Whereupon Coulson promptly falls down a Desert Otherworld hill, smacks his head on a rock, and passes out. You know, Phil, going into the revenge business may not have been the best career move for you.

This, That, and the Other

  • My notes this week are about 40% “YOU JERKS,” and I wasn’t directing it at any of the characters.
  • SHIELD seems to be doing something with White Knight Syndrome this season, given the sheer number of guys who have gone on the warpath to avenge their lady-loves and how poorly it’s turned out for them all so far, but I’m withholding any overarching thoughts or commentary on it until we see how the current conflicts play out.
  • Mack, you had better be going into this battle with your shotgun-axe combination or I will be very disappointed.
  • “Is it me, or is every burger that’s named ‘The All American’ just really awful for you?”
  • Next week on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD:

have fun storming the castle

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