Past the point of no return?
Hive’s endgame is revealed, his army grows, and the gang find themselves with a major victory totally eclipsed by their more recent failures. Oh, and a ‘ship long in the building sails with a flourish out of SHIELD harbor. Why does that make me even more nervous?
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Mack and May catch us up on HQ events with a nice long take (I love long takes), then our ragtag team is off to chase leads and rescue Daisy! According to our R&D Duo (R&Duo?) Hive’s infection attacks the pleasure center of the brain, flooding his targets with so much dopamine that they can even shake off the effects of some toxins, making Icers useless against them. This…may complicate things a bit.
Fitz, Simmons, and Mack go after a former Transia scientist and current transhumanist, Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), who survived Hive’s purge because he’d already been let go for…er, let’s just call it a conflict of interests. Coulson thinks he may be the key to curing Daisy. So Fitz and Simmons crash the transhumanist club peddling Deathlok eye implants in hopes of meeting Radcliffe. In between mission briefings and android ladies, they find time for couple talk, too.
Meanwhile a hobbled Coulson (he broke his leg during last week’s Quake) takes May and Lincoln to track down our old multiplier pal, Alisha, thinking Hive may use Daisy’s knowledge and skills to go after her himself. He also equips Lincoln with a stylish Murder Vest (in case of Hive infection, break glass) and puts
his May’s thumb on the trigger. May is so very not cool with this, especially when Coulson essentially tells her that Daisy’s life is more important than Lincoln’s. It’s like he’s channeling a large portion of the viewers, and May is telling us we’re all jerks. Touché, May. Touché.
Alas, Team Coulson spends the entire episode two steps behind Hive: Not only has he already gotten to Alisha, he’s also on his way to James. Seeking out the other half of the Kree artifact (“The only thing that can destroy me,” he said foreshadowingly), he turns James into an Inhuman so he can hook him into the HiveMind, too. By the time Coulson and May arrive (with Lincoln wisely off the mission, thanks in large part to the ferocious power of Mama May’s Disapproving Face), Hive has already booby-trapped the joint.
Good thing a SHIELD scout always comes prepared!
We circle back around to FitzSimmons for our final act. After weighing a questionably ethical surgery on the SHIELD Ends vs. Means Scale (hey, that guy might have signed a waiver! you don’t know!), Simmons eye-jabs her way into a meeting with Dr. Radcliffe, a fanatical transhumanist with his own particular code of ethics (he’ll test you by having you operate on a “live human specimen”–but work with Hydra?! How dare you, sir!). Fitz bludgeons his way into a sales pitch that nearly sways Radcliffe, but it all goes to hell when Daisy busts onto the scene, scooping up Radcliffe and leaving Fitz quaking in her wake.
Out in the hallway, Hive meets Simmons and channels his inner Will (from my oh-so-professional notes: “WHAT AN ASS”) to give her basically the same speech Daisy gives Fitz (“stay away, we don’t want to hurt you,” etc.). Simmons responds appropriately: by busting out Checkhov’s gun and plugging Hive in his stupid creepy stomach.
Everyone finish your drinks!
Fitz and Simmons escape mostly because Hive and Daisy allow them to, and then commemorate their keen awareness of their own fragile mortality (at the hands of people they used to crush on, no less) by sleeping together. Given AoS‘s track record with couples, they are almost certainly doomed now.
Elsewhere, Coulson and May watch as Talbot’s team at last eliminates Hydra, courtesy of the intel provided by Malick. It’s a magnificent moment of anticlimax; we’ve spent two seasons chasing Hydra as the Main Threat, and now that we’ve finally taken them out it barely matters because they’ve been eclipsed by something more dangerous and less comprehensible. “This should have been a good day” indeed, Phil.
Another strong episode of AoS, this one elevated by a combination of tight plotting, excellent tension (particularly during the FitzSimmons scenes, where shots and silences lingered just that extra half-second longer to create real uncertainty), and brief but important (and sometimes quite funny) beats between characters. AoS is at its best when it devotes attention to both intimate moments and action ones, and credit both director and writer this week for striking a great balance between the two.
This is especially fitting given how much of this episode is about the strain between the personal and the professional. FitzSimmons wonder how best to navigate their working relationship with their past friendship/current romance; Daisy tearfully begs/threatens her working family to stay out of her new Inhuman family’s business; and Coulson values Daisy’s life more highly than he does Lincoln’s because, as he admits to May, “she’s the closest thing I have to a daughter.” The Pheels, team. They’re back and they are ferocious.
Credit to Coulson for admitting to his own mistakes and personal weaknesses, and credit to FitzSimmons for acknowledging that sleeping together will irrevocably change their relationship in ways they can’t predict–it’s one part of that “singularity” in the title–and deciding it’s worth it anyway. As for Daisy…well, that’s where the other of the “singularity” in that title comes into play, I think.
Hive has snuck up on me this season as a quietly horrifying antagonist. There’s an element to his power that’s reminiscent of Jessica Jones’s Kilgrave in that he can override individual will (for my money easily the scariest of superpowers); but where Kilgrave was a very human monster built out of the darkest, most self-centered parts of human instinct and desire, there’s an alien quality to Hive that makes him eerie in a different but equally sinister way, and less predictable to boot.
Because Hive is a collection of consciousnesses rather than a single one, his thought process is more akin to what you might imagine from a sentient bee or ant. He speaks of ridding the world of war and pain by ensuring that “everyone shares a common goal”–by turning everyone Inhuman and adding them to the HiveMind, it turns out. And as far as we can tell, he isn’t after this for any typically human reason like he’s power-hungry and wants to control others for his own gains, but because he thinks this collective mind is the ideal state of existence.
Most of our AoS antagonists have believed they were doing wrong things for right reasons, which made them compelling figures, but Hive doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong at all. He’s past the singularity, beyond the point of traditional human morality and understanding. He’s a real spooky dude, is what I’m saying.
While Daisy, Alisha, and James speak in fanatical tones about their current euphoria, the uninfected Lincoln is seriously freaked. He sees Daisy turn on the people she was most loyal to, and he sees Alisha kill her own double, and to him it’s two people betraying core pieces of who they are as individuals. Given his own past issues with control, I imagine this speaks to Lincoln’s deepest fears. He becomes a little more interesting each week, and there’s a particular psychological terror here–of seeing people you care about dramatically changed and knowing the same thing could happen to you and there’s nothing you could do to stop it–that’s hard not to sympathize with.
We won’t know for certain how deep Hive’s influence goes until we’re able to talk to one of his HiveMind post-infection. Certainly he speaks to feelings Daisy already had within herself about Inhuman pride and the desire for a proper family. Her line about how Fitz “doesn’t have to pity her anymore” reveals a lot about the way she’s felt about her place on the SHIELD team maybe since the beginning, but certainly since her Inhuman transformation.
Still, there’s a moment between Fitz and Daisy–her eyes full of tears, her hand shaking–where it seems like she’s actively struggling against words and actions being forced into her by someone else. (Alisha has a similar moment after her doubles’ deaths, too.) That Daisy’s and Hive’s speeches overlap suggests a psychic connection bordering on direct mind control. Whether he does it all the time or just at key moments has yet to be seen, but I suspect there’s more to this than just dousing Daisy in dopamine, offering her the one thing she’s wanted most, and everything else being her own actions. (Choice vs. control is a big question this week, as you probably noticed.)
And hell, even if there isn’t more to it, Hive is still drugging her and manipulating her. He’s proven himself adept at manipulation in a way that’s so natural he never actually seems to realize he’s being manipulative, which just adds to that sense of cold, clear cruelty at his core. And can you even call it cruelty if there’s no malice behind it? Or is there malice behind it, built out of the memories and personalities of the people he’s possessed? Is this Ward’s revenge–against Daisy, against Coulson–as much as it is Hive’s impartial scheme?)
Whatever the case, Team SHIELD had better find a cure for this infection, and fast.
This, That, and the Other
- Quick, someone with a better memory than me: Of the original SHIELD team, who hasn’t shot Ward (or at least Brett Dalton) yet? I know Daisy, Coulson, and Simmons have…and technically May got him with a nail gun in Season 1… Has Fitz? Or should we wait in gleeful anticipation these next few episodes for that to happen?
- There’s a brief nod to the Inhuman comics this week when James considers calling himself “Inferno,” but he hasn’t settled on that nickname, so I’ve decided to call him “Sparky Sparky Boom Man.”
- I’m sure that line about “cold hands” was more about Simmons still being rattled than some dark foreshadowing, but I’m still freaking out about it for no good reason.
In between all the tension and character development, there was also some fun banter this week. Here, have a few of my favorites:
- “Coulson has another way. But it’s risky. And irresponsible.” “Then why are you smiling?”
- “Do you think scientists only wear lab coats? Are we wearing lab coats right now?” “Yeah, we walk around all day with goggles and gloves on, do we?”
- “What are your muscles made of?” “…Me?”
- “Okay, the leg hurts a little.” “Maybe you should get a cybernetic one.” “Too soon.”