Sunday, April 17, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 16: Paradise Lost

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. the series finally starts setting up the pieces for the season finale, Gideon Malick gets a backstory, and the writers give us a retcon of an annoying retcon introduced earlier in the season. 

It appears that next week we'll see the big debut of the Secret Warriors. It's about time! Too bad it's coming so late in the season, and it took wiping out the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team before they finally unleash them.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We flash back to 1970, after the funeral of Gideon Malick's father. Gideon and his brother Nathaniel pledge to carry on their father's work namely bringing "It" to Earth. Daniel Whitehall, ex-Nazi and prominent HYDRA officer, summons them to personal meeting with him in prison. Really? Prisoners can demand meetings? Anyhow, Gideon balks, saying his family has never believed in Whitehall's version of HYDRA. Whitehall's men won't take no for an answer.

Gideon and Nathaniel meet with Whitehall, who notes that it's time for their first "stone ceremony." Apparently once a year the inner circle of the Malick branch of HYDRA draw stones from a bag whoever picks the black stone gets the dubious honor of going through the Monolith to the planet Maveth, as a sacrifice to "It." Whitehall encourages them to abandon their father's nutsy cuckoo beliefs and choose his more rational version of HYDRA. When they refuse, he says there was a reason their father was never chosen as a sacrifice. He urges them to look at their father's copy of Paradise Lost.

Back at the Malick mansion, Gideon enters his father's study and finds Paradise Lost. He sees a hollowed-out hole in the book, with a notched white stone inside. He realizes his dad cheated all those years to avoid being chosen! Gideon and Nathaniel are disappointed in their father, and vow to participate in the ceremony the right way.

In the present, Gideon comes home and is met by his daughter Stephanie. She's excited by the fact that Hive Ward has paid them an unexpected visit, and called a meeting of the HYDRA Inner Circle. Malick looks stricken by this news. When Stephanie asks what's wrong, he tells her that when Charles the Inhuman touched him last week (heh), he saw a vision of his death at the hands of Hive Ward. He's convinced Hive Ward's going to kill him in front of the Inner Circle, because he doesn't need him anymore. Stephanie tells him to remind Hive Ward how important he is. Yeah, that'll work. 

Malick's guests arrive. He greets them and starts spouting a long-winded introduction, which is cut short by the appearance of Hive Ward. One of the Inner Circle members scoffs, recognizing him as plain old Grant Ward. Hive Ward tells them they'll all get what they deserve, which doesn't sound the least bit ominous. He then reveals his true form. We don't get to see it clearly, but it involves a lot of writhing tentacles.

Later, Stephanie shows Malick a new copy of Paradise Lost that he gave her. Uh-oh! Hive Ward knows about the book! Gideon flashes back to 1970 again, when he and Nathaniel went through the stone ceremony. Despite his promise, Gideon palmed the stone so he wouldn't be chosen, and Nathaniel was picked instead. Nathaniel accuses Gideon of selling out, but accepts his fate. 

Back in the present, Hive Ward reveals that due to him absorbing Nathaniel, he has his memories. He says Malick doesn't know the meaning of sacrifice, and needs to make things right. Hive Ward then absorbs Stephanie, killing her. He says NOW Malick understands what sacrifice is.

Meanwhile, the writers are determined to make us interested in Daisy and Lincoln's relationship, so we get a completely superfluous subplot involving them. They travel to South Dakota to gather intel from a powerless Inhuman named James, who was kicked out of Afterlife for being unstable. Lincoln says James used to rant about an ancient Inhuman who could raise people from the dead, and figures he may have been talking about "It," aka Hive.

They arrive at James' home, which is in the middle of nowhere. Daisy steps on a landmine in his front yard (!), but uses her powers to save herself. James, who's bitter about never receiving powers of his own, pulls a gun on them, but Lincoln zaps him. When he comes to, he tells them about Alveus, one of the very first Inhumans, who led the revolt against the alien Kree who created them. He shows them an orb he stole from Afterlife, which Daisy recognizes as Kree. Lincoln makes a deal with James hand over the orb, and he'll give him a Terragenesis crystal so he can finally receive his Inhuman powers. James gives him the orb, but Lincoln and Daisy leave without giving him the crystal, which seems like a pretty dick move to me, and one which will undoubtedly come back to bite them in the ass.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Coulson is anxious to find Hive Ward. He takes most of the team to GT Agrochemical, a company owned by Malick. FitzSimmons examines the Transia Corporation victims that Hive Ward killed last week. They believe he's made up of millions of tiny organisms that can reanimate dead flesh. 

As Coulson and the rest of the team approach GT Agrochemical, they receive word that Giyera is on-site. Coulson warns them all about Giyera's powers, which allow him to control any non-biological object in his line of sight. He says Giyera was trained as a special operative, and is dangerous even without his powers.

They land at the facility and find it's been emptied out, except for tanks of large dead insects. Suddenly Giyera appears and attacks. Coulson leads him through the facility, and traps him inside a completely empty room. With no objects inside, he can't use his powers. May enters the room and there's an epic hand-to-hand fight between the two. May eventually beats him and knocks him out. 

Giyera's taken onboard Zephyr One and placed in a holding cell. Simmons examines the dead insects and thinks GT Agrochemical was studying invasive, swarming insects and modifying plants to resists them, which doesn't make any sense, but I'm sure it'll become important later. 

Naturally, Giyera finds a way to break out of the containment unit. He takes out most of the team with ease. Coulson comes at him with his bionic hand, but as it's non-organic, Giyera can use his power to  hurl Coulson across the room. He enters the cockpit and takes control of Zephyr One, forcing it into a nosedive. As the plane is in free fall, May manages to send out a distress signal. Giyera lands the plane inside a secret HYDRA base.

Daisy receives May's distress call. She decides it's finally time to call in the Secret Defenders...

Thoughts:
• Over on The Walking Dead, whenever an underdeveloped character suddenly gets some attention and a backstory, it usually means their days are numbered. I was sure that's what was happening with Malick in this episode. The sudden introduction of his daughter a couple of episodes ago, the visions of his own demise and this episode's flashback to his younger days made it seem like he was a goner.  

Kudos to the show for switching things up and offing his redshirt daughter instead, to keep us on our toes.

• Speaking of which, so much for Stephanie Malick! When she was introduced a few weeks ago in Parting Shot, I was sure they were setting her up to be a new villain, possibly even as a replacement for Powers Booth as Gideon Malick. Apparently not!

• As I said earlier, this episode fixes an annoying retcon that happened earlier this season. In Many Heads, One Tale, we were told that thousands of years ago a powerful Inhuman was born on Earth, destined to rule it. Humanity was terrified of this being, so they used the Monolith to open a portal and banish it to the planet Maveth, thus ending its threat.

HYDRA was then secretly founded centuries ago with the intention of returning the Inhuman to its rightful place on earth. To that end, they're building an army in preparation for "Its" eventual return.

This was all news to long-time Marvel fans, as up to this point HYDRA had always been an offshoot of the Nazis, one that used science and technology to advance its goal of world domination. This sudden Inhuman origin was an odd and unwelcome retcon that went against everything we'd ever seen in the comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This week's episode attempts to rectify the situation, by retconning the retcon. Apparently Malick and his band of "It" worshipers are only a small branch of HYDRA. Daniel Whitehall's proper Nazi-inspired HYDRA is still out there, planning and plotting world domination. In fact in this episode Whitehall even looks down on Malick and his little sect. Think of Malick's group as Orthodox HYDRA, and Whitehall's as Reformed.

• Daisy and Lincoln pay a visit to James the Not-Inhuman. Daisy inadvertently steps on a landmine in James' yard. She saves herself by using her quake powers (!) to apply pressure to the mine long enough to get a safe distance away.

Seriously? She uses her VIBRATORY powers to apply force to a pressure-sensitive device? I don't see any possible way her powers could do anything but set it off. As further proof, a second later she blasts James' entire yard with her powers, setting off all the remaining mines. 

• James tells Daisy and Lincoln the story of Alveus, the first Inhuman who arose thousands of years ago. Doesn't Alveus sound like some kind of allergy medicine?

• James offers Daisy a Kree Orb in exchange for a Terragenisis rod. This particular Orb looked fairly similar to the one in Guardians Of The Galaxy, which I guess makes sense, since they're both Kree artifcats.

• I said it before, but it bears repeating Lincoln taking the Orb from James without giving him the Terragen in return was quite the dick move. Yes, giving the obviously unstable James the ability to develop potentially dangerous superpowers would not be a good idea. But he basically stole the Orb from him, stopping just short of saying, "Yoink!" as he did so. That doesn't seem very "heroic."

• OK, so I was wrong about Giyeta. A few weeks ago in The Inside Man, I noted that he looked genuinely disturbed by the bloodcurdling screams of Hive Ward's human victims, and he seemed at least momentarily like he regretted getting involved with him. I predicted he might switch sides and become an ally to S.H.I.E.L.D. Ah well. Can't get 'em all right!

• I'm still a bit fuzzy as to just how Giyera's telekinesis works. I think the writers are as well. Supposedly his powers only work on inorganic objects. He can hurl a chair across the room, but he can't make a person hit themselves in the head repeatedly as he says, "Stop punching yourself, stop punching yourself." At GT Agrochemical, Coulson traps Giyera inside a completely empty room. Since there's nothing inside for his telekinesis to latch onto, he's completely powerless. May then enters the room and gives Giyera a beat-down.

Hmmm. What about the giant window in the wall of the room? Couldn't he shatter the glass and make it swirl around May in a deadly vortex? There's also a large air grate in another wall. Couldn't he pop that out and hurl it at her?

Heck, forget all that. May's wearing clothes, right? Why couldn't his powers grab onto her clothing and toss her around? Or does she only wear natural fibers?

• Hive Ward's still sporting his Neo look from The Matrix.

• At Malick's mansion, the HYDRA Inner Circle doubts Hive Ward is really an Inhuman. He proves he's the real deal by slowly morphing into his true form, that of a tentacled, Lovecraftian nightmare creature.

There's no way to watch that scene without thinking of Beetlejuice trying to scare the Maitlands.

• When Hive Ward first appeared in Bouncing Back, he had a ghastly, emaciated look, complete with exposed ribs and an odd discoloration in the middle of his chest. I assumed this was a side effect of his body being possessed by an alien slug.

In this episode it finally occurred to me that the odd ribs and bruising were the results of Coulson crushing his chest with his bionic hand back on Maveth! I'm sure everyone else on the planet figured that out weeks ago. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up.

• According to the promos, next week someone on the show will die. I assume it'll be one of the Secret Warriors and not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. I doubt they'd kill Daisy, as she's the resident Inhuman and is actively fighting for their rights. That leaves Lincoln, Joey or Yo-yo. For some reason Joey seems like he's had a target on his back since his first appearance, so it's possible they'll off him. He's the resident gay character though, so if they kill him, oh how the internet will howl. Yo-yo's a possibility, since I have a feeling her power is expensive to film. 

My money's on Lincoln though. They've really been playing up the bland Daisy/Lincoln relationship lately, so it would add an air of tragedy to the show if he was the one to die. Plus he got some backstory this week, admitting to Daisy he accidentally killed his former girlfriend while drunk-driving, so... bye bye Lincoln. 

• This week's fun lines:

May: "You said you killed him." 
Coulson: "I did."
May: "Well you didn’t kill him hard enough."

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Coulson: “So Hydra is in the oil business now? It’s like they’re not even trying to avoid the bad guy cliches.”

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Coulson: “I knew it would come back to haunt me. I just didn’t think it would actually come back to haunt me.”

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