Saturday, May 21, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 21: Absolution & Episode 22: Ascension

It's the big Season 3 finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!


It's also the end of the Hive Ward storyline, which was tied up with a surprisingly satisfying bow. I'll give Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. credit where it's due— the series seems to handle it's season-long arcs much better than other shows do. The Hive Ward plot was fairly well-paced, and there wasn't a lot of padding or filler. Every episode seemed to count, and served to progress the storyline a bit. 

I think the fact that there were several major arcs this year— rescuing Simmons from Maveth, Ward trying to restart HYDRAS.H.I.E.L.D. forced to work with the ATCU and the whole Hive Ward thing— helped the season from dragging. I wish more shows would adopt multiple arcs like this, instead of trying to drag one storyline out over twenty three episodes (I'm lookin' at you, Season 2 of The Flash!). 

The season finale also featured the highly publicized and hyped death of a major character. A few weeks back I correctly predicted it would be Lincoln. It wasn't hard who else could it have been? They wouldn't kill off Coulson, as he's the main character and has already died once. There's no way in hell the writers would ever kill off their precious Daisy, since they're still convinced that she's much more interesting than she really is. 

I doubted they'd kill May, as she's too valuable to the team. If they killed off Fitz or Simmons so soon after they finally got together, fans would burn down ABC Headquarters. Mack was safe too, since ABC wouldn't want to deal with the flack killing off the show's only black character would no doubt generate. And Yo-yo hasn't been on the show long enough for her death to be meaningful (sorry, Elana!). That pretty much left Lincoln as the victim.

The season finale's "shocking" death might have been more effective if ABC hadn't trumpeted that it was going to happen every goddamned week for the past six months. What the hell, guys? Foreshadowing's fine, but SCREAMING THAT AN AGENT WILL MAKE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE THAT WILL CHANGE THE TEAM FOREVER isn't.

Very often the people who film the promos are separate from the ones who produce the actual show, so I don't blame the S.H.I.E.L.D. creators for this. But ABC's Marketing Department definitely needs to tone it down a notch or twelve.

I think the writers were trolling the audience this week in regards to the big death. Thanks to Daisy's Vision Of Doom, we've known for some time now that whoever it was that died in outer space would possess a cross necklace. That necklace became part of a morbid game of Hot Potato in this episode, as it was passed from character to character, signalling the death of whoever was holding it when the music stopped.

It ended up being passed from Mack to Fitz to Daisy and then finally Lincoln. It all came very close to being laughable, but I think they reined themselves in just in time. Well done, writers! Way to scare your audience to death.

In potentially ominous news, the day the season finale premiered, ABC announced that next year Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is moving to the 10pm (9 for me) timeslot. Uh-oh. As they like to say in a certain space opera franchise, "I have a bad feeling about this."

ABC says the move is a good thing, as it'll allow the show to become "darker and more violent." Seriously, ABC? How much darker could it get? Especially after that horrifying face-melting scene a couple weeks ago, and this episode in which Mack operates on Yo-yo with a goddamned blowtorch!

It's possible ABC's telling the truth and just shuffling the schedule around, but it feels like the beginning of the end to me. In television, 10pm is traditionally known as the "death slot;" a place networks send shows to die. Add in the fact that this week ABC also cancelled Agent Carter and passed on Marvel's Most Wanted for the second time, and it's starting to feel like the networks trying to phase out the TV division of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have an uneasy feeling that Season 4 will be the last...


The Plot(s):
Daisy has a weird dream where she and Coulson are on Maveth, which goes nowhere and has absolutely nothing to do with the episode. She wakes up in her cell at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, where she's under observation after being freed from Hive Ward's brain-altering influence. Simmons questions Daisy about Hive, especially what the word "absolution" means in relation to him. Daisy says she's already told her everything she knows.

At a secret island missile base, Hive Ward supervises as Giyera places the Inhuman virus into the warhead he stole from the government. Hive Ward worries that S.H.I.E.L.D. will try to stop them, but Giyera says there's nothing to worry about, as their radar will spot any approaching aircraft, even if cloaked.

Meanwhile May's piloting the Zephyr One with Mack, Lincoln and Yo-yo on board. I guess they called Yo-yo back in and she changed her mind about working with S.H.I.E.L.D. between episodes, while we weren't looking. Lincoln and Yo-yo are both wearing murder vests, in case Hive Ward tries to take over their minds. Mack asks May how she's doing, and she replies that the ship "wasn't designed for this." Suddenly it rises up out of the ocean and flies low over the trees of Hive Ward's missile island, neatly evading the radar (shades of Star Trek Into Darkness!).

Hive Ward starts the countdown to activate the missile. Coulson, Fitz and General Talbot desperately try to wrestle the missile kill codes from the government. After a complex and convoluted effort, they manage to get the codes just in time and deactivate the missile. Hive Ward hisses "S.H.I.E.L.D.," and orders Dr. Radcliffe to fix the warhead. Radcliffe pulls a McCoy and says, "I'm a doctor, not an engineer," but after a menacing glare from Hive Ward, says he'll see what he can do. May and her team infiltrate Hive Ward's base. Mack and Yo-yo set up a device in a corridor, while May and Lincoln search for the base's crew, who Hive Ward is holding hostage. Hive Ward confronts Lincoln, and offers to possess him as he did Daisy. Lincoln says thanks but no, and takes off running.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson tells Daisy her incarceration is temporary, and she shouldn't blame herself for the things she did under Hive's influence. He says Hive's mind control was like a drug, and she's going through withdrawal.

Lincoln runs into Mack and Yo-yo, who aren't finished with their trap. When Lincoln says Hive's right behind him, Yo-yo finishes installing the device at super speed. Hive Ward appears in the corridor, and Lincoln uses his power to charge the trap. It shocks the crap out of Hive, frying his brain and crippling him with pain. Mack, Yo-yo and Lincoln make a hasty retreat.

James and Giyera find the decimated Hive Ward, who's muttering phrases from his past memories. Yo-yo rescues the hostages, while May finds Radcliffe, who's still trying to fix the warhead. He begs her to take him with her. Just then the ceiling opens up, and Giyera mind-lifts the warhead into a stolen Quinjet and flies off with it. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Radcliffe and the hostages all head for Zephyr One. Suddenly Hive Ward appears, blocking their path. Yo-yo zips over to him and activates a device that encases him in an ATCU gel chamber. So why didn't Coulson have her do that weeks ago?

The agents bring the neutralized Hive Ward back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, as Coulson locks down the base. Talbot congratulates Coulson on a job well done. Coulson says the mission isn't over yet, as the warhead is still out there. FitzSimmons works with Dr. Radcliffe to find a way to turn Hive Ward's Primitives back into humans. Coulson praises Lincoln for his actions at the base, and says he'll make a great agent. Uh-oh! He just painted a big ol' target on Lincoln's back. 

Mack goes to visit Daisy, inadvertently dropping the cross necklace that Yo-yo gave him last week. It's the same necklace Daisy's been seeing in her "Someone's Gonna Die In Space" vision for the past several episodes. Mack tells Daisy that he forgives her for trying to kill him, since she was under Hive's influence. Daisy says it's not safe to have Hive Ward inside the base, even in stasis, and says he should be destroyed.

Fitz catches Simmons booking a romantic vacation for the two of them. Gah! Stop tempting the script writing gods by being happy! Fitz goes to inspect Hive Ward's chamber, sees the cross necklace on the floor, picks it up and puts it in is pocket. Now HE'S got the target on his back!. Fitz checks out Hive Ward's gel chamber and approves it. Just then a shipping container labeled Absolution, Montana (so that's what it meant) explodes, flooding the hangar with Radcliffe's Human-To-Inhuman gas. One of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is enveloped in the gas and turns into a Primitive. It pulls another agent into the cloud, and he transforms as well. Fitz can't escape the hangar due to the lockdown. Simmons manages to override the computer and open the hangar door, allowing Fitz to escape in the nick of time.

The Primitives then free Hive Ward from the gel chamber. Daisy watches all this unfold on a security monitor. She realizes that Hive Ward just used the old "Supervillain Gets Captured On Purpose" ruse in order to enter the base, get access to Zephyr One and use it to disperse the Inhuman virus across the world. She escapes her cell and confronts Hive. Due to the brain-frying he received earlier, he doesn't remember her. She begs him to repossess her and end her pain. He reaches out, but pulls his hand back as if burned. He says he can't, as Lash made her immune to his influence.

Furious, Daisy blasts Hive Ward with her quake powers as the two engage in an epic battle. Daisy pins Hive against a wall and stabs him multiple times, but he's unaffected. She quakes him hard, breaking his bones, but he simply snaps them back into place! He somehow manages to turn the tide and knock her out. James and Giyera arrive, and Hive carries Daisy into the Zephyr One.

Meanwhile twenty eight S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have been transformed into Primitives, and battle Coulson and the others. A Primitive opens fire on Mack, but Yo-yo uses her superspeed to snatch all the bullets out of the air. Well, all except for one. Somehow she's hit in the side and collapses. Mack lays Yo-yo out on a table, and determines she's losing a lot of blood. He can't get her to the medlab, so he uses a blowtorch to cauterize her wound. Jesus Christ!

Hive Ward uses the memories of Will Daniels (the guy who was marooned on Maveth) and Grant Ward to pilot Zephyr One out of the hangar. He starts heading straight for the upper edge of the atmosphere so he can disperse the Inhuman virus all over the Earth. Unknown to him, May and Fitz have stowed away onboard. They find Daisy, who's regained consciousness. Daisy again says she did terrible things under Hive's control, and deserves to die. May says Andrew, aka Lash, wouldn't have saved her if that were true. Just then Giyera knocks out May from behind. Fitz shoots and kills Giyera with a cloaked gun. They make their way to the Zephyr One's lab. Fitz notices Daisy's shivering, and gives her his coat, complete with cross necklace in the pocket. Now Daisy's "It!"

Coulson and the others retake the base from the Primitives. Coulson uses the communicator in his bionic arm to summon a Quinjet. He intends to dock it with Zephyr One and stop Hive Ward. The Quinjet arrives, it docks with Zephyr One and everyone piles onboard. Inside the plane, Coulson confronts Hive Ward. They banter for a bit, and Hive Ward finally shows his true, Cthulhu-y tentacled form. He attacks Coulson, who turns out to be a hologram.

Lincoln (who was in Coulson's boarding party) is attacked by James. Lincoln zaps him and knocks him out. Unfortunately James used his power to energize Lincoln's vest, which explodes and injures him. As Simmons treats Lincoln, Daisy apologizes to him for everything that's happened. He says he knows she wasn't herself, and forgives her.

Coulson plans to move the warhead to the Quinjet, then fly it into outer space, where it'll explode harmlessly (killing him in the process). Daisy hears this and decides to take Coulson's place and sacrifice herself instead. As she quakes the warhead into the Quinjet, Hive Ward finds her. He says he'll just use Ward's knowledge to override anything she does, ensuring the warhead explodes in the atmosphere.

Lincoln appears and says that's not going to happen, as he zaps Daisy out of the Quinjet and takes off with Hive Ward onboard. He fries the controls so Hive can't override them. Daisy calls Lincoln on the comm, and says she's the one who's supposed to sacrifice herself according to her vision. She reaches into her pocket and realizes the cross necklace is gone. Lincoln admits he stole it from her, thus ensuring her premonition comes true. Daisy pleads with Coulson to bring back the Quinjet, but he says Lincoln made it impossible. The Quinjet exits the atmosphere and enters outer space. Lincoln and Hive Ward sit quietly next to one another, calmly facing their deaths. The cross necklace floats through the cockpit as the Quinjet explodes, just like in Daisy's vision.

Smash cut to six months later, when we see Coulson and Mack staking out a location. Daisy appears on the street below, and talks with a woman and her young daughter. We see they're the family of Charles, the precognitive Inhuman from Spacetime, who triggered Daisy's visions of death in the first place. Apparently Daisy's taken to robbing banks, as she gives a fortune to Charles' family to help them relocate. Daisy gives Charles' daughter the wooden robin he carved for her. Coulson calls in the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to capture Daisy, but she quakes herself onto a nearby rooftop and disappears. Coulson tells Mack to call the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (!) and report that they failed.

Dr. Radcliffe enters his lab, happy that his hearings are over. He speaks to AIDA, his personal artificial intelligence program, and says it's her birthday. He activates a switch and we get a dim look at AIDA's humanoid body behind a frosted glass.

• What the heck was up with that beginning dream sequence with Daisy and Coulson stranded on Maveth? I expected it to somehow become relevant later on, but nothing ever came of it and was quickly forgotten about. If there was any significance to Daisy's fragile, post-Hive psyche, it flew over my head.

• It was interesting that Daisy's feelings of pain and self-loathing after being freed from Hive Ward's influence were described as withdrawal symptoms. I wasn't expecting that, and it was a unique spin on a well-worn scifi subject. 

• When the Primitives overrun the base, Coulson and the others are forced to hide from them. Simmons observes a Primitive and determines that they can only see infrared. She then cranks up the heat in the base to 100
º, effectively blinding the Primitives to everyone's presence.

It was a pretty good idea on her part, but really, 100º? That's it? The normal human body temperature is 98.6º. So less then two more degrees is apparently all it takes to render humans invisible to Primitives. Now THAT'S a narrow range of vision!

UPDATE! After thinking about this for a couple of days, I realize I was way off base here, and was looking at it from the wrong angle. The Primitives have infrared vision, right? So in a pleasant 72º environment, a person with a body temperature of 98.6º is going to stand out like a torch. But in a 100º environment, a person would be virtually invisible. Simmons simply made the environment the same temperature (give or take) as the human body.

For some reason I was starting with the room being 100º, which is totally wrong. So never mind! The writers were right!

• When one of the Primitives fires at Mack, Yo-yo saves him with her superspeed, grabbing all the bullets before they can hit him. Unfortunately one of the bullets pierces her in the side. Yo-yo, the Inhuman who can move faster than the human eye can see. Gets shot. By a bullet.

This makes twice now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that someone with superspeed was hit by a bullet. The exact same thing happened to Quicksilver in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I'm starting to think the Marvel writers don't understand what the term "superspeed" means.

• During his battle with Daisy, Hive Ward does the superhero landing!

• Deadpool would be proud!

• When Hive Ward confronts Coulson on Zephyr One, he finally reveals his true face. His face looked pretty darned cool, especially for a TV series.Unfortunately that darn ol' TV budget popped up yet again, only allowing them to show his true form for one brief scene.

• As soon as Coulson appeared on Zephyr One, I knew he was a hologram, just like former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Felix Blake. Something about the stiff, immovable way he was standing gave it away. 

So I guess the unexpected return of Blake a few weeks ago in Watchdogs was written just to introduce interactive holographic technology to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? That had to be the reason, because Blake's appearance went nowhere and contributed absolutely nothing to the plot.

• As Hive Ward soliloquizes about his Master Plan, James realizes the entire population of the world will be transformed into Primitives. Naturally his only concern is that there'll be no more hot looking women left.

• Math is hard! Coulson's plan involves programming the Quinjet to fly 100,000 feet straight up, where it'll explode and harmlessly disperse the Inhuman virus. Somebody's math is off somewhere here. 100,000 feet is about nineteen miles. Outer space is generally considered to begin around sixty two miles above Earth.

• Daisy plans to sacrifice herself and destroy the warhead. She then uses her quake powers to move it into the Quinjet. Does that seem like a good idea? Bombarding a sensitive warhead with vibrational waves?

• When Lincoln decides to sacrifice himself, he steals the cross necklace from Daisy, so her vision will proceed as planned and prophecy will be fulfilled. So what would have happened if he hadn't stolen it? What if he'd just quietly slipped on board the Quinjet without it? Would that have nullified the prophecy? Would he have lived?

• Someone on the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. writing staff really, really liked the goodbye scene between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. Lincoln and Daisy's goodbye, as he flew the doomed Quinjet into outer space, was practically a carbon copy of the movie. Any second I expected Daisy to tell Lincoln he owed her a dance.

• The Quinjet makes it to outer space, and Hive Ward realizes he's been defeated. I was expecting Hive and Lincoln to battle one another to their last breath as the Quinjet broke up around them. Kudos to the writers for going in a completely different direction. The two sit quietly next to one another and express their regrets.
Their calm acceptance of their dual fates was very effective, and much more emotionally resonant than a battle would have been.

• I hate to see Ward go, as he's become quite an interesting villain since Season 1. On the other hand, it's always better to "leave 'em wanting more" than to overstay your welcome. Another season of Evil Ward feels like it would be one too many.

• After the six month time jump, Coulson's staking out a park. We see a newspaper clipping in his room that reads "Who is Quake?" That's Daisy's codename in the comics, so it's nice to finally see it used on the show.

• After Lincoln's death, Daisy apparently quit S.H.I.E.L.D. and has become a superpowered Robin Hood, knocking down banks and giving their money to the poor. She's also apparently a big fan of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as she's "disguised" herself as Lizbeth Salander.

• Dr. Radcliffe returns to his lab, apparently having been cleared of all charges. He activates a program labeled "LMD." As all good Marvel fans know, this means "Life Model Decoy." As the name suggests, they're lifelike robots, undetectable from the real thing, that are used by agents and dignitaries as decoys in dangerous situations.

Tony Stark mentioned them in The Avengers, but I think (and am probably wrong) that this is the first time we've heard of them on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

• There's actually a Holden Radcliffe in the comics. In the Machine Teen comic, which I've never heard of, Radcliffe was a businessman obsessed with creating an army of android super soldiers. One of this employees created a robot named A.D.A.M. that went rogue. Radcliffe was then set on getting "his" stolen technology back.

So it looks like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken the A.D.A.M. robot, flipped its gender, renamed it AIDA, and had Radcliffe invent it.

By the way, I just realized that Radcliffe is played by John Hannah, who was in all three of the Brendan Frasier Mummy movies.

• Best Line Of The Episode (and possibly the whole season):

Holographic Coulson (to Hive Ward): "Plus, I've always wanted to do this. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."

• See you next season!

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