Sunday, February 5, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 12: Hot Potato Soup

This week Agents Of S.H.i.E.L.D. continues to barrel along, bringing us a couple of major reveals and finally answering a question fans have been wondering about for years.

Unfortunately most of these developments turned out to be big disappointments (for me, at least). I was very underwhelmed by the revelation that the Koenigs are just plain old quadruplets (spoiler, I guess!), and not clones, robots or Life Model Decoys. Yawn!

We also finally got our first look at The Superior this week, and he turned out to be a big letdown as well. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting him to be, but it darned sure wasn't a plain old vodka-swilling Russian!

There were some interesting developments between Coulson and LMD May this week, as she succumbed to her feelings or was it her programming and finally put the moves on Coulson. Odd that LMD May seems more human than the real thing!

We also got our first (I think) mention of Fitz's father, and I'm sure it won't be long before he pops up on the show to cause trouble.

Lastly, I noticed there were a lot of incredibly intuitive leaps this week. Characters were making all sorts of wild connections and conjectures that of course turned out to be right. I get that they need to move the story along and don't want to waste time on endless scenes of investigation and deduction, but come on! It reminded me of the preposterous guesses on the Batman 1966 series, where he'd find some preposterously convoluted clue and say, "Aha! It had to be the Riddler! It's the only logical explanation!"


The Plot:
S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Sam and Billy Koenig are messing around in an adult arcadeTwo Russian Watchdogs enter, looking for an "Agent Koenig." The Watchdogs are confused when they spot two different Koenigs. Sam dives behind a bar and starts shooting at one of the Watchdogs. Billy's captured by the other Watchdog and taken. Sam immediately calls Coulson.

At S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson reveals to the Team that he gave the Darkhold to the Koenigs, as they're experts at "making things disappear." LMD May perks up at hearing this, since her secret mission is to acquire the evil book. Coulson somehow comes to the conclusion that Dr. Radcliffe (the real one) is working with Senator Nadeer, and she sent the Watchdogs to grab the Koenigs.

Meanwhile, Fitz repairs LMD Radcliffe (who he shot in the head last week), and paralyzes him from the neck down so he can't cause any more trouble. Fitz, Simmons and Mack interrogate the LMD, trying to find out where Real Radcliffe is. LMD Radcliffe whines, saying it's the real victim, and that things aren't what they seem.

Billy Koenig wakes, tied to a chair inside a Watchdog submarine. Real Radcliffe is tied up beside him as well. Real Radcliffe claims that after he told Nadeer where to find the Koenigs, she betrayed him and he ended up here. Radcliffe does his best trying to bond with Billy, but he's never met Radcliffe before and has no idea what he's going on about.

Just then The Superior enters. We've been hearing about him for weeks now, and at long last, here he is. It was well worth the wait too, because he turns out to be... um... some guy. A Russian guy who likes to sniff onions while he drinks vodka. Well, that was disappointing!

The Superior starts to torture Billy, and Radcliffe unties himself and tells him to stop, as he can't stand violence. We realize this whole "Prisoner Radcliffe" thing has been a ruse to try and gain Billy's trust, so he'll tell him where the Darkhold is. 
Radcliffe says he'll just go inside Billy's head and find out the info that way. He uploads Billy's memories and searches through them.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz looks at LMD Radcliffe's computer code and realizes it's too complex for him to understand. LMD Radcliffe says that's Fitz's estranged father talking. He says he knew Fitz's dad, and Fitz unplugs him and leaves. Mack asks Simmons what that was all about, and she says Fitz's dad was a jerk who never approved of him and walked out on him and his mother.

Daisy and Sam look at surveillance footage from the arcade to figure out who took Billy. They discover one of the Watchdogs attacked Director Mace a few episodes ago. He's also connected to the Russian Prime Minister who was attacked by an Inhuman last season, which resulted in Mockingbird and Hunter (remember them?) being forced to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. 

Coulson asks Sam where the Darkhold is, but he claims he doesn't know. Apparently the brothers played an intricate game of "Hot Potato" (hence the episode title), handing it off to one another over and over to throw off anyone following them. Sam says he ultimately handed the book over to LT Koenig, the "original" who got the brothers to join S.H.I.E.L.D. 

For reasons I can't quite figure out, Coulson and LMD May stake out a comedy club, while Daisy goes undercover inside. Coulson reminisces, and LMD May says maybe it's time they took their relationship to the next level. Just as they're about to kiss, Daisy calls them on their comms, telling them to get inside the club. Inside the club they see another Koenig brother, presumably LT, take the stage and start an angry rant. Just then they're attacked by a woman who turns out to be Special Agent LT Koenig! GASP! LT's a woman!?!???!?

On Zephyr one, LT introduces the slam poet as her brother Thurston Koenig. Daisy does some investigating and discovers The Superior is really Anton Ivanov, a Russian industrialist who collects military antiques, including his very own submarine. Coulson asks LT where the Darkhold is, but she says she gave it to Billy, who put it in the Labyrinth, a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. vault whose location is known only to the Koenigs.

Radcliffe sifts through Billy's memories and sees that he place the Darkhold in the Labyrinth, and tells him to take the sub there. The Superior refuses, saying Radcliffe places too much trust in machines, saying nothing is "built to last" anymore. AIDA, who's there for some reason, takes down The Superior's men with ease. The Superior's impressed, and turns the sub around.

Meanwhile, Fitz stews over LMD Radcliffe's impossible code. He decides to take the direct approach, and opens the back of the LMD's head. Inside he sees a glowing virtual brain, identical to the one AIDA "knitted" out of energy after reading the Darkhold back in The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics. LMD Radcliffe slips up and reveals that he's connected to another such brain, and Simmons somehow deduces it has to be May's, and that she's really an LMD too.

Sam, Coulson, LMD May, Daisy and LT arrive at the Labyrinth. Sam makes them wait while he goes to retrieve the book. While they're waiting, LMD May moves in on Coulson, and they kiss. Sam returns with the Darkhold and hands it to LMD May. She then pulls a gun on Coulson, and he realizes she's an LMD. She appears conflicted, as she's programmed to kill Coulson, but her soul, if she really has one, won't let her. Daisy appears and blasts her with her quake powers. Coulson grabs the Darkhold.

The Watchdogs enter with Billy, and tell Coulson he can have him in exchange for the book. Coulson tosses them the book, and they release Billy. A battle breaks out, and in the confusion, Radcliffe appears and takes the book. LMD May begs him to take her with him, but he tells her she wasn't "built to last" and leaves.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., the Koenigs reveal they worked on the original LMD project, but as technicians only they're not robots themselves. Fitz burns LMD Radcliffe and AIDA 1.0's head in a giant oven, which is apparently something they have in their headquarters. Coulson is reluctant to burn LMD May until they find the real thing. 

On the sub, The Superior and Radcliffe celebrate. The Superior says he wants to destroy all Inhumans, as they didn't earn their powers through hard work. He also wants to destroy the thing that brought them to Earth, saying wherever aliens have shown up in the past, one man has always appeared in the background and in the shadows Phil Coulson.

 I have to say I was disappointed by the revelation that the Koenigs are apparently nothing more than quadruplets.

Ever the Koenigs introduced in back in Season 1, fans have been wondering just what they are, and why there's a seemingly endless supply of them. Most viewers, myself included, suspected they were LMDs, programmed to assist S.H.I.E.L.D. however they could. 

But once Radcliffe created AIDA and started up the whole LMD story arc this season, it became obvious that the Koenigs had to be something else. But what? Clones, perhaps?

Nope! They're just plain old, ordinary human quadruplets. Well, I guess not ordinary, since quadruplets are pretty rare, but you know what I mean. How anti-climactic.

I'm wondering if the producers meant for the Koenigs to be robots all along. I'm betting when they decided to do this LMD arc, they realized that two different sets of robots running around would be too confusing, and had to hastily alter the origin of the Koenigs.

The "multiple Koenig" scenes were all very well done, as Billy and Sam seamlessly interacted with one another. If I didn't know better, I'd think Patton Oswalt actually had a twin brother!

It's amazing how far special effects have come since the 1970s, when obvious, static split screens were the only way to film twin effects!

• Radcliffe concocts an elaborate scheme in which he pretends to be a prisoner alongside Billy, hoping to find out the location of the Darkhold. When that plan fails, Radcliffe says he'll just use a mind-scanning device to get the info directly from Billy's brain.

Why the hell didn't he just do that in the first place? Why waste hours and hours on the overly-complicated little "fellow prisoner" skit? Answer: Because almost torturing Billy was more dramatic, plus they wanted to showcase Patton Oswalt as much as possible.

• I was also disappointed by The Superior in this episode. Senator Nadeer's been teasing his eventual appearance for weeks now, but not giving us any clue as to who or what he is. What would he turn to be? Some sort of cyborg, ala Deathlok? A massive, Hulk-like villain? A brain in a jar?

Nope! He's a just a guy. A Russian guy with oddly-sculpted facial hair who likes sniffing onions after he drinks vodka. Talk about a letdown!

By the way, is "sniffing onions after drinking vodka" a real thing, or did they just make it up for the show? I haven't had a sip of alcohol for decades, so I have no idea.

• Sam works with Daisy to try and figure out who captured Billy. He geeks out over the fact he's working with her, and tells her there's actually "Quake" fan fiction online, which pairs her with Black Widow.

All of Sam's fan fiction dialogue rings true here. The terms are all spot-on, especially "shipping," which of course is short for "worshiping."  The "Quack" mash-up name (Quake + Black Widow = Quack) is perfect as well, and sounds exactly like something that would really happen in the seamier parts of the internet.

This is because Patton Oswalt is a huge comic book & sci-fi movie geek, and no doubt knows of what he speaks.

• Sam tells Coulson he gave the Darkhold to LT Koenig, who apparently works at a comedy club. For some reason Daisy and several redshirt agents go undercover inside the club, while Coulson and LMD May stake it out in a car.

I can't think of ANY reason why they needed to approach this club so stealthily. Why not just walk inside and say, "We're looking for LT Koenig?"

• I was surprised when Coulson mentioned Mockingbird and Hunter in this episode. I figured the producers were hoping the audience would forget all about them.

When the two characters were written out of the series, I was sure their absence would negatively affect the show. Happily that hasn't been the case. I feel bad for actors Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood (who played Mockingbird and Hunter, respectively) though. They were told TWICE they were getting their own spinoff series, and then after they were seemingly written out of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. forever, Disney/ABC changed their minds and said, "Yeah, no." Talk about an unlucky break!

I really don't see any reason why the characters can't be brought back. Yes, they were forced into cover and irreparably "discommendated" or whatever they called it, but Jesus Christ, if Coulson can come back from the freakin' dead, surely they can write around Hunter & Mockingbird's situation.

• For weeks now I've been saying the whole LMD storyline seemed like it was inspired by HBO's Westworld series. Nowhere is that more evident than in this episode.

When Mack wants to "kill" LMD Radcliffe, the robot says that would be murder. Mack says only if it had a soul, to which LMD Radcliffe says, "How do you know I don't?" That feels like a like straight out of Westworld.

Similarly, after LMD May was discovered, she told Coulson her feelings for him were "real," and not just programming. Again, that's a very Westworld thing to say.

• Now that LMD May revealed her true feelings for Coulson, it's safe to say she's probably awoken some similar feelings in him. As I said earlier, it's interesting that LMD May seems more human than the real thing.

I have a feeling that once they get Real May back, Coulson's going to want to try and pick up where he left off with her robotic doppelganger, much to her shock and horror.

• This week we find out that the Darkhold is stored inside "the Labyrinth," a super secret storage facility whose location is known only to the Koenigs. When Radcliffe sorts through Billy's memories, he sees images of him passing through numerous security doors in the Labyrinth before reaching the storage room.

Seeing Billy walk through the endless series of doors was VERY reminiscent of the opening credits of the spy comedy Get Smart. Coincidence, or homage?

• Eric Koenig, the first Koenig brother we ever saw back in Season 1, was actually a character in the comics. He first appeared in Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos #27 in 1966. He served with Nick Fury in WWII, and was an ordinary human, not a clone, robot or LMD.

Eric Koenig was the first of the brothers to appear in the series, in Providence. He was killed by Grant Ward in the following episode, The Only Light In The Darkness. Billy Koenig was first introduced in the Season 1 finale, Beginning Of The End. Sam was first seen in Season 2, in ...Ye Who Enter Here.

• This week's best lines:

Sam: "Agent Coulson, This is Agent Koenig. They've got Agent Koenig. I repeat, they've got Agent Koenig.Koenig."

Daisy: (to LT Koenig) "So, what was it like growing up with four of them? 

LT Koenig: "There was a lot of crying."
Daisy: "They picked on you?"
LT Koenig: "I picked on them. It was fun. The laundry was disgusting. Enough DNA to make a clone army."

Thurston Koenig: (performing his "comedy" act) "Welcome to the inside of my mind, Sheeple. You guys watching any, uh, any good programming lately? You know why they call it "programming," right? Because you're being programmed through little screens, big screens, little morphine drips of sequels and prequels and zombies and Kanyes, Snapchats and Grumpy Cats, all designed by the media, corporate S.H.I.E.L.D. machine, and you're asleep, binge-watching the Apocalypse! You know what Tony Stark's armor is powered by?"

Shockley: (to Billy) "The man who comes in here will do things to you, that I can't even watch. He will break you."
Billy: "Yeah, well, Koenigs don't break. All right? We're programmed to take pain, so bring it on! Bring it on! (Shockley leaves) Oh, my God. I'm in so much pain."

Daisy: "You're staring at me."
Sam: "I'm sorry. I just ... I can't believe I'm sitting here with Quake! You know, this is ... oh, somebody pinch me."
Daisy: "Sam, stop. We've known each other for three years."
Sam: "Yeah, I knew Skye, but you're ... you're "Quake." She's different."
Daisy: "No, she's not. And she doesn't love the name "Quake." 
Sam: "But you're ... you're a superhero! I mean, that's so awesome! Did you know that online, there's a library of fan fiction about Quake?"
Daisy: "Did not need to know that." 
Sam: "Oh, well, you should Google it. Because it's ... it's... actually, no, you shouldn't. You shouldn't. Forget I said that. Some of it is a little on the steamier side. Not that I've read it! You ... but you hear things. Wow. I mean, they got you 'shipping with Black Widow. Some of the drawings are ...they ... They call you Quack."

Radcliffe: (to Billy) "My intent was ... was purely scientific. But oh, the things I saw. It was expanding my brain and my reality."
Billy: "You're getting all Gollum-y again."
Radcliffe: "Well, that's ... that's what the Darkhold does to you. It drives you mad."

LMD Radcliffe: (to Fitz) "I'm not going to let this come between us. What's the occasional bullet in the head among friends?

Mack: "Just you and me now, Tin Man. You don't mess with my buddy and walk away from it." LMD Radcliffe: "If you shoot me now, it'll be murder."
Mack: "Nice try. Wrong guy. You're just a bunch of ones and zeroes, not flesh and blood."
LMD Radcliffe: "Flesh and blood? That's not life, Mack. That's just biology, and biology is just... software programming you to die."
Mack: "Maybe. But I have something you will never have. A soul... that will continue long after I'm gone.."
LMD Radcliffe: "How can you be so sure I don't have one? If a soul doesn't come from your flesh and blood or my ones and zeroes, then it has to come from somewhere else, somewhere unrelated to our physical bodies. If you can have one, so can I."
Mack: "You are a sly one, aren't you?"
LMD Radcliffe: "If you don't think I'm alive and don't have a soul, then why did you feel the need to switch me on before killing me?:
Mack: "I like to hear robots scream."

Daisy: "So, May's a freakin' robot.

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