Friday, February 10, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 13: BOOM

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Mallory Janson joins Ming-Na Wen and John Hannah as the third actor this season to pull double duty and play two different versions of the same character. Janson plays Agnes Kitsworth, the inspiration and template for AIDA 2.0.

The idea that AIDA was modeled on a real person made perfect sense, as did Radcliffe's explanation for doing so (to avoid the uncanny valley).

I still don't think we've seen the last of the LMD impostors on the show. In fact, this episode contains a pretty big clue that there's still one rattling around inside S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. More on that below.

SPOILERS! I was sorry to see Nadeer go so soon, as she was a good villain you love to hate (plus I've always liked Parminder Nagra). But 
I guess the show doesn't really need her now that the ironically named The Superior is here.

Lastly, I've just about had enough of my local TV stations. A couple weeks ago The CW station preempted The Flash and Legends Of Tomorrow to air a goddamned basketball game, and tonight the local ABC affiliate decided to run about thirty two commercials in a row, so I missed three of four minutes of the final act of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

In both cases I had to stream the shows a day or so later in order to see them (or the parts I missed). Hey, networks! Do you want to drive viewers away from live TV and move completely to streaming? Because this is how you drive viewers away from live TV and move them completely to streaming. Idiots.


The Plot:
Coulson and Mack are in Spain, looking for a woman named Agnes Kitsworth, who they believe can help them find Agent May. They spot Agnes, and we see she looks exactly like AIDA, Dr. Radcliffe's Life Model Decoy prototype.

On The Superior's submarine, Radcliffe and AIDA have just finished building The Framework, a virtual reality simulation of the entire planet. May's consciousness is stored in The Framework, were Radcliffe says she'll be happy. Radcliffe and AIDA report to The Superior and his Watchdog leader Shockley. They're uneasy around AIDA, and demand she leaves. Radcliffe is rattled to see that The Superior is holding the Darkhold, and warns him it's dangerous. The Superior says he's already read it (!), which angers Radcliffe, and maybe even makes him a bit jealous. The Superior says the book has shown him how to deal with "The Inhuman Problem." He says he needs an Inhuman to serve as bait for S.H.I.E.L.D. Radcliffe reveals he has some pure Terrigen crystals he stole from Hive Ward last season, and gives them to The Superior.

At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Simmons runs tests on Director Mace. She discovers the Patriot serum that gives him super strength has slowly become toxic to him, and his next dose could give him cardiac arrest. Mace is disappointed to hear that, as he's learning to fight without the serum, and his training hasn't gone well. He's eager to get back into action, and feels he's now useless to the Team.

Coulson approaches Agnes in an LA food court, er, I mean a public square in Spain. He says he knows about the work she did with Radcliffe, and thinks she knows where to find him. She says she knows nothing about Radcliffe and doesn't want anything to do with him. Mack appears and shows her a photo of AIDA. Agnes is shocked by this revelation, but not really surprised. She says she was with Radcliffe for a time (ewww...), but he left her because she's dying of an inoperable brain tumor, and he couldn't cure her and felt like a failure. She refuses to help find Radcliffe, saying she wants to enjoy what little time she has left.

Shockley visits Senator Nadeer in her office. He says her brother was an Inhuman, and accuses her of having the same blood. She denies it, but he says even if she's not an Inhuman, she carries the dormant gene and must be put down. He pulls out a Terrigen crystal and smashes it on her desk. The Terrigen gas floods the room, but Nadeer is completely unaffected. Suddenly a cocoon forms around Shockley, revealing that HE'S unknowingly an Inhuman! Gasp! Once Shockley is completely encased in the cocoon, it explodes, killing Nadeer (!) and destroying her office.

Coulson and Mack argue over whether they should continue pestering Agnes when she clearly wants to be left in peace. Mack says they don't even know if May's still alive, which angers Coulson. He insists he'll find may with or without his help or Agnes.'

Mace, Daisy and FitzSimmons investigate the ruins of Nadeer's office. Daisy reviews the security tape and sees Shockley enter Nadeer's office before the explosion.

Shockley reports to The Superior. He lies, saying Nadeer went through Terrigenesis and exploded. The Superior is skeptical, but takes his word for it and makes plans to leave the country. Shockley returns to Watchdog HQ, planning to take out S.H.I.E.L.D. when they inevitably come for him. Sure enough, Daisy and several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents arrive at the headquarters and capture Shockley, along with a few other Watchdogs. They're taken into custody on Zephyr One, where Daisy interrogates them.

Coulson goes to Agnes' home and tells her Radcliffe abducted May and replaced her with an LMD. She refuses to believe it, saying Radcliffe's not capable of that. Coulson says Radcliffe's not himself, as he's under the influence of the Darkhold. Agnes reluctantly agrees to help.

Meanwhile, Radcliffe's studying the Darkhold. He gets an urgent text message from a "post-humanist subgroup," which can only be Agnes. For some reason he shows AIDA a photo of him and Agnes. He tells her that Agnes needs his help and leaves. AIDA stares at the photo, as her programming begins feeling twinges of jealousy.

On Zephyr One, FitzSimmons examine remains from the bomb site and find traces of a Terrigeneisis cocoon. They realize Shockley must have been the one inside. In the hold, Shockley tells Daisy he'll only talk to Mace. Mace arrives, and Shockley starts powering up for an explosion. Just then FitzSimmons arrive and tell Mace that Shockley's become an Inhuman. He and Fitz tackle Shockley and shove him into a Wonkavator. Daisy jettisons it seconds before Shockley explodes, destroying it.

In Spain, Agnes waits for Radcliffe to arrive. He calls her up, and says she's angry with him for walking out on him. When he tells her he can now save her, she becomes intrigued. He tells her how to find him and she starts walking. She sees his car and gets in. He tells her he's stopped trying to cure sickness, as the Darkhold has shown him how to cure death itself. He says he'll upload her consciousness into The Framework, where she can live forever (or until someone switches the power off). She drives off with Radcliffe. Coulson and Mack, who must have stationed themselves a mile away, run after her, but a car full of gunmen pull up (?) and fire on them to keep them from following.

Somewhere in the desert, Shockley reconstitutes himself. He staggers into a diner and calls The Superior. He says that HE'S the one who became an Inhuman, but he's still a soldier and still believes in the cause. He then explodes again, destroying the diner.

S.H.I.E.L.D. detects Shockley's explosion and comes for him. Daisy confronts Shockley on a deserted road and blasts him with her quake powers, causing him to explode and reform over and over. She blows him up one last time, and FitzSimmons activate a containment unit they whipped up in record time, that sucks Shockley's exploded molecules into it. They lock him inside the trap. A group of Watchdogs arrive, and Mace decides to take them out. He injects himself with the Patriot serum and attacks their convoy. Despite his super strength, he's quickly surrounded, subdued with cattle prods and captured.

Radcliffe uploads Agnes' mind into The Framework. As soon as it's done, her body dies. Radcliffe kisses her lifeless body and leaves. AIDA stares at Agnes' body. She takes the necklace from her and put it around her own neck.

• Did The Superior really read the Darkhold? If so, why isn't he being driven mad? Because he's already crazy? Does he have some secret superpower that protects him from the effects of the book?

• Coulson and Mack travel to Spain (sure the do), to track down Agnes Kitsworth. Unknown to her, Radcliffe used her as a model for AIDA.

Um... why is everything in Spain so yellow? Every scene allegedly set there look like it was shot through a heavy yellow filter over the lens. I'm assuming this was done in a flailing effort to make the Spanish scenes look... foreign, or somehow different. And likely also to disguise the fact that they were all filmed in an outdoor Los Angeles food court.

• Mallory Jansen plays Agnes Kitsworth in this episode, as well as AIDA of course. Agnes is an Australian citizen with a slight accent. Oddly enough, Mallory Janson is also from Australia! Funny how that worked out.

• By the way, Agnes looks pretty good for someone dying of an inoperable brain tumor.

• This week Fitz has LMD detectors installed inside S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. That's actually a pretty good idea, and something they should have done weeks ago. Nothin' like closing the barn door after the horses get out! 

Fitz tells a technician to make sure and calibrate the detectors carefully, because he doesn't want Coulson's bionic arm setting them off. The writers just eliminated a potential plot hole with that one little line of dialogue. Well done, guys! They know I'm watching...

• A few weeks ago I suspected that in addition to May, Fitz had been replaced with an LMD as well. Then we found out that Radcliffe sent an LMD of himself to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D., which seemingly flushed my "Fitz Is A Robot" theory down the drain.

Eh, not so fast there! After this week I'm not so sure I was wrong.

In this episode, Fitz walks past an LMD detector while carrying Mace's modified superhero suit on a hanger. Oddly enough, the detector goes off! Fitz casually dismisses this by saying, "Dial in that scanner. I can't have it detecting every metal clothes hanger as an LMD!" Hmm...

When's the last time anyone saw a metal clothes hanger? Years? What if it wasn't the hanger, but Fitz himself that set off the detector?

This little scene could just be a red herring to troll the audience, but I don't think so. I'm betting we haven't seen the last of the secret LMDs at S.H.I.E.L.D.

• So what's the most unbelievable part of this episode? The idea of robots that are indistinguishable from real people? A serum that gives a person super strength? A man who can explode and put himself back together over and over?

Nope. It's the idea that a weaselly-looking guy like Radcliffe could ever actually hook up with a stunning beauty like Agnes.

Retcon Alert! Great confusion surrounds the way Terrigen Crystals work in this episode.

In the past, exposure to a Terrigen Crystal would cause a potential Inhuman to undergo Terrigenesis, awakening their full potential and activating their powers. If a normal human came in contact with a Terrigen Crystal, they'd immediately turn to stone (or something similar).

This is how Coulson lost his left hand back in S.O.S. He caught a crystal to keep it from shattering, and it began petrifying his body. Mack then chopped of Coulson's hand with an axe before the effect could spread to his entire body.

Suddenly this week people are grabbing Terrigen Crystals left and right, with no ill effects. What changed?

According to this episode, only impure, unrefined Terrigen Crystals are deadly to humans. Apparently back in Season 3, Radcliffe stole a box of impure Crystals from Evil Ward. For some reason, he then worked to refine them. These pure Terrigen Crystals still have the same effect on potential Inhumans, but they're now completely harmless to humans.

Why would Radcliffe do this? Because the script needed him to, that's why.

• The length of time it takes for Terrigenesis to occur apparently varies wildly form person to person. Senator Nadeer's brother was in a Terregenisis cocoon for months, maybe even years. In this episode, Shockley's cocooned for literally seconds before he transforms and bursts out.

Maybe it also has something to do with pure and impure Crystals?

• Is Shockley supposed to be Nitro?

In the comics, Robert Hunter was an electrical engineer who's not an Inhuman, but he was the subject of an alien Kree experiment. As a result of this genetic tampering, he could cause his body to violently explode and reform it at will. He then became a supervillain, causing trouble all over the Marvel Universe, including killing Captain Marvel (the male one).

This matches up pretty close to Tucker Shockley, who was exposed to Terregin Mist (which is a product of the Kree), and can now cause his body to violently explode and reform it at will.

So why go to all the trouble of creating a new character that so closely resembles an exiting one? Why not just use Nitro himself? Maybe the writers knew that if they used Robert Hunter, eagle-eyed fans would figure it out and blab it all over the internet, so they changed his name.

• After Shockley explodes and almost destroys Zephyr One, he reintegrates his body in the desert. We see his body slowly rebuild itself from the inside out, as his arteries and nervous system form first, then his musculature and finally his skin.

This scene reminded me a LOT of Dr. Manhattan rebuilding his body in the Watchmen comic and movie. I guess there are probably only so many ways you can film a person reforming their molecules.

By the way, I'm impressed that when Shockley reconstitutes his body, his clothes aren't restored as well. It makes perfect sense that they'd be blown apart, and because they're not part of his body, they stay that way. Well done, writers! Once again, they know I'm watching!

• When Radcliffe secretly contacts Agnes, he has a waiter bring her a flip phone. At first I was thinking, "Seriously, a flip phone? What year is this?" But then I realized Radcliffe's a smart guy, and this is likely a hard to trace, disposable "burner phone." Such phones are generally cheap flip models. 

• Radcliffe tells Agnes he can't cure her, but he can upload her consciousness into the Framework. It's a perfect virtual copy of the entire Earth, created by Radcliffe and AIDA (mostly AIDA), which is absolutely nothing like the Matrix. Nope, absolutely, completely, legally distinct and different.

• A few weeks ago I praised Mallory Janson for her ability to convincingly play a robot, as she's somehow able to give AIDA a strange, artificial quality. Kudos to her this week as well, as she plays the human inspiration for AIDA. I really did believe I was looking at two different, er, people here. Well done!

And as always, the "twin effects" were top notch, as AIDA even removed a pendant from around Agnes' neck.

By the way, it was very creepy when AIDA stared down at her human inspiration and realized she's not unique. If I was Dr. Radcliffe, I'd be watching my back. There's nothing worse than a jealous android who likes snapping necks!

• Daisy practices using her powers to counteract Shockley's explosions or something. She fails to find the right frequency several times, and in frustration utters, "Frak!"

Looks like Daisy's a fan of the BattleStar Galactica remake!

• This week's best lines:

Mace: (to Simmons, who's just given him bad medical news) "Don't sugarcoat it, Doc. And by that, I mean, please, go ahead and sugarcoat it."

Fitz: (to Simmons, after she tells him Mace's serum could kill him) "You could could've told me that before I did my whole big presentation."

Coulson: (to Mace) "You'll make the right decision at the right time. Or you'll get an Asgardian staff through the chest. I'd try to avoid that part."

Coulson: (to Agnes, after she doesn't react to finding out about AIDA) "So I'll mark you down as shocked but not surprised, which is surprising."

Simmons: (examining rubble from an explosion) "So, we take a bit of everything and test a bit of everything, old-school. Like in the chem lab, at our old school."

Daisy: (after they throw Shockley off the ship, seconds before he explodes) "I mean, it wasn't pretty, but no one died. Except for maybe Shockley, but I'm fine with that."

Daisy: "Looks like Shockley's back to his old self."
Simmons: "Really? Incredible. He's gone from an explosive gas to a fully functional..."
Daisy: "Jackass?"

Simmons: (to Daisy) "Did you just explode Mr. Shockley?"

Daisy: "Well, I thought if I can't keep him together, I might as well blow him apart."

Shockley: (after Daisy blows him up and his clothes disintegrate) "Whoo! Can't kill me that way. If you wanted to get me naked, all you had to do was (she blows him up again)."

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