The Good: Decent performances, Good plot, Special effects
The Bad: Plot heavy, Light on character development
The Basics: "Emancipation" prepares Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the two-part season finale by integrating the show with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When it comes to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it is always exciting to see how the show will try to mesh with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following Captain America: Civil War (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had to integrate with the rest of the MCU. Before "Emancipation," Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. worked to get there, by once again "utterly destroying" HYDRA. After all, for Captain America: Civil War's ultimate adversary to work, HYDRA had to actually be destroyed (lest HYDRA's surviving members actually retaining control over the plot macguffin ledger). Lacking HYDRA, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. now is fighting Hive in Ward's corpse as he works to change the world for Inhumans.
"Emancipation" continues after the climax of "Failed Experiments" (reviewed here!) and is also after the events of Captain America: Civil War. As a result, there are aspects to "Emancipation" that assume viewers have seen the prior episode and the new film. After all, the Sokovia Accords have been signed in "Emancipation" and the "feud" between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are referenced in the teaser, as is the death of Agent Carter.
Opening with General Talbot visiting Coulson and insisting that Coulson bring S.H.I.E.L.D. into the Sokovia Accords and disclose his Inhuman assets, Coulson brings Talbot into his base. In Hive's base, as Daisy is exsanguinated for Hive's experiments, she hacks S.H.I.E.L.D.'s security system. With Mack out of commission thanks to Daisy, Fitz has to continually reprogram the system while May assigns Fitz and Simmons to figure out what Hive wants. Talbot is introduced to Elena Rodriguez, right before Campbell is able to get in touch with Daisy through her surveillance.
While the Watchdogs make a plan to abduct an Inhuman, Daisy makes a plan to reunite with Campbell. The Watchdogs, though, are part of Hive's plan to get "volunteers" for Dr. Radcliffe's experiments and the parasite uses James to capture several of the hate group members. Fitz and Simmons realize what Hive's goal is: to create an army of Inhumans already under Hive's sway from mundane humans. Talbot argues that Hive should be taken out by the military while Daisy breaks Campbell out of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s headquarters. After Radcliffe's experiment on the Watchdogs creates a horrific slave race of lesser Inhumans, Hive asks him to create more and he asks Daisy to make the ultimate sacrifice for his science. But Coulson's plan to stop Hive may change everything!
The science of "Emancipation" is utterly ridiculous. Dr. Radcliffe is using Daisy's blood in order to get Kree blood out of her. After two years, there is no reason Daisy would have any Kree blood in her; she would have metabolized it a long, long, time ago. Just because Kree blood was used to resurrect Coulson and heal Daisy does not mean the blood would remain in either of their systems years later.
Beyond that, "Emancipation" is insular in a way that will please fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The return of the Watchdogs, Yo-Yo, Lash and the references to the past relationships and interactions various characters had are only fully understood by those who have been keeping up with the series. The season's hype has been building toward a death that Daisy foresaw in a prior episode and belaboring relationships like Mack and Elena (and Mack and Daisy) and Daisy and Lincoln Campbell seems to be building toward that death. Fans of Joss Whedon's works (and Whedon remains an executive producer on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) would say the smart money for the death would be Fitz or Simmons (though the cross seen in the flashes forward diminishes the probability of either of them and increases the likelihood that the death will be a minor character, like Elena Rodriguez).
"Emancipation" is light on character, as it builds the plot threads needed to organically bring the season to the finale (the two-part finale is next week). Rather pleasantly, characters generally work within their established parameters in "Emancipation." Fitz is geekishly focused on the base, so he overlooks the quinjet. Mack is of more use to Fitz on the tech end than Simmons is and Mack also remains seriously wounded (he does not have superhuman healing!). Campbell's obsession with leaving the base is momentarily engaging, but from a character perspective, it makes much more sense that he would just want to flee everyone and everything as opposed to rejoining Daisy.
"Emancipation" entirely hinges on a last-act reversal to justify itself and it mortgages a lot of its assets. The Watchdog mutants are creepy and that Hive's plan involves creating more is an interesting set-up, but at some point, viewers have to get a pay-off and "Emancipation" only starts the pay-off in the last ten minutes of the episode. Unfortunately, while the last act is good, it sets up a season finale that is - from a plot perspective - virtually identical to the second season finale, down to agents being wounded and in a diminished capacity for the final battle. Jai-Ying and Hive have, essentially, the same goals and Daisy being exhausted from exsanguination is instantly reminiscent of Bobbi Morse being tortured by Ward to sit out most of the second season finale.
The performances in "Emancipation" are fine, but no one gets an exceptional part to play.
The special effects in "Emancipation" are good, though most of the effects are make-up related, save the visual effects surrounding James and his pyrotechnics. The final act uses a decent chunk of the budget, but it looks amazing, so it is money well-spent.
The result is that "Emancipation" is just a very average episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the third season here!
For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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