The Good: Good performances, Latter half of the plot, Moments of character
The Bad: Contrived character conflict for Mack, First half of the episode's plot, Moments of Fitz's characterization
The Basics: "Wake Up" is an initially fractured episode that gets going and, after its initial predictability, it turns out pretty good!
At this point, there are very few television shows I watch on a weekly basis; most television I review, I tend to watch by the season and review the whole arc. Of the four weekly shows I watch, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the one that is in the most precarious position. As "Wake Up" arrives, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen into a place that is both listless and crowded. The writing appears to be going by the shotgun approach; there is a lot going on, a whole bunch of characters, but none of it is compellingly delivered. There are vague conspiracies and over-the-top villains, but rooting even for S.H.I.E.L.D. has become difficult in that all of the characters seem disconnected from one another and major plotlines like May being replaced by an imposter have been done before. "Wake Up" continues the trend, as opposed to bucking it.
"The Patriot" (reviewed here!) preceded "Wake Up" and given the way that the new episode begins, it is tough to talk about without some references to where the prior episode went. Given that Dr. Radcliffe has been exposed to the audience as a complicate villain, Aida seems to be off the leash and May remains captured by the pair, Coulson seems to have his work cut out for him. And now that Mace has been exposed, within the organization at least, as a fraud, Daisy is in a position to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. if the pro-Inhuman propaganda machine is to be continued.
Opening with a flashback scene of Radcliffe confronting May during the mission when he realized that S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be an issue in his research, Radcliffe tasks Aida with the "sunset protocol." May wakes up a day ago in a spa, which unsettles her. After her escape attempt, though, LMD May continues her mission not knowing she is a life model decoy. May wakes up at Radcliffe's office and begins formulating an escape plan while Mack and Yo-Yo hook up in advance of a mission to infiltrate Senator Nadeer's office. While Mace and Daisy head to a Senate subcommittee to testify, May attempts to escape Aida.
Nadeer grills Daisy about her time spent rogue as Quake and at the same time, Coulson's mission with Yo-Yo goes south. When Coulson and Rodriguez get captured, Coulson realizes there is a mole in his S.H.I.E.L.D. base. When LMD May realizes that something is off, she confronts Radcliffe and he challenges her beliefs. As LMD May turns her attention to Coulson, Fitz has a chance to confront Radcliffe.
Seeing the process by which May was captured does surprisingly little, especially after seeing her attempting to fight her way out of Radcliffe's laboratory in prior episodes. Similarly, seeing the multiple reboots in the spa was somewhat unnecessary given that Radcliffe already described her issues with the false reality she is being kept in. The problem most science fiction and spy thriller viewers will have with "Wake Up" is that it is hard to buy the reality of anything going on in the Melinda May subplot of the episode. After all, Radcliffe straight out said that conflict was what May needed, so any elements of her plotline that are filled with conflict force the viewer to ask "is this even real?" Viewers brace throughout "Wake Up" for an eye-rolling revelation that May's escape is not real. And there is the eye-roll and when it comes, it is hardly audacious.
The exchanges between Rodriguez and Coulson are good and they are offset by exchanges between Fitz and Simmons that are just troubling. After years of getting invested in the Fitz/Simmons relationship, it is bothersome to see Fitz suddenly become "generic creepy guy." While the scientific attraction Fitz might have to Radcliffe's project is realistic, "Wake Up" makes Fitz seem cheap - like he is only interested in Aida because he's the next hot body he encountered. Fitz has been characterized as introverted and Simmons has been his shining light; he risked being lost at the far side of the galaxy for her. The viewer is supposed to believe that six months into his legitimate relationship with Simmons, he is suddenly that bored with her?!
Mallory Jensen continues to make Aida terrifying to watch with her coldness. Jensen has great control over her deliveries to portray a homicidal android and she is convincing in her performance.
"Wake Up" is clever when the LMD May confronts Radcliffe and that is both entertaining and fits her character exceptionally well.
Mack's sudden backstory is somewhat artificially delivered. Instead of giving Mack a solid story with a chance to flesh out his backstory, "Wake Up" gives him an exposition scene that is far less engaging. Mack is treated as an unfortunate afterthought, as opposed to allowing Henry Simmons to really let loose with the character. Simmons deserves better than that, as do fans of Mack.
That said, "Wake Up" transitions into a fairly solid episode after a predictable and rocky start. Ironically, the feel of the episode is very much the problem with the current phase of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.: a villainous Senator, the use of LMDs, a mad scientist . . . these are only peripherally focused on S.H.I.E.L.D. and its mission. The listless quality to the show comes out in the writing and makes for episodes that oscillate wildly between obvious and already-done and well-performed and fun. "Wake Up" is exactly that type of episode.
For other television works with Ava Acres, please visit my reviews of:
"Melinda" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Hotel Transylvania 2
For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.