Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ward Returns: "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A."

The Good: The few moments that focus on the main characters, Special effects
The Bad: Soap opera elements, Some poor character moments, Dull plot
The Basics: "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is a fractured episode that underwhelms on almost every front.

As Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. progresses and racks up more airtime than any of the associated films combined, the show is belaboring to remind viewers it fits in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A.," that takes the form of significant direct allusions to Avengers of various stripes and, especially, Nick Fury, who has not been seen since the first season finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Oddly, for a series where most everyone seems to accept that Agent Phil Coulson is now the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the belief that most of the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have that Nick Fury is dead (who else could have handed him the keys?!), it has taken until "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." for that to come up.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." formally introduces "the real S.H.I.E.L.D.," who have only been alluded to before now. Picking up after “One Of Us” (reviewed here!), the remaining high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agents come out of the shadows in the Mack and Mockingbird subplot. Bobbi Morse and Mack's "conspiracy" is finally revealed as they bring Hunter before Roberto Gonzales and other members of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s inner circle (Agent Weaver being the only familiar member of the group). The result is an episode that is very much split between its a- and b- plots and neither are particularly compelling.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." marks the return of Grant Ward to Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the oblique references to his family mean nothing to those who have not kept up with the show. Either way, his tutelage of Agent 33 makes for a surprisingly dull plotline; Agent 33 is just another villain in a season getting more bloated by adversaries. At this point, none of the enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D. are particularly compelling.

Ward and Agent 33 kidnap a repair man to fix Agent 33's face, while aboard the Bus, May and Coulson debate taking Skye out of the field. With the nanomask repaired, Agent 33 and Ward prepare to reinvigorate H.Y.D.R.A. Elsewhere, Mack brings Hunter to "the real S.H.I.E.L.D." There, Gonzales details his concerns about how Coulson has been compromised by alien DNA and Nick Fury's methods of doing business. Coulson moves Skye to a safe house after removing her from active duty while Ward and Agent 33 make a move on General Talbot.

Talbot smartly realizes quickly that his facility has been infiltrated and he locks it down. While Talbot rounds up the women, Agent 33 takes the form of a man in his outfit and Ward gets Agent 33 in front of the H.Y.D.R.A. agent who abandoned her after Whitehall's death. That leaves the military scrambling and Talbot calls upon an unlikely person for help.

Allusions to the Hulk aside, "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." does surprisingly little to detail Skye's growing new powers. She creates earthquakes and that happens as a result of her losing emotional control. So far, in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye seems like (at best) a b-rate version of the Hulk. That said, "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." does what the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been unable to do with the Hulk; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is slowly developing a superhero (who is essentially a mutant) and experimenting with the powers and ways to limit the powers of that individual. The problem with attempting the same while making a movie focused on that character is that it is hard to make it entertaining. While I applaud the effort with Skye, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is running into a similar problem.

To fix that problem, "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." dilutes the Skye plot with the plotlines involving Mack and Agent 33. Bobbi and Hunter have, essentially, a ridiculous soap opera plotline in "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." Hunter has been a tough character to care about since he was introduced at the beginning of the season and Morse's obsession with him only serves to weaken her character. In a similar way, Talbot seems especially idiotic at moments in "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." - knowing he is looking for someone who has the ability to look like his wife, he does not wave her off from visiting the military facility to which she is headed.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is not packed with great performances, either. While the acting is (mostly) competent, it is very much below the talents of Edward James Olmos and Christine Adams to deliver the technobabble and plot exposition that they are forced to. "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is hardly an exceptional character study and Adrianne Palicki is saddled with such a poor character arc in the episode that her acting abilities cannot make her screentime watchable. Instead, Palicki makes Morse seem like a man-obsessed woman who is unable to control "her bad boy."

The central characters who have been with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the beginning are severely minimized in "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." Coulson and May have a few scenes, as do Fitz and Simmons. The only real impressive moment of character is the one where Coulson and May finally figure out that Mack cannot be trusted.

"Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A." is ultimately notable only in that Ward shows back up. Unfortunately, as he grooms Agent 33, it becomes more and more clear that his story is pretty much already done. The writers and producers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might be making Ward's ascent to the head of H.Y.D.R.A. a more realistically-paced endeavor, but it is hard to care. Ward wasn't a great hero and he is a mediocre villain; he's no Arvin Sloan and that makes his time on screen utterly uncompelling. Ultimately, that's where the placeholder episode "Love In The Time Of H.Y.D.R.A" falls.

For other works with Kirk Acevedo, please check out my reviews of:
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
The Walking Dead - Season Four

[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 Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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