Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cameos And A Mixed Place In The Marvel Cinematic Universe For "The Dirty Half Dozen!"

The Good: Decent performances, Engaging plot, Moments of character, Special effects
The Bad: Comparatively plot-heavy (as opposed to character-motivated)
The Basics: One of the best Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes to date, "The Dirty Half Dozen" finds Coulson truly leading S.H.I.E.L.D. against H.Y.D.R.A.'s most powerful leaders!

It's a sad time for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been carrying on the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a semi-weekly basis and, at this point, has more total hours of material than any other element or character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yet . . . it lacks a legitimacy that allows the producers to force the blockbuster films in the franchise to accept it. To wit, the only real way that Nick Fury's cameo in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!) makes any real sense is if one denies that Nick Fury gave Coulson S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "The Beginning Of The End" (reviewed here!). To that end, the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has built an unfortunately contrived fracture within the remains of S.H.I.E.L.D.

By the time "The Dirty Half Dozen" comes up, the whole idea that Coulson is the legitimate leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been so weakened thanks to the new character, Robert Gonzales, having at least as much clout, authority and resources as Director Phil Coulson. So, ironically, the people for whom Fury's part in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron will make sense are those who do not watch Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and those who are die-hard fans who understand the intricacies of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Sadly, the new film seems to count on those who deny the legitimacy of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that Nick Fury does not reference Coulson as aiding him to get the helicarrier out of mothballs. "The Dirty Half Dozen" works to re-establish the legitimacy of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. while doing all that the episode can to connect the television series to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Picking up right after "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" (reviewed here!), "The Dirty Half Dozen" continues the mission that puts the splinters of S.H.I.E.L.D. up against the concentrated force of H.Y.D.R.A.

Opening with Raina having another dream premonition, Skye and Calvin are brought back to Jiaying. Gordon is barely able to escape searching for Lincoln alive. Aboard the Bus, Coulson appeals to Gonzales to go after Strucker and List and stop the H.Y.D.R.A. experiments on powered people. Dr. List has taken Lincoln and Deathlok to an Antarctic H.Y.D.R.A. base, where Mike Peterson is disabled and disconnected from his S.H.I.E.L.D. handlers. While Gonzales hears Coulson out about the mission to take the H.Y.D.R.A. base, May becomes the swing vote on whether the mission will actually happen or not. In their lab, Simmons proposes that Fitz kill Ward, then volunteers for the mission herself.

When Skye appears on the Bus, Ward tries to win the trust of Coulson's strike force by apologizing to them. At her retreat, Jiaying takes counsel from Calvin about Raina. As the Bus approaches the H.Y.D.R.A. base, Dr. List detects it and shoots it out of the sky. Using the debris field to cloak themselves, Coulson's team lands and infiltrates the H.Y.D.R.A. base. There, Simmons rescues Mike Peterson and Skye rescues Lincoln.  In the ensuing firefight, Coulson proves himself to Gozales, Simmons plays her endgame with Ward and Coulson's hidden objective is revealed.

It is ironic that The Avengers: Age Of Ultron weakens the authority of Director Phil Coulson because in "The Dirty Half Dozen," he is at his most authoritative. Following Ward apologizing to the team, Coulson regroups and takes charge in a way that he has not in the rest of the series. Just as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has more air time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Director Coulson actually has vastly more screentime in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than Nick Fury. In "The Dirty Half Dozen," Coulson is played like he has the legitimacy of Nick Fury and the authority to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. like Fury did. Coulson is better than a cameo leader and he finally comes into his own in "The Dirty Half Dozen."

The idea that Simmons could have it in her to murder Ward is an intriguing idea and it certainly shows that her character has grown. Despite her couching her reasoning in purely professional points, "The Dirty Half Dozen" plays as a reward to fans who have waited for some emotional resolution to the Fitz/Simmons relationship. There was an obvious connection between the two characters and while Simmons never said she loved Fitz back after his admission at the climax of the first season, it is hard to deny that the relationship was not played as one-sided. Simmons pitching the assassination of Ward is a strange sign of her love for Fitz, but it actually works.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. seldom relies upon special effects for a big wow factor, but in "The Dirty Half Dozen," it has one of the coolest sequences of the series. The destruction of the Bus and the landing of the stealth quinjet is just awesome.

"The Dirty Half Dozen" is easily the most physically-demanding episode for Chloe Bennet (or her stunt double). One of the few issues with "The Dirty Half Dozen" is that director Kevin Tancharoen does not maintain a tight enough focus on Skye as she kicks ass against a half-dozen H.Y.D.R.A. agents. If you're going to have a big stunt sequence, it makes sense to make sure the viewer can see it and appreciate it. Tancharoen does not light the scene or keep Bennett framed well-enough to actually make the sequence as impressive as it ought to have been. It's unfortunate because for one scene, Skye is as efficient a fighter as Captain America or any of the other Avengers!

Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen and Elizabeth Simmons dominate "The Dirty Half Dozen." This might not be the most character-driven episode, but for those who are not fans of Brett Dalton (Grant Ward), "The Dirty Half Dozen" gives him a decent role (even if the dialogue in his big scene is pretty obvious and atrocious). If this was his exit from the series, it would be a good one.

"The Dirty Half Dozen" plays Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a direct lead-in to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and that is fun, but it still requires the enduring element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to pay fealty to where the series came from.

For other works directed by Kevin Tancharoen, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"One Of Us" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"All Star Team Up" - The Flash
"Face Of My Enemy" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie

[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 reviews of components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of reviews from best to worst!

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