Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Reaction Showcase: "Chaos Theory" progresses Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Decent performances, Good special effects, Good character moments
The Bad: Plot is simplistic and focused, Blair Underwood's performance in the first half of the episode
The Basics: The Fitz/Simmons subplot in "Chaos Theory" steals an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode that is very focused on exposing the villainous Inhuman Lash.

As Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has progressed, it has become unclear what the goal of the television show is anymore . . . outside softening the fanbase up for an eventual The Inhumans addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For a series that was built on Clark Gregg's recurring character from the Marvel films and has "S.H.I.E.L.D." in its name, the series has veered away from spies and super heroes and is now mired in revenge plots, soap operatic melodrama and mutants, er, Inhumans. "Chaos Theory" continues that trend.

"Chaos Theory" picks up after "Among Us Hide..." (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the latest episode without some references to where "Among Us Hide..." ended. For the past week, viewers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been wondering if they can trust the word of the lying HYDRA operative who told May the story of how things went down at the mini-mart with her ex-husband. "Chaos Theory" answers the question of whether or not Garner is the Inhuman Lash or not.

Opening 6 months ago while May and Garner were on vacation in Hawaii, May pitches the idea of staying away from S.H.I.E.L.D. Returning home, Garner expresses gratitude to Coulson for sending along artifacts from Afterlife. Opening a book, some dust from terrigen crystals exposes Garner to the element that unleashes his Inhuman potential. Back in the present, Simmons gives Fitz her phone for more aid in figuring out how to get back to the planet upon which she was stranded. On the return trip from meeting Von Strucker, May is clearly torn up about what the boy said and tries to corroborate his story. When Daisy tells her that Garner is off-site working with an Inhuman, May becomes alarmed.

After Morse tells Hunter she does not want to keep hunting Ward, the two clash. Fitz finds a picture of Simmons with the man she met on the distant world and Lincoln meets with Mack clandestinely to tell him that Lash is inside S.H.I.E.L.D. Daisy meets with Rosalind Price and May confronts Garner. Frustrated about being found out, Garner shoots May. He takes her away in order to talk with her about his transformation. When Campbell and Mack make it back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. jet, they expose Dr. Garner and the race is on to find Garner and May.

"Chaos Theory" is saddled with an unfortunate problem that has plagued spy shows since the third season of Alias (reviewed here!) and has already been an issue in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. In the third season of Alias, things were going along in a fairly mundane fashion until Vaughn's wife was seen at the end of an episode killing someone the "good guys" were meeting. From that point on, because the audience knew she was working for the enemy, she began to act twitchy and creepy. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. did that with Ward and "Chaos Theory" picks up doing that with Dr. Garner. Suddenly Blair Underwood is acting like a villain, which undermines the character Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been building.

What works in "Chaos Theory" is that the episode does not overly dick around viewers. Instead of keeping up a "is he or isn't he" or "how stupid are these people not to figure out he's an Inhuman" tension, "Chaos Theory" almost instantly leaps into the characters wrestling with the potential consequences of Dr. Garner being an Inhuman. Attentive viewers will easily note that there's still some wiggle room; at the forty minute mark, we still have not seen Dr. Garner actually transform into Lash. So, as the episode reaches its climax, there is a reasonable tension that actually makes "Chaos Theory" exciting. For those worried about yet another spy show that jerks viewers around, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. immediately puts the fears to rest by giving unambiguous answers as to whether or not Dr. Garner is Lash.

The scenes in "Chaos Theory" that truly land on the character front are the ones that feature Fitz watching the recordings Simmons made while on the alien planet. Iain De Caestecker once again gives a nuanced performance when simply reacting to someone else giving a monologue and he makes those scenes work amazingly well.

The other enjoyable episode of "Chaos Theory" is that Coulson suddenly returns. Since the last time Nick Fury appeared on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the writers have had a tendency to write the character very dryly. In "Chaos Theory," the writers suddenly remember how it became viable to build a series around Clark Gregg's cameo-based character. Coulson was originally informed, but snarky; observant and wry. The return of those character traits to the forefront of Coulson's character play very well throughout "Chaos Theory."

The special effects in "Chaos Theory" are good, especially the morphs. Director David Solomon smartly does not let the special effects overwhelm the performances and that makes one of the last scenes in the episode truly pop.

Despite the lame seeding of Hunter and Morse and their melodrama and continuing the very unresolved thread with Fitz and Simmons, "Chaos Theory" is one of the more focused episodes this season and by and large it works to keep fans coming back . . . even if the bulk of it is involved with continuing the Inhumans thread in a way that has no clear goal outside the immediate obstacle of the episode.

For other works with Matthew Willig, please visit my reviews of:
We're The Millers
Year One

[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!

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