Tuesday, March 8, 2016

After A Hiatus, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is "Bouncing Back" With Inhumans And HYDRA!

The Good: Good plot development, Pacing, The few moments of character
The Bad: No outstanding performances, Exceptionally light on character development
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns with "Bouncing Back" and the episode moves the series in a somewhat new direction while clearly acting as a small part in a much larger serialized narrative.

When it comes to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., I was surprised by how excited I was for the third season's mid-season premiere. While the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was on winter hiatus, I had the option to watch and review Agent Carter and I let that opportunity pass. The Marvel Television Universe has been decidedly mixed and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been given a difficult task of balancing being its own thing and advancing the Marvel Cinematic Universe in between the major blockbuster releases. The result has been erratic, but the third season's mid-season finale was surprisingly gripping and the anticipation for the midseason premiere, "Bouncing Back" was almost as high for me as Captain America: Civil War or the impending second season of Daredevil being released next week.

"Bouncing Back" picks up after "Maveth" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss without referencing how "Maveth" ended. Indeed, coming into "Bouncing Back," viewers are left with a lot of questions about how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will adapt to the huge character changes that came at the climax of "Maveth." "Maveth," despite the sudden forced passion between Daisy and Lincoln, replayed much better than it originally played. The midseason finale set up a big potential conflict between Coulson and Fitz (the latter having witnessed Coulson murdering Ward on the alien world through the portal), forced a redefinition of Ward (who was killed and then possessed by the ancient evil on the alien world) and left May somewhat lost as her ex-husband is in the wind, last seen as the villainous Lash.

Opening three months in the future with an apparent death aboard a spacecraft, the episode flashes back to the present where a new Inhuman pops up to steal a cache of weapons in Colombia. Coulson, with a new hand, meets with the President Of The United States in his apartment where Coulson is put in charge of the ATCU, which is now retasked as the public face of S.H.I.E.L.D. President Ellis is unable to give Coulson a lead on Gideon Malick, the head of HYDRA, but he takes Coulson off his leash in the hunt for him. Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team investigates the incident in Colombia and Mack encounters an Inhuman who appears to be able to move at incredibly fast speeds. With Mack captured, the team is split between recovering Mack and hunting Malick.

In Colombia, Mack discovers that the Inhuman who captured him moves fast, but whips back to her starting point when she executes her power and it quickly brings him to a detente with her. That allows Daisy, Morse, and Hunter to rescue Mack and apprehend the Inhuman. At HYDRA's base, Malick is surprised that the parasite-infected Ward is already speaking and he is hungry. Coulson, determined to find Malick, submits Von Strucker (the younger) to the T.A.H.I.T.I. protocol to try to jog his memories. Morse and Hunter are captured by the corrupt Colombian "police," who are using an Inhuman. The Inhuman who captured Mack allies with S.H.I.E.L.D. when she loses her cousin to the corrupt police. When Coulson plays his hand against Malick, HYDRA strikes back with frightening efficiency.

Right off the bat, "Bouncing Back" seems like it is still struggling with finding a balance. The flash-forward might appear to be an allusion to Captain America: Civil War or the third season finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it does not fit in well in "Bouncing Back." Unlike something like the flashes forward in the second season of Breaking Bad, this flash forward comes out of nowhere and is not something that is building a theme (at least, not yet). The gap in time between "Maveth" and "Bouncing Back" is not immediately clear; enough time has passed so Coulson has a new hand and HYDRA is not yet restaffed, but the blood in Coulson's apartment has not yet oxidized?!

"Bouncing Back" continues a disturbing trend in post-9/11 entertainment, which sees otherwise intelligent characters employing torture and accepting that the results are at all accurate. I'm a fan of heroes who have a willingness to do whatever it takes and I was not turned aside by recognizable heroes stepping over the obvious moral lines, like Wonder Woman did in Mission's End (reviewed here!). But morally relativistic characters do not necessarily condone torture or use their prisoners in unethical ways. Genre viewers seem to have forgotten the lessons of Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Chain Of Command, Part II" (reviewed here!) and blithely accept things like "Bouncing Back" where heroic characters torture and get reliable information in the process.

What "Bouncing Back" does well is progress all of the various plots in interesting ways. Ward made it back to Earth, as we already knew, but he is not at 100% yet; the Inhumans are presented as a complex problem that has no easy answers and various interpersonal relationships have threads that are peppered throughout the episode (except, interestingly, any substantive relationship between Daisy and Lincoln - though there is a very surfacey relationship scene late in the episode). The simple twist of Elena Rodriguez and her cousin trying to destroy weapons headed into Colombia makes for an intriguing start and an engaging point for her to bond with members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Similarly, the new villainous Inhuman with the "medusa eyes" is very cool and executes his power in "Bouncing Back" with frightening efficiency.

As with many episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Bouncing Back" suffers some from having a large cast and being unable to properly service all of them. More than most episodes, especially of the current season, "Bouncing Back" gives Mack the chance to grow and develop. Mack has been mistrustful of Inhumans and in the course of the episode, he finds one that he actually likes. His is the most consistent arc in the episode.

The plot of "Bouncing Back" ends early enough to drop in fairly underwhelming pairing scenes between Fitz and Simmons, Johnson and Campbell and May and Coulson. Most fans could probably have lived without the Lincoln/Daisy scene to see more of either Fitz and Simmons or May and Coulson. After years of waiting and a single kiss between them, fans of Fitzsimmons are bound to feel cheated by the lack of substantive progress in their relationship, especially in lieu of how Simmons has expressed interest and Fitz has made repeated sacrifices for her.

The performances in "Bouncing Back" are very average; the episode manages to completely neglect the implied tension between Fitz and Coulson that was evident at the climax of "Maveth." Instead, Fitz is working on a new hand for Coulson (because, apparently, keeping Clark Gregg in a glove for the remainder of the series was not a viable option?!) and Iain De Caestecker is back in the performance niche he was given at the outset of the series. Ming-Na Wen is not given the chance to emote any sense of loss or concern for May's ex-husband and only Brett Dalton is given the chance to truly perform in a different way. As the parasite-infected Ward, Dalton has to play his role now with constant menace and less overt emotions. That said, Ward was never characterized by wild emotions so even in "Bouncing Back," Dalton is not given much to play with that offers him the chance to shine.

"Bouncing Back" illustrates potential as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. prepares fans for the eventual Inhumans film, but is not a remarkable return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For midseason premieres, please visit my reviews of:
"Aftershocks" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Revenge Of The Rogues" - The Flash
"The Magnificent Ferengi" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

[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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