The Good: Performances are good
The Bad: Dull plot, Mediocre character development, Lack of realism
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows a stunning lack of complexity in "Parting Shot," which seems intent to simply set up the Morse/Hunter spinoff that has been erratically leaked.
This week has been pretty Marvel-intensive, whatwith the release of the second season of Daredevil (reviewed here!). The contrast between Daredevil and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is pretty stark, though Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. frequently builds up plotlines and larger character arcs over an entire season. Unfortunately, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been far more erratic as it tries to make the fledgling spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. vital beyond setting up or alluding to the current blockbuster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, I was fairly unexcited about "Parting Shot," the latest episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Parting Shot" picks up after "The Inside Man" (reviewed here!) and it continues HYDRA's takeover of the international community's response to the Inhumans. The episode involves an immediate flash forward - "The Inside Man" peaked with Morse and Hunter hitching a ride to Siberia to investigate the site that Malick is planning to use for his Inhuman sanctuary.
Bobbi Morse is at an INTERPOL black site following her murdering three Russians in Russia, where she refuses to give information to the interrogator. Flashing back thirty-four hours, Morse and Hunter find the remote facility that Malick is intending to use as a station for his army of Inhumans. There, Morse and Hunter get back-up from May, Daisy, and Mack and they break into two teams to infiltrate Malick's facility. When Malick is pitched an Inhuman sanctuary, the Russian attache lets him know that the Russian Defense Minister is an Inhuman and the Prime Minister's personal attache was killed at the sanctuary.
Surveillance from the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team reveal that there is a Russian Inhuman within the facility and when the Prime Minister and his team arrive, they recognize it as Malick's moment. Malick uses the shadowy Inhuman to make an attempt on the Russian Prime Minister's life. Mack is incapacitated by the General's projection (a shadow-like projection that the General manipulates with his thoughts and has the ability to be solid or insubstantial at the General's will) and Morse quickly figures out that to stop his "entity," she must take out the General. The choice forces Morse and Hunter to make a critical choice about their futures with S.H.I.E.L.D. as they face execution.
Right out of the gate, "Parting Shot" is weakened by media reports from the hiatus Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was on; once again an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off was leaked. Last year, a spin-off featuring Morse and Hunter was pitched, but it did not get very far. Early in "Parting Shot," viewers are reminded that Morse and Hunter are hardly an interesting enough pair to carry their own series, despite the fact that a new Morse-centered spin-off was once again announced (this time with casting for some of the supporting characters, so it looks like it is getting a pilot episode, at the very least). If "Parting Shot" is any indication, a Morse/Hunter spin-off would be one of the most banal spy action adventure programs to ever hit television. But, the leaked new instantly titillates viewers with the hint that Hunter could be killed off.
The narrative technique of the flashbacks from the interrogation scenes comes across as particularly banal. From the outset, viewers know that Hunter and Morse end up together and captured after a triple murder. So, when the two S.H.I.E.L.D. teams break them up, the viewer is trapped in a waiting game. Great television can make the process of discovery between known plot events delightful; "Parting Shot" is not great television. Instead, anyone who has seen virtually any spy show will figure out the essentials of the ties between the past and present scenes well before they are aired.
"Parting Shot" is very plot-focused, with Malick getting a more substantive role as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s primary villain for the season, at least in terms of screentime. Gideon Malick is, in many ways, an uninteresting adversary. He is simply the head of HYDRA by virtue of being the last man standing and accepting Ward, as opposed to combating him. Whenever one considers an enemy, one has to get a read on how realistic their ambitions are. Malick is a villain with overtly villainous intent and a devotion to HYDRA without any clear motivation. Like the worst of comic book villains, Malick is evil for evil's sake; an enemy whose sole purpose seems to be filling the niche of giving the protagonists an individual to combat. "Parting Shot" does very little to make Malick any deeper.
Throughout "Parting Shot," Lance Hunter is given more voice than in most prior episodes. Hunter and May have a thread of bad blood from prior episodes and they belabor that in their pre-Hunter capture scenes. Hunter illustrates some level of professionalism by sticking to his alibi after he is captured, but the scene feels more familiar than fresh. Beyond that, Hunter continues to be Morse's accessory (someone to humanize the master super-spy Mockingbird, as opposed to even act as her sidekick).
Bobbi Morse is usually characterized as smart and efficient, but not so much in "Parting Shot." When she is confronted by a Russian who notices she does not have her disguise's necktie, Morse simply knocks the man out and gets trapped on the wrong side of a locked door. Why Morse does not take the man's tie to prevent anyone else from seeing through her disguise seems like a ridiculous oversight. She does not grow or develop through "Parting Shot;" she simply illustrates that Hunter is a weakness and liability to her, which has been a part of her character since she was introduced in the prior season.
"Parting Shot" is a tough sell for those who like the realism of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe usually portrays the non-supernatural events. The President Of The United States and the Russian Prime Minister meeting in a black site is utterly unrealistic. Similarly, the sweetness of the episode's final scene is undermined by the idea that the tail on Hunter and Morse has to be the most stupid, ill-informed agent in the intelligence community (Morse and Mack being in the same place in the same time and Coulson being at the bar with the pair are huge red flags to anyone who might have read Morse's file).
That said, the final scene of "Parting Shot" is the best of the episode and - divorced from caution and rationality - it is sweet in its own right. It is not, however, enough to justify the rest of the episode. The journey to the final scene is not particularly rewarding; it feels like what it is, a belabored plotting to get to an important event that more or less comes out of the blue from the rest of the season's narrative.
[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.