The Good: Philosophy, Character moments
The Bad: Predictable reversals
The Basics: "Watchdogs" introduces a new element to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that both complicates the Inhumans and sets up the philosophy behind Captain America: Civil War.
At some point, television shows are either just good or bad; television series's are worth watching or they are not. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is nearing its critical mass for a series-long direction that is headed toward the show just being plain bad. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is becoming more a cheap tool for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's projects than being a vital work of its own (which is ironic given that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. now represents the most substantive aspect of the Marvel Cinematic/Television Universe). As "Watchdogs" begins, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is down two characters because the show is developing another spin-off show; the prior episode was inorganically dropped into the third season to get Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood out so they could shoot the pilot episode for Marvel's Most Wanted. "Watchdogs" has the potential to redirect and re-focus Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. by re-prioritizing the Inhuman threat and HYDRA's attempt to create an army of powered people.
"Watchdogs" follows up on "Parting Shot" (reviewed here!) and is based on a single line of foreshadowing from Daisy in a fight with Lincoln Campbell. While arguing, Daisy referenced the Watchdogs and "Watchdogs" gives them a proper introduction.
Opening in Naperville, Illinois, Mack fixes his brother's motorcycle. He expresses his work frustrations to Ruben, who was laid off recently. While there, an ATCU facility in South Bend, Indiana is attacked by masked people from the Watchdog gang. They destroy the ATCU facility using an implosive compound developed by Stark Technologies and Coulson instantly realizes that former-S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Blake might be involved. While Daisy, Fitz and Mack try to track down members of the Watchdogs, Coulson takes Campbell to find Blake.
After Daisy finds and interrogates a member of the Watchdogs, she and Mack head for their compound to try to prevent their next attack. When Ruben shows up, though, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is forced to make a tactical retreat - Fitz is wounded while Mack tries to find his brother to explain the truth to him. When Coulson and Campbell find Blake in one of his safe houses, Coulson tests his new potential agent with a kill order. But Blake is stalling, allowing the Watchdogs to go after their real target.
"Watchdogs" starts as a Mack episode and the longer it focuses on Mack - a character who was often neglected and minimized in favor of spending time on the Morse/Hunter relationship. Here we see Mack's family and his sense of loss after Morse leaves feels very real. Mack lays the fundamentals for the arguments for the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War when Daisy wants to use unConstitutional means to find members of the Watchdogs, but Mack rejects the violation of civil liberties.
What is clever about "Watchdogs" is how it manages to refocus Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. on some real world concepts that make the spy show relatable again. Ruben is laid off, struggling to pay a mortgage and that makes him susceptible to falling in with the radicalized Watchdogs. That, predictably, scares Mack and his concern is expressed realistically and with a decent performance by Henry Simmons. Simmons is one of the more underused talents on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but "Watchdogs" finally gets the right balance between using him as a physical actor and giving him smart lines to deliver.
Having a large cast, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. constantly struggles to find balance and explore its characters well. Simmons and May get a couple of c- or d-plot scenes that allow Simmons to evolve past being the damsel in distress and for May to hunt down her ex-husband. The passing attempt to service the characters pulls focus from Daisy, Mack and the Coulson/Campbell conflict, but it keeps the hint of the core plot begun at the outset of season three alive. Serviced less well is Fitz; his opening lines have him presented as some odd combination of twitchy, season one introverted and season two brain damaged (a character trait that has been dropped in recent episodes). His "voice" almost completely changes after he is attacked by a weapon that works far slower than the initial use of it in the episode.
Gaius Charles leaps into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a bit character - Ruben MacKenzie and his performance sets the bar high for Chadwick Boseman when he gets the lead role of T'Challa. Charles appearing in the episode that returns Titus Welliver to the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes for a well-performed episode even if it includes such ridiculous conceits as Mack handing an assault rifle over to his brother, as opposed to giving his inexperienced brother the family shotgun.
Despite re-introducing Felix Blake to the narrative - Blake has not been around since "The End Of The Beginning" (reviewed here!) in the first season - "Watchdogs" is a bottle episode that introduces and seems to eliminate a potentially formidable enemy much more compelling than HYDRA. The Watchdogs are the perfect Marvel Cinematic Universe allegory for redneck militias and viewers who are perceptive and engaged enough to catch things like the Daredevil allusion in the first act are unlikely to be offended by the commentary that ought to come from the group's statements and how they are likely to be treated. It is far too early - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been unfortunately inconsistent - to decide whether "Watchdogs" is turning the show around to getting it on a positive track for the series, but it feels like a good start to bucking the downward trend of the season.
For other works with D. Elliot Woods, please visit my reviews of:
"Fortunate Son" - Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Insurrection
"Sons Of Mogh" - 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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