Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Until The Midpoint, "The Inside Man" Is Unremarkable Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Effects, Plot reversal, Moments that are character driven
The Bad: Light on character development, Pacing in the first half
The Basics: In the second half hour of "The Inside Man," something remarkable happens and the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode becomes amazingly good!

There is something unfortunate about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In many ways, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is treated as the ugly stepsister in the Marvel Cinematic/Television Family. Over the past week, there has been more news generated for the final trailer for Captain America: Civil War (whatwith its revealing Spider-Man) being released and the press for the second season of Netflix's Daredevil. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had the cajones to kill off one of its main characters and leave the actor with an entirely different role to have to play for the rest of his tenure on the series and little or no attention was paid to it. With the return of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. last week, fans were rewarded with the reveal that the demise of Grant Ward appears to be a permanent thing and one that truly will change Brett Dalton's role on the series and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "The Inside Man" gives Dalton a little more to explore as his new character.

"The Inside Man" follows on the heels of "Bouncing Back" (reviewed here!) and one cannot discuss the new episode without some references to the prior episode. With S.H.I.E.L.D. retasked to protect the world from Inhumans while Coulson works for the President to take down HYDRA's Gideon Malick, the show has the potential to get more into bottle episodes than have a strong, serialized, plot. "The Inside Man" returns Glenn Talbot to the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. narrative, now as the public face of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Carl Creel as his unlikely bodyguard. Unlike the prior episode's "Metahuman Of The Week" story, "The Inside Man" is part of a heavily serialized narrative and its allusions to past episodes makes it virtually impossible to watch without having seen prior episodes.

Opening with the flashback of exactly how Ward was killed and infested with the parasite on Maveth, the distant planet Simmons was trapped on, Gideon Malick and the infested corpse of Ward meet with the Inhuman HYDRA rescued in Colombia. As Talbot's marriage falls apart, Coulson meets with him and S.H.I.E.L.D. prepares for a symposium on the Inhumans. May takes Campbell into the field to try to defend Coulson when Carl Creel resurfaces. Fitz and Simmons interrogate Creel about his contact with the terrigen crystals after Talbot reveals that Creel is working for him.

At the symposium, Coulson and Talbot encounter other experts from around the world and Talbot suspects all of them of working with HYDRA. While Talbot is vaguely racist, Coulson tries to advocate for the Inhumans. The Russian representative, Petrov, volunteers to create a state for the Inhumans, while the others break into the representatives' rooms to learn more about them. Fitz and Simmons discover that Creel's blood might be used to create a vaccine against terrigenesis, which immediately offends Daisy. As the Agents converge on Malick's inside man at the symposium, Hunter goes off-mission to stop Creel when he believes Creel is betraying the mission.

"Bouncing Back" left the door open for Daisy and Lincoln's relationship as part of a character-filled montage. In "The Inside Man," Lincoln Campbell is given the chance to show a little more depth and character than he has been in most prior episodes. When Campbell encounters Creel, he exhibits a fear and anger that is more intense than his usual milquetoast character. Luke Mitchell is given the chance to emote more with his eyes and his body language than his usual role, relegated to being a third-string character on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The rest of Campbell's time on screen has him paired with Daisy in an unremarkable training fight scene that allows Daisy to once more illustrate she kicks butt. There is still minimal chemistry between Chloe Bennet and Luke Mitchell and the only real thing that seems to bond Daisy and Campbell is that they are both Inhumans. The episode's best character moments for Campbell come when he and Daisy come into conflict over the nature of the Inhumans.

Perhaps one of the best character aspects in "The Inside Man" is how Agent Hunter reacts to Creel. Creel was the primary villain back in the second season episode "Shadows" (reviewed here!), when Hunter was introduced and his team was killed by Creel. In "The Inside Man," Hunter holds a grudge and that gives a bit more depth and shading to the palate than many episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Hunter's mistrust is rewarded near the middle of the episode and it makes an otherwise mundane episode surprisingly wonderful.

"The Inside Man" hinges on a reversal mid-episode at the symposium. When Malick pops up and Talbot exhibits his usual character defects, "The Inside Man" leaps forward. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is stuck fleshing out the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the eventual release of The Inhumans and it is hard to imagine that when the movie is released there will be any recognizable characters left standing for it. "The Inside Man" makes it seem fairly unbelievable that the S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA conflict is sustainable as both seem to be creating armies with Inhumans and the fight is escalating ridiculously quickly. Perhaps equally importantly, "The Inside Man" recharacterizes the Inhumans issue as an international conflict that is so significant it is becoming unrealistic that some of the bigger players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are not getting involved. From a storytelling perspective, how HYDRA can become such a big player in dealing with the Inhumans without Captain America caring or how Tony Stark could not get involved with the financial repercussions of the Inhumans is equally unrealistic.

Brett Dalton continues to redefine his role as (no longer) Grant Ward. Dalton continues to play his new character with detachment and authority that is unsettling to watch. Dalton's new character is part of a long arc that is not immediately clear in "The Inside Man." Ward's corpse was infected by the parasite on the alien planet, but what its powers and abilities are are not at all clear. Having researched Hive (which the producers publicly said Dalton's new character is), it is interesting to see how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is peppering out the character's details. In this incarnation of the character, the Hive parasite cannot inhabit Inhumans, nor can it heal bodies. So, Ward's corpse remains dead because the Hive cannot, on its own, heal the body. What the character is doing with the feeding (?) scenes with other humans is not made clear until the episode's final moments and even then it is not entirely evident what has occurred (there are some pretty horrific ideas), but the unfortunate aspect of it is that Dalton's final scene in "The Inside Man" seems to be simply to relieve the new special effects requirements for his character.

"The Inside Man" has pretty decent special effects, which are absolutely necessary to pull off the reappearance of Carl Creel. The effects also sell Bobbi Morse's big action sequence. The effects in "The Inside Man" do what good effects are supposed to do; they augment the story. The story is engaging enough that the show is not overwhelmed by the effects and fortunately, there is enough going on with the characters that the viewer cares and wants to see where this bridge episode is leading!

For other works with Ravil Isyanov, please visit my reviews of:
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Mr. And Mrs. Smith

[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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