Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hive Revealed! "Paradise Lost."

The Good: Performances, Attempts at character development, Special effects
The Bad: Predictable plot and reversals
The Basics: "Paradise Lost" fleshes out the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. villains and heroes well-enough to keep the show interesting.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a pretty rough time of things lately. The episode "Spacetime" (reviewed here!), was an unfortunately lazy episode on the creative front. Shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had already done the "prophecy episode" with "Destiny" (reviewed here!) decades ago and, frankly "Spacetime" did nothing new with the formula. In "Spacetime," Daisy witnessed a vision of the future and - because of her limited perspective in the future flashes and the inconvenient arrival of Lash - ultimately, the vision came true. "Spacetime" was not even clever enough to leave anything open to interpretation; things didn't come to pass "from a certain point of view," they literally came true in an immutable way which forces Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. into a constraint that time is treated as unchangeable.

"Paradise Lost" follows up on "Spacetime" and for those who missed the prior episode the only real takeaways were that the flashforward shown in the midseason premiere panned out just a little farther so the viewer now knows it is someone in a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform bleeding to death in the spaceship orbiting Earth and that Gordon Malick now knows how he will die (it's either Ward or Giyera based on his reaction!). "Paradise Lost" finally explicitly exposes the creature that had infested Will and now occupies the corpse of Grant Ward and sets S.H.I.E.L.D. on a mission to take over

Opening in 1970, the Malick siblings bicker over the direction of HYDRA following their father's death. They head off to visit Daniel Whitehall. In the present, Gideon Malick arrives home where the Ward entity has called together all of the heads of HYDRA. S.H.I.E.L.D. evaluates the threat represented by the infested Ward and Coulson constructs a mission to GT Agrochemical, a subsidiary of Transia (which HYDRA took in the prior episode) to try to stop HYDRA. En route to the agrochem facility, Fitz and Simmons brief Coulson on the nature of the entity that now inhabit Malick - it is a hive of microorganisms that work together.

Daisy and Lincoln Campbell visit a potential Inhuman who stole information from Afterlife, where Daisy steps on a landmine. Defusing the situation, Daisy and Campbell interview James for information about the creature infesting Ward. At HYDRA's headquarters, Hive reveals himself to the leadership and at GT Agrochemical, Coulson, Mack and May square off against Giyera. Campbell and Daisy prepare to trade James a terragin crystal for a Kree artifact, when Campbell betrays the wannabe Inhuman. But Hive's plan is slowly revealed as he exacts the revenge demanded by one of his prior hosts and he puts pieces in place to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D.

"Paradise Lost" manages to not insult viewers with dragging out Malick's prophecy. Malick saw his death in "Spacetime" and it was Ward who he believes will kill him given that he is torn apart cell by cell. "Paradise Lost" is the first essential Gideon Malick episode and between the flashbacks to his interactions with the incarcerated Whitehall and his interactions with his daughter, he is finally fleshed out as more than just a generic HYDRA villain. Ironically, the episode continues to tease the vision of death Daisy had of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in the space ship without making that explicit yet.

HYDRA has the potential to be a parody of itself and "Paradise Lost" is an episode built around a number of conceits that undermine the longterm viability of the evil organization. Malick has essentially rebuilt HYDRA after Ward knocked off most of the organization's leadership, but before that, HYDRA existed for decades completely in the shadows. The implication of that is that HYDRA had a level of stability and co-existence among its members that worked opposite to the usual conceits of comic book supervillains. In comic books, supervillains almost invariably fail because they place their own self interest before any sense of community - unlike the heroes who work together for their greater cause. But, in "Paradise Lost," viewers see that Malick is predictably treacherous and HYDRA is filled with opportunists instead of people working under a sense of principles (albeit a horrible one).

The Malick family is made up of loyalists, but Gideon Malick sacrificed his own brother to try to bring Hive back. In the flashback scenes, Malick is played by Cameron Palatas and Palatas did an excellent job of studying and replicating mannerisms Powers Boothe has used to establish his villainous character. Malick's arc in "Paradise Lost" might be somewhat predictable, but it is well-executed - stylistic and well-performed.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to pander to certain conceits and the fight between May and Giyera seems unfortunately predictable. "Paradise Lost" is loaded with exposition that explores the nature of Hive and that is worthwhile for comparing the nature of the comic book version of Hive and the Marvel Cinematic Universe incarnation. Similarly, Hive's strange sense of revenge plays as something ridiculous. For an entity that is potentially immortal that has a leadership role in a multigenerational organization, the kill Hive makes is shockingly shortsighted.

What drives "Paradise Lost" up a bit is the focus on the characters. Coulson is finally haunted by killing Ward. Coulson is an inherently good human character and when he killed Ward on the distant world, he knew he crossed a line. That choice now torments him and Clark Gregg humanizes Coulson and illustrates a sense of consequences. At the other end of the spectrum, Lincoln Campbell is given a little more backstory when James outs him. Campbell fights for his relationship with Daisy and the way he is fleshed out is an odd mix of mundane and smart. More than the long exposition that gives Campbell a prior incident to give him a little more depth, Luke Mitchell's performance in delivering the dialogue emotively stands out. Viewers might not care much about Campbell, but the writers and executive producers at least give fleshing him out a shot.

When Hive is revealed, the special effect is surprisingly cool. "Paradise Lost" has decent special effects throughout.

"Paradise Lost" is a weird mix of plot and character concepts that feels like it underdevelops on all fronts. Gideon Malick is not treated as a sufficiently complicated or charismatic villain to warrant an entire episode, so his most central episode is packed with an entire plotline revolving around setting up for the next episode. Director Coulson's character struggle is too internal and cerebral to keep the action-oriented audience of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. engaged (though I think that's the producers dumbing the show down and underestimating their audience), so his struggle is blended with scenes that finally make Lincoln Campbell more than just another generically good-looking guy on the team. None of the members of the Marvel Cinematic Universes's smartest super-spy team conceive of the idea that their Inhuman prison might be vulnerable to a guy who can completely manipulate mechanical and inorganic objects?!

The result is that "Paradise Lost" seems like one of the episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that plays better the first time through and will suffer more with each subsequent viewing.

For other works with Reed Diamond, please visit my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season Two
Meet Bill
Spider-Man 2
Homicide: The Movie
Homicide: Life On The Street

[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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