Thursday, August 18, 2016

This Is Why We Won't Get Inhumans! Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3!

The Good: Some decent character moments, Good overall plot, Good performances
The Bad: Weak middle
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. undermined an film version of The Inhumans in its third season.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might well be the most inconsistent element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, honestly, that might be the best thing for the franchise. Objectively viewed, most of the works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe follow a painfully formulaic format; the movies have become very repetitive. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might follow a similar pattern, but extending that basic plot over the course of a season has allowed the show to feel fresher and has forced the series to develop the characters more than the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have. In fact, by the outset of the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the television series and its characters are actually the most prolific of the franchise. Since the middle of the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the executives at Disney and Marvel announced that a cinematic version of The Inhumans was on the docket, but the third season of the show ultimately filled that niche.

In the Marvel Comic books, The Inhumans were, essentially, mutants and in the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (reviewed here!), they were properly introduced. The Inhumans preoccupy the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the season makes sweeping changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And because the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. only had to interface with one blockbuster film - Captain America: Civil War (reviewed here!), the season had a chance to breathe and grow almost completely on its own - without just trying to fit in between the big films.

The irony for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so independent and powerful on its own that it overwrote the characters and plots that would have been the basis for The Inhumans. Apparently, in the books, one of the most significant villains in the Inhuman corner of the Marvel franchise is Lash and, like most seasons of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - and movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - there is a Big Bad. In the third season, the Big Bads are Lash for the Inhuman plotline, Gideon Malick for the HYDRA plotline and Hive, the evil alien who bridges the two Big Bads. As such, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Three pretty much shot the wad on big bads for The Inhumans and by the season finale, The Inhumans was off the slate for the cinematic works being planned by Disney. Fortunately, the result of the executive producers' work on the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. paid off. The third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the best of the series so far.

Opening with a man (Joey Gutierrez) who took contaminated fish oil pills and successfully underwent terrigenesis, the new Inhuman accidentally melts all sorts of metal around him an is freaking out. He is hunted by people who freak him out and rescued by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The first group hunting him is a new, Presidentially-sanctioned organization called the Advanced Threat Containment Unit. While Fitz hunts for a way to find Simmons, Daisy tries to recruit Lincoln Campbell to help acclimate Inhumans to their new lives when they are attacked by a powerful Inhuman who blasts holes in people and escapes through a portal. Fitz discovers that the monolith is a portal and with the help of the last Asgardian on Earth, he manages to rescue Simmons.

While Ward recreates HYDRA, Coulson and Rosalind from the ATCU hunt for a vicious new Inhuman, Lash, who is killing Inhumans. But Lash's identity (he is the only known Inhuman who can shape-shift between his mundane human and Inhuman forms!) quickly creates a personal problem with one of the Agents and that causes a rift between Coulson and Rosalind Price of the ATCU. But when the ATCU's agenda is made explicit - they are putting Inhumans in suspended animation - Coulson begins an investigation into the ATCU and discovers that HYDRA is running the organization. Ward, in the meantime, finds the last major surviving head of HYDRA, Gideon Malick, and he learns that HYDRA's purpose was related to the monolith and the alien world Simmons was teleported to.

After capturing Fitz and Simmons to try to launch a HYDRA mission to the alien world, Ward takes a team to the distant planet. But while the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are able to rescue their hostage friends, HYDRA is successful in bringing through a creature, Hive, from the alien world. Hive and Malick set off a plan to transform the Earth by transforming its populace into Inhumans. As Hive takes over the Inhumans he finds to build an army, S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to save humans from falling under Hive's sway and humans from being transformed by Hive's captured mad scientist. Coulson and his team have to stop HYDRA and Hive to save the world!

The third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. develops in a surprisingly linear narrative, but the delight of the season is when it shakes up the familiar format (which bodes well for Doctor Strange). The season peaks early with the episode "4,722 Hours," which is the story of Simmons's time on the distant world and the intense character study is very different from every other episode. While the average episode features a number of fights and spycraft riddled with twists, "4,722 Hours" is straightforward and emotional.

That is not to say that some of the action-oriented episodes of the season are not good. "Maveth," "Spacetime," and "Failed Experiments" all use action sequences remarkably well and find a good balance between character and action elements.

To better understand the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. it helps to know the arcs of the major characters. In the third season, the essential characters are:

Director Phil Coulson – Adapting to his new, bionic, hand, he is hunting the ATCU to try to find out who is killing Inhumans. He meets Rosalind Price, the head of the ATCU and is appalled when she reveals that the failed missions he has been on to find Inhumans have left a number of dead Inhumans for her team to find. He tries to guide Rosalind to treating Inhumans with compassion and when Daisy is threatened, he starts working with Price. He falls in love with Rosalind, despite a few rocky moments where his nature as a spy outweighs his basic human emotions. When he experiences a personal tragedy, he goes on a mission of revenge to end Grant Ward once and for all. After the President restructures the ATCU, he gets to be General Talbot's boss. He experiences more and more loss as he is forced to disavow multiple agents, his new headquarters is attacked in a terrible way, and some of his assets go over to the Dark Side,

Agent Melinda May – Having left S.H.I.E.L.D., she finds herself looking over her shoulder over suspicions that the car accident her father was in was caused by a vengeful Grant Ward. When Hunter offers her the chance to kill Ward once and for all, she goes back into the field. But her relationship with her ex-husband, Dr. Garner, becomes a severe liability when Ward attacks Gardner to keep her in check. She is inherently distrusting of Inhumans and mistrusts Campbell, though she is occasionally forced to work with him. She has moral problems with Coulson using her for her killing abilities, but remains his loyal soldier and aids him in trying to save the world,

Fitz – Obsessed with finding Simmons, he takes some serious personal risks to acquire a scroll that might give him some clue as to what happened to her with the monolith in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s possession. Getting aid from the Asgardian on Earth, he risks his life to recover Jemma. When he learns the truth of what happened to Simmons, he becomes equally determined to help her rescue Will from that planet. When he and Simmons are captured, he willingly goes with Ward to save Simmons's life. His love for Simmons puts him in a horrible position on the alien world and as a result of Coulson's actions there, he becomes unsettled by his employer, though he keeps making new hands for Coulson. He continues to upgrade S.H.I.E.L.D.'s computer systems to try to keep the headquarters safe from Hive and he finally starts a genuine romantic relationship with Simmons,

Jemma Simmons – Teleported to an alien world where she was hunted for months, she is rescued by Fitz. They finally go on a date, which leads Simmons to confess to Fitz what happened to her on the alien world. She reveals that she is obsessed with getting back to the distant world because she met someone there who helped her to survive. As the only person to ever return from the alien world, she is hunted by Malick. When she is captured by HYDRA, she turns to an unlikely ally for help, knowing that casualties will result. Riddled by guilt after unleashing a killer, she works with May to find it again and takes her shot at Hive when given the chance. She is more optimistic than many in S.H.I.E.L.D. and pushes Fitz for a real relationship,

Agent Daisy Johnson (formerly Skye) – Leading the team that is hunting Inhumans, she tries to empathize and help new Inhumans, like Joey. She is frustrated by how May's ex-husband refuses to authorize any of the found Inhumans to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. She tries to protect Campbell and starts to develop a genuine love for the Inhuman doctor. She begins training Campbell the way May trained her. When a prophecy shows her her death, she tries to train May to help avoid the future she saw. She assembles a team of her own Inhumans and that puts her at odds with Mack, who continues to distrust the Inhumans,

Grant Ward – He restaffs HYDRA and funds the effort by recruiting Von Strucker's son to his new organization. He extorts May by threatening Dr. Garner's life and becomes obsessed with finding Von Strucker's vault to refinance HYDRA. When he learns HYDRA's true mission, he remains loyal and works with Malick to fulfill HYDRA's mission. When Coulson uncovers his brother, he reveals his lone weakness,

Agent Lance Hunter - Tasked by Coulson to find and kill Ward, he turns to May for help. Still very much in love with Bobbi, he attempts to propose to her, but is shot down. To get into HYDRA to get close to Ward, he goes through a fight club and is nearly killed. He is willing to sacrifice Dr. Garner to attempt to take his shot at Ward. He and Bobbi infiltrate the ATCU and end up in a fight he did not expect. When he goes "truffle hunting" in Russia while tracking Malick, he has to make a choice about saving the S.H.I.E.L.D. team,

Mack - Now partnered with Daisy, he illustrates his weapon's expertise early on in trying to identify an ATCU firearm. He acts somewhat like a marriage counselor to Morse and Hunter. He is given command of S.H.I.E.L.D. when Coulson goes off-book to hunt Ward, which makes him uncomfortable. He starts to warm up to Inhumans, thanks to the Inhuman Yo-Yo. After his best friend is disavowed, he takes a vacation, only to discover his brother is ideologically allied with the anti-Inhuman Watchdog group. He is nearly killed while trying to rescue a friend from Hive, but turns to Yo-Yo for help,

Dr. Lincoln Campbell - Outed in a battle with Lash when Daisy and Mack visit him at the hospital at which he works, he is forced to flee his mundane life. On the run and tracked by S.H.I.E.L.D. for quite a while, he flees both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the ATCU while avoiding Lash. He and Daisy start to develop their relationship. He is put in the field by Mack when Mack decides to attack HYDRA's compound. Coulson is unsettled by how unstable he appears, but the doctor proves himself in studying Hive and following Coulson's orders while trying to bring down Felix Blake's organization,

Bobbi Morse - Filling in as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s medical doctor in the absence of Simmons, she covers for Fitz while he is on his personal quest for information about the monolith. When Hunter is tasked with killing Ward, she and May go back into the field to discover who Ward is working with. She is tough, improvises amazingly well, and is professional, outside her love for Hunter. On a mission to save a Russian politician from a dangerous Inhuman, she and Hunter are trapped and has to be disavowed to save the United States and S.H.I.E.L.D.,

Gideon Malick - Ruthless and knowledgeable, Malick is publicly known as a billionaire industrialist who is running the Distant Star Program. He has all of the answers Ward needs as to the purpose of HYDRA and he auditions Ward for his number two. He is loyal to HYDRA and wants to fulfill their mission to bring the entity from the alien world back to Earth. He is obsessed with creating an army of Inhumans and he brings them to Hive, despite being wary of the alien. Treacherous and brutal, his love for his daughter tests his faith in HYDRA and Hive,

and Hive - An alien made up of parasites from the distant world Simmons was trapped on, bringing it to Earth is the purpose of HYDRA. Once it arrives on Earth, it hunts down Malick and starts to influence Inhumans. It lives in a human corpse, unable to inhabit Inhumans, though it causes Inhumans to feel a bliss and fall under its sway. It begins a plan to transform humans into Inhumans so it can reign over the Earth.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts its third season well, as it is preoccupied with the consequences of where the second season left off. Near the middle of the season - after Hive first appears - the season slows a little, save for finally deepening the relationship between Fitz and Simmons. The addition of some new Inhumans is cool, but characters like James are hardly as well-developed as May or Daisy.

The third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets occasionally lazy. The new, lifelike, hand for Coulson is pretty transparently an attempt to keep from having to keep a glove on Clark Gregg for the remainder of the series. While his force field shield is pretty cool, the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. hardly explores the consequences of Coulson losing his hand. In a similar fashion, the explanation of how Hive gets Kree blood after Mack and May destroy the newly imported supply is scientifically ridiculous.

The standout performer in the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, though Constance Zimmer's brief tenure in the show as Rosalind Price helps illustrate that she has decent range. Henstridge is given the opportunity to play truly badass in the third season and that plays off her delivery of technobabble and dewy-eyed looks of love exceptionally well. Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker have great on-screen chemistry and while De Caestecker's Fitz's mental repair is not satisfactorily addressed within the show, the return of their chemistry in the season is delightful.

Henry Simmons is also able to do more with his character of Mack, but after rewatching Simmons on NYPD Blue, the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. merely appears to use his ample talents, as opposed to stretching his abilities.

Ultimately, the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. does everything it needed to for the characters the audience has been invested in and makes for a very satisfying alternative to The Inhumans!

For a better understanding of the components of the third season, please visit my reviews of each of the episodes in the third season episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. at:
“Laws Of Nature”
“Purpose In The Machine”
“A Wanted (Inhu)man”
"Devils You Know"
“4,722 Hours”
“Among Us Hide”
“Chaos Theory”
“Many Heads, One Tale”
“Bouncing Back”
“The Inside Man”
“Parting Shot”
“Pradise Lost”
"The Team"
“The Singularity”
“Failed Experiments”


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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