Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mace Is Fleshed Out As "The Patriot" For A Banal Reversal!

The Good: Performances are fine, Good direction
The Bad: Boring reversals, Very straightforward plot
The Basics: "The Patriot" finally delves into Director Mace's story . . . only to undermine the character.

When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is hard not to argue that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. bears the unfortunate brunt of the decisions made about the Universe at higher levels. While the "street level hero" shows occasionally allude to the blockbuster films, they occur within comparatively insular worlds (so far, just within different boroughs of New York City!) and, as a result, do not have to try to incorporate the sweeping changes films like Doctor Strange (reviewed here!) make to the universe. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., on the other hand, has to adapt to the changing universe and that pushes the show in ways that are not always inorganic. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe going into supernatural territory with Doctor Strange, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is being forced to blend "magic" with the Inhumans with the very spy-based Life Model Decoys that are now preoccupying the fourth season of the show. Unfortunately, the Life Model Decoy plotline is pushing Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. into an unfortunately repetitive place . . . especially considering that the last time a core character was replaced with a doppelganger, it was Agent May.

"The Patriot" picks up right after "Broken Promises" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss without some spoilers as to where Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been. Immediately before "The Patriot," Director Mace's political adversary was revealed to be fully in bed with the Watchdogs, to the extent that she was willing to kill her own now-Inhuman brother, and Dr. Radcliffe was revealed to be using Aida to try to get his hands on the Dark Hold himself. Radcliffe has Agent May in captivity, while the Life Model Duplicate May works within the S.H.I.E.L.D. base as his agent. "The Patriot" is immediately burdened with continuing the charade of LMD May in a credible way, while dealing with the fallout from Aida, the return of General Talbot, and finally explore Director Mace's backstory.

Jeffrey Mace does a p.r. event with Daisy to legitimize her place in S.H.I.E.L.D., claiming that her fugitive status was part of an undercover operation. During the event, Coulson and Mack witness General Talbot conspicuously transferring a case to an aid. When a sniper attacks, Daisy leaps into action while Director Mace is evacuated. Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Simmons is unnerved by agents attempting to study Aida's head. Fitz visits Dr. Radcliffe and advises him to stay away from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters for a while. On the way back to h.q., the quinjet suffers a catastrophic failure and Mack, Mace and Coulson are the only survivors of the crashed vehicle. Before he will let Coulson head for hire ground to activate the satellite phone, Mace insists on trying to find his assistant (who was blown out of the plane).

In his attempt to find the Dark Hold, Radcliffe and Aida disagree about the methods Aida and LMD May might use. Mace is quickly revealed to be looking for the case attached to his aid's wrist. May wakes up and frees herself from Radcliffe's machines before Aida stops her escape. The survivors of the crash find that the Watchdogs are in the area, already searching for the case when they come upon it. While Talbot desperately tries to get answers out of the sniper, Simmons learns the truth about Mace and the mysterious briefcase. At the crash site, Mack and Coulson create a distraction while Mace recovers the case and opens it . . . exposing Mace's secret in the process! While the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents struggle to rescue Mack, Mace and Coulson, the downed trio fights to stay alive while the Watchdog/HYDRA agents hunt them!

"The Patriot" is another packed episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it is hard for viewers not to miss more intimate stories where a character is truly explored. So far, Director Mace seems to only have super strength as an Inhuman quality and at the outset of "The Patriot," that is his big apparent power. "The Patriot" creates a mystery around the briefcase that Mace is desperate to recover, which allows Project Patriot to be introduced to the narrative. The revelation of Mace's secret is surprisingly dull and given that there had been no significant manifestations of his powers outside basic super strength (Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Luke Cage all have that plus something more!), the idea behind Project Patriot is not nearly as surprising as it should have been.

John Hannah is good in "The Patriot." Far too often when a character is revealed to have villainous intentions, they start playing as evil whenever they are not interacting with the primary characters. Hannah plays Radcliffe as cool in the scenes with Fitz and he manages to suppress anything remotely villainous from his bearing in the way he plays the scientist. Instead, Radcliffe has a pretty solid character and Hannah plays him with consistency instead of making him suddenly into an obvious, generic adversary (as happened with Grant Ward, for example, when he was outed as HYDRA). Fortunately, in "The Patriot," Radcliffe steps back from being the Big Bad by admonishing Aida for using lethal force against S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

Simmons continues to show glimmers of character development in "The Patriot." There is something inherently frustrating about watching Simmons in the episode as she goes toe to toe with Talbot and gets the General to acknowledge that she has operational control over S.H.I.E.L.D. . . . but then she cedes that control to Talbot instead of pursuing her own agenda. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not seem to know quite what to do with the character as she was jealous of Aida, no longer seems to have a strong emotional connection with Fitz and has begun to rise within the intelligence portion of S.H.I.E.L.D. (as opposed to the scientific division of the spy organization). But the writers seem unwilling to commit to giving her real power and pushing her character in a new direction as she keeps getting "put in her place" by Mace and now Talbot. That is disappointing to watch.

Mallory Jansen is good in the role of Aida in "The Patriot." Jansen is able to credibly play robotic with her deliveries and that makes her character feel fairly organic. Ironically, the big picture of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally becomes obvious in "The Patriot;" Lincoln Campbell and Hive had to be eliminated from the narrative before introducing LMDs because they were the two characters who could credibly expose every LMD ever! Come to think of it, Lash had to be taken from the narrative in order for Mace to credibly be used as the Director for the past several months in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. narrative.

But here's the thing about "The Patriot;" it is not long into the episode before the viewer sits and wonders "what the hell is Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. now?!" S.H.I.E.L.D. is touted as a spy organization, but there is no adversary that Coulson and Mace's team is actually infiltrating or fighting - there is no coherent villain at their level within the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point. So, they are spies in name only. At this point, Ghost Rider is gone, but the Dark Hold remains, so S.H.I.E.L.D. is an organization that is more or less the caretakers of supernatural artifacts in the world? And Fitz has a thing for Aida and the Inhumans are mostly gone, so it is hard to define just what the show is trying to do at this point.

"The Patriot" feels that aimless; it has a lot of elements thrown in and none truly pop or develop in a satisfying way.

For other television works with doppelgangers, please visit my reviews of:
"I Will Face My Enemy" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Zygon Inversion" - Doctor Who
"The Adversary" - 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 Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the fourth season here!


For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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