Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Smart People Are Stupid;" So Is "Broken Promises."

The Good: Performances are adequate
The Bad: Predictable plot development, Crowded plot, Light on character development, No big performance moments, Editing
The Basics: "Broken Promises" returns Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the forefront of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when the LMD Aida goes crazy.

When it comes to current genre television, there are few that have more inherent burdens than Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a core of hero characters that have remained essentially unchanged for the past three and a half seasons. The thing is, the executive producers have been remarkably conservative when it comes to developing the relationships between the five core characters of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. who have been with the series since the beginning. While the almost inevitable relationship between Fitz and Simmons has finally begun to get explored, the only other truly solid relationship in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been between Coulson and May. It seem like whenever the producers and writers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. want to add real dramatic tension to the show on a character level, they put some tension into the narrative between Coulson and May. That is what happens with "Broken Promises."

"Broken Promises" follows on the heels of "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" (reviewed here!) and it continues the arc involving Aida having been manipulated by the Dark Hold. When "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics" left off, May had been replaced by a Life Model Decoy and was being held captive by Aida, while Mack and Rodriguez start a relationship. Despite the hiatus and the apparent loss of Ghost Rider, there is a lot of momentum going into "Broken Promises," but the result is not at all impressive.

Aida cleans herself up after getting shot in the fight to subdue May. She keeps May in a closet, drugged up, while her doppelganger is tasked with recovering the Dark Hold for her. Mace, Coulson and Mack advocate wiping Aida's memory, though Radcliffe and Fitz are reluctant to do so. Elsewhere, Vijay Nadeer (the malicious Senator's brother) awakens from his terrigenesis in a remote location with his sister. Simmons recognizes that Nadeer has a lot to lose by Vijay's condition being made public. Daisy is called onto the carpet by Mace, who wants her to help him recover the "imprisoned Inhuman," when she reveals to him that it is Nadeer's brother. When Vijay and the Senator disagree, Ellen calls in the Watchdogs to deal with her brother.

When the Senator's assistant recognizes Simmons, she has to fight to get a location for Daisy and Mace to hit. With LMD May's help, Aida hacks the base and Coulson and LMD May are captured together while she searches for the Dark Hold. Radcliffe advocates for Aida's life while the Senator goes toe to toe with the Watchdog leader for the Senator's unwillingness to have him kill Vijay.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is hampered in episodes like "Broken Promises" in that it crams the episode full of plot points without actually creating anything truly complex. The difference is the difference between being packed with something always going on vs. developing something that is actually interesting. "Broken Promises" has Daisy railing against the Watchdogs, Mace struggling to maintain control of his S.H.I.E.L.D. cell, Aida going crazy, Radcliffe struggling with having to wipe her memory, LMD May working to get the Dark Hold and Nadeer trying to deal with her brother. The episode is full of things happening, but none of them truly get enough time to breathe and develop. Introducing yet another new character in the form of Vijay Nadeer seems designed more to create tension between Fitz and Simmons as opposed to create a viable and intriguing new character.

Aida using life model duplicates like May create an inherently problematic doppelganger plot that has already been done so many times on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The last time May was replaced by someone else, Coulson figured it out well before the end of the episode. That makes a lot of sense given the years of history between the two characters. The problematic aspect of "Broken Promises" is that the viewer spends the episode waiting for Coulson to figure out that May has been replaced . . . and the episode gets into the quagmire of "been there, done that" versus "how can Coulson be so stupid?!" It's a lose/lose situation and it's surprising that the producers willingly leapt into that quagmire.

Simmons's jealousy of Fitz feels very forced in "Broken Promises." Simmons and Fitz spent years getting to the point where they could have an open romantic relationship. Fitz being at all intrigued by Aida, Simmons being jealous of him and the potential that Simmons will be drawn to Vijay (as implied in "Broken Promises") seem far more melodramatic than organic.

The editing on "Broken Promises" is strangely awkward as well. Fitz and Radcliffe appear to escape Aida and there is no clear transition there. Aida should be unwilling to leave her base - May is there and the moment she is found, LMD May's jig is up - and if Fitz and Radcliffe simple leave her base after she has left without looking around, how fucking incompetent are they?! Similarly, when Radcliffe and Fitz have Aida cornered, the scene ends and in the next shot, Coulson and May are suddenly there! As well, the writing is surprisingly bad in that Daisy makes a comment about the Senator's guard's weapon not being the style of weapon used by the Secret Service; do the writers on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. not know that the Secret Service is not used to protect Senators?!

Perhaps the lone redeeming point of "Broken Promises" is the banter between Mack and Rodriguez. Both Mack and Yo-Yo share a love of 1980's films where computers manage to take over the world and kill all humans. The dialogue between Mack and Yo-Yo is humorous and restores a spark of life to the otherwise crowded and dull episode.

The reversals in "Broken Promises" are nothing truly audacious or surprising, which is pretty much the last nail in the coffin on a painfully weak episode.

For other works with Ming-Na Wen, please visit my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1

[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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