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MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Absolution/Ascension”

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Proceed with caution, agents. If you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “Absolution/Ascension”, we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Then let’s go.

Well, that was…a season. It’s a testament to S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s storytelling that the things that didn’t work in its third year didn’t really bother me until it was over. But now that it is over, having culminated with the two-part tale of “Absolution” and “Ascension,” the irksome bits are definitely stuck in my brain teeth.

“Absolution” begins with Daisy still in a S.H.I.E.L.D. cell after having been rescued from Hive by Lash; thus, we are told, fulfilling his “purpose.” All things considered, May takes the death of her ex-husband pretty well. But then perhaps we can assume she finished mourning Andrew when he changed into Rasta Hulk for the last time.

Daisy, however, cries a river of self-pity. She’s clearly got a major martyr complex after the harm she inflicted on her teammates. Thankfully, at least half of this episode’s focus is on Mack, May, and the two remaining secret warriors (Lincoln and Yo-yo) as they battle Hive and his forces, stopping them from launching a missile customized to turn a large percentage of the earth’s population into savage “Primitive” Inhumans. Though they’re successful in subduing Hive, it turns out to be a short-lived victory, since he’s soon freed by additional Primitives transformed by Terrigenesis out of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Together they set the warhead, packed with pathogen, back into play. Daisy, with the help of Lincoln, escapes her cell and surrenders to Hive, begging him to take her back.

There are a couple of interesting points raised in this first half, great ideas that I wish the show could have taken more time to explore. Daisy’s condition, for example, is, according to Coulson, akin to that of a drug addict suffering from withdrawal — a meaningful enough topic that it could have been given an entire episode. The director also points out that in fighting Hive they’re fighting every genius that Hive’s ever been, and thus every identity he’s stolen, a concept this season could have teased out far more than it did. (I would have loved to see Simmons come face to face one last time with Will.) Perhaps the producers felt it might be asking too much of Brett Dalton to portray so many different personalities, but he does a fine enough job with what he’s given in portraying Hive’s psychological breakdown, as a result of his imprisonment, in this story’s second half.

In “Ascension,” the Hydra god learns Lash has made Daisy “impervious” to his influence, so they engage in a no-holds-barred death match, until Daisy learns Hive can’t die by conventional means. Kevin Tancharoen again brings his gift for shooting well-choreographed fight scenes to this season finale (even if Hive has never looked more Neo-like than he does when kicking in slow-motion). He even gives us a climactic melee with Coulson and his team, including a crowbar-wielding Simmons, tackling Hive’s Primitives. But, as with much of the episode, this sequence is more hurried than involving, at least when compared to the director’s past work on the show. S.H.I.E.L.D. has enough story here that it could have taken a good three episodes to conclude this season instead of two.

What could go? Well, for starters, the Mack/Yo-yo stuff, most of which revolves around her trying to impart on him her faith in God, isn’t all that necessary. It’s also nowhere near as much fun as the sight of Mack wielding the finished version of his shotgun-axe. And John Hannah’s Dr. Radcliffe isn’t given nearly enough clever dialogue to justify his presence (especially not when one considers his role in Hive’s plan could have been performed by a kidnapped Simmons). Though by episode’s end it’s clear S.H.I.E.L.D. is grooming Radcliffe for something big next season.

As for that big ending that Daisy foresaw in her dream, well, it was what I feared would come to pass. Alas, the degree to which one is upset by Lincoln’s death depends on how much they liked him. Yet the show never gave us much of a reason to like him beyond the fact that Daisy liked him. So his sacrifice, that of the show’s only new regular cast member this season, is a lot less moving than it would have been were it any other member of the team. Even Hive’s destruction isn’t very satisfying for how peacefully he accepts it. Shouldn’t he at least attack Lincoln out of anger for foiling his plans? Kyle McLachlan, as Daisy’s dad, got a far more memorable farewell in season 2’s finale.

“Ascension” deserves some credit for not ending things there, and instead jumping ahead six months to a point where Daisy has gone rogue, Coulson is no longer S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, and Fitz is working with Radcliffe on a secret artificial intelligence project. Might Radcliffe be season 4’s Big Bad? Is Ward gone for good this time? And will we actually have to endure a prolonged storyline about Mack and Coulson trying to turn Daisy back from the dark side? If so, will it differ enough from this year’s Dark Daisy to be interesting? It’s gonna be a long summer.


Declassified Deliberations

— Fitz and Talbot make an unexpectedly perfect comedic duo when they’re fumbling their way through green-screen subterfuge.

— “Gotta admit, I thought your sending Inhumans after him was stupid. Really stupid. Like, betting-on-Wrestlemania stupid.”

— Was anyone else reminded of the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park when Simmons was cornered by a Primitive?

— Fitz’s invisible gun is almost as cool as Mack’s shotgun-axe. Almost.

— Finally revealing Hive’s face may have been a mistake. I wasn’t so much scared by it as I was comparing it to Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Davy Jones.

— “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” As in-house product placement goes this was only slightly less subtle than having Coulson, upon Hive’s defeat, shout, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Featured Image: Marvel/Disney/ABC

Images: Marvel/Disney/ABC

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