After last week’s emotional goodbye to two of my favorite SHIELD agents, I was afraid to come back–what more could you take from me, Agents of SHIELD? Brett Dalton’s beautiful face? Coulson’s detachable hand jokes?! But I had nothing to worry about, because this episode is all about giving. We are given backstory for the previously underdeveloped Agent Mackenzie and real growth for previously lame Inhuman Lincoln. Plus, do I smell Captain America: Civil War tie-ins? #ItsAllConnected
In the aftermath of losing Hunter and Bobbi to their upcoming spin-off show, the person that I was most concerned for was Mack. The three of them had all joined Coulson’s team together back in season two and they were part of “the real SHIELD” during all that hubbub, but now Mack is the only one left. This week’s episode treated Mack’s loss of his friends beautifully, seeing him taking a little much-needed time off to relax and hang out with his little brother, Ruben. Mack, usually the stoic type, confides in his brother that he’s been having a really tough time at work (as an insurance claims manager–hilarious) with two of his best work friends getting “transferred suddenly.” This whole scenario was very cool for a few reasons. First, they finally gave Mack some personal backstory. I was beginning to think he was born a baby SHIELD agent, tiny toy gun in hand. It’s always good to show that these agents don’t exist in a vacuum–they have families, outside responsibilities, pasts. Second, hearing Mack cover for his job as a secret agent by saying he’s a desk jockey is hilarious. It also serves as a reminder that the “secret” in “secret agent” extends to loved ones, and can cause friction in those relationships like it does with Mack and his brother. Seeing Mack as a real big brother gave a lot of depth to his character, especially since he tends to take on the big brother role for the team.
Unfortunately, happy vacay times can’t last long in the AoS world. Back at SHIELD, Coulson and the team are called in to check out the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a ATCU site by an online anti-Inhuman hate organization called the Watchdogs. These guys are bad news for a few reasons, the first of which is: hate group. In probably the closest parallel to real world goings on, the Watchdogs are basically angry online forum commenters who decide to organize and actually carry out their threats on a large scale. They are doubly scary because they have some big bad weapons at their disposal. Remember Howard Stark’s nitramine bombs from Agent Carter season one? The ones that can implode an entire building into a tiny little pile of rubble? Yeah, they have those. (#ItsAllConnected)
But who is feeding these lapdogs such highly classified intel and weaponry? None but our old friend, former SHIELD Agent Blake (from season one). Coulson figures him out and takes budding not-yet-official Agent of SHIELD Lincoln to check his old colleague’s safe houses. Lincoln finally gets some depth here that makes me feel like he may be worthy of the rest of this show’s cast of interesting and multi-layered characters. He and Coulson have some really good back and forth that bluntly assesses just what Lincoln is even doing at SHIELD–and on the show, for that matter. He’s there for Daisy, not the cause, not SHIELD. Coulson also reasserts himself as the no-nonsense badass director that we all know he is, but that Lincoln needs a reminder of.
They come across Blake in his safe house and he evil-villain-monologues at them about his plans, his motives, yadda yadda evil guy stuff. Coulson gets tired of listening to him so he tells Lincoln to kill him. Yeah, just straight up murder the dude. Though Lincoln has had anger issues and trouble keeping his powers in check as of late, even he knows that’s probably a bad move, but he shows his loyalty and willingness to follow Coulson’s order without question, and zaps Blake–who turns out to be a hologram anyways. We all know Coulson wouldn’t just murder a guy… right? Either way, Lincoln passes the test and Coulson learns the motive behind the terror, which honestly was a kind of interesting motive.
Let’s go back in time to when we first met Agent Blake in season one. SHIELD was all about protecting humanity from the weird stuff, be that super powered villains (like Deathlok, who injured Blake in the first place), ancient nazi sleeper organizations, or alien threats. Now, they have aliens on their team and are fighting to protect the Inhuman population on Earth. Blake has trouble with this priority shift and he found a whole army of jerks that want to help him make America great again, probably. Or at least human again. Enter the Watchdogs.
Back at SHIELD, Daisy uses her hacker-skillz to track the movements of some of the members of the Watchdog forums in a pretty creepy, NSA-y way that would definitely not go over well with Mr. Freedom himself over on Team Cap. Mack is of the same persuasion, and he tells her as much before he heads back home to his brother, who, it turns out, has bought into the rhetoric of the Watchdogs’ anti-alien platform. The readiness with which Ruben parrots the Watchdogs’ words is a chilling example of how widespread fear-mongering can incite even well-intentioned people to hate speech and actions. Daisy, meanwhile, pursues one of the Watchdogs, with the adorable help of Fitz who is fully out of his depth trying to intimidate anyone. Good thing Daisy brought her window-smashin’ Quake powers to do that part.
With the intel extracted from the Watchdog, Daisy takes a mini-team of Fitz and Mack to see what a meeting of these Watchdog buttholes consists of. Fitz uses his adorable dwarf drones to covertly listen in, which reminds me that I so miss Fitz being adorable and bumbling in the field. More Fitz, please. They overhear Agent Blake giving orders to the group, who are meeting in a barn in a very overly-armed backwoods militia kinda way. Coulson gives the order to stand down, but Mack’s baby bro shows up on his super loud hog (motorcycle, come on guys) and alerts the Watchdogs of their presence. There’s a little scuffle (and a little mix up) and the Watchdogs get exactly what they were waiting for–an Inhuman to make an example of. Unfortunately, the Watchdogs are just as prejudiced as they seem and in the cover of night, they assume it was tall, strong Mack who pulled out the cool superhuman power, not dainty little Daisy. Even more unfortunately, poor widdle Fitzy gets hit by a sticky nitramine bomb and almost implodes to death. (Oh yeah, that’s why he doesn’t go out in the field…) But don’t worry, Daisy saves the day– and the physicist.
Meanwhile back at the Mackenzie residence, real talk is going down as Mack has to explain what the heck an insurance manager was doing hunting a terrorist cell with an alien. Ruben takes it pretty well considering, but he doesn’t have much time to process before said terrorists are surrounding the house to take them out. Mack leads his brother to safety by secret agenting them through the house and through five armed dudes with his SHOT. GUN. AXE. Aka my new favorite thing on the planet. Mack takes a bullet to the chest, but SHIELD rushes in just in time and loads him into an ambulance while Daisy bonds with Mini Mack. She tells him that Mack is the person she’d want watching her back and it feels like a solidifying of Mack’s role in SHIELD now that Bobbi and Hunter are gone. Mack isn’t just one of the new members anymore, he’s part of the family. No, I’m not crying, there’s just something in my eye.
Another thing that cause my eyes to uncontrollably water was the surprising connection between Agent May and Simmons this episode. The two women have been bottling up a lot of guilt between them over the course of season three, particularly because of Andrew/Lash, and seeing May take Simmons under her wing in this regard was really touching. In the most heartbreaking moment of this week, Simmons suggests that Andrew might benefit from the Inhuman gene cure but May cuts her off, telling her not to give her hope. Okay, now I’m really just crying.
Not much happening on the Hive front this week, but you know he won’t stay dormant for long. Malick, however, makes an appearance just long enough to make the not-at-all-surprising reveal that he’s pulling the strings behind Agent Blake and the Watchdogs. More surprising is that Blake isn’t even close to as healthy as his safe house hologram made him seem–he’s paralyzed, confined to a motorized wheelchair, and likely all the more bitter and determined for it. And now he has a missile.
The introduction of the Watchdogs and the security questions arising out of that are clear lead-ins to Captain America: Civil War, which will deal with the issue of superhero oversight and security versus freedom, a mainstay for the Captain America franchise since 2014’s The Winter Soldier. As Marvel Television’s Jeph Loeb likes to say, #ItsAllConnected.