Synopsis of 3×08: Dangerous facts about the ATCU are discovered by the team; Ward’s plans to take down SHIELD do not go as expected.
There are some episodes of SHIELD where everyone is exactly who you expect them to be. Coulson’s got a thousand trust issues; May’s quiet and angry; Daisy’s actually a hacker again; Fitz and Simmons don’t really interact with anyone but themselves; Rosalind’s a good guy and clueless to all bad things; Mack trusts absolutely no one and it’s great; Hydra is at the root of all evil; and Ward is the villain they always wanted you to think he is.
Yes, from hours of torture, to blowing open planes, to making deals with the devil, to turning Andrew back into Lash, if there was ever a doubt from you Ward fans about his loyalties on this episode: they’re painting him Hydra Red today. I say today since Grant Ward has consistently been the most inconsistent character on Agents of SHIELD. That doesn’t just mean his double-agent status either. His character has flip-flopped more than anyone else, so it’s important for us all to know he’s playing the big bad today (or at least medium bad if we count Malick).
And he plays that baddie well. He always has. Brett Dalton excels at going from menacing and bloodthirsty to smooth and covert. His wide range of skills, both physically as a fighter and psychologically as a spy make him the kind of asset that is valuable to any organization. In fact, the very reason we don’t question Malick’s offer of a spot in Hydra to Ward is because we’ve been with him for so long and we know he’s up to snuff. Presidents and alien artifacts don’t impress Gideon Malick, Grant Ward does.
But if any of you were hoping for Rosalind to be painted in that same Hydra Red — perhaps as a Madame Hydra-like character — sorry to disappoint. After an entire episode of mind games with Coulson, following sleeping with him and then talking to Malick on the phone the next morning, it was hard to tell where her loyalties lie. On one hand, Constance Zimmer plays a convincing role as a character kept in the dark by her superiors, on the other, Rosalind has professed to being in the spy game for quite some time.
Instead of stringing us along about her true intentions, it’s revealed pretty quickly through SHIELD’s espionage on the ATCU that not only is the ATCU under Hydra’s control, but Rosalind had no idea that Malick is Hydra and has been feeding the employees fish oil pills in order to create Inhumans.
What is more interesting about this interaction isn’t that Rosalind unfortunately isn’t that nefarious at all, it’s the fact that Coulson is so quick to throw her under the bus. When Mack asks him if he is sleeping with Rosalind for information, he responds “You really think I’m that guy?” but then follows the entire episode grilling her and infiltrating her organization in order to ‘spill all her secrets and gain her trust’. Phil, some people might say that makes you that guy.
Thankfully it doesn’t seem like everyone is simply ready to accept this. Mack has kind of been the stalwart of keeping us grounded as an audience to some of Coulson’s shadier acts. Yeah, he’s a spy. But we need to be reminded, every once in a while, that sometimes being a spy means doing some dirty things and being dishonest, and while that’s in the job description, it’s also morally wrong. Mack reminds us every time. His commentary on Coulson is so refreshing and shines a light on Coulson as much as he does on the ATCU with “Project Spotlight”.
While Coulson is grilling Ros and having serious discussions about his major trust issues and psychological inhumanity, the rest of the team is on the ground at ATCU, well everyone except FitzSimmons. They’re hard at work trying to figure out how to bring back Will. Now I’ll admit, as a long time lover of FitzSimmons, the recent development of their arc has turned me pretty sharply against it all. I could write a whole article about how I think the way Fitz has been written is more or less turning him into the proverbial ‘White Knight’ and that his actions feel like they are subconsciously trying to guilt Simmons for finding some solace on a deserted planet during her six months of isolation and trauma.
But I’m not going to do that (yet).
Really, my issue with the long awaited FitzSimmons kiss is that it rode on the tail of Simmons confessing her love for Will, as well as Simmons’ continued apologies towards someone who deserves absolutely none. I’m not saying Fitz isn’t a good guy for helping Will, I’m saying he’s being that good guy. He’s being that guy who is upset but has decided he’ll help because he’s always been there and by god, she should be grateful. Obviously I could be being a little harsh, but for someone who once quite enjoyed this duo, I found myself groaning at the poorly timed kiss that should have felt cathartic, but instead was laced with baggage. The “we’re cursed” line felt a little more like a call of exasperated frustration at Will than an epic romantic line between two people in love.
Thankfully, the team infiltrating the ATCU had much more success in bringing across their message this episode. To me, this plot line was the most well-timed. The Hydra reveal was a little obvious halfway through and the Coulson-Rosalind argument was riding on the results of this plot. This arc did exactly what this show needs to do, it’s pulling its plots together and braiding them into one cohesive story. Bobbi and Hunter going undercover is easily one of the most enjoyable thing to watch. Their continued banter while Hunter literally invades the ATCU like he’s a redcoat on the shores of revolutionary America is superbly entertaining. The same goes with Daisy coaching him behind the scenes, using her hacking skills and sass like she’s Skye from season one all over again.
I’ll admit that while it’s not too surprising that it Hydra’s been behind all of this shadowy stuff at the ATCU and NASA and probably every other official international organization (“It was me, Barry!”), it does turns Hydra from a power hungry super evil secret group into a power hungry super evil secret group that also does blood sacrifices to an inhuman “god” who is basically our cultural personification of the devil. Ah yes, the heavy hand. The classic comic book move. It does wonders for pulling everything together, not so much for subtlety.
But, as heavy handed as this is, it is gratifying to see everyone finally working towards a similar goal. Agent of SHIELD shines when everyone is working in the same story arc. For a while it was hard to tell what was actually happening. Was this a show about Inhumans or about SHIELD vs ATCU? I’ve said in previous recaps that it often felt like the third storyline involving Hydra and Ward was auxiliary. I’m glad that it’s all being thrown back on track. We’re all working towards the same end, which will lead to a more complete story.
It’s unclear where they’re going with the Inhumans, since it’s their main storyline this season. They often refer to it as a “disease” that needs a cure, and what is a little upsetting is no one seems to disagree with it other than Malick. I’ll even go the extra mile and state the obvious, that the Inhumans are the MCU’s substitute for the X-Men Mutants. The idea that this show still does not seem to have a single Inhuman who can stand up and actually say “Inhuman and proud” makes the Inhumans almost naturally antagonistic.
Sure, we have Daisy. But she seems to be ready to go along with Coulson despite his troubling allegiances. No one has really embraced the idea, and if Malick is really the only one ready to wholeheartedly embrace the transformation? That sends a bad message for the species as a whole. Why is Lincoln, who was once a spokesperson for Afterlife and Skye’s transitioner, throwing in the towel and asking for a cure? It’s supposed to suggest how deep Jia Ying’s corruption and betrayal ran, but since we hardly even hear about that part of the Inhuman’s past anymore it’s kind of hard to remember that isn’t it? There’s still a lot of story left for this to turn around, but for now I’m cautious, as always.