Synopsis of 3×14: Agent Mack and his brother step in when a radical group called the Watchdogs plan to eliminate the Inhumans; Simmons finds a powerful chemical compound.
With the loss of such great talent as Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood, you’d really think that this show that I love to hate on would get worse, but this week’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD really hit its stride and focused in on two characters who have been lacking any depth this season. Mack, who has kind of been pushed to the backburner — so much so that, he didn’t even really personally say goodbye to his good friends on the team when they left — finally gets brought up to the forefront this week.
With guest star Gaius Charles playing his brother Reuben Mackenzie, we’re allowed a look into the life of a SHIELD agent who has to juggle the job and family. It’s a surprisingly insightful perspective, given the fact that Agents of SHIELD so often just tells one side of a story, touting complexity while telling their story in absolutes.
Mack is, perhaps, the best member of the team to zero in on. As a character, he’s stood mainly in a neutral zone, despite his initial cautiousness against Inhumans, he’s learned to work with them while simultaneously questioning Coulson and frequently being a voice of reason. In the debate of humans vs Inhumans, he’s sitting firmly on the fence and there’s nothing wrong about that. He is often the voice of the audience, expressing doubt about people with uncontrollable power is realistic, so is not wanting to just genocide an entire species of people just because you don’t know anything about them.
In addition to that, he’s pretty much the only member of SHIELD’s inner circle to have family that is directly affected by Inhumans — no word on Fitz or Simmons’ family across the pond. With everyone pretty much flying solo, Mack’s attachment to his brother is something that is actually at risk with him working at SHIELD. Yes, the team is like family, but Reuben is actually family. It’s easy to live in the shadows for someone without outside attachments, but Mack is forced to lie to his family about what he does, which can ultimately endanger them should he be pulled into a mission like he was in this episode.
“Watchdogs” allows some general opinion to be pulled into the mix, it’s not just SHIELD vs Hydra, or Coulson vs Hive, or even ATCU vs Inhumans, it’s combating the issue of the unknown. The alien. Indeed, when Coulson confronts hologram-Blake, Blake pokes many holes in the essential function of SHIELD. It’s done nothing to actually protect the world, potentially bringing more terror and endangering more lives in the last few years than it’s helped.
The Chitauri, Hydra, Deathlok, Inhumans, Ultron. It’s all got SHIELD at its very source. Hell, even the Avengers are getting the bad end of public opinion, and their very beginning takes root from SHIELD, and Nick Fury, and Phil Coulson.
While it’s safe to say that in general the Avengers and SHIELD are trying to do good in the world, one might argue that all the good they’re doing and all the people they’re saving are really just victims of problems that they created. “Watchdogs” does great things with the argument about whether SHIELD is doing good or bad, and it’s one of the most interesting parts of the episode. Hearing Coulson finally get some opposition — and from someone who is just as seasoned in SHIELD — was refreshing.
Especially when it came to the topic of the season, which is SHIELD using Inhumans in their team aka the Secret Warriors. The tit-for-tat that Blake has with Coulson lays the argument out pretty cleanly for the audience, “I signed up to protect the world from these dangerous alien elements.” “We still do that.” “The hell you do. You use them, unleash them, you’ve got those freaks working for you.”
This is the essential rhetoric we’re going to be seeing moving forward with the Watchdogs. What happens when a government group antes up with a weapon like Inhumans? What happens when the President okays a black ops team to have free range over using Inhumans as agents while simultaneously battling the public on something as controversial as the Registration Act? What does having a weapon like the Inhumans mean when you’re fighting the bad guys? Well, let’s go back to the Cold War, and talk about something called mutually assured destruction. Yeah, that’s what happens when you bring new weapons into the game, Coulson.
Not only do people have a right to be afraid of the unknown, but up until now we haven’t really addressed the issue of Inhumans to the public. If this is such a widespread issue, someone should be getting in front of this before it comes to an explosive head.
Regardless of the philosophical debate, the episode all culminated in Lincoln “sort of” following Coulson’s orders and gaining his trust by hitting hologram-Blake with his powers but not killing him. Seriously, I know it was a test about Lincoln’s judgement call, but it was kind of a shaky plot line at best. Then again, I didn’t have to suffer through Lincoln and Daisy’s cripplingly lackluster romance, so I guess we’ll take that as a win this episode.
Seeing him get schooled by Coulson was enjoyable in a laugh out loud kind of way. I’ve got so little love for where they’ve taken Coulson’s character that hearing him militantly yell, “Don’t interrupt me, you got it? You haven’t earned that right yet,” incited nothing but laughter from me. What that said to me was that once you get to a certain place on Coulson’s personal list of favorites, you can disobey his orders, interrupt him, go against his plans, and pretty much receive little to no punishment.
Even Mack has a line in the opening part of the episode when talking about his work to Reuben that reads to this, “Management’s out of control. New people coming in everyday, no experience.”
Don’t agree with me? Well, let’s just take a look at Daisy this week. She kind of went off the reservation, and decided to use more than a little brute force when taking on the Watchdogs. Talk about taking things personal. Daisy uses her old Skye-hacker skills — I call them Skye-hacker skills, since they so often just default to her using her fists or her Quakes that when she uses the computer it reminds me of simpler times — to seek out allies of the Watchdogs and find out where they are meeting.
And while the Watchdogs are undeniably terrorists and bullies — preying on people’s fears and attacking ATCU bases — Daisy doesn’t do much better in this episode. She’s willing to shake down random people for information about the location of the Watchdogs, while Fitz and Mack watch helplessly as she takes the mission into her own hands.
She has an compelling argument with Mack about going after people possibly connected to the Watchdogs; “That’s kind of gestapo don’t you think? Is that who we are?” “We’re SHIELD. I’m trying to save lives, I’ll use whatever advantage I have to do it.” “Yeah, the advantage of superpowers, which is something I don’t have.”
The comparison of SHIELD to gestapo is heavy handed, but rightly so when Daisy goes and uses her powers on unarmed civilians in order to strong arm tips from them with Fitz tagging along and pointing a gun at them. I want you to keep in mind that she hasn’t really received any reprimand for what she’s done this entire episode. She takes Fitz with her and terrorizes an unarmed civilian in the middle of the street, which I would say is actually playing into all of the negative things people feel about Inhumans.
Her rash decisions continue as they find one of the Watchdog hideouts and instead of obeying Coulson’s orders, she decides to attack the Watchdogs. This sets off a chain of events with Fitz being hit by an implosion bomb. Simply their arrival at the hideout endangers Reuben and Mack, who are forced to fight off the Watchdogs, who assume that Mack is the Inhuman because… he looks intimidating? (I’m not going to say that that logic is stupid or anything but…) Anyways, Reuben and Mack safely fend off their homestead, with Mack victoriously wielding a makeshift shotgun-axe (!!!) and he gains favor with his brother again.
Meanwhile, Daisy has to figure out how to remove the implosion bomb on Fitz’s neck. She’s got the two of them in one of those cells that they use to capture Inhumans, and dragged in one of the Watchdogs to beat answers out of. Ah, simpler times when Skye had a more secure moral compass. But regardless, the scene shows some of the consequences of her actions, even if it delivers the most idiotic line of the week: “Wait, suspend. That’s a science word he wouldn’t know.” Fitz, any high school drop out in Bumf*ck, Midwest America knows what the word suspend means.
But, when they finally figure out the bomb and get it off, it’s kind of murky about what happens to Daisy. She’s kind of decided her own orders all episode, but I doubt she’ll get anything more than a slap on the wrist for what she did. After all, nothing but the public opinion was damaged. And with Malick puppetting the Watchdogs, I’m sure they’ll end up just being unknowing foot soldiers for Hydra.
The essential fear with Agents of SHIELD is that any great rhetoric and philosophical discussion will get lost in the comic book camp that they impart when they want to smooth over the lines of good and bad. SHIELD will never just be a questionable spy group, the writing will always justify their means. Things like May teaching Jemma and Daisy to “conceal, don’t feel” should have some pretty poor consequences, but I’m betting it won’t.
So, although I actually really enjoyed this episode this week, it’s up in the air whether any of the discussions held in the episode will actually have any clout when it gets lost within the mysticism that is Hive and Hydra next week on “Spacetime.”