Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paradise Lost

It's Villain 101. For your bad guy to be compelling, you have to humanize him. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went about that this week for both Malick and the creature now wearing Ward's skin.

The story of Malick's brother was, for the most part, predictable. From the moment the flashbacks showed us a brother that we've never known Gideon had, we knew he was going to be dead by the end of those flashbacks. But that predictable end still made for some good moments along the way: the brief return of the gone-too-soon Whitehall, the contrast of a quasi-religious zealot to the Judas who betrayed him, and more.

At the same time, the story line actually humanized "Ward" to some extent. He's still a malevolent creature bent on destruction, but the fact that he incorporates his victims' memories -- and can call back their personalities -- does a couple of valuable things. It establishes a context for "Ward" to have more basic human emotions when the story calls for it, such as the thirst for vengeance, as in this installment. And it also sets up that "Ward" can be Ward when he later confronts our heroes (and Coulson in particular).

And there was a nice twist at the end. After setting us up for a classic "villain trade up" from Gideon to his daughter Stephanie (well... that might have been a lateral move at best), "Ward" ended up killing her in front of Gideon just to get even. If it weren't for the realities of television production, specifically the need to keep actor Brett Dalton on the show, the real jerk move would have been for the creature then to start wearing Stephanie's body instead of Ward's. But it still packed an effective punch.

Over on the heroes' side, things were a bit less interesting. Still, we did get a great fight sequence between May and Giyera, and some taste of how Fitz, Simmons, and Coulson are all affected by the revelation of "Ward's" continued existence.

There was also more development for Lincoln, and his relationship with Daisy... but that was a bit of a harder sell for me. I appreciate that Lincoln wasn't thought to be a long-lasting character when he was first introduced at the end of season 2, and that to now keep him around, they need to flesh him out more. Still, he was so "put together" at the retreat and so "complete mess" now that I don't recognize the same character in both places. The writers tried to hang a lantern on that this week by having that bitter recluse wonder why Lincoln got powers... but the problem remains. (And why exactly did Daisy and Lincoln have to double-cross the guy, exactly?)

What's more, it's now official that the show never should have started the back half of the season by showing us the glimpse of the future space disaster. I suspected as much when Daisy saw it for herself last episode, but this week clinched it. Daisy said that she didn't know exactly when it would happen, but that it would result in the death of a team member. But we the audience know when it's going to happen: "four months from now" (as of that first episode).... meaning, "season finale." It totally deflates any tension Daisy might be feeling about the team being in jeopardy when we know the time hasn't come. And it further deflates the tension to talk about bringing in the Secret Warriors just a moment later. Now, that "someone on the team" that will die might not even be, you know, on the team -- it might just be "Yo-Yo" or some other random character we've only seen in one or two episodes.

I think I liked this week's episode overall, but as ground was gained on the villain story, it felt lost on the heroes' story. I give this episode a B.

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