Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Absolution / Ascension

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wrapped up its third season last night, but it didn't exactly punch out strong. Though there were plenty of good moments throughout, there were nearly as many elements that just didn't work for me.

Let's start with the Shell Game of Death that was watching that cross necklace and jacket get passed around from character to character. It was supposed to be a tension-ratcheting device, as we all knew from Daisy's vision that the person with those things was the one who was going to end up dead. But it had basically the opposite effect for me. Knowing we had a two-hour episode ahead of us, every time someone would lay hands on the "mark of death," I'd mentally cross them off my list rather than fear for their safety. Plenty of episode left; you know the hot potato is going to move again. And after they tried to play with me several times, I got tired of the whole thing.

And it was a lot of build up for little real payoff, because the character killed was (um... SPOILER...) Lincoln. He's a character that has never really clicked on the show in his (relatively to the other characters) short run, so it hardly feels like a sacrifice to lose him. Indeed, before the threat/promise of "someone's going to die" was ever placed on the table, I probably would have guessed at the start of season three that Ward and Lincoln weren't going to last until the start of next season.

Worse, Lincoln's death doesn't really land within the universe either; the one person truly affected by it is Daisy, whereas everyone would have had a reaction to losing, say, May, or Fitz, or Simmons. Instead of ripples directly touching multiple characters, we'll get ripples touching just one character. And we already got a taste of how those ripples will play out in the "six months later" flash forward to cap the episode. It seemed to take us into a narrative space we just left: Daisy's on the run, doing bad things, and our heroes our trying to bring her in. Sure, last time she was under Hive's sway, but in terms of the beats of likely stories that would play out in this scenario, that's a distinction without much of a difference.

In the long run, if feels like "Ward's" death will be a much bigger deal for the show. You knew they were going to defeat Hive by the end of the season. Still, the reality of that is that actor Brett Dalton, who has had more reinventions on this show than anyone, is finally done with the series. (Well, barring some implausible thing involving the Life Model Decoys teased in the final scene.) Don't get me wrong, I think they'd played out everything his character had and then some. Still, it's going to be a different show without him on it.

What did work? For one, the bond between Mack and Yo-Yo. (I believed that relationship a lot more than the Daisy/Lincoln romance they were trying to sell me.) Her near-sacrifice to protect him resonated well for me. For another -- in small doses -- Dr. Radcliffe. His schtick would wear thin for me at times, but he'd always manage to make me laugh a bit later with some tossed-off one-liner. Actually, the comedy throughout the two-parter played well, culminating for me in Coulson's "help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi" hologram. And, as is so often the case on the show, the fight sequences were a cut above for television. May vs. the primitives and Daisy vs. Hive were two great scenes.

Still, I hope the writers take the summer to recalibrate a bit, to make certain that this new direction they're setting out in for season four truly is new and not a redux of things just covered in this last half season. I give the finale a B-.

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