Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Laws of Inferno Dynamics

This week's episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. served as the show's winter finale. While it definitely had cliffhanger teases for the rest of the season, it also felt more like an ending to a story arc than any of the mid-season finales of years past.

The episode seemed so crammed with elements that it sometimes felt rushed. Yet, at the same time, it's hard to argue with any of the inclusions. Take the "Daisy comes in from the cold" subplot. It felt a bit silly for Mace to just claim she'd been with S.H.I.E.L.D. all along (and for everybody to just buy his explanation). Yet I can't think of any interesting purpose that would have been served by keeping her separated from the group any longer.

Or consider the sudden rekindling of a romantic subplot between Mack and Yo-Yo, after that had been ignored for quite a while. It felt a bit unearned, bringing it up again out of nowhere. But it does add an interesting dynamic for the show to explore. (There's actually a lot of "relationship drama" in the mix right now, between Fitz and Simmons, Mack and Yo-Yo, and maybe even Coulson and May depending on how you choose to read it.)

Another fast development was the removal of Ghost Rider from the show (albeit in a "he could come back some day" sort of way). I seemed a bit abrupt to get rid of him when we've only recently seen Robbie interact with characters other than Daisy. On the other hand, his character wouldn't be very compelling without his vengeance to pursue; wrapping up Eli necessitated wrapping up Robbie.

Speaking of Eli, I'm not sure he ever completely coalesced for me as a villain. Some of it may have been that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. conditioned me to expect longer runs from the villains, after everything with Ward and Hive. Some of it was that the writers waited until episodes 7 and 8 of an 8-episode story to develop him as the bad guy. And some of it was that his powers and the threat they posed felt similar to Whitney Frost from the second season of Agent Carter.

It's this last thing that has me curious for the season going forward. That's because, while I am intrigued by the threat of Aida and how that story could play out, there's no question that the show is pointed down story paths that have been trodden before. As we were reminded in this very episode, an evil Aida does conjure thoughts of Ultron. And the episode's final reveal, that May has been replaced with a duplicate, recalls the long-running subplot in which "Agent 33" wore her face. There are plenty of ways these threads could lead to different stories, but also plenty of ways in which they could lead to very similar stories. Here's hoping the series can be clever with what's to come.

I guess I'd say this winter finale didn't leave me super-satisfied, but it's not like it made any critical mistakes either. I'd give it a B. That's a decent enough place to leave things for a month.

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