Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Broken Promises

With the Ghost Rider arc now concluded, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicked off its second big story arc of the season, built around Life Model Decoys.

The writers did two clever things with this episode, both addressing the potential plot similarities between this story and Age of Ultron. Marvel has done the evil robot story before, of course, and with a much bigger budget and array of stars than this TV show can bring to bear. So they're going to have to differentiate themselves in some way.

Working backward, the climax of the episode actually took evil robots off the table entirely. It was made expressly clear that Aida was only following orders and simulating emotion the entire time. The real villain in all this was Radcliffe. That alone changes the nature of what will follow; though it's perhaps a stretch that Radcliffe has so completely earned the gang's trust at this point (considering his track record) to escape suspicion, or at least punishment for his lack of judgment.

The other writing strategy was to make one long running joke of the story, peppering the episode with references to "killer robot movies." It was the gift that kept on giving, peaking perhaps in the quip that Radcliffe should be forced to watch all the Terminator movies, "even Salvation."

Yet the writers seemed unwilling to engage head-on by having any of the characters talk much about Ultron or the Sokovia Accords. And that seemed a bit conspicuous in an episode that otherwise engaged so heavily on the backstory of the MCU in general and this TV series in particular. Different moments -- both dramatic and humorous -- were built around Coulson and May's history, Simmons' record of being abducted (but only twice on Earth), and the big alien invasion at the end of the first Avengers.

Mentions of that last bit of history were there in service of the plot surrounding Senator Nadeer and her Inhuman-ized brother. That story line had some good, softer moments in it, yet ended up in a place I found a little hard to swallow. Certainly, it all served to show just what a stone cold personality, a true believer, we have in the senator. And yet, it feels to me like if she's that against Inhumans, enough to kill her "not-her-brother-anymore" in cold blood, why would she not order her Watchdog allies to kill Director Mace and Daisy when she had them there in her house? (Surely a little Simmons collateral damage isn't reason enough.)

That said, the episode's end credits scene implied we haven't seen the last of the senator's brother. Ba-bum-BUM!

Still, a couple omissions overall weren't enough to bring down an otherwise solid setup for the story arc to come. Add in the great character moments and humor throughout, and I'd grade this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a B.

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