Marvel's Agents of SHIELD: 3.12 Inside Man/3.13 Parting Shot
Well what a mixed bag these two episodes have been. Inside Man brings Glen Talbot back into the fold with some slightly clunky exposition. It's an episode with some neat moments (the effects work on Creel is superb) that bounces back and forth between fun romp and pushing our suspension of disbelief to the brink - he's a traitor, he's not ad infinitum.
Tensions are rising as the world adapts to the so called "alien contagion", a name Daisy takes great offence at, and a symposium has been called to formulate a response. It's not a very well attended symposium mind, the episode's budget likely blown on that great effects work.
There is much to enjoy; it's nice to see Lincoln and May in the field (albeit briefly), Coulson has a funky new hand, there is a nice running gag about Talbot's borderline racist suspicions of everyone he meets and the score enjoys a spy-fi/Bondian swagger as the team work together well. Ward/Hive are creepy, his machinations unsettling even to Malick, the rebirthing scene a particular stand out and really quite shocking.
Daisy and Lincoln have a training bout that heats up, violence and sex inextricably linked in comics these days (there is a similar scene between Murdock and Elektra in Daredevil) but there is definitely a kinky side to the small screen MCU. There are some lovely details; Morse strikes her own version of the waiting for a bomb to explode that Coulson likes to adopt and Talbot's "Call me Glen. Occassionally." raised a chuckle. There is plenty of fun action, especially from Morse/Mockingbird, and complex relationships and dramatic confrontations.
But whilst there is plenty to enjoy here the episode also has a distinct feeling of meh. The reversals and twists seem too easy; Malick getting a hold over Talbot seems just too convenient, as does the resolution. There is perhaps a little too much cool slo-mo. Hunter's behaviour is not just reckless, it's annoying. There is some clunky dialogue and setting up future plots (that shoe-horned reference to the Watchdogs for example). It's an episode that manages to show the series at it's best and it's worse.
The next episode, Parting Shot more than makes up for it as we bid farewll to Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter. They have had their fair share of clunky stories and dialogue but they have always delivered on the action. Well Morse certainly has. It's an unexpected opening, a smart shake up of the standard SHIELD formula. The whole episode plays out like a back door pilot for their forthcoming spin off Most Wanted (the announcement of which almost robbing the episode of it's emotional climax).
The writing of the pair is stronger here than usual (perhaps the strongest they've ever enjoyed). It's an episode high on action, high on drama and plenty of wry humour. The writers wisely focus on the show's core team, none of those pesky Secret Warriors here. Hunter and May have a chance to resolve their differences and everyone gets their moment to shine, the whole team utilised effectively. There are twists, turns and high stakes. The Inhuman Arms race is heating up, and we have our first Inhuman politician. It was good to see President Ellis back too, giving us a better sense of events really affecting and having weight in the wider MCU.
There are some very cool Inhuman powers on show and a brilliant single shot during a fight in the later stages that shows what this show is capable off when running at full steam. Though we may have known how the episode was going to end (the actors needed to be released to film the Most Wanted pilot) the tension never lets up. It was dynamic, strong writing and direction and what an ending.
Morse and Hunter may not always be the most endearing couple so I was surprised by how choked up I was getting over the spy's goodbye. It was a powerful scene, wonderfully played by an ensemble of actors and friends. Two episodes, two ends of the spectrum of what Agents of SHIELD can be at it's best and it's worst. I may actually be excited to see the Most Wanted pilot now because if it fails that farewell may well be undermined by a hasty return.