Judging by fan reaction, I seem to be in a minority for disliking last week’s episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ which (for the time being) wrote the Bobbi and Lance characters off the show. I liked this week’s entry marginally better. I suppose that means everyone else probably hated it.
Depressed about his friends leaving the team, and about his continued disillusionment with Coulson’s leadership, Mack takes a vacation to visit the old family home and help his brother Ruben (Gaius Charles from ‘Friday Night Lights’) fix up a pair of motorcycles. Ruben believes Mack works as an insurance adjuster. He’s recently been laid off from his own job and is having financial problems. His relationship with Mack also appears to be somewhat strained.
Mack’s vacation is cut short when he sees breaking news on the TV about a domestic terror group called the Watchdogs attacking a nearby ATCU facility with a weapon that causes the whole building to implode into a little ball of rubble. Coulson calls and orders him to investigate the scene. Mack is not very happy about this, but makes excuses to his brother about a work emergency. Ruben doesn’t entirely buy the story and thinks Mack is just blowing him off.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Coulson sends Daisy and Fitz to meet up with Mack. He asks Lincoln, who just completed a performance evaluation and hasn’t gotten the results back yet, to sit this mission out, which doesn’t seem like a very good sign.
After running some tests, Fitz and Mack suspect that the weapon the Watchdogs used was based on old Howard Stark technology that the group has made improvements to. (Hey, whattaya know, something from the pointless ‘Agent Carter’ spinoff actually has some tiny amount of relevance for a moment!) When they notify Coulson of this, he links the Watchdogs to the only man who might have had access to that tech: former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Felix Blake (Titus Welliver), who was last seen back in Season 1 when he was critically injured during an attack by the then-rogue Deathlok.
Daisy discovers that a lot of the Watchdogs – or at least Watchdog sympathizers – post hate-filled rants against Inhumans on social media. She wants to track down some of these anonymous internet trolls and interrogate them. This leads to Mack and Daisy having a very pointed argument about civil liberties. He’s of the opinion that the First Amendment is kind of important, while she wants to round up anybody who’s ever spoken positively about the Watchdog movement and waterboard them in secret international black sites.
Coulson orders Lincoln to accompany him on his hunt for Felix Blake at some of his previous known safe houses. Lincoln is relieved. He was worried for a minute that he failed his performance evaluation. Coulson informs him that he did. The results state that he only joined S.H.I.E.L.D. to be with Daisy and that he has no actual commitment to the cause – which is a pretty accurate assessment of the situation. However, Coulson wants to give him a chance to prove himself.
Mack returns home to find his brother angry at him, and angry about life. He’s pretty obviously a Watchdog sympathizer.
Daisy follows through on her threat to track down a Watchdog internet troll. She scares the man with her telekinetic powers until he gives her information on the location of the next Watchdog meeting. The irony is apparently lost on her that what she’s doing to him is exactly the reason why these people are so afraid of Inhumans.
Daisy, Mack and Fitz scope out the Watchdog meeting at an old dilapidated barn. Coulson orders that their mission should be surveillance only, no direct confrontation. Fitz sends in a drone, which picks up what sounds like Blake’s voice, but they can’t get visual confirmation.
Suddenly, Mack’s brother Ruben rides up on a very loud motorcycle that draws a lot of attention their way. He followed Mack there to apologize to him. When he realizes what Mack is really doing, and that he’s working with an Inhuman, he just gets upset again and rides home. Mack orders Daisy and Fitz to fall back. Daisy defies his orders and goes in after Blake on her own. Fitz tries to help her, but a Watchdog tosses a glowy orange thing that attaches to his neck. He determines that this is an implosion bomb of the same type that destroyed the ATCU building.
Meanwhile, Coulson and Lincoln encounter Blake at one of his safe houses. Blake gives a long-winded Talking Killer speech about how S.H.I.E.L.D. betrayed him and the Inhumans can’t be trusted. Lincoln gets antsy and wants to blast him with his electrical powers, but restrains himself to prove to Coulson that he can follow orders. Coulson realizes that Blake is stalling and orders Lincoln to kill him. Lincoln is confused and hesitates for a moment, but does what he’s told and tries to zap Blake – only to discover that Blake was a hologram the whole time. Coulson of course already figured this out, and was just testing Lincoln to see if he’s a team player. He notes that Lincoln did not fire a kill shot, but deliberately aimed to hit Blake in a non-vital area (as if it would matter which part of the body a lightning bolt hit him – electricity would still surge through his entire body anyway). This is actually what Coulson wanted to see. Lincoln passed the test.
Daisy brings Fitz and a Watchdog prisoner to a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment pod. She tortures the Watchdog to tell them how to get the bomb off, but he’s not a tech guy and doesn’t know. However, Fitz picks up on something the man says he overheard, and theorizes that the bomb can be frozen and detached. Daisy sprays liquid nitrogen from the pod’s cooling unit onto the bomb (somehow miraculously not hitting any of Fitz’s exposed skin), and it comes right off.
The Watchdog prisoner laughs. He says his group wanted to capture a real live Inhuman, but they mistakenly assumed it would be the big muscle-y guy who was spying on them, not the scrawny girl. A bunch of his friends are chasing the wrong target.
Mack returns home and fights with his brother about S.H.I.E.L.D. when their house is attacked by a group of five Watchdogs. The brothers set aside their differences and try to fight their way out together. Mack gets shot in the arm but still takes out all the intruders. His brother is impressed. The episode even gives a suggestion that he might want to follow in his big bro’s footsteps.
Coulson suspects that Blake is being used as a patsy by Gideon Malick, who fed him intel on the ATCU facility in order to use the Watchdogs to do his dirty work for him. Indeed, the episode ends with the real Blake (who’s been wheelchair-bound ever since the Deathlok incident) meeting with Malick’s henchman Giyera, who has supplied the group with weapons to fight Inhumans – at least, the Inhumans that Malick wants them to fight. Giyera opens the doors to the van he was driving to reveal a warhead inside.
Jemma still feels guilty about letting Andrew/Lash go free to murder all the innocent Inhumans at the British castle earlier this season. May asks her to help hunt for Andrew. Jemma suggests that, as Lash, he’s driven by base instincts, not rational planning.
Jemma asks May what she’ll do to Andrew when she finds him. May says that she intends to kill him. Jemma points out that the anti-Terrigen vaccine may still work on him if he hasn’t fully transitioned to 100% Inhuman yet, but May says she doesn’t want hope. She knows what she has to do and has set her mind on it.
The parallels this episode attempts to draw between the fictional Watchdogs and real-life racist hate groups – as well as all the discussion about civil liberties – are extremely heavy-handed and clumsy. I’d call a lot of the dialogue on-the-nose, except that some of it is so painfully overt it’s practically in the nose.
I also question whether the writers realize that they’ve perhaps unconsciously validated Daisy’s “Ends justify the means” attitude, because every time she tortures someone, she invariably gets exactly the intel she needed out of him. The episode seems to suggest that torture works, and citizen rights can be thrown away in the name of security.
Nonetheless, at least the plot actually moves the season’s storylines forward a little bit. In my book, that’s an improvement over last week. I also think it’s nice to have a Mack-focused episode. His character is often underused.