News broke within the last week that Disney has dropped The Inhumans from their release schedule. We still don’t know exactly what’s going on with that project or if it will ever be revived, but from where we’re standing right now, it looks like it’s dead and buried. Aside from the death of the movie itself, what’s most interesting about the story is the way it deepens the wedge that has already been driven between Marvel Studios’ feature films and Marvel Television’s series. Despite the oft-repeated assurance that ‘it’s all connected,’ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular feels like it’s working in some sort of alternate universe that branched off from the MCU, but no longer has any connection with the main series of films. For Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the emergence of Inhumans remains a huge, universe shaking event that they’re dealing with on a constant basis, but when it comes to the films, this huge event doesn’t even register as a blip on the radar.
And, you know what, there’s nothing really wrong with that. I don’t need all of these things to be inextricably linked. I realize, for example, that Jessica Jones will never cross over with the films in any meaningful way, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that I think it’s one of the best stories Marvel has ever put their name on. The problem with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though, is that the only reason I’ve ever had for watching it was its supposed connection to the larger universe of Marvel films. I don’t care about its characters, I’m not invested in its story, and if it’s not even going to connect in any meaningful way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, why am I even watching it?
That question has become even more pertinent in the last couple of weeks. This half-season has thus far been an unfocussed mess – the worst the show has been since its disastrously bad first season. It seems, though, that we’ve turned something of a corner. Last week’s episode was a genuinely solid hour of television and this week’s episode continues that trend. The mission this time is two fold with May, Coulson, and Lincoln trying to track down other Inhumans on their radar before Daisy and Hive can get to them, while Fitz/Simmons infiltrate a club of transhumanists in an attempt to contact a scientist who may have invented a way to inoculate against Hive’s parasitic influence.
It’s the Fitz/Simmons story that really takes the lead this week, and the setting for this story is neat. I really like the idea that in this world of Iron Man armor, megalomaniacal robots, cyborg assassins, and Star Wars-level prosthetic limbs, some of this technology has managed to trickle down to people outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers. This club isn’t just pursuing the ideal of transhumanism in theory, but are already actively practicing it, with a whole slew of cybernetic and bioglogical enhancements invisible to the naked eye. I only wish this was something the show had taken time to set up earlier, but this approach to world building is par for the course with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Why waste time creating setups that you can pay off later when you can just introduce an element immediately before it becomes relevant? It’s a utilitarian approach, but it also feels more than a little lackadaisical. But whatever, the idea still works as both a cool detail of the Marvel universe and as a narrative device to compare humans of today to the Kree who performed the experiments that birthed the Inhumans in the first place.
What doesn’t work is the Fitz/Simmons romance subplot that this whole plot line winds up being a vehicle for. The pairing of these two was inevitable since so much of what this show does feels calculated to appeal to the shippers, but I am so profoundly turned off by this romance because what’s supposed to function as the adorable geek couple comes off as ugly. The problem ultimately comes down to Fitz, who has become such an interminable wiener, and his courtship with Simmons reeks of that prototypical mens’ rights activist ‘nice guy’ schtick. We’re meant to be swooning over this pairing, but I’m just sitting there uncomfortably wondering what kind of foul things Fitz will start posting to Twitter when Simmons dumps him for someone who’s not a total putz.
On the other side of things, we have Coulson and May racing against time to reach out to their Inhuman contacts before Daisy can lead Hive to them. Lincoln insists on joining them in spite of the danger he’s in if he were to go up against Hive. Coulson agrees on one condition: Lincoln must wear a suicide vest (well, murder vest, technically) as insurance in case he is turned by Hive. Not only that, but Coulson puts May in charge of the trigger. May and Coulson have something of a heart-to-heart over this with May calling Coulson out on his tendency to use May as a blunt instrument to take care of the things he’d rather not deal with directly, and Coulson immediately waffles and acknowledges that he’s out of line. It’s another example of how frustrating Coulson’s story has been this half-season. His motivations can turn on a dime at any moment, and his actions these past several weeks have been wildly inconsistent. I don’t like this weird descent into villainy that Coulson has taken this season, but if they had actually structured an arc around it I might be game to explore that. But there is no arc. He changes not only from episode to episode, but even from scene to scene with no rhyme or reason beyond the immediate concerns of the story. Again, it’s more evidence of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s willful disregard for any kind of properly constructed long form storytelling. It comes across as being highly improvisational, as if no one in the show has any idea where this is all supposed to be heading.
That said, there is fun to be had with the story this week. The trio first attempts to reach out to Alisa Whitley (the Inhuman with the ability to replicate herself from Season Two), but find that she’s already under Hive’s influence. The fight between Lincoln an Alisha is a good one with Lincoln’s reluctance to hurt her creating an interesting dynamic. It’s a reluctance that Alisha doesn’t share, and when Lincoln captures one of her replicas, she executes it, even though doing so would cause her immense pain. Alisha gets away, and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shift focus to James, the Australian Inhuman candidate who had been denied terrigenesis by Jaying. Once again, though, Hive has beaten them to the punch, giving James the power to turn ordinary objects into explosives and forcing him to reveal the other part of the ancient Kree technology he has been hiding.
The two stories converge at the transhumanist club when Hive and Daisy show up to kidnap the scientist who had developed the anti-parasite technology. The two of them tussle with Fitz/Simmons. Daisy holds Fitz at her mercy and threatens to kill him if they pursue; Hive, on the other hand, calls upon the memories he’s stolen from Will (Simmons’ bf from Maveth) to appeal to Simmons’ emotions. The two of them escape, leaving Fitz/Simmons behind to pick up the pieces. Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, we find out as almost an afterthought that Malick gave Coulson everything before he died, and in one fell swoop, General Talbot and the ATCU destroys all of HYDRA’s remaining facilities. Of course HYDRA’s not dead – they never really are – but hopefully it’ll be a while before they return.
HYDRA may return to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I’m not sure that I’m going to. These past two episodes have been among the best the show has given us in a long time, but even at it’s best, I really just could not care less. I don’t like these characters, I don’t like this story, and the one thing that gave me any incentive to watch this show – its supposed connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – has proven to be a falsehood. Three seasons in it’s clear that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t looking to be anything more than what it is right now, and for some people, that’s obviously working. I’m just not one of them.