With the third episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the show further establishes itself as one of the most exciting of the current TV season. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been steadily getting better and better with each passing week since it first premiered two years ago and it’s clear that cast and crew alike won’t be holding anything back in this upcoming season. The VFX team is every bit deserving of their Emmy nominations, the cast performances are deserving of any future nominations (hint, hint, ATAS), and the writers are pushing out storylines that leave audiences wishing for daily episodes rather than the standard weekly.
The show has obviously grown insurmountably in terms of cast size but, surprisingly, it’s managed to balance the character storylines in a way that it hadn’t really been able to before. “A Wanted (Inhu)man,” had three central plotlines, each of which focused on a different set of characters in a manner that appropriated the proper amount of screen time and storylines for each. While there’s always going to be one plot that gets more focus and attention than the others, this episode, much like the others of Season 3, used S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ensemble cast in a far more balanced manner than Season 2.
What I’ll refer to as the A plot, or the central storyline of the episode, focused on the clashing between the mysterious ATCU and S.H.I.E.L.D. as both organizations went head-to-head in the search for Lincoln. It’s still unknown just what the ATCU plans on doing with the Inhumans they’re hunting, but whatever it is isn’t something that Daisy and Coulson wish to allow. The newest dynamic duo of Mack and Daisy are tasked with finding Lincoln before Rosalind Price’s team and the order allows viewers see just how different their approaches to the Inhuman situation truly are.
The mission to bring him in quietly and covertly turns into a public manhunt as the ATCU puts out an APB on Lincoln and forces him to contact an old friend to help him lay low. Of course, said friend only needs to watch one news clip claiming Lincoln is a murderer before he’s calling the ATCU hotline and ratting out the Inhuman… something that ultimately leads to his death. Said death results in a physical stand off between the respective muscle of the ATCU and S.H.I.E.L.D. and reveals certain things that people likely would have preferred to be kept in the dark.
Despite having a common adversary in the ATCU, “A Wanted (Inhu)man,” has just as much internal conflict between Coulson and protégé Daisy. Through much of the episode it appears as though the Coulson of Season 1 doesn’t exist anymore, seemingly far more concerned with getting the job done than he is with getting it done a certain way. Daisy seems to be a reflection of the Coulson of old as she tries to bring Lincoln in through kindness and talking rather than threats and physical action. The tension between the Director and Daisy grows when she discovers that he and Mack had put a tracker on Lincoln without her knowledge, and leads to a scene where both seem to question each other’s decisions and motivations. The classic, “We thought you were a little close to the situation,” line is thrown at Daisy by Coulson, which is ironic considering his actions are revealed to be completely emotional… just not in regards to Lincoln.
As it turns out, all of Coulson’s decisions in the episode were made due to (surprise!) his desire to protect Daisy and keep the ATCU from revealing her as an Inhuman to the public. He goes so far as to trade Lincoln for the promise that Daisy’s identity will be contained, something that naturally doesn’t sit well with his newest right-hand woman. By the close of the episode, Coulson and Price come to an agreement that allows Daisy to walk free back to S.H.I.E.L.D., and Lincoln to run without being chased by the ATCU. Coulson strikes up a partnership with Price, offering his knowledge and cooperation with their search for Inhumans, a risky move considering we still know next to nothing about her or the end-goal of her organization. Daisy’s pointing out of said risk leads Coulson to dismiss her with a line that basically screams, “I’m the boss and I know what I’m doing.”
Elsewhere, Hunter and May are doing their best to work their way into Hydra’s inner circle in the B plot of the episode. Hunter seeks out an old contact (of the nefarious murderer variety) and brings May along to meet the other man in a seedy pub that couldn’t be more dodgy if it had a sign reading, “Villainous arms deal taking place here,” pasted on the front door. Perhaps the most humorous scene of the episode involved a distinctly uncomfortable May as she was forced to watch Hunter and his contact get increasingly drunk and reminisce about their past. Deadpan May caught between two smashed Brits would be funny in its own right, but the addition of subtitles meant to translate their drunken-British lingo provided a hilarious visual of the exchange.
Eventually Hunter and May find themselves in Hydra’s equivalent of Fight Club and are informed that the only way to get a meeting with the higher-ups is to leave the ring alive and victorious. Hunter is surprised to discover that his opponent is his contact/pseudo-friend and the sequence that follows is a brutal and bloody beating that ends when Hunter takes a set of brass knuckles to the other man’s face. It’s a raw and surprisingly emotional sequence as a bruised and battered Lance meets May’s gaze across the body of the now dead man and realizes he’s killed someone for the sake of getting an in with Hydra. Many kudos need to be given to Nick Blood for this performance because his emotional shift is a tragic display that shows just how far Hunter is willing to go to find Ward and get vengeance for Bobbi. The fact that it’s May who witnesses said shift is incredibly important because it’s clear that nobody seems to know quite what Hunter has experienced, and will experience, like the Cavalry herself.
The C plot of, “A Wanted (Inhu)man,” focused primarily on Simmons and her attempt at readjusting to being on Earth. Unsurprisingly, Jemma’s storyline was the saddest to watch as we saw the once bubbly and outgoing biochemist struggle with some of the most basic of tasks. Sound is a huge issue for Simmons in 3X03 as she’s set off by noises that normally go unnoticed by most people. The shower is so deafening she has to cover her ears, the vibration of a cell-phone is enough to make her jump, and the sounds of the lab that she herself put together so long ago are too much for Jemma to take.
She’s generally quiet in the episode, far more interested in listening than speaking, and her subdued behavior isn’t lost on anyone. It takes a heart-to-heart between Bobbi and Fitz for the latter to realize that Jemma needs something to look forward to rather than a reminder of the things she’s missed. So, Fitz does what he’s wanted to do for months and takes Jemma on their long-overdue dinner date.
The much-anticipated dinner between Fitz and Simmons brought with it quite a bit of information and insight where both parties are concerned. The suicidal missions that Fitz embarked on in the hopes of finding Jemma made it clear that he was determined, but it was the maître d’s offhand comment that Fitz had held his restaurant reservation for months that really shows that the engineer never once considered the possibility that Simmons was gone for good. Jemma, naturally, is visibly touched by the revelation that Fitz had never given up on her and is quick to express her thanks for his unwavering hope. The two seem genuinely excited by the opportunity to begin this new phase of their relationship but, this being Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., just when we think the two might actually have a brief moment of happiness, everything goes down hill.
In a scene rivaling that of Fitz’s pounding of the monolith in the season premiere in terms of emotion, Jemma breaks down at the sight of the red wine that is poured- assumingly because said wine brings back memories of a far less pleasant crimson liquid. It’s easy to remember the frantic Jemma in the 3X01 tag who covered her wounds in mud to mask the scent of her blood, and the almost instantaneous shift that takes place when her eyes land on the wine makes it clear that whatever unknown horrors Simmons faced while away are still plaguing her on Earth.
The scene becomes completely shattering as we finally see the emotional breakdown that we were all expecting since Jemma’s return home. The episode did a tremendous job in showing how the slightest noise or lighting could impact Jemma, but it wasn’t until this scene in particular that we got a chance to see just how much of an effect her time away has had on her emotional state. The silent tears quickly morph into broken sobs and Jemma’s heartbreaking repetition of, “I’m sorry,” is the emotional equivalent of a knife being shoved directly into your heart.
Though generally devastating, the dinner scene does show that, despite the trials they’ve faced since joining Coulson and his team, FitzSimmons will be there for each other no matter what. Fitz’s comforting of Jemma makes it clear that, whatever struggles are still to come, they’ll be dealt with together.
As is often the case where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is concerned, the post-tag scene left me gaping with my mouth open and the word, “What,” repeating on a constant loop in my mind. The brief workout montage of one Bobbi Morse shows an almost primal determination to overcome her Ward-inflicted injuries and get back into the field (a scene that seems to be yet another set-up for the Marvel’s Most Wanted spin-off) but it’s her brief interaction with Simmons that is most worrisome and indicative of where S.H.I.E.L.D.’s plot may be headed.
The recently returned biochemist is found to be investigating the monolith samples in the lab and, after questioning why the other woman is so desperate to research and telling her that she’s safe and the portal won’t reopen, Bobbi is faced with Jemma’s astonishing statement: “It has to. I have to go back.”
Final Grade: B+
- Elizabeth Henstridge is the clear MVP of the episode, expertly portraying the often-mishandled subject of PTSD and using her few minutes of screen time to emotionally sucker punch anyone and everyone that possesses a heart.
- The banter between Coulson and Price gets better with each passing episode and will hopefully continue as the season progresses. (The expert delivery of the hand-puns alone makes Price a character I want to see stick around.)
- Melinda May. That is all. (Okay, maybe not all… because holy hell her effortless takedown of those fight club goons was AWESOME. The Cavalry is officially out of retirement.)
- Lincoln’s, “Oops I accidentally killed my only friend,” plot wasn’t all that necessary or compelling. It was a little sad when his electric shock stopped the heart of John but, let’s be honest, we didn’t know enough about the other man for his death to really have an impact on anyone other than Lincoln himself.
“How ‘bout I do you a favor and not tell anyone that a tiny little Asian woman kicked your ass.” –Melinda May
“On the contrary, you’re self-diagnosing which is a sign that you’re on the mend.” – Leo Fitz
“Last time we met, you disarmed me with your evasive tactics… I gotta hand it to you, makes me wonder what else you’ve got up your sleeve.” – Rosalind Price
“We’ve been holding this reservation for months.” – Restaurant maître d
What will Coulson’s team-up with Rosalind and the ATCU mean for S.H.I.E.L.D. and the future of the Inhumans? Will Hunter going after Ward cause him to do things that he won’t be able to come back from? And just why the hell does Jemma, “have to go back,” to the alien planet that she seemed so desperate to escape?!
Sound off with your thoughts about the episode and theories about the rest of the season on Twitter and in the comments below!