During an episode that feels more like the TV equivalent of a “prologue issue” for Age Of Ultron there’s a sequence that highlights the vast gap between Agents Of SHIELD and the big-screen MCU. The irony is, it’s actually a pretty decent sequence.
When Team SHIELD infiltrates the Antarctic base Skye has a brilliantly choreographed – and impressively long – fight against a hail of Hydra agents. Great. Except… why isn’t she using her powers more? A quake blast would be more efficient and humane (for a character who was concerned about her first kill earlier in the series). Instead she uses her powers once (twice if you count the CPR), then it’s all fists and guns.
In our reviews of The Flash we’ve mentioned a few times how the tone of that show is nearer the feel of the big-screen Avengers. One of the reasons for that is that Barry uses his powers all the friggin’ time! SHIELD, though, seems to ration its special effects. It’s all worryingly reminiscent of the ’70s The Incredible Hulk TV show where budget restraints meant the Hulk was restricted to two appearances per episode.
The other problem with “The Dirty Half Dozen” is that whole “prologue issue” feel. Even with a guest appearance from Maria Hill (clearly the budget couldn’t stretch to Nick Fury this year) what should be a big “event” episodes doesn’t feel like a bona fide crossover; rather there’s a whiff of “clinging onto the coattails”. It turns out that a whole subplot this season – Coulson’s secretiveness and the Theta protocol – has been in service of Age Of Ultron, the pay-off happening in a theatre near you now!
Well, fair enough. This kind of gimmick has always been part of the show’s DNA. It’s a real shame now, though, because recently Agents Of SHIELD has been improving massively, proving that it does has an independent life, a reason to exist in its own right and not just as a footnote to the MCU. To a large extent, this episode is a retrograde step.
The facility where Lincoln and Deathlok are being held is the same one that was seen in the extra scene during the end credits of Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Luckily, there’s still a lot to enjoy, much of it down to good old character interaction. The idea of pulling the original Agents Of SHIELD team back together for a mission – complete with strained relationships following betrayal, multiple attempted murders and inappropriate liaisons getting in the way – pays off beautifully. All the regulars have some meaty dialogue to chew on and even little moments delight, from Fitz exaggerating his attack on Ward last week to Ward telling Simmons that he’s disappointed in the change in her. (To be honest, so are we – she’s rubbish at being a shadowy assassin but it’s kinda fun watching her try.)
The relationship between Ward and Kara is intriguing too. Does he love her? Is he just using her? Are the two things mutually exclusive? Has he left her with SHIELD for a very different reason from the one he tells Coulson? Don’t trust either of them. Their flirting, though, is both sweet and sickly at the same time.
One of the big surprises is what a great double act Lincoln and Deathlok make even though they’re in separate cells and only have a few lines to exchange. It’s Hydra who highlight the differences between them but in doing so it makes you realise that a friendship between a naturally enhanced inhuman and a technologically enhanced superhuman would make a good dynamic on the show (calm down, fan fic writers, we don’t mean bromance, we just mean as a way to bridge the mistrust between the factions). That probably won’t happen. Deathlok seems doomed by the show’s bean-counters to rationed appearances only.
The big setpiece mission (powers shortages aside) was exciting, visually spectacular and well-paced. Though a lack of real resolution and the fact that SHIELD’s bombing raid happened off screen meant the episode fizzled out a little, Bakshi’s death and Coulson giving another two-fingered salute to Gonzales (“Ooops… spoilers!”) helped to beef things up.
Then, finally, Raina has her visions of packed cinemas around the world. Let’s hope she didn’t just gain her power to see the future so that she could act as an advertising hoarding in human form. Codename: Trailer Woman.
Gordon: “We think Raina's gift may allow her to see things before they happen.” Skye: “I thought her gift was spinning really fast to collect gold rings.”
Coulson: “He was the only person I could talk to about my alien writing impulses.” How did Clark Gregg keep a straight face?
Innuendo Of The Week
We’re not surprised Hunter and Fitz were about to vomit with Ward saying things to Kara like, “Do you want to take the stick?”
Although there was a lot of action and plenty of impressive FX in the episode, the highlight was the uncomfortable briefing session with Ward going, “Can we just address the elephant on the plane?” The pay-off – with Skye saying “I’m still happy I shot you”, Fitz agreeing with “Yeah, me too”, and Simmons taking it further with “Should've aimed for the face” is a gem.
The SHIELD jet that’s shot down is numbered 616. Earth-616 is the name used to identify the primary continuity in which most Marvel Comics titles take place.
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK.
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