You have to admire “Love In The Time Of Hydra” for attempting to do something a little different with the Agents Of SHIELD format. The problem is, it doesn’t do it particularly well. At times the episode is so half-hearted it feels in need of some defibrillator pads to shock it back into life.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some interesting currents swirling beneath the languid surface but they’re subtle layers of detail that’ll please committed fans. There’s very little in the way of big crowdpleasing moments for casual viewers, and the one thing this show really needs to do right now is win back a few more casual viewers.
Of the three main plotlines it’s the Ward and Agent 33 strand that proves the most effective, though not without its problems. Concentrating so heavily on these two rogue elements – and turning Agent 33 into such a sympathetic character – is a bold move. It almost pays off. Certainly, the dynamic between them is intriguing, as 33 tries to rediscover her true self – hidden below layers of tech and conditioning – while Ward’s motives remain murky. Does he have any true sympathy or feelings for 33? Or is he just taking advantage of her frail psyche to make use of her abilities for his own ends.?
You’d assume the latter but the scene where 33 morphs into Skye to try to please Ward suggests the guy has frailties of his own. And feelings. Sure, he pushes her away eventually but if all he’s interested in is controlling 33, then indulging her fantasy would have been the more cynical move. Either way, the relationship between them is a watchably warped one.
It’s a shame, then, that their slice of the episode culminates in some misfiring, half-arsed comedy. The scenes where they infiltrate Talbot’s base to kidnap Bakshi are a botched opportunity, too silly to be tense, too plodding to be properly funny. When Talbot tries to pinpoint the traitor from a line-up of female staff – grabbing the cheek of the poor woman he suspects – it’s like a bad episode of Scooby-Doo. Later, when he pulls a gun on his wife, the result is more embarrassing than funny. This could have been a sequence full of dark humour and witty action; instead it’s full of half-hearted slapstick and confused expressions.
In the Marvel comic books Quake (the superhero name of Daisy Johnson, aka Skye) wears gauntlets that help concentrate her power. However, in Agents of SHIELD the “gauntlets” that Simmons makes for Skye seem designed more to control and contain her powers.
Elsewhere we have Hunter’s meeting with the heads of “real” SHIELD (we’ll call them “real” SHIELD for now, though for the moment we have no firm evidence that they’re any more “real” than Coulson’s SHIELD, just their word for it). Unfortunately, despite some amusing snark from Hunter, these scenes display a relapse into that old Agents of SHIELD affliction – stultifyingly static exposition scenes.
Guest star Edward James Olmos does his best to inject some life and menace into the reams of info-dumping and rhetorical questions, but – let’s face it – this is basically a bunch of people sitting round a table nattering on for scene after scene. And, to be honest, nobody actually revealed much of any interest. We learned… what? “Real” SHIELD don’t like what Coulson’s up to. Yeah, we’d kinda figured that one out.
Then Hunter escapes with an ease as unconvincing as his sudden familiarity with Harry Potter mythology. It doesn’t exactly paint this “real” SHIELD bunch as the most competent agents on the block.
Meanwhile, Coulson chokes an analogy between his car and Skye to within an inch of its life (even Skye scowls, “I’m the Corvette right?” with the kind of expression you’d give someone who produced a really loud fart in a crowded lift) before dumping her in a safe house in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the most exciting plot development – it’s clearly a set-up for something coming next – but the episode doesn’t try particularly hide to disguise the fact.
There’s not even a decent fight scene, usually a saving grace of the show’s duller episodes.
The series has seen an impressive upswing in quality recently, so let’s hope this is a momentary blip. Of course, there have to be some cheaper, less action-packed episodes every now and then, but do they have to be quite so listless as “Love in the Time of Hydra”?
Ward: “Everything alright?”
Agent 33: “Uh, yeah, I’m just deciding what to wear.”
Ward: “Why don’t you let me take care of that?”
The operation on Agent 33’s face to get the mask working again is one of the episode’s visual highlights.
Meet The Team
From left to right, this trio of “real” SHIELD agents are: Agent Anne Weaver (played by Christine Adams, who many years ago was Cathica in the Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who story “The Long Game”); Agent Tomás Calderon (played by Kirk Acevedo of Fringe and 12 Monkeys fame); and Agent Oliver (played by Mark Allan Stewart, a voice artist for such videogames as Bioshock Infinite: Buried at Sea, Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor and Kung Fu Panda 2). Weaver actually debuted on the show with in “Seeds” (s1e12) and also turned in in “Turn, Turn, Turn” (s1e17).
It’s Not Chess!
Blimey! Maybe somebody in Hollywood has noticed GR+’s Why Is It Always Chess In Sci-Fi? campaign
Most Unconvincing Line
Hunter: “Perhaps we could have discussed this alone without all of Hufflepuff looking on.”
You need to be quite a Harry Potter geek to name the least memorable house at Hogwarts (this vid just about sums it up), and we’re not even convinced that Hunter would be a casual Potter fan…
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK and on ABC on Tuesday nights in the US.
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