Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Failed Experiments" Review: Average Is Still a Passing Grade

Warning: The following contains spoilers for this week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So if you don't want to be spoiled, well, you know what to do.
"Failed Experiments" was itself an experiment in seeing how many characters could make questionable decisions for what they perceived and believed to be the greater good, but were actually very personal reasons. From Daisy to Lincoln to Mack, folks were jumping head-first into the deep end without floaties, and when you add in Hive's long-standing grudge against the Kree for changing his DNA and making him an Inhuman, this week's episode was a very personal hour for just about everyone involved—a personal hour that had the potential to affect every living human being on the planet, of course. Which means that it was business as usual for the series, I suppose.
If we've learned anything this season, it's that operating with a personal agenda in stressful conditions can lead to momentary lapses in judgment. Momentary lapses that lead to a good man killing a smug but good-looking murderer for killing a woman Good Guy said he loved, but come on, no he didn't. But by killing that smug but good-looking murderer, Good Guy allowed a parasitic creature who needed a dead body to inhabit to live—and who's already destroyed one planet!—to follow him home to his own world, thereby hand-delivering him his next tasty meal. I mean, yes, that's an extreme case of letting emotions crowd one's judgment, but it happened, didn't it? Coulson's arc this season is a cautionary tale, and no one appears to have listened. 
This was the final episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the release of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's latest big-screen endeavor, Captain America: Civil War,which meant that there were obvious remarks about how humanity's unwillingness to band together will lead to its downfall, as well as pointed comments about men in iron suits, government-created super-soldiers, and even an actual reference to a civil war that broke out thousands of years ago once it was discovered that Hive could control other Inhumans. As Hive told Daisy, the fear generated by his abilities led to paranoia, which eventually led to a civil war and him being booted from Earth to the blue planet he later turned into a desolate wasteland.
At the heart of Civil War, which is essentially an Avengers movie masquerading as a Captain America film, is a political battle between Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America), and the men and women who side with each superhero over the Sokovia Accords, legislation that attempts to regulate the actions of enhanced individuals via a governing body. To literally no one's surprise, this is a theme that's present in some form throughout all of Marvel's current cinematic ventures, including Netflix's seriesJessica Jones and Daredevil, the latter of which tackled vigilantism as heroism and its place in Hell's Kitchen via both Matt Murdock and Frank Castle (the Punisher) in the show's recent second season. 
I suspect next week's S.H.I.E.L.D. will feature more overt references to the events of Civil War, so we'll table larger discussions of how the film and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are potentially intertwined until then, but the awakening of the Inhumans this season and the fear that sprung up in response to their inability to initially control their new powers added to a global feeling of distrust in the wake of the Chitauri invasion in The Avengers and what happened in Sokovia in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And now Hive wants to turn everyone Inhuman in an attempt for a better tomorrow, one in which everyone has powers because as he put it, "The world fears our kind of power because not everyone has it. Only billionaires can build iron suits, only the military can make super-soldiers, which can only lead to a war of its own."
My God, Marvel. Did Jeph Loeb write that line and then hashtag it with "everything is connected," too? I would not be surprised.
On the surface, the idea that everyone should have powers looks like a nice argument for equality, and hey, who doesn't want equality? But that's not even remotely what this really is about, and Hive's ability to control Inhumans is just the beginning of the list of reasons why this is a terrible idea. Daisy was fully on board with his plan, though, and her solution to saving her friends at S.H.I.E.L.D.—who she argued were not soldiers who wanted to start wars but good people who wanted to end them or even prevent them—was to turn them into Inhumans to make them understand the importance of Hive's plan. The peace-seeking side of Daisy's brain has been flooded at the prospect, but Hive's just another jerk preaching peace and a better world and secretly thirsting for control and power.
Initially, Daisy's stance on Hive's agenda was an enhancement of her opinions regarding Inhumans and the way they'd been treated by outsiders, by the A.T.C.U., and by Coulson, who kept pushing back the Secret Warriors project for legitimate if frustrating reasons. But even through all of that, Daisy wasn't anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. and its practices. However, over the course of "Failed Experiments," that opinion disintegrated even as Mack tried to rescue her in a very noble if misguided attempt to clear his own conscience, which proved just how deep Hive had dug into her and that his power over her seemed to be growing. At the start of the hour Daisy defended S.H.I.E.L.D. and her friends who worked for the organization, but by the end of the hour she was arguing Hive's stance that S.H.I.E.L.D. turned people into soldiers for its war, thereby forgetting that she once had, at least in some fashion, free will to walk away from Coulson and his ragtag team. Her free will has been taken away from her by Hive more than it ever was by S.H.I.E.L.D., and now she's offering herself up to be drained of all her blood because she carries the Kree DNA necessary to turn all of humanity into Inhumans. 
It's frustrating to watch a woman who was so lost initially finally come into her own last season and feel like she had a home and a purpose as recently as 10 episodes ago, and watch her go down this path now, especially because it's a form of mind control that's led her to it. But at the same time, based on how Hive's powers work, we need to accept that she wasn't as changed as she'd let on. The specific digs at Bobbi and Hunter for leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. because the team didn't matter to them anymore reveals that Daisy still feels, whether she consciously realized it prior to Hive infecting her or not, somewhat adrift or unwanted within the team. People have a way of always leaving her behind, whether they mean to do it or not. On the one hand, I buy this sentiment and that it's a deep, deep fear of Daisy's that she'll never have a home with people who love and care about her. On the other hand, I really, really want to move past this part of Daisy's story. 
But Daisy wasn't the only person making bad decisions for personal reasons and saying it was for the greater good this week. In addition to Hive calling to Earth the two Kree reapers responsible for turning him into an Inhuman so he could use their Kree blood and also get revenge, Lincoln was so desperate to save his girlfriend of a hot minute, to contribute to the operation to save her from Hive's mental clutches, and to prove that he could be an asset to the team that he, a licensed medical professional, injected himself with an antitoxin that had the potential to kill him, all in the name of potentially saving Daisy. I would not go to Lincoln for medical advice, guys! The fact that he was disobeying a direct order from Coulson at the time did not help matters, and now he's out of commission because his immune system has been weakened. Oh, and the antitoxin doesn't even work. So, uh, good job, Lincoln?
Harsh snap judgments of his actions aside, this is actually in line with the character Lincoln has proven himself to be this season. He's a good man with good intentions, but he's never been well-adjusted and continues to struggle with his ability to control his emotions and his powers. He's placed a lot on Daisy's shoulders in just a short amount of time because the emptiness he felt prior to becoming an Inhuman never really went away, and he's trying to fill it with Daisy and love instead of alcohol and anger in an effort to prove to both himself and to the team that he can be better. It's unfair of him to rely on Daisy in that way, especially because he's actually a good man trying to do the right thing. When he fails, like he did this week, it only makes the struggle worse. But if Lincoln is still struggling, then it appears to support the argument that Daisy too was still struggling with her own emptiness despite appearances to the contrary and all the discussions of how she was stronger than Lincoln was. But why are we retreading the same story beats over and over again? Something new and definitive needs to come out of this renewed dive into Daisy's insecurities and a need to fit in and be fulfilled since apparently it's still an issue. Otherwise, we're just telling the same story over and over again and not moving forward.

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