Saturday, June 22, 2024

Agents of SHIELD: I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at me

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SPOILERS through the most recent Agents of SHIELD episode, 3×13 “Parting Shot”

I am sitting here writing this with tears drying on my face because somehow, this inconsistent mess of a  show that has its share of problematic storytelling conventions made me feel things. Worse still, it made me feel things due to a situation that was so unbelievably illogical and just baldly a setup for a spin-off. And it’s not like, “oh, in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that’s what they’re doing.” No. I’m saying, as the episode was playing, I was telling my cat “this is so blatantly a way to jettison these characters off the screen.” He agreed.

For anyone who hasn’t watched the latest Agents of SHIELD (AoS) episode, “Parting Shot,” you might be a little confused. I’ll help you catch up: Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter were written off the show. I’m assuming it was for this mythical spin-off that from what I can tell, has been tabled. They certainly weren’t written off because it made oh-so-much sense within the episode, or for AoS as a whole. Though rarely given a spotlight in terms of character arcs, Hunter grew into a continual and engaging comedic force, and Bobbi was just a delightful character, there’s no other word; she had her vulnerabilities that were often showcased, but this underlying strength and drive and commitment, as well as genuine friendships on the team.

Doesn’t matter, bye-bye, so sad.

No seriously, there’s often only a handful of things one can point to that AoS has going for it, and these two characters were, well, two of them. The show markedly improved after their introduction last year, and continued to build upon that success going into Season 3. I truly can’t explain Marvel’s decision here, unless they have plans to bring AoS to an end or something. Which…then these guys could have totally stayed. And I really don’t see how a spin-off justifies itself either, tabled or not. The group dynamics were a rather key component.

But whatever, the decision was made and there’s no changing that. Their departure evoked a strong emotion in me, so it must have been executed well, right? Uh, no. Hilariously no.

Firstly, that episode did that thing that like, Aaron Sorkin is super proud of. That format where there’s an interview, or an interrogation in this case, that opens the episode, and then we see the “X hours earlier” flash to explain how our beloved characters got there. Then snaps of the interrogation is peppered throughout the episode. I think it’s supposed to create dramatic tension?

In this case, it actually just wrapped Bobbi and Hunter in plot armor, because we knew there’d be fine in a situation where it felt like either could have legitimately died. Especially with the not so subtle “nice” final moments that writers always give to people before they die. Hunter randomly talks about taking a break from SHIELD and going on a vacation with Bobbi. May chooses to team up with him for no discernable reason so that he can give a heartfelt apology. This shit was downright anvilicious.

The interrogation scenes themselves I guess were okay? We see that the choice is for Bobbi (or Hunter) to either admit that they work for SHIELD, or sentence their partner to the firing squad. Like, I’m being reductive, but those are the bare bones. The whole “your only weakness is your true love” thing featured strongly.

So we’re given the impression that it’d be a huge issue if SHIELD was implicated in whatever this thing was. Cut to the actual mission: Bobbi and Hunter are spying on some Russian military leader (at least I think he was military) who is meeting with Malick, the current head of Hydra. Hunter decides to ask if they can just run in and shoot Malick, and Coulson points out that assassinating a former world leader on Russian soil knowing that if they are caught and their actions can be tied to the US government (to whom SHIELD is reporting now), then this would be an act of war. Which for a second gives the viewer the impression that the writers actually thought through Bobbi and Hunter’s dilemma in the interrogation room. If they admit to being SHIELD, then it’s a war, damnit. I mean, that’s what we’re told.

Anyhoodle, was it turns out, Malick manipulates the Russian Military Dude to kill the Prime Minister, who just happens to be on his way to this place where they’re having a meeting. And Russian Military Dude thinks the perfect way to go about this assassination is with Russian General Dude, who happens to be an inhuman that can make a shadow out of dark matter which then goes and attacks other people.

Not wanting the innocent Prime Minister to get killed, Coulson sends in back up (Daisy, May, and Mack) to team up with Bobbi and Hunter and keep the guy alive. May picks Hunter for her dodgeball team, and Bobbi gets assigned to “keep an eye on Russian General Dude” duty because she’s the only one who can speak Russian (plus she looks good in an ushanka).

Meanwhile, Daisy has to hack in Cyrillic, and Mack has to get his ass kicked three seconds into a fight.

Credit where credit is due, SHIELD knows how to craft an action sequence. But let’s just cut to the chase. The group gets a bit separated, and it leaves Hunter protecting the Prime Minister and trying to get him out of there. And like, he’s very obviously protecting him, shooting Russian Military Dude when the guy comes in brandishing a gun and yelling “for Mother Russia!” Which the Prime Minister seemed to notice. So…life saving stuff going on here.

Meanwhile, Bobbi and Daisy unsuccessfully fight Dark Matter Shades. They realize the only way to “beat” them are to kill the Russian General Dude, who is controlling them. When a Dark Matter Shade gets away from them and threatens the Prime Minister (and by extension, Hunter), Bobbi just charges in to where the Russian General Dude is, shoots him point-blank, and then drops her gun and surrenders to arrest.

And that neatly takes us to the interrogation scene, where we are shown that behind the window are the Russian Prime Minister, the US President, and Coulson, who is pretending to not be with SHIELD. In fact, they tell the Russian Prime Minister that SHIELD doesn’t exist. They also point out that there was a clear and apparent coup/attempt on his life, and it’s these two people being interrogated who saved him. “Someone has to pay,” says the Prime Minister. Uh dude…what about the guys who tried to kill you who are shot? How was that not paying?

Apparently they don’t count. Also not paying is Malick, despite the fact that they have him on video persuading the Russian Military Dudes to turn on the Prime Minister. You need someone to blame? Might be a good place to start, especially since this episode made a clear point to show that these cameras were, indeed, recording and had replay capabilities.

Coulson didn’t think of that. He was too busy coming up with an extraction plan for Bobbi and Hunter, which they reject. Why? Because it would expose SHIELD. You know, the organization that doesn’t exist anymore. That Daisy has been working overtime to erase any evidence of.

But okay, this was at least the most logical part, because just randomly springing these prisoners would look hella suspicious on the part of the American government. I can kind of accept it. What I can’t accept is the fact that the Prime Minister is then persuaded to free them because they saved his life. Didn’t someone have to pay? Isn’t that literally what was just written? They’re sufficiently not SHIELD, so not connected to the American government, so no war (for…saving the Prime Minister’s life), but they’re just free to go?

Which, okay, wow great! Now they can join SHIELD again since it’s a covert organization that no one knows exists. But apparently the one man the Russians sent to tail them at that bar (who happened to miss the entirety SHIELD’s team toasting Bobbi and Hunter)  is just too much to handle. Because it’s not like they’re all highly skilled spies or anything. And SHIELD doesn’t have people with powers on their side. No no, this was all so necessary and unavoidable because otherwise there’d be proof that SHIELD existed? Somehow? That makes the sense? And god forbid Bobbi and Hunter get a beer with any agents of an organization that doesn’t exist, because talk about covers blown. Don’t think about it too much; here’s some tequila.

I don’t know if I can use any more sarcastic italics, but hopefully this explains how sufficiently illogical this was, right? Like, especially the Malick thing. They had someone to pin the blame on right there! With incontrovertible evidence! And he’s actually a guilty party and everything! Not to mention how it’s implied that SHIELD would be totally exposed if Bobbi and Hunter shake the one Russian spook, or that the Prime Minister would want to go to war over his life being saved by people tangentially connected to the American government. Seriously, this idea that their resignation was somehow unavoidable is just so blatantly full of holes that it borders on lazy.

And yet, that goddamn “spy’s goodbye”! It was moving. All it takes to get me to feel something about a narrative is swelling music and sad reaction shots? What is wrong with me? A very basic amount of critical thought reveals this for the sham that it is. No, really, this was almost an insult to viewer intelligence, and yet…damnit I felt things. I have no explanation. Maybe I just really can’t stand to see Chloe Bennet cry?

But whatever it was, I have to give some credit to the writers: you did your job and made me feel emotionally invested in your show. And you know what? I’d even check out that spin-off, it if ever happens. Well done. Now go put that effort into writing a logical show.


All images courtesy of ABC Studios

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