Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Emancipation”:

Man, wasn’t it crazy that after a monster weekend at the box office, both Iron Man and Captain America dropped by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for yet another knock-down drag-out fight, stretching TV budgets as we know them to the very limit? Jussssst kidding. What a world that would be.

“Emancipation” proved reasonably mild as MCU tie-ins go, apart from lip service to Steve Rogers’ whereabouts and Peggy Carter’s death, given that Agents has more or less already spent the season examining whether or not powered individuals should be kept in check. Hell, the Secret Warriors already exist as a monitored government team of sorts, and where Civil War didn’t exactly leave off with the clearest picture of how the Sokovia Accords affect anyone going forward, it isn’t as if registration has anything to do with Hive’s current threat. I doubt if the concept plays a major role in Season 4 either, especially at a time when Marvel movies will be less in touch with reality than ever.

Lip service to Civil War aside, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. definitely deserves credit for their ability to structure compelling twists; the most recent example of an affected Daisy becoming Hive’s mole effectively resonating over the last few episodes. That said, where audience investment in a well-developed character like Daisy keeps her plight compelling, the same can’t necessarily be said of “Emancipation,” which tries to structure in another hidden swerve with Lincoln’s escape. His apparent defection seemed a likely ploy from the get-go, lest the writers prove so cruel enough to subject us to an already-lukewarm (heh) characterization making one of the dumbest, most counter-productive decisions possible.

Other than wardrobe, anyway.

What did work reasonably well was swapping Lash in for an unexpected attack on Hive, as despite Lash’s earlier appearance in the hour, nothing beyond Talbot’s visit to the base necessarily telegraphed that we’d see him again. The battle itself proved understandably short, and seemingly ended in an abrupt exit* for the character who’s appearance drove so much of the early season, but also offered an unexpectedly early solution to get Daisy back on the side of the angels. That might easily have waited for the finale, but much like the inaugural twist, opens up a new perspective on the endgame.

*I hesitate to declare Lash officially dead, not solely for the rarity of conclusive TV death these days, or the character’s expensive, all-powerful and problem-solving potential, but rather that weak, and clumsily staged finisher. Lash shrugs off bullets, and every Inhuman attack thrown at him, but falls to dumb James’ dumb Hellfire chain? Not only that, but for all the talk of intelligent design in Inhuman powers, his “purpose” was nothing more than to save Daisy this once? Boring.

The endgame in question at least got a little clearer with Talbot’s presence, as we circle back that ATCU warhead previously delivered to Blake, now aimed to spread Hive’s Inhuman virus over a significant chunk of the globe. Having the revamped formula turn those Watchdogs into mutated drones offered an intriguingly gross turn as well, one indicative of Hive’s character, that he’d accept his new followers arriving pre-packaged as mindless slaves. The warhead also brings us one step closer to that Quinjet in space flash-forward, though I’m hoping against hope that Elena gifting Mack her cross will prove a red herring. After all, Mack represents one the show’s best original creations, and why telegraph his end?

If anything, I’d put some money on Lincoln, as “Emancipation” proves it doesn’t do Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. favors to build major epsiodes around such a flat, uninteresting characterization.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Ideally, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t be responsible for a meta-announcement of Agent Carter’s cancellation.
  • Continued petition to keep John Hannah a part of the series. He’s delightful!
  • The Watchdogs mentioned a mole in the ATCU, did we already know that?
  • Odd how the series treats James’ chain as some cheer-worthy manifestation of his comic appearance, despite seeming wildly impractical in context.
  • “Suppose there’s always Hell.” If the character doesn’t have actual ties to demons, that reference doesn’t play!
  • Still walking that fine line of why no one at least mentions calling the (remaining) Avengers for a world-threatening event.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 will conclude on May 17 with two-part season finale “Absolution” and “Ascension,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on ABC.

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