Television

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 10 - "Maveth"

Daniel Rasmus

Death begets life, and vice versa, in the mid-season finale.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 10 - "Maveth"
Network: ABC
Air date: 2015-12-08
Amazon

Although Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. mid-season finale was titled "Maveth", a Hebrew word for death, there was as much life as there was death in the episode. In certain cases, death even begat life.

Death

But let’s count the bodies first.

Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), Ward (Brett Dalton), and a Hydra team arrive on Planet X, as does Coulson (Clark Gregg), although Coulson’s in a different location, and out cold.

The first death is only a threat from Ward, after Fitz attempts to take his gun via the old "look at my tablet screen" rouse. Ward knocks Fitz down a hill and informs him that if he, Ward, doesn’t return, Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) will die slowly and in agony.

Space jockey and Simmons confident Will Daniels (Dillon Casey)? He’s alive -- Fitz finds him sleeping, awakens him…chaos…chaos…Ward threatens him, and he joins the party. More on that in a moment.

Meanwhile May (Ming-Na Wen) and Team Daisy (Chloe Bennet) attack the Hydra compound. Simmons escapes and discovers the Inhuman containers; Andrew Garfield’s (Blair Underwood) in one of them. He convinces her to release him from his Hydra captivity and promises to protect her. Garfield becomes Lash and, it appears, fulfills his promise to her, killing a couple of Hydra guards so she can escape. He then goes on an off-screen rampage and kills all of the other Inhumans held by Hydra, indicagting that Lash’s Inhuman moral compass remains just as judge-y as it was before his capture. For Inhumans who don’t meet Lash’s standards, he IS death; humans who get in his way are no less a target.

Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) also takes out a few guards between the second infiltration point and the portal room. Are they dead? Some may be; others are cuffed. Mr. Giyera (Mark Dacascos) attempts to shoot Daisy, but Joey Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba) takes a few rounds for her; or rather, melts them on the way to taking them. Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) zaps Giyera, who isn’t seen again, and May puts a knife in the back of another Hydra guard.

Back on Planet X, Will takes out several of Hydra party, saving both Fitz and Ward, while Coulson takes out the last two Hydra away team members. It’s the discovery of one of the planet’s "dead" cities that results in the revelation that Will, it turns out, isn’t really alive after all. He was killed saving Simmons. The walking Will is a decomposing, reanimated corpse, hosting “it”; the Inhuman Hydra hoped to bring across the portal. There are plenty of Sixth Sense hints along the way, from Will saying he feels like he has been on the planet forever, his knowledge about the Hydra sculpture, and Fitz making a comment about his smell.

Coulson and Ward approach Fitz and the alien and, just as the alien attempts to smash Fitz with a rock, Coulson shoots. Reincarnated bodies can be taken down, but not out easily. It requires a few more shots from Fitz, and eventually a shot in the back by a flare gun before the body is spent.

Ward, of course, takes this momentary distraction to initiate a battle to the death with Coulson; his death. With Ward’s dead, Coulson’s need for revenge also dies. He leaves the murder weapon, his bionic hand, at the scene.

Bodies, bodies everywhere.

For the Living

On the living side of things, perhaps the first sense of new life is the awakening of purpose in Ward at the sight of the "Hydra sculpture" on Planet X: he becomes a true believer. Fitz springs to life with the tablet rouse. Fitz responds to Ward’s beat-down, and the threat to Simmons, with a pretty good verbal lashing of Ward.

Like the character who kicked the Whedonverse off, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Fitz has died once, he doesn’t really want to do it again (Buffy having famously died twice; the second time being pulled out of heaven by uberwitch, Willow [Alyson Hannigan]). Fitz fights for himself, for he and Simmons’ relationship, and for the human race. His promise to only bring back Will, however, fails. In his fight for life, he leaves the door open for death. That being said, Will’s death breathes new life into the Fitz/Simmons relationship: free of "the other man", they can move forward.

Mac (Henry Simmons), as acting Director, manifests the life of his managerial mojo. He interrupts a typical S.H.I.E.L.D. debate about tactics with some clear, concise direction. He later gives orders that the team actually pay attention to. Coulson reclaims his life, first by taking out Ward with his bionic arm, then symbolically detaching it and leaving it with Ward’s body, perhaps leaving his emerging inhumanity behind on Planet X.

Finally, the dead Ward finds life for the parasite that had infected Will, as it’s somehow (off screen) transferred to Ward’s dead body. Coulson also unwittingly left the door open to new life for “death” by providing the parasite with a host in the form of Ward’s corpse. Worse, with Ward’s resurrection comes new life for Hydra’s plans for world domination. They will, if the myths are true, be able to "do anything we want", according to Malick (Powers Boothe).

The Struggle of Writing Life and Death

The writers had a hard task of bringing several storylines to their conclusions and kicking off new ones. Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) probably makes her last appearance when a dream of her awakens Coulson on Planet X. With the death of the original Grant Ward, Coulson will likely not transfer his hatred to the "it" Inhuman, given his general familiarly with aliens (although, just as likely, Coulson will make some snide remark like, "I thought I killed you", when the series returns). That will place an end to the Ward and Coulson feud at one level, but the arrival of a reincarnated Ward will, of course, create new issues.

This episode saw a minor launch of Secret Warriors, they were in the action, but some of their best work, while successful, took place off-screen (killing the power and welding medieval doors shut), which was a bit disappointing, but what we did we show chemistry and respect between Daisy and her team.

With the ATCU exposed as a Hydra front, its leader dead, and logically, Malick discredited by the discovery of his Hydra affiliation, there’s a strong argument for re-establishing S.H.I.E.L.D. as the agency of record when it comes to dealing with human and Inhuman incursions (besides, Coulson is probably still the only one in “government” with Thor’s number). However, Malick remains alive and at large, and he and the mystery Inhuman look to be the Hydra Uber Enemy of the season’s second half, which returns on March 8, 2016.

Storytelling issues

Good narratives make internal sense even if they stretch the imagination with far-off planets, Inhumans, and other fantastical elements. Besides killing off certain characters, there were moments in "Maveth" in which the writers also killed off good storytelling practices.

The biggest gaff is the "Inhuman" parasite. I could find no Inhuman parasite that could inhabit a dead body, possess it, and bring it back to life. The mythos of the Inhumans has traditionally been one of humanoid form with modifications. An Inhuman parasite would be a devolution, not an evolution. Yes, it allowed for the cliffhanger of Ward standing in the middle of the road, but it seems to be a different species and class of creature than the Inhumans, something the series didn’t make clear.

Worse, the S.H.I.E.L.D. containment unit just happens to be close enough to the center of the castle for Mac and the team to get there as missiles explode around them, as well as launch and then maneuver the ridiculously non-aerodynamic pod for pickup inside the plane?

Furthermore, for all the "countdown to death" creating tension, when push comes to relativity, it appears the portal remains open longer that it should without any intervention. We see Daisy collapse, but we don’t see her turn her powers on to keep the portal open. It’s hard enough to imagine Fitz getting to the portal on time, let alone Coulson taking his sweet time to kill Ward, look anguished, and then run down the hill and into the portal. Never mind that the slug must make its way uphill to the dead Ward, possess him, and get his dead body moving quickly enough to also reach the portal in time. While it isn’t shown, we can imagine that "Ward" arrives in similar fashion to the Coulson plummet into the portal at the last minute in "Closure" (and Coulson did that with a leap, not a stagger). That’s a very long 61-odd seconds.

Finally, the missiles fired by S.H.I.E.L.D. hit the castle. They don’t hit the makeshift compound, just the castle. One volley, without confirmation of hits or kills, doesn’t feel right in an episode where a satellite tactical display is used throughout to track every person in play.

Whedon and team know they are dealing with fan boys and fan girls who are going to scrutinize every episode. Perhaps with all the death and destruction, they figure viewers wouldn’t notice the collateral butchery of storytelling logic amid all the carnage.

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