Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 11 - "Bouncing Back"
There’s a lot to catch up on as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns from its long hiatus.
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 11 - "Bouncing Back"
Air date: 2016-03-08
"Bouncing Back", the title of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mid-season return, is probably as much about the writers' challenges as it is about the plot. We do get several bounce backs, including a re-"empowered" S.H.I.E.L.D. and a Grant Ward-wearing creature convalescing in a Hydra hideout, and those are just the main threads. Episode 11 also introduces a new Inhuman at odds with the Bogota Policia, sets up the central battle for the remainder of the season, hints at some religious overtones, and launches a nascent Secret Warriors network of Inhumans. Oh, and hints at how the season will end: in space?
Yo-Yo and the Policia
The best science fiction always places ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. "Bouncing Back" plops viewers directly into the choices being made by newly minted Inhuman Elena 'Yo-Yo' Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley). The team goes in because they want to contain what they first think is an invisible Inhuman. They soon discover is that the local policia in Bogota, Columbia, aren’t so judicious (duh!). Rodriguez, it turns out, is trying to take guns away form the police and dispose of them in a local river. Her power isn't invisibility, but a rubber-band-like ability to move incredibly fast within a heartbeat before snapping back to her origin point.
There’s more than a bit of a poetic symmetry in having season opener Inhuman-on-the-rampage Joey Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba), act as the negotiator who "takes point on intake" with Rodriguez. Much Spanish ensues, with some in subtitles, and some in automatic translation on a tablet. Nice to see a show actually acknowledge that people in other countries don't all speak English.
It turns out the Policia have their own Inhuman in "Medusa eyes", who can temporarily turn people to stone. (Interesting that people "turning to stone" didn’t trigger the Inhuman alarms at S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hydra. Just saying.) "Medusa eyes" zaps Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance (Nick Blood), as well as Rodriguez’s cousin, Francisco (Paul Lincoln Alayo), who’s carrying out Elena’s plan to throw the guns into the river. Sadly, Francisco is made an example of by being shot in the head.
Also in the "just-saying" category, one would think S.H.I.E.L.D. would do a little more homework before descending on an Inhuman in play, such as recognizing the on-the-ground conditions related to local law enforcement. A little too cowboy for such a sophisticated organization. Hydra, it turns out, is also monitoring for Inhuman signals, and they dispatch a team. S.H.I.E.L.D. ends up with Rodriguez, while Hydra scoops up "Medusa eyes".
Final score: S.H.I.E.L.D., 1, and Hydra, 1.
Harmony and Balance
That early score appears intentional, because the bigger story floating around the episode is that of balance and harmony. Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) suggests to Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) that Inhuman abilities aren’t random, but rather part of an plan to create balance in the species. Simmons interprets the idea as "intelligent design", meaning that the Kree did more than just implant humans with random genes that awaken under Terragenesis; they planned for certain capabilities to manifest themselves. It's important to keep in mind that the Kree were doing this not for some future human need, but for some future Kree need that would employ humans.
From their first encounter, Elena states that she believes her powers were from God (Dios in Spanish), until Mack (Henry Simmons) tells her about the tainted fish and she makes the connection. Later, however, Mack recognizes the same connection that she made; perhaps there's a plan in place from a deity of sorts.
Of course, whatever it is that Ward (Brett Dalton) has transformed into through the blending of his body with the Inhuman from Maveth is being heralded as a god by Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe) and Hydra. It was suggested that the creature was the reason Maveth was so desolate. When you look at the history of "gods", an old Buffy the Vampire Slayer quote comes to mind: they don’t all "lead to hugs and puppies".
It seems this "deity" is also learning about humanity through the media. As viewers watch his physical appetite increase (favoring raw meat, it seems), so too does his appetite for information. First one, then three, then eight televisions appear. Both appetites appear insatiable. (Or perhaps he's just binge-watching House of Cards.) At the end of the episode, we see the Ward creature point its fingers at Mr. Giyera (Mark Dacascos) and let out some swirly sand wisp, but we aren’t shown the result. You can imagine it's neither hugs nor puppies.
It'll be interesting to see how far down the religion route Marvel and ABC decide to go. The comic book Inhumans mostly practice a type of ancestor worship, but it would be fair to say that there are religious and destiny overtones to their mythos, as we have already seen in Lash (Blair Underwood).
S.H.I.E.L.D.: Power By Necessity
Also running through the episode were questions about both the S.H.I.E.L.D. charter and its character. President Ellis (William Sadler) meets with Coulson (Clark Gregg) at Rosalind Price's home, where her blood still stains the carpet; the meeting place was clearly chosen by Coulson to make a point to the President about Hydra's ruthlessness. Ellis greets Coulson as Director, and as such, S.H.I.E.L.D. is to keep doing what it is doing, without being officially sanctioned or recognized by the US government. The upshot of the meeting is that S.H.I.E.L.D. will operate on behalf of the United States through the ATCU, which will now be a S.H.I.E.L.D. puppet organization. Or as Coulson says, "We’ll keep doing what we do, and you’ll keep pretending we don’t exist."
They converge in this cloak-and-dagger manner because of the events in the MCU movies, such as the raining down of helicarriers on the nation’s capitol. While the people may be ready for Donald Trump, they apparently still aren't ready for the return of S.H.I.E.L.D., even though S.H.I.E.L.D.'s uniquely positioned to deal with the Inhuman's emerging across the globe, and the continued rounding up of Inhumans by Hydra.
Coulson, the President reminds him, doesn't have his hands tied when it comes to Gideon Malick. In a test of character, Coulson, while conflicted, places the brain damaged Werner von Strucker (Spencer Treat Clark) into the T.A.H.I.T.I. machine and peers into what's left of his memories, until he gives up his secret contact information for Malick.
After infiltrating the Hydra front line, Coulson calls Malick to tell him it’s on. S.H.I.E.L.D. traces the call and puts some hurt on Malick's business interests, thereby setting the line for the battle between good and evil: Malick's Hydra, with its new Ward creature (whom S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t know about yet), and Coulson and his team of Inhumans, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.
Secret Warriors Assemble
The Inhumans assembling within S.H.I.E.L.D. are the Secret Warriors under the nascent command of Daisy (Chloe Bennet). One of the things S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to keep doing is collecting the good Inhumans and using them as part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s response.
There’s some concern among viewers that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to pivot away from a superhero show without superheroes and become just another superhero show, forgetting that superheroes were always on the docket. They're Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) not-so-secret weapon. The various incarnations of the Secret Warriors are central to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s comic book story. In the fairly recent books (2009-2011) it isn't Coulson that runs the Secret Warriors, but Nick Fury himself, with lieutenant and future S.H.I.E.L.D. director Daisy Johnson. (Come on, if it's in the comic books, it isn't a spoiler. Who knows what bits and pieces the TV writers will adopt or morph, or how the show will integrate back into the books?) The team we know about already appears to be the comic books' Team White, which in the books even robs a Hydra bank to finance its secret war. There are also other teams: Team Black and Team Gray. We’ll have to see how far down the rabbit hole we go.
In the show, Daisy is exerting a leadership role. She advocates, and wins, the argument to release Rodriguez back to her native Columbia as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. She persuasively argues that a distributed collaboration network of coordinated Inhumans can be just as effective and responsive as keeping them located centrally, although that'll take tech. So, Rodriguez gets some toys, including an Apple Watch with a S.H.I.E.L.D. app. (Comic Cons are coming? Where do I get a S.H.I.E.L.D. app?)
Just when this episode couldn't get any more involved, it presages of the future in the first 30 seconds of the episode. The episode begins three months in the future, just before a Quinjet explodes in space. We see blood floating weightlessly, along with a cross necklace and a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform. The cross appears to be the one worn by Rodriguez. It isn't clear who is wearing it, if anyone, or how the jet made it into orbit. It does suggest that this season is going to be a bit less earthbound than previous seasons.