Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 13 - "Parting Shot"
The thrilling spycraft nature of "Parting Shot" portends big shifts in the team’s dynamics.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm
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 13 - "Parting Shot"
Air date: 2016-03-22
While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was on winter hiatus I had the opportunity to run a reconnaissance mission at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. I was covering the Structure Sensor, an iPad-based technology the show uses to lower the cost of visual effects It was all a bit cloak-and-dagger with the NDA and all, but I can say I stood on the deck of Zephyr One and the Quinjet, walked through the S.H.I.E.L.D. lab where Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) work, and strolled the break room and exercise facility. I even got to wander Coulson's (Clark Gregg) office, stand before the projection display and touch the brass model of his beloved "Bus". Yes, I’ve seen the ax that severed his hand mounted on the wall. I’ve probably said too much; spies shouldn't spy and tell.
Speaking of spies, this week's episode, "Parting Shot", turned out to be an exceptional thriller that not only included great action, but a revelation of what it really means to be a "good" spy in a world of chaos and ever-more permeable and amorphous political boundaries. There's a worried assumption among Marvel fans that the build up of the Secret Warriors will curtail the human drama central to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. This week's episode not only blew that assumption away, it doubled down with an emotional departure following the best spy plot in the show's history.
Let's just jump in with the spoiler of the night, the departure of Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). I'll come back to why they were disavowed in a bit, but let me just say the title of the episode should have been a "A Spy's Goodbye", a term Morse uses as shots arrive for her and Hunter in a bar at the end of the episode.
The two characters aren’t dead and they haven't transformed into Inhumans -- but they've been placed on the burn list -- and they very much remain a former married couple very much embroiled in the tender love/hate that such relationships kindle. They now have nowhere to turn. Well, it turns out they do, and that description, along with a quest to both stay alive and figure out more about what happened in Russia, has launched the spin-off for a new pilot, Marvel’s Most Wanted. (Anything more about that show would be speculation on rumor at this point, but it is listed on IMDB.)
While the departure may have been an unexpected turn so early in the mid-season reorientation period, it was the final note in an extremely well-orchestrated spy episode filled with Cold War intrigue, innovative uses of flashback, and a poignant reminder that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s real mission, and that of any "not-evil" spy agency, is to protect humanity, even when the humans aren't on "your side".
Bobbi and Hunter are tracking Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe) in Russia, who’s there meeting with Anton Petrov (Ravil Isyanov), to make the Inhuman reservation a reality. The writers purposefully have Malick push the American gun lobby position that, without hunting, all animals would be extinct, as well as make the argument that without reservations, Native Americans would also be extinct.
It turns out, like many other nations harboring Inhumans, that a Russian general had undergone Terrigenesis. He isn't, however, like Medusa Eyes, a tool of the government; he has his own agenda that, it turns out, doesn’t include the current Prime Minister, Olshenko (Endre Hules). Apparently, Olshenko isn't a fan of creating an Inhuman sanctuary, so he sends his personal attaché. Sadly, the attaché can’t see the "errors of his ways", so the General (Kristof Konrad) dispatches him.
Without a report back, the Prime Minister flies to Siberia to shutdown the operation, which proves a perfect time for Malick and team to stage a coup d'etat. S.H.I.E.L.D. has to go from observation to action in order to save the Prime Minister. The General and his stealthy sentient dark force doppelgänger is too much for Daisy (Chloe Bennett) and team, so it falls to Bobbi to end the Inhuman by killing the General.
With the all dead and injured officials, we return to where we began, with Morse and Hunter in a Russian dark site being grilled by Interpol. The agent seems less interested in really understanding what happened than with establishing the continued existence of S.H.I.E.L.D. Remember, S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t really exist; it was disavowed by President Ellis (William Sadler). Admission of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s existence would threaten new levels of distrust between the US and Russia, so Morse and Hunter hunker down in their denial.
Finally together, Morse and Hunter agree to take a collective political bullet. The President argues with the Prime Minister, until eventually Coulson appears in the guise of advisor to the ATCU. In a moment of Coulson-secret-hand-electronic-jamming, Morse and Hunter share their decision that it’s time for them to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. They need to protect the team. Coulson pushes the limits, challenging the Prime Minister: not only did those he's holding save his life, they also eliminated his enemies, but the decision is made.
The episode ends with Morse and Hunter in a bar, as a series of shot glasses are delivered to their table. "A spy's goodbye," says Morse. They look around the bar and make eye contact with May (Ming-Na Wen), Daisy, Fitz, Simmons, Coulson, and Mack (Henry Simmons). Mack is clearly the most heartbroken over the loss of his friends, but there are enough tears to go around. Damn tinkling piano keys and swooping strings; where’s my Kleenex® box?
Episodes like this are both the bane and the promise of episodic TV. On one hand, I want to just click "show next episode", like I can with Daredevil or Jessica Jones on Netflix. On the other hand, I'm kind of enjoying the week-long anticipation for what will happen next after such a dramatic shift in the team.
In a world immersed in information, it's nice to have something where asking Google doesn’t provide a relevant answer. Is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pruning its human population to concentrate on the Inhumans, or will new actors arrive to inject different streams of humanity into the Inhuman story? I want to know the answers to those questions. Good writing keeps people turning pages of books (or flipping them on their Kindle), and it keeps them coming back for the next episode of a really well-written television show like this one.