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Television

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 16 - "Paradise Lost"

Daniel Rasmus

Sacrifices, both large and small, form the basis of the episode's narrative, as Hive gains power.


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, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell
Subtitle: "Paradise Lost"
Network: ABC
Air date: 2016-04-12
Amazon

In a nod to Dante, episode 16 was entitled, "Paradise Lost", for a secret hidden in a volume of Dante's great poem, but it might have been better entitled "Sacrifice".

For Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), the first sacrifice is the artifice of his history. Ward/Hive/It (Brett Dalton) reveals that Malick's secret, hidden so long in the dusty volume of Dante, is a notched stone that he used to deceive members of the Hydra inner circle as they drew lots to determine who would sacrifice their lives to the liquid stone, and what they believe lived on the other side of the portal. The stone was Malick's guarantee that he would never meet his end in the portal.

Inside of the Ward creature, it turns out, are the memories of Malick's brother Nathaniel (Joel Courtney), who learned all too late that Gideon had betrayed him, allowing him to be sacrificed during the ceremony.

As Malick realizes that Ward/Hive will lay bare his dishonesty, he shares the vision of his death seen at the hand of Charles Hinton (Bjorn Johnson). As we know, however, visions are tricky things. What Malick sees isn't his death, but a sacrifice he'll make. The vision transforms the future's act from one that's proximate to one that's intimate and visceral.

To make things "right", the Ward creature decides that it is the death of Malick's daughter, Stephanie (Bethany Joy Lenz) that'll best settle the score. In front of Malick, as he prepares for his own death, he watches the creature kiss and then ingest Stephanie; she implodes before his eyes. His precious daughter, perhaps his only connection to any conscience, albeit one twisted by the “religion” of Malick’s Inhuman worship, sacrificed to the balance the scales between Malick, Nathaniel, and Hive.

Malick's personal myth and his daughter aren't the only sacrifices being made in this episode, nor on the show for that matter.

We've already seen two top agents sacrificed for the greater good when Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Hunter (Nick Blood) were disavowed. We've witnessed the massive loss of personnel and equipment. But this is a show that ties the bigger picture to very personal character journeys.

Coulson (Phil Coulson) fights to save his humanity, first sacrificed at the wonder of T.A.H.I.T.I., but perhaps more so, he fears, when he killed Ward on Maveth. In frustration, he clenches a pipe and leans his head on another; when interrupted from his moment of contemplation and reflection over the return of Ward and the creature that inhabits his body, he finds his hand has crumpled the pipe. He has a bit of a Darth Vader moment as he realizes that he’s no longer fully human -- a realization that becomes even more stark as Mr. Giyera (Mark Dacascos) takes control of his hand, halting it mid-punch, eventually knocking him out on his way to taking the Zephyr.

Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) have sacrificed their love, first through brain damage and near death, then through distance and separation. It seems that every time they are about to rekindle the flames, something comes between them. They are a symbol of sacrifice for each other, and because they have both sacrificed on behalf of the other, it becomes awkward for them to find a way to reconcile where they are in relation to one another. It isn't about who owes whom, but where in the cycle each is, emotionally and physically, recovering from current trauma, or healing from the past. They're now as connected by their circle of hurt as they are to their love for one another.

And then there's May (Ming-Na Wen). First, she sacrificed a part of her soul when she killed in an Inhuman child to save others. Then she sacrificed her life beyond S.H.I.E.L.D. when her husband Andrew (Blair Underwood) succumbed to Terrigenesis and was transformed into a weapon of holy -- or "hole-y" -- destruction (depending on perspective: "hole-y" being the physical manifestation of his energy, which puts a hole through things and beings, and "holy" as the metaphysical motivation for such behavior, although not one associated with any human religion. So May is left alone again, her connections to anything beyond S.H.I.E.L.D. severed.

Daisy (Chloe Bennet) too has sacrificed: her mother, her father, the past she never had, the present she built, and the future she imagined. She also sacrificed a bit of humanity, as she struggles with what it means to be more than human in a human world. Perhaps for this show, of all shows, Daisy represents the definition of superhuman, being one who transcends humanity to be more human, in many ways, than the humans themselves. We hear too in this episode about the sacrifices Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) made, giving his old life over to his Inhuman life.

Perhaps Hive's so focuses on sacrifice because it has sacrificed more than any of the humans can imagine. A leader of an Inhuman Army left for eons on a desolate planet after what appears to be an all-out genocide perpetrated by the creature. Left to wallow in its own destruction, to suffer from isolation of its own making, sustained, it seems, by a human feast every few years to maintain its meager existence until it can be returned to Earth. An ancient soul, bruised and alone -- evil incarnate perhaps -- but nonetheless sacrificing nearly everything for a cause it was engineered to carry out. Free will sacrificed to an ancient science for a war long lost or won; we don't know how the victors perceived it, nor if they’re still around to care.

Finally, we have the disarray that is S.H.I.E.L.D. The burned agency, hanging to the edges of its mission in the shadows, disavowed by its creators and abandoned by its leaders, has sacrificed some of its integrity and clearness of mission. When told to answer to no one, when operating on the periphery, the rules become vague and the demarcation between right and wrong hard to judge. Thus Daisy, as the Zephyr falls from the sky, and her team ends up lying unconscious on the plane's deck in a Hydra hanger, makes the call to assemble the Secret Warriors without authorization. Daisy has sacrificed the chain of command in order to live another day.

As all of the characters wandered through this episode, they may have thought of Joan of Arc as she said: "One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying." Each character clings mightily to a belief, so that as they make their sacrifices, they do so in a way that does not devastate them beyond function.

The battle's far from over, and there are many more sacrifices to be made.

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