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Television

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 12 - "The Inside Man"

Daniel Rasmus

The proliferation of Inhumans allows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to ask some serious questions about the responsibilities of 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, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 12 - "The Inside Man"
Network: ABC
Air date: 2016-03-15
Amazon

As the dust settles, Malick's (Powers Boothe) Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) Inhuman, AKA, The Beast, seems to be calling the shots more and more. That finger of dust pointed at Mr. Giyera (Mark Dacascos) appears to bind Inhumans to the Ward symbiot, which also shifts the allegiance of those it touches.

The core of this episode was House of Cards meets James Bond, as Coulson (Clark Gregg) and General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar), attend a G8-ish meeting to determine what to do about the Inhuman threat. May (Ming-Na Wen), Hunter (Nick Blood), and Morse (Adrianne Palicki) play undercover servants, while Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) offers up his best "Q" with a handprint synthesizer tied to a special version of Coulson's prosthetic hand. Just go with this part, it's fun.

There was, unfortunately, a false "ugly American" note in the way Talbot was written in this episode. He may well be a xenophobe, but people don’t achieve the rank of brigadier general without some sense of social decorum. Referring to his formal Japanese attire as a dress, and saying that he was happy to be "putting faces to all of those unpronounceable names" wasn't humorous, for the show or for any audience watching it in other countries. It's no more OK to stereotype a successful white guy than it is to stereotype anyone else.

Coulson suspects a mole among the representatives. It turns out the mole is Talbot, manipulated by Malick who has kidnapped his son and, of course, double crosses him to boot. It’s perhaps time to put in an election year subplot because Malick has now deceived President Ellis (William Sadler) at least twice when it comes to the ATCU, which if it wasn’t so cloak-and-dagger, would be clear grounds for impeachment.

Swirling around this international meeting is the fear of the other combined with a desire to control something you think will give you control. It’s an interesting mix that Marvel continues to balance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from the beginning of Thor, through The Avengers, and well into what’s sure to be the key focus of the Infinity Wars. The Inhuman Malick keeps in his basement is no less an existential threat than was the Tesseract.

There's good, it appears (regardless if the perceiver of good is him- or herself good or evil) in a power that can give you power, regardless of one’s understanding that power, because power seduces, as we saw with Red Skull and Nick Fury. The general fear, however, isn’t seen in those that have been seduced. No, they play on the fear of the populace in order to "protect" them from what they fear, giving them the power to "control" the emergent power, which usually goes sideways.

We see this behavior today in the Middle East, as Russia asserts itself in a fight against "terrorism" to insert itself into a power position against America and its coalition, and in the Ukraine at the behest of the “oppressed”. Fortunately, there’s no emergent technology that anyone can exploit that will tip the balance of power, although great emergent power has been wielded in the past as the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan.

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the earthbound collectors are bringing together Inhumans as their weapons, while at the same time, they continue to scramble to leverage any leftover tech from past alien invasions or ancient visits. The details might be different, but are we not now going down that path with encryption? Is the worry about artificial intelligence taking over the world somewhat predicated not just on what AI itself will do, but what AI will do in the wrong hands (those wrong hands being interpreted by any party who has the capability to create or control an AI)?

As the MCU seems to indicate, eventually great power, even for those with "responsibility", finds its own way. Real global citizens worry about nuclear material becoming dirty bombs in the hands of terrorists. Gideon Malick's worrying about his Inhuman invalidating his leadership and vision. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans are the genie that can’t be put back into the bottle; they’re the potential dirty bombs detonated by terrorists and governments alike. As per example, how much destruction did it take to control The Hulk at the hands of Stark’s Veronica in Age of Ultron? In contrast to nuclear material, which was negotiated by treaty to the benefit of the early creators of such material, Inhumans are random and emergent. No one knows where they'll be born, nor what their births will yield. The belief that they can be controlled is false; the notion that because they were good people before and can be negotiated to work for the "right side" remains untested.

Malick risks his legacy and his life in this gambit. Hundreds have already lost their fictional lives as the all-too-human hands attempt to manipulate and control the powers that have, either accidentally or on purpose, shown up on Earth. These losses have occurred among S.H.I.E.L.D. and its allies, as well as to Hydra. There are no winners in a war fought with weapons of mass destruction; the only out is to stop the weapons or stop the war.

To put a point of emphasis on not getting what you asked for, we have the final scene with Ward. Earlier, Malick has expressed his concern over the too-slow-to-heal Ward corpse the Inhuman is wearing, and offers him a new host. We learn here that he can't inhabit an Inhuman. After Malick leaves, we also learn where Lucio "Medusa Eyes" (Gabriel Salvador) and Mr. Giyera's loyalties lie: with their Inhuman master, who now refers to himself as "we", and in the company of Inhumans, as "us". He asks the two to bring him five humans. In one of the most stunning scenes I’ve seen on television, we see Ward covered in goo, as though just emerged from the amniotic sack, rising from a ring of corpses stripped to their bones. He appears to have just been resurrected completely, his body healed and his life force renewed. There is a god-like renewal here, of a being bigger than itself. It’ll be interesting to see where these leads

Spoiler Alert

For those guessing about comic book affiliations, it appears that Ward is now the Hive, according to a video recorded at Wizard World Comic Con in Portland, Oregon (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Spoiler: Grant Ward's Villainous Identity Revealed).

We’ve already seen the Maveth parasite slithering under Ward’s cheek. In the comic books, Hive is a genetically engineered "Inhuman", designed in the likeness of the ideal Hydra entity. Hive takes on the memories of those it's killed, which started out being unwitting Hydra agents, but in the books, Hive also reanimates others, including the deceased Madame Hydra. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "Hive" has reconnected already with Ward’s memories, but since this is the MCU's version of Hive, any analog to the books is pretty moot.

Will we see a full incarnation -- with tentacles and all -- and will the weaknesses of those absorbed be present in the MCU version? Time will tell, but Ward’s love for Daisy and other "human" aspects may well come into play as the season progresses.

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